By Greg Peak and Valerie Reddell Polk County Publishing Company
BEAUMONT — Although a trial dealing with the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas's gaming operation is still set for Feb. 28, the tribe suffered a major setback Feb. 8 when the federal magistrate in Beaumont sided with the state on which law will apply.
The issue addressed Tuesday as part of the pretrial procedures was whether the Indian Restoration Act of 1987 or the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 would apply during the trial. The two federal measures conflict in that the Indian Restoration Act — which created the Alabama-Coushatta federal reservation — prohibits gaming while the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows it.
Rep. Brian Babin (R-Woodville) appeared before Congress on Feb. 9, representing several other members to file HR 4985, a bill that puts the Alabama-Coushatta and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribes on equal standing with other Native American tribes who operate Class II gaming businesses. The bill would make the two Texas tribes subject to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (25 U.S.C. et seq), and legalizes the electronic bingo games played at Naskila Entertainment Center.
"I was surprised by the ruling last week against the Alabama-Coushatta tribe and their ability to continue operating their Naskila Gaming Center," Babin said Tuesday. "This decision has put hundreds of jobs in jeopardy. I have introduced legislation, along with several other Members of Congress, to resolve the issue created by conflicting statutes and provide full relief for the Alabama-Coushatta tribe so that they can continue their operations. This is a fairness issue as this bill would ensure the Alabama-Coushatta tribe receives the same treatment that the federal government extends to other tribes under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. I will continue working with the tribe to address this issue and am hopeful that Congress will soon take action on this legislation."
As to whether this bill can make its way to President Donald Trump's desk before Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton takes action to close Naskila, only time will tell. Judge Keith F. Giblin is hearing the state's challenge to the Native American tribe's legal right to operate under the Class II gaming license issued by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC).
Calling it an "unjust" situation, Giblin ruled that the Indian Restoration Act requires the tribe to obey state law on gaming issues and supersedes the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Because of this, the court could not defer to the NIGC's 2015 decision to authorize a Class II gaming license to the tribe.
Based on the NIGC's decision, the Tribe opened the Naskila Entertainment Center on the reservation in 2016. The Class II NIGC license authorized the Tribes to operate bingo or electronic bingo machines, such as the ones now in use at the Naskila facility.
While Tuesday's order does not immediately impact the operation of the Naskila gaming facility located near Livingston, tribal leaders have already filed a notice of appeal and are asking that Giblin's order be placed on hold until the matter can be taken to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, a process that can take a year or more.
"We are very disappointed with the ruling issued by the U.S. Federal District Court today," Tribal Council Chairperson Jo Ann Battise said last week. "The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe remains confident in its legal position and has already filed a notice of appeal. The Tribe has also filed a motion with the court requesting the ability to stay open pending the appeal process in order to protect the 330 jobs that the Tribe provides as the third largest employer in Polk County.
"These jobs represent an annual payroll and benefits of almost $17 million, they significantly contribute to the economies of Polk and Tyler Counties, and are vital to the greater Deep East Texas economy," she added.
"The conflicting regulatory scheme is unjust," Battise said. "We will continue to fight this injustice by working closely with our elected officials." In his 26-page order issued Tuesday, Giblin almost apologized to the Tribe for the decision.
"Given the complex history of this matter and its importance to the Tribe, the undersigned must take the time to express the court's understanding and sympathy for the Tribe's position," Giblin wrote. "The Tribe is bearing the brunt of a conflicting statutory scheme, the result of which is arguably undesirable to its interests and, many would say, unjust.
"Counsel for both sides have done a thorough and excellent job in advocating for their clients and presenting the best case possible, especially given the context and the complicated historical, legal, social and economic issues at stake. The fact remains, however, that the Tribe submitted itself to the gaming laws of the state when it certified Tribal Resolution No. T.C. -86-07 in exchange for passage of the Restoration Act.
"This may have indeed taken effect under duress, but that issue is not up for consideration by this court 30 years after the fact. The plain language of the Restoration Act stands, as does the Fifth Circuit's undisturbed interpretation of the application of that act to the restoration tribes of Texas.
"Until Congress can be persuaded to amend or repeal the Restoration Act, the court is obligated to abide by the plain language of the statute and the Tribe must conform to the gaming laws and regulations of Texas as provided by the Restoration Act," he added.
