Thursday, December 30, 2010




‘Face of Mabank’ dies on Christmas Eve
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

MABANK–Mabank is grieving the loss of a civic friend, classmate, hometown girl and very capable city administrator.
Weakened by the flu over a week’s time, Louann Confer, 57, died Christmas Eve in her husband’s arms. She had suffered a heart attack. Confer.jpg (43908 bytes)
“Louann’s family was the City of Mabank and she was its touch stone,” councilman Tim Johnson told The Monitor “I knew her all my life.”
Returning to Mabank after military service in World War II, Louann’s father, an injured William “Dub” Hyde, ran the general store and pharmacy on Market Street, Johnson explained. “He was behind the counter and would dip you a (ice cream) cone or fill a prescription.”
It was Louann’s love and concern for her father that brought her and husband Scott back to Mabank in 1992. (See obituary, page 11A.)
“She would fly back every three weeks or so to check on him,” Scott said. “So, I suggested that we move back. We stayed with her father for about a year before getting our home in Tool.” By then, the couple had been married five years.
Scott said he had known her as a professional since 1983, and a friend long before they became involved.
Louann was working as a senior planner for Sarasota County in Florida, and Scott worked as a consultant, bringing in new development into Sarasota. “She was tough as nails. She could take you to hell and make you enjoy the trip,” he said. They married Nov. 28, 1987.
“I know she loved Scott and Dub. The City of Mabank employees were all her extended family,” mayor Larry Teague said.
“You never had to worry about the city’s money – she was going to take care of it. She was very good at her job, and basically has been my right-hand person my whole time as mayor,” he added.
Cedar Creek Lake Chamber of Commerce president Jo Ann Hanstrom described Louann as “smart, fair, funny and dignified. She took care of the business of the City of Mabank in an exemplary manner. She’ll be sorely missed.”
A 1971 graduate of Mabank High School, Louann went on to get her bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Texas and her master’s in urban planning from Texas A&M. Scott said that during football contests, she could hardly pick which side to root for.
Louann became the city secretary under mayor Jack Salter Sept. 27, 1993. Larry Teague was mayor pro-tem at the time, becoming mayor the following year.
In those days, Mabank had what was called a “strong mayor” type of government. However, under Teague, that changed to a “cooperative” council-led type of government, in which Louann played a key role.
She, Teague and the council members all have lifelong family ties to Mabank and to each other – most having graduated around the same time or in the years afterwards.
Some of the city projects on Louann’s watch include building the Pavilion, Walking Trail and rodeo arena, opening the new city hall and new fire stations, creating the Economic Development Corporation and, most recently, overseeing the sale of 800 water meters to the East Cedar Creek Fresh Water Supply District.
Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace and 14-year former councilman Johnny Adams described Louann as “one of Mabank’s greatest assets.”
“She was a genius at money – at collecting it, using it, getting it and making sure the city never ran out of it,” he said.
“Louann filled out numerous grant and loan applications, dealt with county and state agencies and communicated the needs and desires of the city effectively. I believe she had the perfect profile for her job,” Adams said.
Like many others who knew Louann from high school, Adams expressed his admiration of her professionally and personally. “You don’t know a person like Louann for such a long time without getting close. She was well loved,” he said.
“Louann and I were in the same first grade class together,” Teague said.
Johnson was MHS Class of ’78. Council members Jeff Norman and Shannon Steakley are the youngest, having both graduated in 1980. Even though Steakley graduated from Eustace High School – living on the other side of the street dividing the school districts – she has lived and worked in the Mabank area for 30 years.
“She was very special to me. When I was appointed to the council, she took me under her wing and made sure I understood everything that was going on. She wanted me to succeed,” Steakley said. “She was the face of Mabank to many people and she will not be easily replaced.”
“In all honesty, between her being the hometown girl and having a city council with family ties to the city, the government of Mabank has more cohesion than most cities are able to achieve. We’re lifelong friends, not just council members,” Teague said.
