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Posts published in March 2015

Greens Bayou Coalition receives $55 Mil federal funds for flood control & clean-up

HOUSTON – March 19, 2015 – Greens Bayou Corridor Coalition, announced today that it has secured $55 million for the Greens Bayou Flood Damage Reduction Project, which will reduce flooding impacts in the 212-square mile Greens Bayou watershed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District and Harris County Flood Control District will start work on the Greens Bayou Flood Damage Reduction Project in north Harris County this year due to the $8 million in start-up funding allocated in the federal fiscal year 2015 budget for the Corps Civil Works program.

The approval of the funding for the federal project is the culmination of many years of hard work, said Mike Castro, Chair of the Coalition’s Public Policy Committee and a Coalition board member.

The project demonstrates what can be accomplished when community volunteers, government stakeholders and concerned citizens focus their combined efforts on a worthy endeavor. The project will have a demonstrable positive impact on the quality of life for residents who live within the Greens Bayou watershed.

The Corps is the lead agency on the $55 million Greens Bayou project and expects to start construction on the first phase of excavation of the stormwater detention basin located adjacent to Greens Bayou near Antoine Road and the Sam Houston Tollway.

Flood Control District Executive Director Michael Talbott said this project is a prime example of what happens when the Corps and Flood Control District partner to reduce flooding risks.

In 2009, the Coalition launched a strategic advocacy effort to help secure federal funding for this project, said Reginald Lillie, Coalition chairman. “We’re thrilled to begin this project and look forward to bringing much needed relief to the businesses and home along the Greens Bayou watershed that have suffered from flooding for several years.”

The Greens Bayou Corridor Coalition is a non-profit organization that addresses quality of life issues along the 45-mile watershed including, flood mitigation, park and trail improvement projects and economic development. More on www. greensbayou.org.

Judge Emmett’s Rotary talk describes priorities

HARRIS COUNTY – Judge Ed Emmett doesn’t have a hard time making himself at home, when he visits with the North Shore Rotary, because he was the Texas State Representative for this area, and knows many of the members of the club from those days.

Emmett served in the legislature from 1979 to 1987, representing East Harris communities such as North Shore, Channelview, Highlands, Crosby and others.

In 2007 Emmett was appointed as County Judge, succeeding Robert Eckels, who had resigned.

Emmett first spoke about the nature of Harris County, now with a population of 1.8 million people, and soon to exceed the City of Houston, with 2.0 million.

As the county has become more urbanized through this growth, Emmett said, state and federal laws have not recognized or helped the county, because they are meant for more rural entities. This growth has led to great complexities in county government. For instance, Harris County has over 600 M.U.D. districts, and 34 municipalities to interact with.

Among his other duties, Emmett serves as director of the Office of Emergency Management, which is headquartered in the TransStar building near I-10 west. Emmett mentioned that this facility was recently expanded and remodeled, and with pride he invited all to come for a tour. Emmett listed TransStar as one of seven areas of his responsibility. He said it is considered the best in the country for transportation management, and emergency response. It is jointly funded and run by the state of Texas, the city of Houston, Harris County, and Metro. Among its responsibilities is planning for natural disasters such as hurricanes, and acts of terror.

Emmett’s second priority, and one in which he has had a lot of experience, is transportation. He is currently working with planners such as the H-GAC, or Houston-Galveston Area Council, and TxDOT, on a road plan that will define a right-of-way for the planned I-69 corridor ByPass around Houston. Although it was originally thought to go on the west side of Houston, now it is obvious the needs are to the south and east, and that the route will have to be close to the Highway 146 area and the Fred Hartman bridge. He noted that this is a difficult and expensive route. He said that the toll road system is one of the smartest things that the county has done, because it not only pays for new roads by the users, but also pays for maintenance and expansion when the bonds are paid off.

