Cooke County —
(This is the second of a three-part series.)
The second half of 2012 launched with the controversial national passage of “Obamacare” and the local declaration of Gainesville as the nation’s “most patriotic” city. It continued with more controversy in later months as officials deemed the city’s historic Fair Park fit for commercial use, a decision that may lead to the park’s Locke Field being razed during 2013 to make space for new apartment housing.
News highlights included:
The Supreme Court ruling in favor of President Barack Obama’s “Affordable Care Act” health care law — termed widely as “Obamacare” — drew an ample local measure of negative reactions when announced in June.
The 5-4 majority ruling held that nearly all United States citizens are required to have health insurance or pay a fine of several hundred dollars for each uninsured adult — the latter of which court justices have declared a tax that the government reserves the right to enforce.
The Constitutional ruling is unrelated to current healthcare coverage policies; many of them are still directed by 2010 health care laws. But if “Obamacare” remains in effect and is not repealed by winning Republican opponents following November elections, the year 2014 is set to be the time many Americans are required to carry insurance.
“Obamacare” proponents have insisted that the new law is designed mainly to help poor and middle-class Americans who struggle in affording proper healthcare. But critics of the new law insist it removes basic rights from American patients, forcing them to pay for health insurance rather than keeping the expense optional.
Cooke County Republican Party Chairman Robert Eggleston said he was more averse to what “Obamacare” could lead to than to the supposed philosophies behind its design.
“Every time the government gets involved in something, the costs go up and the swindlers come out of the woodwork to take advantage of the government’s largesse in what they’re trying to do,” he said in June. “Which may be correct, but always turns out to be a fiasco.”
Eggleston added that if 2012 elections put Republican officials back into advantage, the current “Obamacare” controversy will be quashed by the fact that many of its policies won’t actually come into effect.
“They’re going to dismantle it piece by piece if they get into power,” he said, adding that 2014 is still two years hence. “There will be a time period where adjustments are made.”
In an official statement, North Texas Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Randy Bacus criticized the new law but first conceded that it has advantages.
“The main benefit of the act is that it expands health insurance coverage to 32 to 34 million people in the United States who are currently uninsured,” he said. “Cooke County has a high percentage of uninsured when compared to other counties in Texas, so many local folks will probably benefit from the provisions of the act.”
In his statement, Bacus cited another main benefit of the Supreme Court decision: the hospital is granted some degree of closure on the uncertainty surrounding the act. “We can move forward with our efforts to comply with the many provisions in the act,” he said.
But Bacus added that he has concerns with many of the act’s provisions. “We are entering uncharted waters with some of the new cost-reduction concepts in the act,” he said. “These include such programs as value-based purchasing, accountable care organizations and bundled payments, as well as government incentives to reduce hospital re-admissions and healthcare-acquired complications. The act will create an enormous amount of paperwork and data collection and will require all health care providers to work more closely together.
“You will probably see much more consolidation in the healthcare industry,” he said.
Another big concern, Bacus said in his statement, is that the state’s Medicaid program is going to expand tremendously under “Obamacare.” Medicaid already consumes a quarter of the state budget in Texas, he said, and enrollment and costs will “mushroom” with the full implementation of the new act.
• Officials from the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) released documents in July outlining the registered “interested parties” and a timeline of hearings related to the EOG Resources, Inc., frac sand mine in Cooke County, and its application for an air permit.
The release derives from a court session in Gainesville on July 12, when SOAH judges Penny Wilkov and Travis Vickery heard testimony from several people looking to join an official record and be part of future air permit hearings during the coming months. This includes opponents and proponents of the mine. Many of the “interested parties” are Cooke and Montague county residents who question the safety measures that parent company EOG intends to take when using its 1,400-acre mine to process silica-based sand.
Local critics of the project have said the sand contains deadly carcinogens and must be properly contained and constantly monitored once the mine is actually in full operation. Future hearings will determine the company’s eligibility for a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) air permit that allows the full operation — though the mine has been in development since early 2011, and though EOG has already invested more than $30 million in developing it.
