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VFD receives GP grant funds

Corrigan VFD members Colby and Kyle Warner and chief John Cobb receive grant money from GP’s Terry Burcham (third from left) and Cathey Page. (Photo by Kim Popham)Corrigan VFD members Colby and Kyle Warner and chief John Cobb receive grant money from GP’s Terry Burcham (third from left) and Cathey Page. (Photo by Kim Popham)

CAMDEN, TX, Nov. 18, 2014 – Four East Texas fire departments are among 50 grant recipients of Georgia-Pacific's Bucket Brigade program this year. The Corrigan, Livingston, Groveton and Onalaska Fire Departments were awarded a total of $15,000 to help fund equipment and other critical needs.

"Our local fire departments have some extraordinary people that serve their community and who put others before themselves," said Danny Wright, Camden Lumber Plant Manager. "We are very proud to be able to support these men and women and want to say thank you for all they do for our communities and employees."

This year, Georgia-Pacific awarded $235,500 in grants to fire departments for equipment critical to firefighters' safety. Since the program started in 2006, Georgia-Pacific has given more than $1.5 million to fire departments that serve the company's facility communities across the country.

The Bucket Brigade grants, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, are based on need and are funded by the Georgia-Pacific Foundation and local Georgia-Pacific facilities. Funds are typically used to purchase new protective clothing and replace items such as damaged safety gear and aging equipment.

Additionally through the program, Georgia-Pacific provides free memberships to The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), which provides access to tools, resources, programs and advocacy for first-responders across the nation.

"The majority of fire departments in the U.S. are volunteer and they struggle to maintain basic preparedness levels," said Heather Schafer, NVFC's chief executive officer. "Georgia-Pacific Bucket Brigade grants enable departments to obtain equipment so that they can protect lives and property in their local communities. We applaud Georgia-Pacific's willingness to give back to those who serve."

The fire departments receiving grants this year span 19 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin.

Visit Georgia-Pacific Bucket Brigade for more information on the program. To view firefighter statistics click this infographic and video.

Based in Atlanta, Georgia-Pacific and its subsidiaries are among the world's leading manufacturers and marketers of bath tissue, paper towels and napkins, tableware, paper-based packaging, office papers, cellulose, specialty fibers, nonwoven fabrics, building products and related chemicals. The company employs approximately 35,000 people worldwide. Georgia-Pacific is a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries Inc., a privately-owned company headquartered in Wichita, Kan. Both companies have a strong tradition of focused community investment in communities where they have operations.

City council upholds termination of Jackson

By Chris Edwards
TIMES EDITOR

CORRIGAN – Despite a failed motion to overturn its decision, the Corrigan city council upheld the recent termination of former animal control/code enforcement officer Kenith Jackson.

Jackson, who was terminated on October 20 for insubordination, appeared before the council members to make his case for an appeal on Friday morning at city hall. Jackson's termination by Corrigan Police Chief Darrell Gibson was based on his disregard for a directive issued to him.

He repeatedly referred to the directive as a "setup for failure" at the hearing, citing the time that the directive was issued (the day of his termination) and the nature of one of the items on the directive as leading to his dismissal. Jackson further speculated that the directive was handed to him because of a grievance he had filed against Chief Gibson prior to the events of October 20.

Jackson claimed a lack of familiarity with operating the radio in his city vehicle as a reason for not following the item in question on the directive that was cited as his insubordinance. The requirement was that Jackson check-in with dispatch upon leaving the police station.

The hearing came after an initial appeal by Jackson, which he claimed was summarily denied by city administrator Darrian Hudman. Hudman, who served as Jackson's first witness, told Jackson that he "didn't listen to any side" when making the decision on the appeal. "I just got the paperwork," he said.

Jackson asked Hudman about the matter of retrieving information from his personnel file, a request that Jackson said was denied. City attorney Luan Tatum referred to that matter as a different grievance than what the hearing's purpose covered. Hudman clarified the issue to the council and guests gathered that nobody denied Jackson access to his file, instead a chain-of-command process was recently enacted for city personnel to access said files, a practice put into place due to state protocol for handling such documents.

According to Corrigan PD Sgt. Harold Rapsilver, Jackson did have a working, basic knowledge of the radio equipment. Rapsilver, who was the second witness called by Jackson, affirmed that Jackson had done a good job while serving in the capacity of animal control and code enforcement officer for the city. Sgt. Rapsilver also said that it was common for other officers to not check-in with dispatch upon leaving the station house.

