Year in Review 

Bay City Council shashes mayor’s salary, district breaks ground on stadium

 

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series spotlighting the events that made news in Matagorda County during 2018.

 

Bay City council slashes mayor’s salary and Bay City ISD holds ground breaking ceremonies on new Memorial Stadium were two of the top stories of the second half of 2018. 

July

Matagorda County officials are hoping to grab some of the $5 billion in federals funds approved for Hurricane Harvey disaster relief.

Commissioners approved four resolutions that would allow GrantWorks President Bruce Spitzengel the availability to write grants for cleanup, repair and prevention from Hurricane Harvery that ripped through the area in August last year.

Michael Cloud won the special election to take Blake Farenthold’s seat in the U.S. Congress on Saturday, beating Democrat Eric Holguin and others comfortably.

Cloud won 55 percent of the vote to win the District 27 seat, with Holguin receiving 32 percent. Three other Republicans, two more Democrats, two independents and one Libertarian also ran for the seat.

Matagorda County Emergency Manager Coordinator Douglas Matthes has six months left on the job.

Matthes is retiring at the end of hurricane season after 19 years with Matagorda County.

Commissioners for the Bay City Housing Authority (BCHA) say they will be having an external audit done after allegations of misuse of funds by former executive director Linda Ramirez.

The board fired Ramirez at their May 15 meeting for improper management after she refused to take retirement.

Bay City will be getting four fixed and two portable generators after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded more than $1.4 million for the purchase. 

Bay City ISD students will start the new school year with a new look Aug. 20.

BCISD school board approved new school dress code and safety measures.

“This is to make students safer. There have been question about enforcement. This is a transition period,” Bay City ISD Superintendent Dr. Marshall Scott III said. “When we get to junior high school, it’s going to come up. When we get to high school, it’s going to come up base on my experience of going through this process.”

New security measures were taken by the Van Vleck Independent School District by purchasing metal detectors for their schools.

The district brought five metal detectors and wands for their school on Monday, with the cost at $26,885. The district’s board of trustees unanimously approved the purchase.

According to a press release issued by the Matagorda County Sheriff’s Office, 38-year-old James Joseph Mize has been arrested for the murder of James Dax Ferguson, 38.

The Sheriff’s department stated deputies were called to Mize’s residence on Oyster Lake Road in Collegeport in reference to a man being shot. Deputies arrived a short time later and discovered Ferguson on the ground with a gunshot wound to the stomach area.

CP Living 23 agreed to pay Bay City $90,000 after councilmembers approved a settlement in a lawsuit filed by the city about a year ago.

Council approved an agreement at their last meeting that allowed city attorney Christopher Nichols to enter into the agreement that gave CP Living 90 days to pay a $90,000 settlement of the original $108,812 lawsuit.

Bay City officials are moving forward with the new aquatic center.

Councilmembers heard an update lead by councilman Bill Cornman Thursday after he, Mayor Mark Bricker and councilman Jason Childers met with Municipal Capital Markets Group (MCMG) about two weeks ago to discuss plans on advancing the project.

 

August

Oxea has successfully started up its new world-scale production unit “Propanol 2” at its Bay City site. 

It has capacity to product 100,000 metric tons per year of propanol.

Judge Ben Hardin of the 23rd Judicial District took less than a minute in a decision to uphold the standings for lawsuit against Bay City officials and denied a motion for dismissal.

The lawsuit, filed by Bobby Head, is alleging city charter violations against Mayor Mark Bricker and City Council members Julie Estlinbaum and Bill Cornman was denied a plea to the jurisdiction Aug. 1 at the Matagorda County Courthouse. 

Tidehaven school board approved final policies that will allow the use of designated school marshals, or trained staff members, the ability to carry firearms in schools.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made proposals to increase the school marshal program in July following the Santa Fe High School shooting, which left 10 dead in May.

“Schools located in the cities can make their choice. We’re a little more rurally isolated,” Tidehaven Superintendent Andrew Seigrist said. “In part of Gov. Abbott’s plan, only a school board can designate a school marshal. And no one in the public may know who that person is in case some one wanted to target the school.”

Bay City Council voted not to place a charter change form of government on the November ballot and approved city lawyers to appeal a judge’s decision in a lawsuit that would defend the position of Mayor Mark Bricker and council members until a May special election can be held.