Ivanhoe City Council will seek voter approval on May 5 of a $2 million bond package to fund street rehabilitation and improvements within the City of Ivanhoe, following action at the February council meeting held Feb. 8.
City Secretary C.D. Woodrome said 7.5 miles of the main city streets will be targeted, focusing on the areas that lead into the city and to the lakes. "All our other streets branch off of those," Woodrome said.
If approved, the bond issue will generate $1.7 million to $2 million of funds that the city hopes to use to leverage its application for grant funding in the next round of disaster recovery projects in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Ivanhoe has retained bond counselor Lance Fox and Jim Gilley of U.S. Capital Advisors to provide the needed professional services related to issuing the bonds.
The city will conduct the election using equipment rented from County Clerk Donece Gregory, as well as her advice on conducting the election.
"This is a huge step forward for us," Mayor Cathy Bennett said after the council voted unanimously to call for the election. "We will have multiple town hall meetings. We want everyone to understand what we are attempting to do."
Bennett further urged those attending the council meeting Thursday to talk to their neighbors and encourage everyone in Ivanhoe to come and listen to those town hall sessions.
Audit Report An unmodified report Davis, Heinemann & Company who presented the independent auditor report on the city's financial records for 2017 should help the city clear the necessary hurdles to issuing the bonds.
The auditor told council members that city finances outperformed the budget forecast.
The budget for the 2017 fiscal year projected a deficit, using cash reserves to balance the budget, but revenue exceeded expenses by $60,000 for the year.
The auditors recommended that the city begin to draft a succession plan for how financial matters and operations would be passed on to another staff person who would eventually try to fill Woodrome's shoes.
She also recommended that the council review security measures, ensuring that financial records are locked in a secure place and the passwords that protect access to those records.
Roads Bennett introduced David Marshall as the city's new volunteer Director of Public Works. Marshall has many years' experience with the Texas Department of Transportation and as an instructor with Amarillo Junior Collect and the Texas Engineering Extension Service.
Marshall has been in the position for about two weeks.
"Now I realize what I stepped off in," Marshall said with a chuckle. "We have massive problems, and help is on the way. But it took a long time for the roads to get this way, and it will take a long time to fix."
Marshall told the council that would be using a different material and techniques so that the repairs will last long, and those patches will "ride smoother."
Marshall is working on a master plan that will be used to prioritize work as well as direct future projects funded by the proposed bond and any disaster recovery grants the city can obtain.
That new material was set to be delivered Feb. 9. Marshall anticipated that crews would work on the 148 sites identified by FEMA in 2015 as weather permits.
"In the spring we will do our durndest to catch up before we have another disaster," Marshall said, which drew groans from Woodrome and several others in the audience.
"Drainage is the first thing on the agenda," Marshall continued. "If we don't have the drainage correct, the roads won't hold up to the hydraulic action of that water."
Law Enforcement City Marshal Terry Riley reported that the call volume went down 10 calls or so during the last month. No burglaries were reported.
Municipal Judge Judith Haney reported that 10 or 11 citations were issued in January. Those citations chiefly dealt with vehicle registration issues, no driver's license or not changing address and equipment problems.
The court held show cause hearings and capias warrants were issued in cases where people never came forward and took care of their violations.
"From 1965 to 2005, court costs have gone up 1760%," Haney said. "It's still limited on what judges could do and how we could get that money in, but we have a little more clout."
The Ivanhoe Municipal Court will have pretrial hearings on Friday, Feb. 16. Haney said that if any violators do not "see the light" after meeting with City Attorney Brad Elrod, those cases can proceed immediately to a bench trial, or set a date to hear the case before a jury.
Clean up set City officials are finalizing plans for a citywide cleanup that will provide an opportunity for residents to dump appliances and other large items for free. Details will be announced soon.
Residents who would like to donate items for the huge annual garage sale can drop off items on March 19.
New Staff members Office Assistant Malissie Taylor and Colby Kipp have joined the city staff as part of the Workforce Commission's Dislocated Worker Program, Woodrome announced. TWC pays their salary expenses for one year.
