(Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on a look back at 2019 news.)

 

Just as District 25 representative Dennis Bonnen took over as Texas Speaker of the House, the storm clouds began to brew during his first year as tenure as speaker along with crucial Bay City elections determine a new direction for the city.

 

January

During a special meeting held Tuesday, Jan. 1, the bonds and oaths for newly elected officials were sworn into office.

County officials being sworn in included County Judge Nate McDonald, County Clerk Stephanie Cantu Wurtz, Matagorda County Precinct 4 Commissioner Charles “Bubba” Frick, Matagorda County Commissioner Precinct 2 Kent Pollard, Justice of the Peace Precinct 6 Jim Powell, Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Amy Ottino Tapia, Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 Ronald LeBlanc, Jus-tice of the Peace Precinct 4 Mark Andrew Finlay, Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 Jason Sanders, County Treasurer Loretta Griffin and District Clerk Janice Brooks Hawthorne.

Matagorda County authorities located a missing Wadsworth woman dead in her vehicle Dec. 31.

Tamira Jean Stone, 33, had been reported missing from her Wadsworth area home after a missing person report was filed with the department on Sunday, Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. Stone and her vehicle, a green 2002 Chevy Suburban, had been reported missing from her home.

The Van Vleck Independent School District trustees officially announce the establishment of the Van Vleck ISD Police Department and swear in Fred Wesselski as chief of police for the de-partment. 

As expected, Representative Dennis Bonnen was elected Speaker of the House for Texas House of Representatives in the first order of business following the swearing in of representatives.

Bonnen, who represents the 25th District of Texas, was able to lock up the race within days of last November’s election and following the announcement of the retirement of Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio.

“(Bonnen) has done a lot for the state of Texas and a lot for Matagorda County,” said Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald. “I look forward to his leadership in the Texas House of Repre-sentatives Chamber. Matagorda County will do great things under his leadership.”

When Bay City voters return to the city polls May 4 they will be electing a new mayor.

Current Bay City Mayor Mark Bricker announced in a Facebook post that he would not seek re-election to the office.

The post reads as follows:

“Good Morning Bay City, The Best City in Texas! With a very heavy heart, I inform you that I will not seek re-election this May. I want to thank you all for the support that you’ve given me for the last nine years. I am proud of our many accomplishments and look forward to Bay City’s future. It is an honor and privilege to serve as your Mayor. — Mayor Mark A. Bricker.

Heidi Martinez, tourism manager for the city of Bay City, presented an update on the Joe De-Loach statue. The statue is set to honor the Olympic accomplishments of the Bay City graduate on a national stage.

While it appears no one is questioning the validity of the statue, the ire of store owners around the downtown square was raised when they learned of the city’s plans to place the statue in front of a store, on city property, on the square.

With only one vote calling for its closure, the membership of the Bay City Country Club voted to keep the establishment open despite being down in revenue again this year. Fifty-six ballots were cast with one ballot cast to close the club and 50 votes in favor of the new fees increase.

“A couple of years ago, a lot of people started to lost interest in the club,” said outgoing board member Len Cornelius. “We don’t know if that was because of what we did as a board or be-cause there are now other options for entertainment in Bay City. One reason or another, we lost a lot of people a couple of years ago. Not only are we down on income but we down on members.”

Tim Powell was named Man of the Year and Marilyn Sitz was named Woman of the Year at the 96th Annual Bay City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture Banquet held Thursday night at the Bay City Civic Center.

Both were honored for their true leadership abilities as shown in Matagorda County.

District Judge Dan Hardin issued a temporary restraining order Thursday that will allow Vidala Leal Rodas and Ronny Dean Reeves to continue to serve as commissioners of the Bay City Housing Authority.

Hardin found that “irreparable harm is imminent if the court does not issue injunctive relief to preserve the status quo and to permit the authority to perform essential functions.”

The restraining order authorizes the authority to “pay all current routinely occurring obligations including payroll and obligations incurred in the normal course of business including the $10,000 replenishment retainer to the plaintiff’s attorneys.”

Bay City Council failed to take any action on three agenda items during Monday’s special meet-ing.

Bay City Mayor Mark Bricker had called the special meeting with three items on the agenda.

The first item was to approve, reject and/or ratify Bricker’s removal of Danyal Manning from the Bay City Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. The second item was to approve or reject and /or ratify Bricker’s appointment of Veronica Magana, Johnnie Montalbo and Frank Paiz to fill vacant seats on the Bay City Housing Authority and the third item adopt a resolution of council that confirms that charter provision 3.09 and 3.10 do not apply to the removal and or appointment of members to the Bay City Housing Authority and recognize that it is within the mayor’s sole discretion to make those appointments and or removals pursuant to Texas law.

