Deputies arrest 2 following sex offender registration check

By Valerie Reddell
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Tyler County deputies went to a residence in the Spurger area on Jan. 19 at about 5 p.m. to check compliance with a court order to register as a sex offender. When they arrived at the residence on County Road 4551, Philip Winkle, 47, of Spurger, ran from the home.
Deputies took him into custody after a short foot chase.

During a subsequent search, deputies found a clear plastic bag containing a substance that tested positive for methamphetamine.

Winkle was taken to the Tyler County Jail on a warrant for violation of a sex offender's duty to register annually for life. District Judge Delinda Gibbs-Walker ordered him to be held without bond. He was also charged with possession of a controlled substance/meth and evading arrest. Justice of the Peace Jim Moor set bonds totaling $6,000 on those charges.

He remains in custody at the Tyler County Jail.

Deputies also arrested Thomas Winkle, 43, of Spurger on an outstanding warrant for manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance. Judge Gibbs-Walker also denied bond for those charges.

Spurger woman among 3 jailed for identity theft

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office arrested a Tyler County resident and two other people Thursday after finding mail and items believed to have been taken from homes in Lumberton, Silsbee and Beaumont, according to the Beaumont Enterprise

Ashley Loftin, 31, of Spurger; Wesley Martinez, 33, of Beaumont; and Yance Young, 26, of Beaumont; were arrested Jan. 18 and charged with fraudulent use or possession of identifying information.

A Patna Road resident called deputies at about 11 a.m. after seeing a vehicle sitting in the road for half an hour, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office said.

Once on scene, deputies saw a handgun on the floor of the vehicle and mail with various names on it. A search of the car revealed mail taken from residences in Lumberton, Silsbee and Beaumont; as well as items believed to be taken during recent burglaries, the department said.

WISD gets great financial report card

By Valerie Reddell
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Superintendent Glen Conner and Assistant Superintendent Cody Jarrott presented the district's Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) report, showing that the district earned a perfect score on the 15 required criteria.

The rating system looks at the most recent independent audit, debt repayment, payments into the retirement system, the amount of cash on hand, asset to liability ratios, staff to student ratios, administrative costs and the revenue to expense ratio.
Jarrott reported that the district has collected 25 percent of its tax levy so far this year.

"That's slightly behind last year, but more payments may be in the tax office at this time," Jarrott said.

The bulk of the tax revenue the district receives are included on January and February revenue reports, he added.

The district's cash balance is very good, Jarrott said. After two CDs matured, the funds from those accounts were moved into investment pools to improve the amount of interest income.
Infrastructure study

The board also heard from Steve Smelly of the Way Companies who is preparing a report on the district's infrastructure to help in decisions related to building renovations.

Smelly shared in information on HVAC equipment at the December meeting and will move on to an investment grade audit on buildings. Their reports delivered before winter break will include a scope of work and energy conservation measures.
The report will be focused on preventing the district from spending money on "band-aid solutions and is being prepared at no cost to the district.

Conner reported that the board will likely need to approve replacement of portions of the lighting system at the baseball fields at Hennigan Park. Conner said the equipment that has been in place for about 30 year was not intended to be used underground.
Baseball and softball teams will begin play in a couple weeks, Conner said.
Turnaround Plan

Trustees approved the District Improvement Plan which has been discussed at length in November and December meetings. The plan, prepared by Karen Ford, coordinator of School Improvement, has been posted on the district's website for several weeks, but has not drawn any comments from members of the community.

The plan's strategy focus on Every Child, Every Classroom Every Day. The plan sets a goal to use data obtained through standardized testing efficiently to improve student outcomes.

The district will increase mentoring efforts that partner new teachers with those with more experience. Other plans include building leadership skills among campus administrators.

The plan will include using uniform lesson plans rather than trying to measure effectiveness of lesson plans that use a variety of styles and strategies.

The district sets its sights on improving community engagement with district wide family friendly activities and events and build communication with stakeholders in the community.

Progress measurements include public meetings that solicit feedback from the community.

In other business, trustees approved:
• Changing the date of the next meeting to Feb. 26. Trustees also will gather for a budget workshop on Monday, Jan. 22.

Just prior to the meeting, Woodville ISD thanked members of the Board of Trustees with a barbecue dinner by ag teacher George Pyle.

Low attendance may force WISD to cough up funds

By Valerie Reddell
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Weather events and an aggressive form of the flu have sent attendance rates at Woodville ISD below the 95 percent benchmark set by the Texas Education Agency, according to Woodville ISD Superintendent Glenn Conner.

"Attendance is as low as it's ever been," Conner said. "Between the flu and a stomach bug, it's been abysmal."

While campus facilities were empty during Christmas, Conner said contractors visited the campus and sanitized the building. Another treatment will be done around the winter break to help avoid further outbreaks of the flu and a stomach bug.
WISD's winter break is scheduled for Feb. 19 to 23.

The enrollment dropped by a few students from the prior six weeks, Conner told board members.

"We generally lose some in December and January and then (enrollment) comes back up," Conner added.