Many of the “interested parties” are not only local residents but live and work near the mine in development. And along with possible air contamination, they insist the frac mining operation will result in water contamination and a monopoly of water stores from nearby aquifers.
Other parties include attorneys for EOG plus members of TCEQ and the Office of Public Interest Counsel.
Parties on record
Party: EOG Resources, Inc. (permit applicant); representatives: Casey A. Bell and Allen Eli Bell, attorney.
Party: TCEQ executive director; representative: Betsy Peticolas, litigation division staff attorney.
Party: OPIC; representative: Amy Swanholm, assistant public interest counsel.
Parties: Rebecca Harris, Holly Harris-Bayer and Red River Motorcycle Trails, Inc., Recreation Park; representative: Charles W. Irvine, attorney.
Party: Cooke County commissioners’ court; representative: John Roane, Cooke County judge.
Parties: Mary E. Del Olmo, John Frederick, Mike Bartush, J’Lynn Hare, Wildcat Archery, Bartush Land & Cattle Company, Blue Ostrich Winery and Vineyard, and Arche Winery (all under Red River Agriculture and Wildlife Tourism); representative: Mary E. Del Olmo.
Parties: Penny Jordan, Jenny and John Shiffer, Barbara and Donald Rohmer, Joan and David Brockett, Roger Reiter, Susan Nelson, Nancee Turlington, Rita Blakely, Bob Wartman, Marina Greenhill, A.J. Knabe, Robert Fazen, Wylie Harris, Rhelda Harris, Terry Fender, Ozlem Altiok, Janis Sneed, Ivars Lusis, Patty Fleitman, Judith Kulp and Joy Philpott (all under Save the Trinity Aquifer); representative, Penny Jordan.
Party: Kathy Nielsen; representative: self.
Upcoming timeline of activities
Feb. 1, 2013 — Discovery term ends, including depositions.
Feb. 4, 2013 — Applicant (EOG) files prefiled testimony.
Feb. 15, 2013 — Mine-protesting parties file prefiled testimony.
March 1, 2013 — TCEQ executive director and OPIC representatives file prefiled testimony.
March 15, 2013 — Objections to prefiled testimonies filed.
March 22, 2013 — Responses to objections to prefiled testimony filed.
April 8, 2013 — Prehearing conference.
April 15-19, 2013 — Hearing on the merits of the case.
• The July 2012 installment of Rodeo Gainesville included queen and princess candidates crowned on merits of personality and horsemanship.
Alyssa Stephenson of Keller was named “2012 GRC Rodeo Queen,” while Kylee Butts of Gainesville was named “2012 GRC Rodeo Princess.” Stephenson, 14, is an incoming Keller High School student, where she will participate in the school’s rodeo team and has sights on becoming a professional barrel racer or horse trainer. Butts, 11, is a sixth-grader at Valley View Middle School and stays involved with equestrian hobbies — with hopes of someday becoming an equine veterinarian.
In the event’s first-ever “junior princess” category, Kylee Byars, 5, of Thackerville, Okla., took the title. And in the queen division, Stephenson also had the highest ticket sales, while Laura Dill, 12, of Gainesville had the highest sales in the princess division and Kaitlynn McCage, 7, of Thackerville, Okla., had the highest sales in the junior princess division.
One change in the crowning process, organizer Debbie Sicking said, is that for the 2012 rodeo, the ticket sales aspect was equally weighed against the horsemanship skills the girls demonstrated.
• Department of Public Safety (DPS) officials reported that the disregard of a stop sign was a factor in the death of Gainesville resident Daniel Lashley, 20.
DPS Public Information Officer Mark Tackett reported that the two-vehicle crash occurred on Highway 377. It began as Gainesville resident Kendall Tepfer, 31, of Gainesville, was northbound on the highway in a 2009 Dodge pickup truck, driving with one passenger. At the same time, Lashley was westbound on FM 901 in a 1999 Chevy with two passengers, Tackett reported — and failed to yield to a stop sign at the intersection of 901 and 377.