February

Longtime Matagorda Bay coastal expert Bill Balboa has joined the Matagorda Bay Foundation as its first Executive Director, an important landmark in the transition of the Matagorda Bay Foundation to a full service non-governmental organization focused upon environmental stewardship, advocacy, education and community support.  

While Bay City Mayor Mark Bricker issued his veto on the special election for changes to the city charter last Tuesday, Bay City Council will probably have the final word on if the matter will go before the voters.

Council has called two special meetings for Monday and Tuesday to discuss Monday, Feb. 4 and Tuesday, Feb. 5 to further discuss Bricker’s veto of the charter election.

The meeting on Monday, Feb. 4 will be to discuss the issues Bricker brought up in his veto of the special charter election. The meeting set for Tuesday, Feb. 5 would be to possibly override Bricker’s veto of the charter election.

On Tuesday, Jan. 29, Bricker said that the Bay City Council should focus on charter compliance with the current charter rather than focusing on changing it in his veto of the ordinance passed calling for a special election for charter changes.

According to Bay City Secretary David Holubec, Bricker had five days to veto the ordinance as stated in the city’s charter. Bricker delivered his veto of the special election Tuesday evening.

Matagorda County Commissioners approved a resolution to approve the support and continua-tion of the geographical jurisdiction of the 23rd District Court 23 as it currently stands.

Introduced Jan. 23 by Republican Senator Joan Huffman has introduced Senate Bill 414 Jan. 23 to remove Brazoria County from the tri-county jurisdiction that the court currently serves. The 23rd District Court serves Brazoria, Wharton and Matagorda counties. 

Matagorda County Attorney Denise Fortenberry said during Monday’s meeting that if this bill passes it would be a “huge financial burden on Matagorda and Wharton counties.”

By a unanimous vote, Bay City Council approved overriding Mayor Mark Bricker’s veto of the ordinance that would call for charter changes during a special meeting Tuesday, Feb. 5.

Bricker and council member Becca Sitz were not present at the meeting for the override vote.

All four remaining council members voted to override a veto that Bricker had set in place to stop the charter election that was set for May.

Visiting District Judge Randy Clapp ruled in favor of Ronny Reeves, Vidala Leal Rodas, Danyal Manning and the Bay City Housing Authority in its temporary injunction hearing held Thursday, Feb. 7 in the 130th District Court.

Clapp ruled that Bay City Mayor Mark Bricker has the right to remove and appoint commission-ers to the authority but he also needs to gain ratification of the move from city council.

The candidates are now all final for the city of Bay City general election for the positions of mayor and three city council positions.

The election is set for Saturday, May 4.

Running for the office of mayor will be Julie Estlinbaum, Robert Head and Robert Kenneth Nel-son. Incumbent Mayor Mark Bricker announced that he would not seek re-election to the post.

In the battle for Position 3 on city council, Floyce Brown will face off against Brent P. Mar-ceaux. Incumbent Crystal Folse did not file for re-election to the post.

For Position 4, incumbent Becca Sitz will face the challenge of Rosalyn Michelle White for the spot on council.

And for Position 5, incumbent Jason Childers will face Shaun Patrick Jammer for the seat.

Bay City voters will also vote on charter revisions that are set to be on the ballot. 

Council has been meeting to discuss the changes to the charter, which include a city manager run government for Bay City and not a mayor-run form of government.

The Bay City Independent School District’s board of trustees went into executive session to take action on the Superintendent Dr. Marshall Scott III’s contract of employment, in which they approved to add another year, making it a three-year contract. 

“I motion that we extend the Superintendent’s contract one year to his current contract,” said trustee Bobby Kimball at the meeting.

Dr. Missy Glenn started her first week on the job as the new superintendent of the Palacios In-dependent School District this week.

Glenn was named sole finalist for the post in December and was tabbed by the Palacios ISD Board of Trustees to replace outgoing superintendent Dr. Alexandro M. Flores.

For Bay City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture President Mitch Thames, Matagorda Coun-ty hit a “homerun” during its Matagorda County Day in Austin Tuesday, Feb. 19.

“We made an impact and it certainly didn’t hurt that our state representative is the Speaker of the House either,” Thames said. “The goal is to build a relationship so that when we go to the Capitol with an issue that they remember who we are and what we represent. We may disa-gree on issues but the goal was met.  They know all about Matagorda County now.

“The goal is to be recognized,” Thames said. “We made an impact and we were able to pro-vide every legislative official our chamber board’s approved legislative agenda. We just wanted to deliver a message to as many of our state leaders as we could. I wasn’t seeking commit-ments but that will come later.”

March

Matagorda County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 1 Jason Sanders was arrested and charged with tampering with government record. 