Tyler County residents will join those in 70 other Texas counties and Louisiana parishes who are served by Acadian Ambulance following the purchase of Dogwood EMS — a transition that will be finalized at 12:01 a.m. Feb. 20, according to Brandon Hebert, Acadian's Director of Operations.
Acadian made the announcement of the purchase to employees and the community on Feb. 5. They began orientation for current Dogwood EMS employees who want to make the transition to Acadian on Friday, Feb. 9.
That session was part of a five-day orientation that's underway here in Woodville for Dogwood employees who will continue to serve in Tyler County after the transition.
Acadian Ambulances are currently stationed in Tyler County, in addition to the two Dogwood EMS units, to ensure there are no gaps in coverage, Hebert said. The crews will continue to use the station at 109 Live Oak Street in Woodville.
Once Acadian begins handling EMS calls through its communications center, Hebert says Tyler County residents will see more rapid response when patients need to be transported quickly to a medical center offered advanced cardiovascular or trauma care by AirMed aircraft.
"We have a helicopter in Silsbee that will be available," Hebert said. "We will also use the aircraft in Lufkin and Beaumont if that is necessary." Acadian has protocols in place that will autolaunch the aircraft when dispatchers are able to determine that the air unit will be needed, and weather conditions allow air transport.
"We may be able to screen (the patient) to get the aircraft up sooner," Hebert said.
While Hebert couldn't be specific about which Dogwood EMS employees will go to work for Acadian during an interview on Feb. 9, he said "several key people" are participating in the orientation.
"We will have people that know the area and are experts in the community," Hebert said. "All the football games, rodeo and other event coverage that the community has come to expect from Dogwood EMS will continue."
Additionally, during periods of high demand or incidents with multiple patients, Acadian can call on a "near endless depth of resources" from surrounding counties to help meet patient needs.
"It's our plan that we will be able to provide a good service to the county," Hebert said.
While county officials did not play any role in the transaction between two privately held businesses, County Judge Jacques Blanchette said he appreciates the company's interest in Tyler County.
"We look forward to an ongoing, continual, successful relationship with the familiar faces at Dogwood who will transition to Acadian." Dogwood EMS has been the sole provider of ambulance services dispatched through the Tyler County's 911 operations center since 2005.
Lifetime Achievement Award — John and Mary Stagg, full time Red Cross Volunteers, have come to the aid of communities impacted by disaster all over the United States. (Jim Powers/Tyler County Booster)
The Tyler County Chamber of Commerce held its 71st annual banquet at the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation on Feb. 2, in the gym beautifully decorated with candlelight and dogwood blossoms.
Participants enjoyed a delicious meal catered by The Tree restaurant and honored volunteers and businesses who make Tyler County a wonderful place to call home.
John and Mary Stagg were honored with the chamber's lifetime achievement award for their dedicated service as full-time volunteers for the Red Cross.
In April 2008, John Staggs began volunteering with the Red Cross — just a few months before Hurricane Ike devastated East Texas. Since that time, the Staggs have deployed at least 20 times to families affected by disasters.
Deployments typically take them award from home for 14 days, but many times, John has spent a more or more in a disaster area.
When tornados struck Tuscaloosa, Ala. he spent seven weeks helping provide relief. He spent five weeks in the northeast after Hurricane Sandy.
In 2013, Staggs was named the lead volunteer for Tyler, Jasper and Newton counties. In the summer of 2017, another volunteer took charge of Newton and Jasper counties, but the Staggs continue to lead relief efforts in Tyler County.
The role of the Red Cross is to provide immediate emergency services following fires or other disaster that can impact one family, or the county and much of the state. The Red Cross provides, on average, more than $18,000 a year in assistance.
John grew up on a large farm in Central Louisiana. He met his wife, the former Mary Annette Swindle, who was raised in Doucette and graduated from Kirby High School in Woodville.
Mary Stagg taught school for 35 years and has been an active volunteer. She served as a Sunday School teacher as well as a leader for Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts. As a Red Cross volunteer, she is active in shelter operations and client casework.
John's career included operating a construction business, teaching high school and college, beekeeping and manufacturing specialty wood products.
Tyler County deputies have arrested a Spurger man after he lead officers on a chase around the Spurger community in an unregistered vehicle.