The vehicles collided, killing Lashley at the scene. His passengers, unidentified in Tackett’s report, were transported to Parkland Hospital and Cook’s Children Medical Center, respectively. Tepfer was transported to Wilson N. Jones Medical Center and his passenger, also unidentified, was transported to Parkland Hospital.
• A man indicted on two counts of homicide in 2009 — and re-indicted for the crimes in January — was found not guilty in July.
Defense attorney Cary Piel said Randy Crume was found not guilty in the state jail felony charges of criminally negligent homicide related to the vehicle collision deaths of Casey and Gervious Hinkle on July 5, 2009, near Valley View.
Piel said evidence was lacking that Crume’s actions at the scene met the criteria of “gross deviation” from the law.
“The exact law is that of a gross deviation from the standard of care that people do,” he said. “They found him not guilty of doing that. There was no alcohol and no drugs.”
District court documents and prior Register stories explained at the time of the incident, Crume, a resident of Harrah, Okla., was approaching a traffic jam in the northbound lane of Interstate 35 while driving a semi-tractor trailer truck.
He allegedly failed to control the speed of his vehicle and it slammed into several others, injuring seven people and killing driver Gervious Hinkle and 13-year-old grandson Casey as they sat in a 1996 Ford Explorer.
Cooke County Assistant District Attorney Ron Poole explained in January that the case entered reindictment since some of its legal verbiage needed to be expanded.
Instead of simply being accused of failure to maintain control of his vehicle, as was the 2009 charge, Crume also later faced accusations of failure to control speed, failure to keep a proper lookout and failure to apply his vehicle brakes.
Following the January reindictment, Crume faced a jail term of between 180 days and two years, though Poole said he has been free on bail since the incident.
The 2009 Register story included speculation that the traffic jam at the scene — which had resulted from an ongoing Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) roadwork project — was a partial factor in the wreck and deaths.
But Poole denied this in January, adding that Crume’s defense couldn’t blame the roadwork with any validity, since caution signs had been properly mounted along the interstate for drivers to see.
“You can’t blame what you’re warned about,” he said in January.
Poole said later that he felt the jury deliberated fairly, but declined to comment on their ultimate verdict.
“A jury makes a decision and we accept it,” he said.
• Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce members paid praise to the city itself during special ceremonies during August that celebrated the Gainesville’s official title of “Most Patriotic Small Town In America.”
Mayor Jim Goldsworthy hosted the event at Gainesville Civic Center, telling the audience that the essence of Gainesville — and the spirit that earned it the recent “Best of the Road” award from the Rand McNally corporation — had the recent effect of “catapulting it into national recognition.”
But that essence, he said, has never had much to do with the city’s landmarks or history.
“It’s the people,” he said. “We continue, time and time again and during my 20 years of living here, to just knock it out of the park when it comes to community and caring about people.”
The city’s recent victory in the “Road” contest came after visiting judges Sandi McKenna and Rick Griffin toured Gainesville and named it “most patriotic” out of a national finalist list of six communities. The contest, initially sponsored by McNally and USA Today magazine, has provided Gainesville extensive online and television coverage, giving it placement in both the magazine and in McNally atlas publications.
In a spotlight article now available at USAToday.com, McKenna and Griffin explained why they chose Gainesville once they’d toured it.
Among several key factors, they cited the city’s ongoing Medal of Honor Host City program, which hosts and tributes Medal of Honor recipients on an annual basis.
“It changed our definition of patriotism,” the story quoted the judges. “It's not just the number of flags or monuments, memorials or programs; it's not even just for the people who serve. It's how you care for the people who were fought for.”
During one of the August ceremonies, Ben Willingham of Lost Dog Productions presented the audience a series of videos related to the contest and its final results, and to Gainesville’s ongoing spirit of patriotism.
The videos, most of them produced by Willingham, included a focus on the city’s Medal of Honor program and tributes to military servicemembers of the past, present and future.