At the end of their meeting, council cut the mayor’s salary pay to $63,000 a year starting in October. Bricker was absent from the meeting.

“We voted 3-1 to take the city manager position to the ballot… Our charter has a comedy of errors in it. If we just take this topic, we’re going to be left out there with these errors that says ‘mayor’,” councilmember Jason Childers said Thursday. “The issue is, if we take this, it’s another two years before we can take this back. I certainly feel it needs to go on the ballot, I feel November is too short. It gives us time to prepare the charter and put this on a May ballot... as for the mayor… I just think we should get what we pay for.”

Bay City Police are investigating the murder of David Zepeda that occurred Sunday, Aug. 19.

Zepeda was found at a residence in the 1500 block of Avenue L with a gunshot wound to his chest.

Gerald “Tim” Powell has been selected by the Board of Directors of STP Nuclear Operating Company as President and Chief Executive Officer of the company. Powell, who has served as interim President and CEO since January, will immediately assume the permanent role for the company. 

During the Aug. 12 meeting, Bay City Council members let their voice be heard over Mayor Mark A. Bricker’s performance during his tenure at the post.

During the Aug. 23 meeting, the several residents of Bay City fired back to the council.

“You need to study the charter because you are not obeying the charter,” said Jo Halbert. “You all sit up there and act like we don’t have a great city. We have a great city and the only thing coming from this group (council) has been negative things. The only thing positive that has come out here are things that benefit you personally or someone close to you personally. I am tired of the negativity that is coming out of here. You are acting like you want to the big channel news to come out here and you are not going to get that if I am around.”

With the approval of $21 million in bonds, the Bay City Independent School District can now move forward with construction work of two of its campuses and the building of a new football stadium.

The bonds were approved by Bay City ISD voters in November of 2016 and part of a $124 million bond issue. 

A former Bay City ISD teacher was indicted by a Matagorda County grand jury Aug. 27 for on online solicitation of a minor and improper relationship between educator/student charges stemming from a Dec. 2017 arrest.

Rachel A. Gonzales, 45, was indicted and now will face trial over the incident where she is accused of having an improper relationship with a 13-year-old student.

September

When Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced the 400 campuses that had achieved a Met Standard rating in the 2018 state accountability system, there was a school on the list that can normally be found year after year — Van Vleck Elementary.

The school was once again honored with the Met Standard rating meaning the school earned all distinction designations applicable to their school during the recent 2018 state accountability system rankings.

The suspect wanted in connection with an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon has turned himself in to the Matagorda County Jail Tuesday, Aug. 28.

Heath Dominguez was taken into custody without incident after learning of the aggravated assault with a deadly weapon warrant out for his arrest.

The Board of Managers of the Matagorda County Hospital District announced the appointment of J. Warren Robicheaux, FACHE, to the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO). 

Robicheaux comes to Matagorda County after 13 years of service to the East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System (ETMC), with 11 of those years being in a CEO or senior administrator role. 

Glenn Organ and Harvest House were named the United Way Volunteers of the Year for all its charity work done in the Bay City community by the United Way. The honor was handed out during their annual kickoff to their annual campaign.

Bay City Council agreed to establish a plan in order to look into placing the inclusion of the city manager form of government and charter changes on the May 2019 ballot.

Councilman Bill Cornman brought up the issue as he said the council needed to determine a timeline to work on this issue. 

 “We passed a deal that said we were going to put the city manager on the November ballot,” Cornman said. “That became undoable mainly because of this crazy lawsuit that we have pending. We put it on the ballot but targeted the May 2019 ballot and the language was to target that date and not to do it because of this lawsuit that is pending.

“We really don’t have plenty of time,” Cornman said. “What I am suggesting is that on our next meeting we agree on a detailed approach on how we are going to go at this thing. Start modifying the charter on Oct. 2 and that would leave us only 18 weeks, with the holidays.”

By a vote of 4-0, Bay City ISD Board of Trustees voted to withdraw from the Matagorda County Educational Services Co-op in order to save the district more money.

“We are paying the lion’s share of this program and it is just off balance,” said Bay City ISD Superintendent Dr. Marshall Scott III.

Palacios ISD will be looking for a new superintendent after South San Antonio ISD tabbed Dr. Alexandro Flores as its lone finalist for its superintendent’s post last week.