After Jackson questioned Sgt. Rapsilver, Tatum asked him some questions pertaining to the operation of the radio, which he confirmed was easily operated with a minimum of specialized training required for its use. Rapsilver also stated that Jackson had used the radio before. The issue of Jackson's admitted ineptitude with the radio equipment also came up with the third and final witness, Lisa Schoubroek. Schoubroek, a former dispatch supervisor with Corrigan PD, said that the terms "hot" and "keyed-up" were used to describe Jackson's habitual inability to correctly use the radio and its microphone.

In his closing remarks, Jackson urged the council to not "allow [the] travesty to withstand" and to explore the possible outcomes of their decision.

Before the council went into an executive session to make its decision, Tatum questioned Jackson about the day of his termination. Jackson claimed his regular routine was his reason for not following the directive. He said that even though he'd read the document given to him, his general habits upon leaving the station caused him to not think of checking in with dispatch. Tatum further asked before the council departed the meeting room if Chief Gibson had the authority to terminate Jackson.

After emerging from the executive session, councilwoman Johnnie Marie Brooks motioned to overturn Jackson's termination, a motion which failed without a second. Without a change of decision, Councilwoman Johnna Lowe Gibson entertained a motion to adjourn the hearing.

County unemployment rate falls; state economy performing “record pace”

Polk County Unemployment

LIVINGSTON – Polk County's unemployment rate fell for the second straight month in September, dipping down to 6.3 percent.

This marked the sixth month of 2014 that the local jobless number remained below 7.0 percent. From 2009 through 2013 the county rate remained at 7.0 percent or higher, and climbed above 10.0 percent in both 2010 and 2011.

The 6.3 percent figure for September – which is the latest rate available from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) – is down from August's 6.8 percent number and well below the 7.9 unemployment rate posted in September 2013.

According to TWC, September's 6.3 percent jobless rate translates to mean that out of an estimated workforce of 17,964, there were 1,130 county residents looking for work during the month.

One month earlier, TWC's revised estimates put the local labor force at 17,989 with 1,229 looking for jobs.

Statewide, September's actual unem­ployment rate of 5.0 percent was down from August's 5.5 percent but well below the 6.s percent jobless figure recorded in September 2013.

When seasonal factors are added to the equation, the state's September adjusted unemployment rate was listed at 5.2 percent, which was down slightly from the 5.3 percent posted for August but well below the 6.3 percent listed in September 2013.

The actual national unemploy­ment rate for September was listed at 5.7 percent, which was down from August's 6.3 percent rate and well below the 7.0 percent figure posted in September 2013.

The September sea­sonally adjusted U.S. rate of 5.9 percent was down from the August figure of 6.1 percent and down from the September 2013 figure of 7.2 percent.
According to TWC officials, Texas employers added 36,400 seasonally adjusted total nonfarm jobs in September for a total of 413,700 jobs over the past 12 months.

"The Texas economy, from our employers across all major industries to our skilled and dedicated workers, continues to perform at a record pace," said TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar. "With a record setting 413,700 jobs added over the year, and our labor force surpassing the 13 million milestone, our state shows how partnerships and a strong business climate fuel job growth for the people of Texas."

Over the month, nine of 11 major industries showed positive growth, led by Leisure and Hospitality with 9,300 jobs added in September. In the last 12 months, every major industry in Texas has shown positive annual growth. In fact, seven out of 11 have grown at rates at or above 3.0 percent over the last year.

"There's never been a better time to look for new opportunities in Texas," said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. "I encourage job seekers to visit their local Workforce Solutions office to find resources to help them find the best fit for them in this diverse labor market."

Mining and Logging continued to grow with 5,000 jobs added over the month. The industry had the highest seasonally adjusted annual growth rate in Texas at 9.6 percent. Construction added 5,400 jobs in September and reported the second highest growth rate of 5.2 percent over the year.

"With so much consistent expansion and hundreds of thousands of jobs added year-over-year, Texas employers should be proud of the tremendous growth they have been able to achieve here," said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Hope Andrade.

From among the 25 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) monitored by TWC, the Midland MSA had the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 2.6 percent. The Odessa MSA was next at 3.1 percent while the Amarillo MSA was listed at 3.6 percent.