On Feb. 1, at about 4 p.m., deputies were patrolling the Spurger area and attempted to stop a passenger car for a traffic violation. The 2001 Toyota, spray painted red and black, had no hood, side quarter panels or bumpers.
As deputies activated emergency lights and sirens, the "shell" of a Toyota, continued down County Road 4565 toward FM 92 South.
The Toyota, driven by a white male, turned south onto County Road 4566, refusing to stop.
On County Road 4566, Deputies were joined by Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers and Constables as the pursuit continued.
As the Toyota eventually turned north onto FM 92 heading toward Spurger, Officers saw the suspect driver throwing money, in bill form, out of the side window area. The suspect turned east onto 1013 headed toward Jasper County, traveling at speeds up to 60 miles per hour.
The suspect vehicle managed to get around officers attempting to deploy tire deflation spike systems and began traveling East on 1013 towards Spurger. Once in Spurger, the suspect turned south on FM 92 and then east onto County Road 4565.
The suspect vehicle continued traveling into a hunting club area where the vehicle eventually became stuck in mud. The driver of the vehicle, identified as Damian Watts, 21, of Spurger, was taken into custody without incident.
Watts was booked into the Tyler County Jail, charged with evading arrest with a motor vehicle and bribery.
Watts made a comment to officers, "why didn't you take the bribe? The money I threw out the window was for you."
Watts remains in the Tyler County Jail with bonds totaling $30,000, set by Justice of the Peace Trisher Ford.
The sheriff's office has received numerous complaints about this vehicle traveling in the Spurger and Fred area over the past week.
INDIAN VILLAGE -- The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas officially announced that it will seek congressional action this year to address potential challenges to continue operating Naskila Gaming on tribal lands.
The tribe is citing an extensive survey that reflects a high percentage of regional public support for both the Alabama-Coushatta community and the Naskila Gaming facility. Tribe officials believe the level of approval leads the way to seek congressional support and action to ensure the gaming facility can remain open long-term. The state currently is challenging the Tribe's right to operate the gaming facility in federal court.
The study, conducted in August by Ragnar Research Partners, represented an overwhelming support among likely Republican primary voters for the tribe to continue its electronic bingo operation without interference from the state. Overall, 76 percent of respondents said they support the electronic bingo games on the Alabama-Coushatta reservation near Livingston. The survey focused on the 10 counties in Congressional District 36.
Tribe officials are seeking federal legislation that will affirm its standing under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA.)
In a public statement released last week, Tribal Council Chairperson Jo Ann Battise said it was important for the tribe to conduct a scientific survey before moving forward with its efforts in Washington.
"We want to be a good neighbor, and we needed confirmation from the citizens of the area that they liked what they have seen in the last two years," said Battise in the official statement. "We have been overwhelmed by the show of support, and we're very grateful."
The survey reflects approval across all categories of Republican voters, from "very conservative" to "moderate." A similar showing appears with different denominations of Christians.
While 66 percent of respondents support electronic bingo on Indian reservations, those numbers spike up to 76 percent when asked specifically about the Alabama-Coushatta's gaming facility.
Similar numbers are reported in approval for federal legislation that would allow the tribe to continue operating electronic bingo games on its reservation.
"We are pursuing a federal solution in a very thoughtful, deliberative fashion." said Battise. "From the very beginning, we've had significant support from our immediate neighbors. We wanted to confirm that there is wider regional support. This is why we commissioned this poll last summer. We are very pleased with the results and want to kick off 2018 by releasing it publicly."
Battise added, "We have continued a very active community outreach program and I would not be surprised if those numbers have climbed even higher since the poll was conducted."
The poll further represented the following levels of support for Naskila:
Naskila Gaming, opened in May 2016, currently provides 330 jobs, with more than half of the employees being non-tribal members. The annual payroll reportedly exceeds $10 million, with healthcare benefits for employees and their families.
The company has reportedly invested more than $14 million in capital costs and estimates it will spend upwards of $17 million every year in the future for operations and capital investment.
"We have been blessed with great success at Naskila Gaming." Battise said. "Every quarter the number of visitors from all over the start increases. Just as we predicted, given the chance, guests will spend their entertainment dollars in Texas. This has truly been a transforming venture for the tribe because the new revenue stream allows our Tribal Government to increase the budget for all of the health, education, housing and social services for our people."