“The ladies right here (in the office) are like her sisters. The hardest part for Louann in her job was to have to reprimand or terminate any of the employees. She didn’t have any problem telling you, you couldn’t have the money, but she had great difficulty if she had to reprimand someone. She was just a very loving and caring person who loved her community, family and city,” Teague said.
The city’s first paid fire marshal, John Holcomb, said. “She’s one of the best bosses I ever had – real understandable. And she’s done a lot for the fire department.”
Holcomb has been a volunteer firefighter with the Mabank Fire Department since 1991, and was hired as fire marshal in 1999, becoming the Henderson County fire marshal soon afterwards. He now works for the Forney Fire Department, while serving as training officer for MVFD.
“She fought real hard for the fire department and she and the council helped to increase our budget,” he said.
“If you had any personal issues, you could talk to her about them. It was the best working relationship I’ve ever known,” Holcomb added.
“I’ve always admired her professionalism and the friendship she was always ready to offer,” her husband Scott said. “We could talk about anything with each other. Road trips were the best. We just talked and talked. She was my best friend.
“I’ve kept every anniversary card from her and they all hold the same message – ‘the journey with you is the journey of my life.’ The destination wasn’t the important thing, it was the all about sharing the journey,” he added.

And then, there was 2010
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

CEDAR CREEK LAKE–The beginning of a new decade held at least one auspicious date (10-10-10) and another step toward growth for Gun Barrel City, with the purchase of 92 acres for future development – possibly for a convention center.
Longtime Eustace girls’volleyball coach Chuck Powers saw his 700th career win. The Kemp High School band broke a 70-year school record with its first top rating in both marching and concert band, making it a sweepstake winner in 2010.
(Look for the Top 10 Reasons to Read The Monitor pictorial in the Sunday issue.)
And 2010 saw the opening of several new businesses including a movie theater, two new hotels and forward-moving plans for two new city halls (in Gun Barrel City and Payne Springs).
Water utility SNAFUs
But the most outstanding theme of 2010 centered around water and water utilities. Not because 2010 was a drought year – far from it. But due to aged infrastructure, techno glitches and stronger demands, water issues were front and center at Cedar Creek Lake and will continue to be in the foreseeable future.
In the national headlines too, the longest-running oil spill in U.S. history occurred in the mysterious depths of the Gulf of Mexico and seemed to echo our own anxieties about the management and control of our natural resources.
The City of Kemp will continue to wrestle with the financial pressure of having to replace all its aged water lines and improve its water treatment facility in the wake of running completely dry soon after school began.
A series of main breaks drained its tower and a rush on bottled water followed.
School superintendent Dr. Peter Running opted to keep schools open as long as he could without incurring significant health risks. However, it did eventually have to close, reopening again shortly afterward.
The city continues to make repairs and replace some pipelines with the help of a $350,000 grant. But just like eating an elephant, the city’s plan to meet the $35 million total is to do it one bite at a time.
Kemp was not alone in running dry in 2010, though its costs are certainly higher.
A faulty computerized water-pumping switch failed to replenish water to the West Cedar Creek Municipal Uiltity District’s towers. Consequently, all the water towers on the west side of the lake drained dry last winter, leaving about 25,000 water customers without water – some for as long as three days.
(WCCMUD also launched a $1.2 million upgrade to its water treatment facilities in Tolosa, most of which will progress in 2011.)
And most recently, the East Cedar Creek Fresh Water Supply District was criticized for how it publicized a boil water notice when a main break occurred, affecting some 1,800 customers.
The shut down of the system tripped a cautionary boil water notice over a recent weekend.
The utility’s phone dial-up system hit a glitch, so customers who didn’t catch the announcement on the broadcast news continued to use water in the regular way through the weekend. Water tests returned a negative result for contaminants, so it worked out fine. But the board of directors is looking seriously at upgrades to its automated telephone calling system.
Water also plays an important role in the “destiny” of at least one city.
Gun Barrel City protests water meter sale
Though an administrative judge ruled in favor of approving a proposed sale of about 800 Mabank water meters to ECCFWSD, along with an accompanying certificate transfer, Gun Barrel City will continue its efforts to clarify certain statements made by the judge about the city’s “jurisdictional authority” and to register its complaints.