The third area of responsiblity for Emmett and the county is Healthcare for the indigent, a role mandated by the state. The problem, he said, is that the only source of revenue for this service is the county property tax, which has reached its limits. Therefore new strategies are needed, such as more emphasis on preventive medicine and less use of hospitals and emergency facilities. He also said that the state was wrong in turning down federal grant money to expand Medicaid and cover more health needs for children and adults.

The next concern for Emmett is the county jail, and its unscripted function as a mental health facility. This is a priority, he said, because the Harris County Jail is the largest mental health facility in the state, and it is more expensive to treat inmates in this jail than if they were in a hospital such as the MHMRA in Houston. He said that we need to find a new solution to this problem, and get the so-called “frequent fliers” diverted to mental health facilities, instead of continual arrest and re-arrests to get them off the streets. Last year the county was able to identify 8200 individuals that had been jailed over 5 times, released and then sent back to jail.

The next area of concern for Emmett is the need for a regional government that coordinates different governments and their planning, services, and regulatory activities. He believes that the counties need a “new set of tools” to deal with regional government, and reminds everyone that counties in Texas are only a branch of the state, and have no authority other than that given to them by the Legislature.

The final area of involvement for Emmett is his efforts to save and repurpose the Astrodome. He said that when appointed in 2007 he didn’t realize that this would be one of his biggest challenges, but now he is gladly taking on the project, and expects to be able to put together a coalition of private, public and government interests that will help him realize its rebirth as an Indoor Urban Park. Just this week the presitigious national planning group, the Urban Land Institute, issued a 40 page study and proposal on how to save the building, and to reuse in for a variety of public events. This study is detailed in another story in this week’s paper, see Page 1. Emmett reminded the audience that the Dome is paid for, and therefore a new project will not be burdened with debt. He envisions a 9 acre enclosed, air conditioned park in the space, which is “the only 360,000 square feet room in the world that is column free,” a wonder in itself. He said interest in participating has come from a Mountain bike association, two museums, the Rodeo, the OTC conference, various local festivals, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife department.

Emmett’s last concern is the current session of the Legislature, since the county must function as a branch of the state, and execute their laws. He is concerned that the Legislature will attempt to put a cap on county real estate revenue, which won’t work, he said, and cause many problems for local governments, balancing their own budgets without the needed revenue.

Mother of teen charged in after-prom death is arrested

Charges have been filed against the mother of the teenager accused in his prom date’s death.

Melissa Ann Martinez, 40, is charged with two counts of manufacturing/delivery of a controlled substance and one count of purchasing/furnishing alcohol to a minor.

Her son, Eddie M. Herrera, 18, was previously arrested and charged with aggravated. He is accused for his role in the death of his girlfriend, Jacqueline Gomez, 17, of Houston, on May 17, 2014. She was found dead in the hotel room at the Hyatt Regency North.

Ms. Gomez, a MacArthur high school senior, attended her prom the previous evening and then returned to a room at the hotel, the Hyatt Regency North, along with her boyfriend. The boyfriend stated the couple consumed alcohol before falling asleep in the room. When Ms. Gomez’s boyfriend awoke the next morning, he could not wake up Gomez. Houston Fire Department personnel responded and pronounced her dead.

An initial investigation identified Herrera as the suspect in this case. He was arrested on January 14, 2015 and admitted to choking Gomez during the evening.

Further investigation determined Martinez was also a suspect in this case. She was arrested last Thursday, March 19, and has allegedly admitted to investigators she provided alcohol and drugs to Herrera and Gomez.

The motive and official cause of Gomez’s death remain under investigation.

Aldine ISD studies new Master Plan for Education

Community meetings bring public input

ALDINE – Superintendent Wanda Bamberg and the AISD leadership at the last “State of the School District” breakfast addressed the strengths and problems facing the Aldine school district, including how to plan for the future, burgeoning student population growth, and some campuses with low state achievement ratings.

As a result, the district decided to conduct a survey of all existing facilities, and seek new and innovative methods for its teaching. To help them with this effort, they are seeking the input of all parents, students, educators and interested parties in the district.

In addition, they have hired two consulting firms experienced in this type of facility and educational planning, to help and guide the efforts.