The MSAs with the highest jobless rate in September was the McAllen–Edinburg–Mission MSA at 8.5 percent. The Brownsville-Harlingen MSA was next at 8.0 percent and the Beaumont-Port Arthur MSA was third from the top after recording a rate of 7.5 percent.

Unemployment rates posted for other East Texas counties include:

SEPT. %
COUNTY RATE CHANGE
Anderson 5.8 -0.6
Angelina 4.9 -0.5
Cherokee 6.3 -0.4
Grimes 4.6 -0.6
Hardin 6.2 -0.7
Harris 5.0 -0.5
Houston 7.0 -0.6
Jasper 7.5 -0.8
Jefferson 7.8 -1.0
Leon 4.9 -0.3
Liberty 6.1 -0.9
Madison 4.7 -0.6
Montgomery 4.3 -0.4
Nacogdoches 5.0 -0.8
Polk 6.3 -0.5
Sabine 10.3 -1.0
San Augustine 8.4 -0.1
San Jacinto 5.4 -0.5
Shelby 5.3 -0.5
Trinity 5.6 -0.5
Tyler 7.4 -0.9
Walker 5.1 -0.7

Camden man killed in highway accident

CORRIGAN -- A 65-year-old Camden man was pronounced dead at the scene of a truck-pedestrian accident shortly after noon on Friday, Oct. 31, in Corrigan.

Alvin Fred McQueen died after he was struck by an 18-wheeler at the intersection of highways 59 and 287 in Corrigan at about 12:15 p.m.

According to reports, McQueen was walking east across U.S. 59 when a Kenworth tractor-trailer rig driven by Billy Don Kendrick Jr., 56, of Grapeland struck him. Kendrick apparently did not see McQueen as he attempted to make a left turn from the northbound lanes of Highway 59. After the accident, the 18-wheeler began to drive away until it was flagged down by others at the scene.

Kendrick told investigators he did not realize that the truck had stuck the pedestrian.
Witness also told investigators that when the 18-wheeler began to turn, the light for northbound traffic was still red.

A medical helicopter was summoned to Corrigan to transport McQueen to a trauma hospital but was waived off before it arrived when the victim was pronounced dead.

Kendrick was taken to CHI St. Luke's Health Memorial-Livingston for a mandatory blood test.
The incident was still under investigation by the Corrigan Police Department.

In another traffic mishap, a U.S. Postal Service worker was injured Saturday afternoon in an accident that occurred as she was delivering mail on U.S. 59 South near Goodrich.

Shelly Renea Wiggins, 28, of Cleveland had stopped her 1994 Chevrolet mail truck on the improved southbound shoulder of U.S. 59, just north of Windham Road, to deliver mail, according to Texas Highway Patrol Trooper Ashlee McBride. As Wiggins attempted to pull back onto southbound U.S. 59, her vehicle was struck by a southbound 2014 Dodge pickup truck driven by Kerry Wayne Divin, 47, of Katy, which was towing a small flatbed trailer in the outside lane.

The impact caused the mail truck to spin counter-clockwise and Wiggins, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected in the inside lane of the highway, the trooper's report indicated.
Wiggins, listed with incapacitating injuries, was transported from the scene by medical helicopter to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston.

Divin was listed as uninjured in the accident, which occurred at approximately 3:20 p.m.
Also investigated Saturday was a two-vehicle accident on FM 357 at U.S. 59.

A 2013 Cadillac Escalade driven by Kimberly Lynn Hendry, 42, of Lufkin and a 2011 Chevrolet pickup truck driven by Chris Allen Chiasson, 41, of Lufkin, were both eastbound on FM 357, with Hendry's vehicle in front. Both vehicles approached a yield sign at the intersection of U.S. 59. Hendry began to pull forward to merge onto the highway, but had to slow for oncoming traffic, according to Trooper Kevin Burman. Chiasson failed to notice the Cadillac slowing and struck the rear of Hendry's car, the trooper indicated.

Hendry and an 8-year-old passenger in Chiasson's pickup were listed with possible injuries and were transported by private vehicle to a Lufkin hospital.

Safety violations filed against GP; issues cited

CORRIGAN -- According to an OSHA report two violations have been filed against Georgia-Pacific in connection to the fire which claimed two lives in Corrigan in April and GP has been fined $14,000.

The fire occurred the night of April 26, when it broke out in the bag house, a grain silo-type structure on the plant.

Two men, Charles Kovar and Kenneth Morris, died from injuries sustained in the fire, weeks after the accident. Another man, Jimmy Williams, is still hospitalized.