Thus far, the city has spent its entire engineering/legal services budget of $60,000, and more, city manager Gerry Boren said.
Mabank has spent $40,000 defending its sale to East Cedar Creek over the last 18 months, and the district has spent about $25,000.
At the crux of the protest is the city’s desire to set its own “destiny” by becoming a water utility provider. It sees the transfer of some 800 water meters within its city limits as that opportunity, and would like to purchase them itself.
However, the judge noted that the city has neither made an offer to buy the meters, nor procured a contract with a water provider to service the meters.
Forty years ago, come 2014, the city charged a newly created public utility, the ECCFWSD, with providing water for the city’s inhabitants and surrounding areas.
Whether East Cedar Creek can retain its charter as Gun Barrel City’s water provider is yet to be seen.
Unease, due to past construction delays and water impact fees/engineering studies, has put a wedge between the city and the district.
In this most recent argument, the city maintains that though the state doesn’t require water providers to consider fire protection, the city has to, and wants fire protection added to the mix.
Additionally, Boren doubts ECC will meet its 2012 deadline (when the last of the new meters are due to tie into the system) to complete improvements.
The completion will expand the utility’s capacity from two million gallons per day to 3 mg/d. (Thus far, at the peak of summer, the highest water demand has been 1.2 mg/d, ECC general manager Bill Goheen said.)
The district is now in its final stages of refurbishing a clarifier, expecting a shipment of filter material in February to complete the upgrade. It already has the capacity to pump 3 mg/d, Goheen said. But the district plans to add a faster raw water pump before the end of the new year, he said.
(In addition, the district inked a 50-year pact with the City of Trinidad to purchase raw water at a lower price than currently from the Tarrant Regional Water District.)
Gun Barrel City will seek to block final approval before the board of commissioners at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality meeting when the item hits its agenda in January or February.
Seven Points dysfunction
The ongoing power struggle in Seven Points between the mayor and reseated council majority has blocked benefits to its citizens.
Each opposing party pursuing presumed “right” actions has stymied such issues as grant money for road improvements, national flood insurance, an emergency management plan, the permitting of new businesses, public accounting of funds spent and setting a new budget – with all daily city decision-making being made by just one man.
Despite district attorney-ordered arbitration and agreement, discord continues, with no end in sight save for another election in May – and perhaps not even then will its citizens see a return to negotiated agreements. Power struggles of this magnitude naturally leave a legacy of hurt feelings and side-taking in the hearts of those trying to make sense of it all.
For lovers of democracy, it’s been very sad to watch, DA Scott McKee said, having left and returned from a tour of duty with the Army Reserve to enforce democracy in Iraq.
McKee and a grand jury also oversaw the indictment of former Seven Points mayor Gerald Taylor and current councilman Jeremy “Bubba” Powell for Abuse of Official Capacity.
Municipal judge Monica Corker recently pleaded guilty before a Tyler federal judge to making false statements to a FBI agent in the course of his investigation into possible criminal misdemeanor activity.
The Abuse of Official Capacity charges refer to the cashing of two-party checks through the court funds. Also indicted was current councilman Tommy Taylor (no relation) for using community service workers to clean his home.
McKee said his office, with federal assistance, intends to prosecute these cases into 2011. While we’re on the subject, the Tool mayor was also indicted this year, but for a DWI in Gun Barrel City.
Dueling fire departments
For two competing fire departments in Tool, the dispute centers around three cents of property tax. An outcome has failed to arrive, even though the issue was sent back to arbitration with the addition of loan holder Southside Bank.
The three cents were used to back a construction loan of a much-needed fire station on the west side of the lake.
The City of Tool gave notice that it was withdrawing from the Emergency Service District No. 4 and taking the 3-cent property tax with it. The Appraisal District Board didn’t accept the city’s argument; however, a district judge did for a short while, until it sent the whole thing back to arbitration when Southside Bank got involved.