Sanders was booked into the Matagorda County Jail Feb. 26 and was released on a personal recognizance bond on the same date.

Bay City is mourning the loss of Tom Uher, who died Saturday, March 9. Uher was 81.

Uher served Bay City as a Texas state representative and served as speaker pro tempore. He represented Brazoria, Matagorda and Wharton counties for 35 years.

“Bay City has lost a great man, a friend of many, a hero of mine,” said Bay City Mayor Mark Bricker. “Taking office in 2010, the only thing I knew about Tom Uher composed of small bits and pieces of conversation I would randomly overhear in family conversations as a kid. I knew the name, but had no idea what that name stood for, why so many called him a friend. Words cannot describe the impact he has had on my life. I will always be thankful and I will strive to help others as he has helped me. Bay City lost a good man, he will be missed.”

Bay City Council voted unanimously to change the name of Texas Highway 35, within the city limits of Bay City, to honor D.R. Tom Uher during a special meeting Tuesday night.

Bay City Mayor Mark Bricker placed the item to honor Uher, who died March 9. 

He may have been ousted from the television show for now, but Matagorda County still have plenty of reasons to be proud of the performance that Midfield’s Colby Swift gave during his appearance on ABC’s American Idol.

Swift faltered with the words from Bruno Mars’ ‘Grenade’ during the group portion of the pro-gram and was the only member of the four-member group to be eliminated from the competi-tion.

“I am leaving with my head held high in Luke Bryan’s boots,” Swift said. “They are my boots now and they aren’t his anymore.”

April

Outgoing Bay City Mayor Mark Bricker lashed out at his fellow councilmembers for their lack of progress on his decision to oust three members of the Bay City Housing Authority.

After Monday’s hearing to dismiss the case filed against him by the authority members was denied by visiting Judge Randy Clapp, Bricker posted on his Facebook page comments con-cerning council’s decision to remove the three members of the BC Housing Authority.

Bricker said a lot of false information has been released to the public concerning his decision to remove the housing board commissioners.

“As disappointed as I have been in these false statements, I have remained hopeful that the is-sue would be resolved by city council ratifying the removals,” Bricker said. “In a letter ad-dressed to commissioners, HUD states their hiring of legal counsel did not follow their proce-dures, their lawsuit filed failed to get the required prior approval of HUD regional counsel, and that money spent on the lawsuit was not allowed and would have to be returned to the federal accounts. 

“When I sent this to city council, I felt confident that it articulated infractions and supported our argument that PHA money could not be spent to benefit individuals. Regardless of this, three times council has yet to confirm or deny the removals,” Bricker said. “At this point, I feel I have done all I can do to protect the well being of the BCHA, it now falls solely in city council’s hands. I strongly feel it’s our responsibility as elected officials to address issues head on and not kick them down the road. I remain hopeful that action will happen and allow the city and HUD to begin discussing a path forward.”

After holding a public hearing on the matter, Matagorda County Commissioners approved an application of a tax abatement agreement with Air Liquide, Inc. during a meeting of the Mata-gorda County Commissioner’s Court.

Commissioners unanimously approved the measure that would grant a declining tax abate-ment beginning Jan. 1, 2021 and continuing for five years.

For the first three years, the county would grant Air Liquide, Inc. a 100 percent abatement of property tax and improvement additions and equipment installed. In the fourth year, the abatement percentage will be 75 percent and in year five, the abatement percentage will be at 50 percent. 

Council voted to table any action on the removal of three Bay City Housing Commissioners in-definitely thus removing the item from council’s plate until following the May 4 election. 

Once again the item was placed on council’s agenda to either confirm or deny the removal of Bay City Housing Authority commissioners Danyal Manning, Vidala Rodas and Ronnie Reeves. 

Council member Jason Childers abstained from the vote due to a family member being a part of the Bay City Housing Authority. 

Council member Bill Cornman then motioned to support the mayor’s recommendations for the removal but the motion died due to a lack of a second.

A motion was then made by council member Chystal Folse to table the item indefinitely and was seconded by Becca Sitz.

“The problem is I need to tell HUD a clear idea where we are at and what is going on,” Bricker said.

“This will do it,” Cornman said. “If we table it indefinitely, it will be not be on future agendas. If there is no action, then it does come up again on the next agenda. We need to vote either for it or against it or table it indefinitely.”

May

Three newcomers will be added to the Bay City Independent School District Board of Trustees after three trustee spots were filled during Saturday’s general election.

James Scardami, John DeWitt and Trent Tinnin all earned trustee spots when election results were released late Saturday night.

Tinnin scored the big upset on the night as the newcomer unseated incumbent Bobby Kimball on the trustee board. Tinnin garnered 1,176 votes or 62.99 percent of the vote to Kimball’s 722 or 41.83 percent of the vote.