The OSHA report cites two violations with a gravity score of 10 out of 10 for both and a violation type of "serious."

The first citation five issues:
* Dust collector bags impeded the venting area of the dust collector deflagration vents.
* No protection for employees from the fireball path.
* Dust collector vented and the deflagration traveled upstream to the sander.
* Main blower was not in operation.
* No choke between the sander dust collector and silo leading to the briquetter.

The second citation states employees were exposed to a struck-by hazard during the collapse of ventilation ductwork.

GP spokesman Eric Abercrombie said the company reached a settlement this week with OSHA by agreeing to pay the fine and signing a non-admission clause.

The Kovar and Morris families have each hired an attorney for civil action.

"This fire never should have happened and could have been reasonably prevented," said Anthony Buzbee, the Kovar family attorney. "We intend to aggressively pursue this effort to seek redress for the horrific loss of a very good man."

The Kovar family is suing GP and other third-parties who the petition states is responsible for the faulty equipment which did not aid and detect the fire before it got out of hand.

Republican candidates dominate in local, district elections

LIVINGSTON – In was a good day for Polk County's Republican Party candidates on Tuesday with local voters turning out to put most of them into office.

At the top of the local ballot, Sydney Murphy Brown of Livingston claimed the Polk County Judge's Office, defeating independent candidate Keith Anderson of Corrigan by a vote count of 7,414 (76.8%) to 2,241.

Brown will replace longtime Judge John Thompson, who did not seek re-election this year. She is scheduled to take office on Jan. 1, 2015 along with all of the other local winners.

At the district level, Republican nominee E.L. "Ernie" McClendon of Livingston was elected as the judge for the 258th Judicial District, edging out Democratic Party candidate Joe D. Roth of Livingston by a total vote of 15,329 (75.9%) to 4,876.

The 258th Judicial District includes Polk, San Jacinto and Trinity counties and McClendon carried the majority vote in all three. In Polk, he was favored by a margin of 7,982 (77.8%) to Roth's 2,284. San Jacinto County gave McClendon 4,562 votes (74%) to Roth's 1,601 and Trinity County supported McClendon by a margin of 2,785 (73.8%) to 991.

McClendon was appointed to the judicial post this past summer by Gov. Rick Perry after he won the Republican Party primary. He filled the vacancy created when former District Judge Elizabeth Coker resigned in December 2013.

In other contested local races, Pct. 2 Commissioner Ronnie Vincent of Onalaska was re-elected to a new four-year term, holding off challenges from two other candidates in the general election. Vincent, the Republican Party nominee, garnered 1,634 votes (72%) while Democratic Party challenger Ricky Joe Black of Onalaska received 297 votes (13.1%) and independent candidate Rick Andrews of Onalaska was given 339 votes.

The only other local race was for Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Office. The lone incumbent carrying the Democratic Party banner, Larry Whitworth, narrowly won his re-election bid by defeating Republican challenger Sean R. Burks of Corrigan. Whitworth received 884 votes (51.9%) while Burks garnered 818 votes (14.9%).

Also on the ballot this year, Texans were being asked to approve one amendment to the state's constitution. Proposition 1 would dedicate a portion of the state's oil and gas severance tax to the State Highway Fund to help pay for highway construction, maintenance and rehabilitation programs, not to include toll roads.

Polk County voters joined those around the state to approve the measure. Locally, it received 7,144 "for" votes (79.1%) and only 1,886 "against."

During the election, a total of 10,631 county residents went to the polls to cast ballot, a figure that is 28.6 percent of the 37,159 who are registered to vote here. In the early voting alone, 6,617 county residents cast ballots, which is 17.8 percent of the total eligible voters.

Although they were unopposed on Tuesday's ballot, a number of other candidates won local offices as a result of the general election.

Those re-elected to new terms include District Attorney William Lee Hon, District Clerk Kathy E. Clifton, County Clerk Schelana Meyers Walker Hock, County Treasurer Terri Williams, Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet, Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace Darrell Longino and Pct. 2 JP David G. Johnson. All were Republican Party nominees.

Those winning their first terms without opposition included Tom Brown, who will replace the retiring County Court at Law Judge Stephen Phillips, and Jamie Richardson-Jones, who will replace the retiring Pct. 4 JP Steven B. McEntyre. Both Brown and Richardson-Jones were Republican Party nominees.