Two Tool citizens with a firm grasp of the city’s point of view let Precinct 1 Commissioner Joe Hall know they were interested in replacing two seated ESD No. 4 commissioners whose terms were up for reappointment. However, Hall recommended retaining the present ESD commissioners, since they were willing to continue serving, and the county court accepted his recommendation, much to the applicants’ chagrin.
Making the grade
On a positive note, half of the number of local school campuses received the top rating from the Texas Education Agency in 2010 – with 11 campuses earning Excellent scores, and 10 others gleaning Recognized scores. The remaining two received Academically Acceptable ratings.
Locals must be pleased with the performance, because voters from Kemp school district gave trustees permission to juggle the finances by approving a 13-cent property tax increase – remaining unrealized in 2011.
Trinidad ISD accomplished the same feat in 2009. The idea being that in years ahead, a penny or two per $100 of property value will appear in order to meet growing costs of utilities, salaries, unfunded state mandates and replacing paid-down operating reserves.
Sadly, Mabank voters nixed the proposition. For the second time in a row, voters rejected the move that would have leveraged about half a million additional dollars in state funding. A last-minute letter campaign warning voters against the increase, as if it were an unpopular colossus federal bill trying to be sneaked by voters likely turned many away.
Mabank ISD published its intended tax increase and trustees explained how the move would leverage additional state funding in several meetings. Mabank ISD remains the only local school district to retain an overall Excellent rating from TEA.
“We’ll still provide excellent education within fewer programs,” superintendent Dr. Russell Marshall told The Monitor.
If any school district can, Mabank can – having set a track record from 2006 to ’09 that earned it four out of five stars from the state’s new FAST rating system, which compares schools based on the biggest bang for the buck.
2010 also marked 10 years of the Mabank school district’s Spirit Week, raising nearly half a million dollars for charities from homecoming week efforts held at its seven campuses.
Justice will prevail
With the guilty plea of two arsonists, who put nearly 500 federal, state and local law enforcement officers on round-the-clock duty, the six weeks of random church burnings nearly a year ago is coming to an end. Sentencing of Daniel George McAllister, 22, and Jason Robert Bourque, 20, is set for Jan. 10, 2011, in Tyler.
During their rampage, the two young men are believed to have torched eight churches in Athens, Canton, Lindale and Tyler and vandalized several others. They face life sentences for each count of arson.
Forging new business
The area saw the opening of new businesses and facilities in 2010.
The City of Payne Springs opened its impound lot toward the end of the year and reaped the sales tax revenue boost this year of the opening of a Dollar General store, and realization of a “wet” vote in 2009. Its sale tax receipts have been consistently 40 to 50 percent higher than previously.
In Gun Barrel City, the successful opening of La Quinta Inn and Suites takes away a black eye the city was sporting from the failed Heritage Cove project. The fact that the new Mabank hotel (Comfort Suites, opened in January) owner, the Patel family, picked it up makes it all the sweeter.
Also opening in Gun Barrel City this year were Dennys Restaurant, Golden Belle Charitable Bingo, Cici’s, a gourmet popcorn store, the Royal Buffet (the city’s second Asian eatery, in the spot vacated by the bankrupted Gaters’ Bar and Grill), the Family Video, Tiptop Tire, A Pet’s Palace, and perhaps a dozen others.
Also, real estate agents Judy and B.G. Pierce teamed up with top performer Neal Mansfield and Katie Veach to bring Keller Williams Dallas Premier office to Cedar Creek Lake.
In addition, East Texas Medical Center broke ground on a new physicians building, with the city breaking ground on a park pavilion nearby. ETMC also gained ground on its $32.4 million hospital expansion in Athens.
In Mabank, besides the new hotel on U.S. Highway 175, a new digital sign points to businesses throughout out the city and especially those on Market Street.
New openings in Mabank include Shorty’s Soda Shop and Groovy Grounds coffee shop, La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant, along with a new Subway’s sandwich store and most recently clothing retailer (Kemp mayor Matt Ganssle’s) Dixie Outfitters.
The Pitt Grill on Eubank Street is under new management with Will Grissom at the grill.