Two Bay City Council members easily won re-election to their posts and a former council member was elected during Saturday’s general elections.

Becca Sitz and Jason Childers each won re-election to their positions on council over their op-ponents while Brent Marceaux easily outdistanced Floyce Brown for Position 3 on council.

In the race for Position 3, Marceaux defeated Brown by a final tally of 1,183 to 547 or 68.38 percent of the vote to Brown’s 31.62 percent of the vote. Marceaux held an early lead with ear-ly voting numbers at 763 to 330 and coasted to the win in the Saturday election numbers.

The race to determine the next mayor for Bay City is headed to a runoff between Julie Estlinbaum and Robert Nelson. The runoff election is set for June 8.

Each candidate failed to gain the required 50 percent of the vote in the general election and thus the call for the runoff election.

Nelson held a slim lead over Estlinbaum after early voting numbers were released. Nelson gar-nered 467 votes to Estlinbaum’s 428 votes.

When Saturday’s figures were tallied, Nelson again held a slim margin of the lead over Estlinbaum by a count of 279-244 for a final total of 746 to 672 or 41.72 percent of the vote for Nelson and 37.58 percent of the vote for Estlinbaum.

Bobby Head garnered 370 votes in the election for mayor or 20.69 percent of the vote.

Bay City voters approved changes to the city’s charter to switch the form of government to mayor-council to city manager-council form.

Voters approved Proposition A by a count of 964 to 792 or 54.90 percent to 45.10 percent. 

The city of Bay City will now have a council/mayor-city manager form of government instead of the previous mayor-council form of government. In the city manager form of government, the mayor will become the major policy setter for the city and will not vote in issues unless there is a tie.

The Bay City Independent School District and Bay City Junior High are mourning the loss of 6th grade assistant principal Rodolfo “Rudy” Rios.

Rios was killed in a single-vehicle accident Saturday, May 4.

The body of a 16-year-old has been located and recovered by U.S. Coast Guard officials after he went missing off of Matagorda Beach Sunday, May 26. 

Coast Guard found the body of Joseph Carlton Thomas, 16, after a two-day search for the miss-ing teen after he was reported missing at 1 p.m. Sunday, May 26.

June

Robert Nelson was “very humbled” by the historic results of Saturday’s runoff election as he won the election to be named mayor for the city of Bay City.

Nelson defeated longtime council member Julie Estlinbaum 830-691 when the final results were announced Saturday evening. 

“I would like to thank the citizens of Bay City for their support and confidence,” Nelson told the Tribune following Saturday’s election results.

Nelson won the early voting by a count of 551 votes to Estlinbaum’s 492 votes. When the re-sults were released from Saturday’s count, Nelson garnered 279 votes to Estlinbaum’s 199.

Only 1,493 votes were cast in the runoff election and Nelson also had to overcome a late en-dorsement by former mayoral candidate Bobby Head for Estlinbaum.

“I am truly humbled by the confidence that the people of Bay City have in me,” Nelson said. “I am going to do the best I can to serve the people of Bay City.”

On Sunday, June 9 around 4:15 p.m., Matagorda County Sheriff’s Office deputies were notified of a man being swept out in the gulf by rip tides about ¼ mile from the pier at Jetty Park.  

The man was identified as Javier Lopez, 64, from Chicago, Ill. was said to be wade fishing at the time he was swept out.  Sgt. Phillip Hester, who was one of the deputies working beach patrol, entered the water and swam out 150 to 200 yards to try and rescue Lopez but was taken under by the riptide.  

The Bay City Council approved a request for qualifications report during Thursday’s council meeting to take the next step forward with the new community aquatic center.

The city had issued a request for qualifications April 3 for a design-build firm or team of pro-fessionals interested in designing and building a multi-purpose Aquatic Center. Proposals were due May 9.

City officials said three proposals were received and a five-member selection committee nar-rowed it down to two firms with interviews taking place May 29.

“We have been working on bringing an Aquatic Center to Matagorda County for the last 18 months,” said Bay City council member Bill Cornman. “This will be the biggest project that Bay City has ever done.”

When Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 891 June 10, it changed the geographical jurisdiction of the 23rd District Court as it currently stands.

The bill, which has now been signed into law, will remove Brazoria County from the tri-county jurisdiction that the court currently serves. For centuries, the 23rd District Court served Brazoria, Wharton and Matagorda counties.

Bay City Council approved a 2.5 percent increase for WCA for trash service in the city limits of Bay City. According to Bay City Finance Director Scotty Jones, the 2.5 percent rate increase was already built in the current contract with WCA.

“So the 2.5 percent increase is going to happen,” said Bay City council member Bill Cornman. 

Jones said the increase will not go into effect until November.

 

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