Flores has been tabbed to replace Abelardo Saaverdra, who is retiring after serving South San for the past four years.

The Van Vleck ISD Board of Trustees voted to authorize the creation of the Van Vleck ISD Police Department.

The decision comes on the heels of the board naming Bay City Police Sgt. Fred Wesselski as the VVISD Chief of Police.

Van Vleck Independent School District officials announced that the district received a rating of “A” for “Superior Achievement” under Texas’ School FIRST financial accountability rating system. The “Superior Achievement” rating is the state’s highest, demonstrating the quality of VVISD’s financial management and reporting system.

For the fifth straight year, the Bay City Lions Club is helping youngsters in Matagorda County and in Sweeny ISD with an early detection eye-screening exam.

The exams are administered by Doc Campbell in all five Matagorda County school districts as well as a visit to Sweeny ISD again this year.

“We are probably going to see more than 5,000 kids this year,” Campbell said.

The Kirwin Law Firm, PLLC and the Nichols Firm, LLC, have issued a joint statement following their resignation as city attorneys for the city of Bay City.  

On Friday, Sept. 14, Timothy B. Kirwin of the Kirwin Law Firm, PLLC and Christopher L. Nichols of The Nichols Firm, PLLC, jointly tendered their resignations to the city of Bay City as the city’s legal counsel.

October

During the Matagorda County Commissioners court, county officials presented an update on cotton producers and how the rain has wrecked this year’s crops for the second year in a row.

“As of today, we have lost 50 percent of $25 million revenue that cotton produces in Matagorda County,” said James Enbrock, Matagorda County Extension Agent Emeritus. “That is a $12.5 million dollar loss just in cotton.”

Bay City Council approved the appointment of Ann Marie Odefey and her firm Roberts, Odefey, Witte and Wall, LLP as the city’s new attorney. Odefey has been in government practice for more than 20 years.

The appointment comes on the heels of the resignation of the Kirwin Law Firm, PLLC and the Nichols Firm, LLC, as city attorneys for the city of Bay City.  

The Bay City/Matagorda County Branch of the NAACP is sponsoring its first annual Scholarship Banquet Saturday, Oct. 20 at the Bay City Civic Center, 201 7th Street in Bay City. 

This year’s theme is “Get Out the VOTE!” The branch is encouraging citizens in attendance to make a difference at the polls by voting.

The Matagorda County Silver Spur Award is the most prestigious honor given by the ranching and livestock industry in Matagorda County.  Established in 2017, the award is conferred upon iconic industry leaders whose unparalleled devotion to land and livestock has earned them notable respect and admiration from their peers. 

This year, the 2018 Matagorda County Silver Spur Award to Dan Wendt. 

According to Matagorda County Attorney Denise Fortenberry, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Gibson will continue to serve on the Matagorda County’s Commissioner Court despite the release of an Oct. 15 sealed indictment against Gibson.

“Government code states that only a conviction will get him off the court,” Fortenberry said. “He is innocent until proven guilty.”

Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald did not want to comment on the Gibson indictment and referred all questions to Fortenberry.

The indictment was filed on Oct. 15 charging Gibson with misappropriation of fiduciary financial property greater than $2,500 less than $30,000.

Gibson was arrested on the charge by sealed indictment Monday, Oct. 22 at the Matagorda County Jail. Gibson was released under a $5,000 personal recognizance bond set by the 239th District Court Judge Patrick E. Sebesta of Angleton. 

When the high school cross country runners take to the course in Round Rock Saturday, Nov. 3, Bay City will be well represented for the second year in a row.

Bay City senior Raheem Key qualified for the state cross country meet that will be held at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock with his race starting at approximately 1:50 p.m.

November

Matagorda County officials huddled with members of the Wellness Matagorda group to discuss plans for an Aquatics Center in Bay City.

“We have been exploring this for 18 months and this would be the third phase of the Wellness Matagorda initiative,” said Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald. “Before I was in office, I participated in the formation of this study.”

58 votes

That was the margin of victory for incumbent Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald’s victory over Republican challenger Charles Wright in the general election.

“I was pleased that I ended up on the top end of the count,” McDonald said. “I expected a close race. I didn’t think it would be that close, but I expected it to be close.”