Finally, the Mabank Veterans Memorial got its first 90 names of honor inscribed, the first of many more to come, recognizing the military service and sacrifice of area veterans.
On the other side of the lake, McDade’s Nursery changed hands, with Stephen Gent beating the bushes for new business. The same thing happened for the King’s Creek Golf Club, with a name change to King’s Creek Country Club, under new ownership led by Glenda Holbrook.
In Kemp, the First National Bank of Kemp opened a new retail and office center on State Highway 274, itself the anchor tenant, and a new Subway moved in as soon as it was available.
Mickie Hooten opened a second store of trendy new accessories on Elm Street to complement her “Vault of Treasures” on Main Street.
A Seagoville manufacturer is still eyeing Kemp as a relocation spot along U.S. Highway 175, and through the leadership of one citizen, the city has a new “Welcome to Kemp” road sign.
In Seven Points, two boot-scootin’ saloons reopened under new ownership, Big Daddy’s Auction expanded, Shay Ray’s Barbecue and Tony’s Italian Restaurant began emitting tantalizing odors of smoked hickory and garlic, while Brookshire’s marked its fifth year of successful operations.
The finality of death
As in every newspaper, The Monitor has had its share of obituaries. Standing out among those who have long served in the community or whose journey here was cut surprisingly short are longtime mayor J.D. Meredith, who died at the age of 80. He steered the city of Payne Springs through most the last 30 years or so.
Most recently, beloved Mabank High School chemistry teacher John Idom departed suddenly, leaving a legacy of tearful and thankful students.
Eustace Intermediate student Kolbee Moss lost her life when her family’s house burned. Her untimely death brought attention to the importance of functioning smoke detectors in every home.
The death of 13-year-old Mabank student Chris Hoops from a collision while playing on a motorbike circling a tree with another boy was a tragic loss.
Two needless deaths – one blamed on possible cell phone operation and neglected seat belt fastening killed a 22-year-old woman, while another 22-year-old female wearing a seat belt in the other car survived. The second death, involving a pedestrian dressed in dark clothing walking in the middle of the Harbor Point Road at night, should make all of us re-examine the preciousness of life and resolve to treat it with care.
Life from the ashes
And then there are those who somehow find or create a way to rise above tragedy – people like Canton teacher Abby Rike, who lost her entire family to a drunk driver and allowed the nation to share her new beginning on NBC’s The Biggest Loser. Rike then brought Biggest Loser personal trainer Jillian Michaels back to her hometown of Mabank to inspire high school students to make right choices.
Or how about Tammi Branch, who in her quest to infuse meaning into her teen son’s death in a drunk-driving episode (Eric Branch, April 4, 1990 - Jan. 15, 2009), brought the first “Walk Like MADD” fund-raiser to Cedar Creek Lake?
The inaugural event brought awareness to preventing such tragedies and raised nearly $20,000 in funds to serve victims of drunk-driving deaths and their families.
These are just two examples of local people picking up the pieces, one step at a time, restoring faith, exploring meaning and inspiring us all in the process.
Talk about inspiring – taking on a fund-raising project of any magnitude is a labor of love and deserves every accolade, such as the friends and family of little Presley Reece.
But especially, event organizers who gain wide community attention and support, as Mabank ISD has done for the past 10 years with its annual Spirit Week.
Consider, too, this year’s doubling of a donation to Fisher House, serving military families whose loved ones are being treated at the VA Hospital in Dallas. The Cedar Creek Veterans Foundation, organizers of the July 4th “Thunder Over Cedar Creek,” bring attention to this important charity while firing the imagination with the sight of awesome military planes in flight.
Space is too short to mention too many more, but you will remember the Denim and Diamonds III gala, Western Week Cowboy Breakfast, the Tower of Terror, or even that wacky “Bras for a Cause” Cancer Awareness fund-raiser. Seeing what others have done, begs the question, what can I do? Who needs my help and support?
As 2011 gets started, let’s all resolve to enjoy the blessings of a life marked by generosity, loving and caring. The more you look, the more opportunities you’ll find.

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