Overall, district attendance dropped below 95 percent, even though two campuses remained above the 95 percent mark.
Woodville's youngest students seem to be the hardest it by the highly contagious illnesses.

The elementary campus averaged 93.3 percent during the third six week, after beginning the year at 96.87 percent. At the intermediate level, 94.65 percent made it to class while 95.66 of the middle school answered roll call. Woodville High School had 95.56 attend.

Overall the district's average daily attendance was 94.94 for its student population of 1,324.

Trustees asked about the financial impact of the increased absences. Assistant Superintendent Cody Jarrot explained that the district receives $120,000 for each percentage point.

Trustee Richard Shaw Jr. asked whether TEA would take into consideration the impact this year's flu epidemic has been much more serious, but Trey Allison answered, "They don't care. They just don't give you any money."

Day Care Bus Route
Trustees also approved a measure last week that would add an afternoon-only bus route that would deliver an estimated 40 students to child care providers in Woodville.

"It would be a short route, but full," Conner said.

The provision was passed by the legislature three sessions ago, and local day care operators have asked the board to provide the service, citing increasing enrollment.

The modified regulation gives public schools the discretion of allowing students to ride a bus to their grandparent's home or a babysitter.

"Before we couldn't deliver a child anywhere but to their parent's home — except on a limited basis when a parent sent a note," Conner said.

Diggles files for bankruptcy after fraud conviction

Multiple media outlets are reporting that Walter Diggles, the former executive director of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments, and his wife Rosie Diggles, have filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in federal court following their convictions for fraud and theft after funds designated for hurricane recovery were diverted into personal accounts, according to the Beaumont Enterprise in a story published Jan. 12.

Prosecutors say Diggles over-billed the federal government between 2007 and 2012 for workers' wages, transportation and recreation services.

The Diggles and their daughter Anita Diggles face up to 30 years in prison but have not yet been sentenced.

In their petition, Walter and Rosie Diggles estimate their liabilities at between $500,000 and $1 million, with roughly equivalent assets.
The couple plans to pay off debts in installments, but are attempting to protect their home from foreclosure.

The conviction on federal charges came after Diggles funneled federal money into a non-profit he ran, Deep East Texas Foundation, and then into accounts owned by Lighthouse Church in Jasper, where Diggles was pastor.

The three defendants have obtained extensions to file objections to a motion asking the court to order Diggles to forfeit $521,059.81 and his wife and daughter to give up $225,041.88 each.

In November, the defendants' requests for acquittal and a new trial were denied.
Judge Ron Clark said there was substantial evidence to support the convictions.
Rosie Diggles has until Jan. 22 to file her objections.

The judge granted an extension for Walter and Anita Diggles to file objections because their attorneys are representing a capital murder suspect in Hardin County.

Low natural gas prices leave plant in mothballs


By Valerie Reddell
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Operations remain on hold at the Hilton Lively Renewable Power Project in Woodville, a consequence of a massive drop in natural gas prices.

East Texas Electric Cooperative (ETEC) — a group obtained a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in May 2012. ETEC contracted with Gemma Power Systems to build and operate the 50-megawatt biomass power plant for three years — a contract that expired Dec. 31, 2017. EthosEnergy now handles operations at Lively as well as ETEC's other generating facilities.

When ETEC was engaged in the planning and permitting stages for the Lively Plant and the hydroelectric plant currently under construction at the Lake Livingston dam, natural gas was selling for $4.17 to $5.97 per BTU.
Gas prices plummeted from 2014 through 2016, bottoming out at $1.77.

When trading ended Tuesday, gas futures were selling for $2.835 a BTU — still a substantially lower cost than producing it at Lively.

"Our job is to provide reliable economic power in East Texas," said Ryan Thomas, General Manager and Chief Financial Officer for ETEC.

With natural gas remaining below $3 per BTU, the biomass generator just isn't cost effective.

For 2018, ETEC is focused on bringing the hydroelectric plan online by 2019. The co-op has had limited conversations about retooling the Lively plant to produce electric with natural gas.

"We don't anticipate operating the Lively plant any time soon. Unless there's a fundamental change in the power market, I don't see us bringing it online," Thomas said. "Right now, we have more capacity than we need," he added. "It's absolutely an operation if we need additional power."

They currently operate peaking plants in Hardin County and San Jacinto County. During the recent spate of freezing weather, ETEC was operating three out of the four peaking plants at all times.

EthosEnergy operates two 75 megawat turbines at each of those facilities that went into operation in 2009 and 2010. Their role is to produce additional electricity during periods of extreme cold or extreme heat. With EthosEnergy now maintaining the plant in Woodville, ETEC can achieve some economies of scale, Thomas said.

At its peak, the Lively plant employed 29 workers. Currently three full time staff members are assigned to the Woodville site.

Construction at the Lake Livingston plant is now back on track after losing about three weeks of work due to the flooding that followed Hurricane Harvey.

Thomas and L.A. Williams, project manager for the R.C. Thomas Hydroelectric Project at Livingston, applauded construction crews for how quickly they were able to get back on track after the record flooding.

That facility is on schedule to begin generating electricity in June 2019.