Willingham told the audience he felt that the recent national patriotic award, while fortunate for Gainesville to receive, should have come as no surprise to any Gainesville resident.
“The Rand McNally people didn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know,” he said in August. “Is that not true? It’s nice to be acknowledged by them, but we already knew.”
• The proposed raze of Locke Field in favor of an apartment complex is not yet a certainty, Gainesville officials said in September.
A leasing of the historic, city-owned, nine-acre site to Richard Brown Property for the development of a $10 million facility of 144 units, Gainesville City Council members explained, would bring revenue to the city and develop its downtown area in a manner mirroring areas of Denton, Plano and Dallas.
“Nothing the council does here is meant to diminish the memories of that field,” City Manager Barry Sullivan said in September. “We’re just trying to do something that we feel will move Gainesville forward.”
But though city residents will have more opportunities to speak against the development — particularly during the public comments section of city council meetings — the only remaining votes that can make or break the proposal belong to the council members, and their decisions remain unknown.
Tuesday’s council meeting will include a proposed resolution that officially deems Fair Park, home of Locke Field, usable for entities other than a park. The resolution later passed.
Sullivan said if the development moves forward, Locke Field may not be dismantled until April or May 2013, following the end of baseball season.
He said components of the field, such as bleachers or scoreboards, could later be appropriated by local school districts for athletic use.
The city manager also said the public already voted on this matter during the city’s general election of May 2010, and the results enabled council to take whatever leasing steps lay ahead.
In that election, voters gave a majority “yes” to one question regarding the future of Fair Park property while voting against another.
The first question on the ballot, which allowed for the sale of the property, failed; 153 votes were in favor of a sale while 219 votes were against.
The second question, which allows the lease of the property, got a majority “yes” by a narrow margin: 192 votes were cast in favor of leasing while 166 votes were against.
The voters’ permission to allow a lease paved the way for where Fair Park may be headed.
“This is an official election that occurred to vote it or not,” Sullivan said.
However, a new apartment complex was not always the main consideration. Gainesville Economic Development Corporation (GEDC) Executive Director Kent Sharp explained Thursday that in 2010, during the general election season, the Fair Park property was a proposed location for a new movie theater in Gainesville.
“Of course, the movie theater ended up going near the outlet mall,” Sharp said. “But that still cleared this land for leasing.”
And Sharp said a new “market-rate” apartment complex makes a better fit for the land, with its proximity to Interstate 35. He said it was during the 2010-11 timeline that local companies such as Weber Aircraft, Orteq Technologies, Complete Energy Services and Select Energy experienced spikes in workforce.
The employee count of these companies increased by the hundreds, and GEDC data showed that many of the incomes were high five-figure sums.
The problem, he said, was that many of them couldn’t find homes near work and instead began to commute to residences outside Cooke County.
“Would the GEDC be actively pursuing a market-rate, multifamily development in Gainesville on our own will?” Sharp said. “Not unless there was somebody chewing in our ears, saying, ‘Hey — we’ve got a problem in Gainesville.’ And that concern has been brought to us over the last two or three years by our local industries.”
As he did during a Gainesville City Council public hearing on Sept. 18, Sharp cited the county’s unemployment rate of less than 5 percent.
He also said the city of Gainesville alone has seen a 78 percent spike in sales tax revenue since September 2011, due to the booming local industries.
But he added that such local progress is hampered when so many local employees are forced to live outside the county and therefore export their incomes.
“That fifty-thousand-dollar paycheck that, today, is made in Gainesville, is, tonight, taken to Denton or Corinth or Lewisville or Sherman,” he said in September.
• Festivities for the “Sky’s The Limit Balloon Spectacular” took flight in early September at Gainesville Municipal Airport.
Several hot air balloons made a lift-off during a weekend that included musical acts, vendors and childrens activities.
One key highlight was the Champagne and Propane Ball at the airport’s Tomlinson Hangar.
Look for more year-end review on Monday.