There was no “blue wave” over District 27 as Republican incumbent Mike Cloud easily won re-election to Texas’ 27th Congressional seat defeating Democrat Eric Holguin.

Cloud earned 60.3 percent of the vote to Holguin’s 36.6 percent of the vote. Independent James Duerr earned 2.06 percent and Libertarian Daniel Tinus garnered 1.01 percent of the vote. 

Matagorda County will seat a new county clerk Jan. 1, 2019.

Republican Stephanie Cantu Wurtz defeated incumbent Democrat Janet Hickl by a final vote of 5,443 or 52.16 percent of the vote to 4,993 or 47.84 percent of the vote.

“I am excited and still in shock but just thrilled with the results,” Wurtz said following Tuesday’s election.

When provisional ballots were counted Wednesday, Nov. 14 by the Matagorda County Clerk’s office, incumbent County Judge Nate McDonald increased his winning margin by 61 votes as opposed to the 58-vote differential reported on election night.

When all the provisional votes were tallied up and counted, McDonald earned 5,285 votes or 50.29 percent of the vote to Wright’s 5,224 votes or 49.71 percent of the vote.

A local girl will get to race among the stars in Las Vegas this December.

Kami Klepac of Van Vleck will be one of 147 cowgirls competing at the KK Run for Vegas/JrNFR Barrel Race, set for Dec. 11-15 in Las Vegas. The event will be held in conjunction with the National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s grand finale.

Charles Wright, the Republican candidate for Matagorda County Judge, has filed a petition for a recount in the Nov. 6 general election.

Janet Hickl made the announcement during Monday’s Matagorda County Commissioner’s meeting while the commissioners were considering canvassing the votes for the general election.

“We do have a petition for a recount in the county judge’s race,” Hickl said. 

The recount in the Matagorda County Judge’s race is in the books and Nate McDonald has officially been declared the winner in his race with Republican challenger Charles Wright.

The recount was completed Nov. 21.

After a manual count of mail ballots only, McDonald received 432 votes to Wright’s 307 votes.

Plans for a rescheduled Relay for Life were scratched Monday, Nov. 26 due to pending weather concerns and the playoff contest between Van Vleck and Tidehaven in Rosenberg.

December

With dirt already being moved behind them, member of the Bay City Independent School District held a ceremonial ground breaking ceremony Monday, Dec. 3 to herald a new beginning for the district.

Bay City ISD Superintendent Dr. Marshall Scott III opened the ceremony thanking the Bay City voters who made this event possible by passing the November 2016 bond issue.

“This is the fourth major project that we have undertaken since passing the November 2016 bond,” Scott said. “I want to thank everyone in the community that supported this project.”

After a two-hour meeting held Monday, Dec. 10, Bay City Housing Authority Commissioner Chairperson Danyal Manning has agreed to resign her post with the commission by Friday due to issues brought to Bay City Mayor Mark Bricker.

Bricker said a full report would be filed by Friday.

“As a result of the hearing, there were a lot of factors that were discussed and she has agreed to resign her post by Friday or I will remove her from the position,” Bricker said. 

Former Matagorda County Judge Loy Sneary was named the 2018 George Holst Award recipient for excellence in community vision and economic leadership in Matagorda County during Matagorda County Economic Development Corporation’s annual meeting at Bay City Country Club Thursday night, Dec. 13.

Bay City Housing Commissioner Chairperson Danyal Manning was removed from her position Friday, Dec. 14. Commissioner Ronnie Reeves was also removed from the commission on the grounds of “inefficiency.” 

In documents obtained from the city of Bay City, Mayor Mark Bricker removed Manning from the Bay City Housing Authority after Manning failed to resign from the post by Friday’s date. 

“As a result of the hearing, there were a lot of factors that were discussed and she has agreed to resign her post by Friday or I will remove her from the position,” Bricker said. 

More than 20 residents of Matagorda County, represented by the Potts Law Firm and the Lundquist Law Firm, have joined in a lawsuit against Tenaris Bay City, Inc., in Harris County District Court, due to the flooding of their properties. 

“While Hurricane Harvey was a natural disaster, this was entirely man-made. Tenaris Bay City, Inc. could have and should have considered the neighboring community. If they had, these plaintiffs would never have been displaced from their homes,” said Derek Potts, founder and national managing partner of Potts Law Firm in Houston.

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