Superintendent Bamberg said that this type of new Master Plan has not been done before in the district. The two firms hired to conduct the planning are an engineering firm, Jacobs Engineering, and an educational planning firm, DeJong-Richter. Their contract was approved by the Board of Trustees, at $1.5 million dollars, a sign of the scope and seriousness of this project.

The process includes guidance from a steering committee that has met twice and will meet four more times before they make their recommendations in July, and the Community Meetings, which will include two. The next one is scheduled for April 6th and 7th in two different sides of the district.

The format for the first Community Dialogue Meeting, held Thursday evening at Campbell Center, was an introduction by Superintendent Bamberg, and short summaries of proposed work by Paul Mills of Jacobs Engineering and David Sturtz of DeJong-Richter.

Mills and Sturtz met with the whole audience, about 300 or more interested citizens and educators, in the main basketball arena of Campbell Center to begin, and then later broke up into work groups, centered around tables in three areas of the building.

The two men gave a summary of their firms’ qualifications to start, presented in a clear slide show. Jacobs Engineering said they are an engineering and planning firm, that has assessed over one billion square feet of K-12 facilities in 13,000 schools nationwide. DeJong-Richter said they were an educational planning firm that has completed over 260 master plans for over 1800 school districts nationwide.

In their presentation, the team first spoke of the survey and the master plan that would result.

They said that a Facilities Master Plan is a strategic five-year plan for all school building. The master plan has two parts: the physical facilities, and the education vision.

Sturtz said that the master plan needs to be updated every five years, because technology is changing so fast.

The Facility Assessment, as conducted by Jacob Engineering on all 60+ Aldine schools, was reported out in a thick notebook, with about 10 pages devoted to each school.

Facilities were assessed on Condition, Capacity, and Adequacy, they said.

This adequacy means the physical buildings must fit the educational vision, which is defined by District Leadership and Citizen Feedback, in the form of both the steering committee and community dialogue.

The Facilities Master Plan must combine program needs and goals, and take into account technology and modern learning techniques.

The next part of the presentation to the audience was a clever slide and video show of new and different learning methods. Sturtz made the point that traditional education was based on an industrial-based economy, that has now changed to a technology based economy, with both local and global aspects.

This new educational technique might be known as Divergent Thinking, with both an individualized approach and a collaborative method. His point is that educational buildings, schools, must be designed differently to enhance and support these new techniques.

The presenters then showed a video from the Khan Academy, emphasizing that a better way to learn that categorizing students to various grade levels, is to let them learn at their own pace, regardless of grade. This individualized method can be enhanced by technology, but must be balanced by control of variable such as time spent versus mastery of a subject, and skills learned versus class size resources devoted to the subject.

As a result of this thinking, new Concept for Learning can evolve, said Sturtz. So-called flipped classrooms, where students watch the lesson at home, and do their homework in class, is an example. Another example if Project Based Learning, based on student initiative with teacher facilitation.

These concepts lead to new building configurations, such as outdoor classrooms, open plans, kiosks, and others.

After the presentations, the audience went to three rooms with group tables. They answered a multi-page questionnaire, and then discussed their educational ideas with their tablemates and facilitators.

Next, they reassembled in the main arena, and tallied their decisions on wall charts, that will be incorporated in the next round of educational reports and planning by the consultant team, leading to a summary of action plans.

It is expected that the final Master Plan report will include recommendations on need for new and remodeled facilities, and new and innovative educational methods.

Greenspoint District President retires after 15 years of service

HOUSTON – The Greenspoint District Board of Directors announces the retirement of President Jerry Lowry and appointment of Bart Baker as interim president, both effective March 31, 2015.

Lowry joined the District in 2000 as director of Public Safety.

He went on to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer prior to accepting appointment as president in 2013. Lowry’s leadership and forward thinking led to many achievements for the District during his 15-year tenure.

Lowry was instrumental in creating in a comprehensive strategic plan to guide the District through 2030. He established the Greenspoint Community Partners nonprofit foundation to gain support for expanding public safety, beautification and recreational development programs, and was a staunch advocate for creating an economic development department that has resulted in millions of dollars of investment in the District.

Chair of the Greenspoint District Board of Directors, Michelle Wogan of Transwestern stated that, “Jerry took over leadership during a pivotal time for the District. We appreciate the hard work and tenacity he applied to keep it moving forward and thriving.”

“I am grateful for the opportunities afforded to me and the District’s contribution to my life experiences. I look forward to the next chapter and fulfilling a long-term goal of expanding my ministry work in South Montgomery County,” added Lowry.

Bart Baker currently serves as vice president of Planning, Operations and Infrastructure for the Greenspoint District. He will act as interim president while a search for a new president is conducted by Jack Drake LLC.

AAUW-NHC names Bolling Outstanding Woman 2015

Sylvia Bolling has been awarded as the Outstanding Woman of 2015 in the area of Community Service by the NHC American Association of University Women. Their awards luncheon was held on Saturday, February 28th at Shirley Acres.

When Sylvia Bolling realized that the Aldine area offered few after-school activities for students, she began to offer recreation, education, encouragement, and hope for them. She began Aldine Y.O.U.T.H. in 1990 out of her home, spent the first 5 years operating with no facility, staff, and very limited funds, but was determined to make a positive difference.

Dedicated volunteers helped establish the grassroots organization and were able to accomplish many good works for the community. In 1995, the Aldine YOUTH Community Center was established offering over 20+ programs and services to help transform youth and their families. In March 2012, the Center was acquisitioned by Buckner International and is now the Aldine Family Hope Center, continuing to offer valuable programs and services for our youth and families.

The other awardee was Grace England for her work in the field of education. Dr. Theresa Kurk McGinley, Acting Associate Vice Chancellor of International Programs for Lone Star College was the keynote speaker. Over 200 people attended this event. NHC-AAUW’s mission is to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philantrophy, and research.

Sylvia is very humbled by this award and thanks everyone who has supported over the years. Shawna Roy, Director, invites you to be a part of the Aldine Family Hope Center, 4700 Aldine Mail Rt., by becoming a member, volunteering, and/or donating. For more information, please visit the Center or call 281-449-4828 and visit Buckner’s website at www.buckner.org .

4-year-old dies after self-inflicted gun shot

HOUSTON – A 4-year-old boy is dead after a self-inflicted gunshot.

Police called this an accident shooting. It happened on Sunday morning, March 3 in the Imperial Green Neighborhood off Airtex and I-45 North.

The little boy, Codrick McCall Jr., was staying there for the night and on Sunday morning, around 12:00 a.m. somehow got his hands on a loaded handgun and shot himself. Police are investigating how the boy got the gun. The father and mother of the boy were not at the house at the time of the fatal incident. The boy was staying with relatives that night while his mother was celebrating her birthday.

This is the third shooting case involving kids between 3-years-old and 6-years in less than a week in Houston.

On Friday, February 27, a 3-year-old died after he accidentally shot himself in the head inside his family’s house located in the 7400 block of Betanna Drive.

Then, on Monday, March 2, 2015, a 5-year-old boy shot his 6-year-old brother.

The shooting happened at around 10:30 a.m. in the 16800 block of Faring Road, near Sheldon Rd. The 6-year-old boy was shot once in the abdomen with a 9 mm pistol, deputies said.

Family members said they do not know how the boy got the gun since they have a safe. The child was transported to Memorial Hermann Hospital for surgery. The boy was in critical condition.

At the time of the shooting, the mother was at home with her four kids when she heard the shot and called 911. Deputies for precaution secured additional weapons at the house.

These cases are also under investigation and nobody has been charge. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office wants to remind to secure weapons and keep them out of the reach of children. They are also offering free gun locks for gun owners.

HUMBLE: After-hours club under injunction

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has won a temporary injunction requiring a notorious after-hours club in Houston to take a number of actions to reduce crime at that facility. Judge Tad Halbach, 333rd Civil District Court, signed an order on Tuesday, February 24th, requiring Club Eclipse to take steps to prevent crime on the premises and parking lot.

Club Eclipse, also known as Club Night, 2628 FM 1960 Rd. E., had become a haven for violent crime, including parking lot brawls, aggravated robberies, stabbings and shootings.

Ryan filed suit in January against Victoria Gonzalez Zarate, the owner of Club Eclipse, as well as Sunlight Group, the owner of the strip shopping center where the club is located.

Judge Halbach ordered Zarate to:

•Prohibit the selling, serving or consumption of alcohol on the club premises;

•Close the club between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 10:30 a.m.;

•Check all ID’s and bags at a station outside the entrance to the club;

•Refuse entrance to the club to anyone found in violation of the law;

•Install cameras inside and outside the club, store that video for 30 days and make it available to law enforcement within 24 hours of request;

•Hire two licensed uniformed law enforcement officers to be on premises while the club is open;

•Perform background checks on employees and contractors and refuse to hire or terminate anyone with a felony criminal or drug offense in the last ten years;

•Report any illegal activity to law enforcement, maintain a log of law enforcement activity and report that to the County Attorney’s Office on a weekly basis;

Sunlight Group was ordered to install lighting and surveillance cameras in the parking lot that serves Club Eclipse and hire two law enforcement officers to patrol that lot. Both defendants must pay all costs of these changes ordered by the Judge and post bonds.

Club Eclipse’s reputation went viral when in early December 2014 a large fight broke out inside the club and spilled into the parking lot just as the sun was coming up. The fight was captured on cell phone video and posted to a Facebook page called “Strippers and Fights.” During the fight, at least one person was stabbed in the head and arm and shots were fired.

Turner announces run for Mayor

HOUSTON – Representative Sylvester Turner announced last week he will be on the ballot for the upcoming election for Houston’s mayor.

The text of the message follows:

“Today I am announcing my candidacy for Mayor of Houston. I would be deeply honored by your vote.

I am running for mayor to bring more opportunities to Houston’s middle class families – because Houston works best when it works for all of us.

We all need smoother streets. But we also need to build better roads to the future for so many of our young people who lack the skills to get good jobs and the financial ability to attend a four-year college.

I know we can do both.

That’s why I intend to launch a new Road to the Future initiative, to give young Houstonians a combination of vocational and life skills they need to become employable and on-the-job training repairing Houston’s streets and roads.

And that’s just the start. With your help, we can improve our roads, make our neighborhoods safer, support our public schools and give working people in Houston a better chance to get ahead.

Please mark your calendar for our campaign kickoff at 11:00 a.m. on March 28 at Minute Maid Park.

Houston is a great city – and, together, we can make great things happen. Please join our campaign. Thank you.

Warmest regards,

– Sylvester”

“Paying for College” workshop at MacArthur HS a success

HOUSTON, February 23, 2014 – Congressman Gene Green hosted his biannual Paying for College Workshop at MacArthur Senior High in the Aldine Independent School District. Students from around the Houston area brought their parents and families to this free seminar to learn about financing college.

The Sallie Mae Fund and representatives from local colleges and universities presented information about the financial aid process, finding scholarships, and choosing the right school.

During the event, Markques Houston, a junior at MacArthur, was announced the winner of The Sallie Mae Fund’s $500 scholarship giveaway. Markques plans to attend college in the state of Texas and continue playing basketball.

“These workshops are especially important now, as college costs continue to rise and student loan debt is larger than ever. We hope that the information presented during these seminars will help students and parents be better informed about how to find scholarships, and make sound choices when choosing a school and financial aid package,” Green said. “We also want to congratulate Markques who won the scholarship drawing. We hope it will add to your college preparedness as you pursue your dreams after high school.”

Also present at the Paying for College Workshop were representatives from Lone Star College, University of Houston Downtown, and Houston Community College Northeast Campus.