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Hay, Smecca earn decisive wins to GISD school board

GALVESTON

A heated election culminated Tuesday with the incumbent president of the Galveston Independent School District Board of Trustees defeating his first opponent in six years to win re-election, while a co-owner of Galveston Restaurant Group won the District 6-F seat with 66 percent of the vote.

School board President Matthew Hay defeated Laura Addison, an accountant and a political newcomer, with 56 percent of the vote to Addison’s 43.9 percent for the District 5-E seat, according to complete but unofficial returns.

“I feel relieved, but also fantastic,” Hay said. “This has been a nice, long-fought campaign. I had an opportunity for about an hour to speak to my opponent and we had a good conversation.”

Johnny Smecca easily fended off his two opponents — Sandra Tetley and Beau Rawlins — with 633 votes to his opponents’ combined 321 votes, according to complete but unofficial returns.

“I feel very proud to win by the margins that we did,” Smecca said. “Hard work always pays off in my opinion.”

Tetley finished second behind Smecca with 260 votes, while Rawlins took 61 votes, according to complete but unofficial returns.

Tetley and Rawlins competed against each other, but campaigned on similar platforms and even sometimes released joint statements.

Smecca is the co-owner of Galveston Restaurant Group. Tetley is a real estate and historical preservation officer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Rawlins is a contractor and one-time mayoral candidate who previously resigned from the school district’s board of trustees, citing personal issues that required him to move out of the district.

The District 6-F seat was left vacant with Rawlins’ resignation and after trustees decided against appointing someone to the position.

The two races — for districts 5-E and 6-F — turned into a referendum on the island school district’s direction, leadership and campaign strategy.

The trio of Addison, Tetley and Rawlins ran social media-heavy campaigns to criticize district leadership and recent trustee decisions.

Addison pledged to change the board’s culture, arguing it is resistant to input from parents and community members, and pushed for greater public scrutiny of the district’s spending, highlighting the practice of passing deficit budgets and installing a new administrative team at Central Middle School for $670,000.

Rawlins and Tetley also highlighted district spending and the need to save money as central points of their campaigns.

Addison, Rawlins and Tetley made news in October when they released a prepared statement declining an invitation to a forum hosted by The Daily News, arguing it was biased and had been rigged in a collusion between the newspaper and the school district. Both the newspaper and the school district disputed that assertion.

Smecca campaigned on a more moderate platform, citing his experience on various city boards and his knowledge of business as reasons he would be a good trustee.

Smecca did, however, side more with Rawlins and Tetley in saying he couldn’t support a bond election with a tax increase until district officials considered selling property and ensured everything was running as efficiently as possible.

In the end, voters sided more with the moderate campaigns of Hay and Smecca over online-centric opposition.

“I think the majority of the voters feel we are moving in the right direction,” Hay said Tuesday night.

Both of Tuesday’s winners emphasized the election was just the beginning.

“It’s time to go to work,” Smecca said. “This has been the longest three months, honestly, for me. All I’ve ever wanted is just to go and start working. I’m excited to go and represent the voters.”


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Voters OK $80 million county bond

GALVESTON

Voters across Galveston County on Tuesday approved $80 million in bonds to fund road, drainage and facility improvements.

In three separate bond propositions, voters overwhelmingly approved $56 million for road projects and $6 million for flood control, according to complete but unofficial election results.

A proposition for an $18 million bond for county facilities, including renovations to the medical examiner’s office and a community center in Bacliff, more narrowly won approval from voters, according to election results.

County Judge Mark Henry and county commissioners reached by phone Tuesday night said the election was a step forward for the county, allowing the court to move forward on long-sought projects.

Getting the projects underway will be of great benefit as more and more people move to Galveston County, and with a bond, future residents will help pay for those projects, Henry said.

Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas in late August and flooded thousands of homes, highlighted some of the need for flood control projects, commissioners said.

“I think it’s a big victory for all of Galveston County and clearly in the wake of Hurricane Harvey flood control is a necessary project we’ve got to move forward on and I think people saw that,” Commissioner Darrell Apffel said.

Apffel was particularly happy to have a path for movement on projects in unincorporated parts of the county, including renovations to a community center building in Bacliff, he said.

Commissioner Stephen Holmes also highlighted the need for flood control, roads and associated drainage. For the most part, cities had selected road projects and the bond money will go a long way in fulfilling their needs, Holmes said.

“Now it’s incumbent on us to get the proper studies done and allocate the money properly,” Holmes said.

Turnout was low in the odd-numbered year election. In all, 10,750 Galveston County residents cast ballots during early voting and on election day, according to complete but unofficial returns.

“Thanks to the citizens who did vote,” Commissioner Joe Giusti said. “But for something so important, I would have liked to see a bigger turnout.”

The bond election was a step in the right direction, but now the onus is on the commissioners court to ensure the projects are completed properly and with good oversight, Giusti said.

“I’m glad the voters did approve the bonds, now it’s up to us to make sure we do the right thing with the bond money and get these projects done at reasonable costs,” Giusti said.

It was the first bond election since the Republicans took over leadership of the county in 2010.

“It’s a feeling of satisfaction knowing the voters made the right call on moving Galveston County forward,” Commissioner Ken Clark said. “There’s a lot of opportunity here and we’ll now have the ability to do these projects that have long been needed and will make a difference for the people of Galveston County.”

CITIES GET $40 MILLION

FOR ROAD PROJECTS

Cities across the county stand to receive $40 million total for local road projects, which city leaders identified in requests to the county.

According to the county, League City will receive about $10.48 million from the bond for improvements to Dickinson Avenue and state Highway 96, among others. Galveston stands to receive about $7.16 million for 23rd Street and Avenue S improvements. Texas City will receive about $6.29 million for improvements on Texas Avenue and Century Boulevard.

The $56 million road bond also includes $5 million for Pelican Island Bridge and various road projects in La Marque, Hitchcock, Santa Fe and bay communities, according to the county.

NEW AND RENOVATED

COUNTY FACILITIES

The $18 million bond for facilities improvements will go toward renovations to the medical examiner’s office, an updated Justice of the Peace and community center building in Bacliff and renovations at the League City annex building, according to the county.

The county also budgeted about $5.7 million for the road and bridge facility in Dickinson.

DRAINAGE PROJECTS

FOR WATERSHEDS

Voters approved $6 million for flood control projects, including $3 million for the Dickinson Bayou watershed and $3 million for the Highland Bayou watershed, according to the county.

The $3 million would likely be used to buy land and pay for the drainage district’s building of a detention pond in the upper part of Dickinson Bayou watershed, Clark said. Though Clark said the county may be able to leverage some of the $3 million with federal aid to build more than one detention pond.

With voters’ approval, the county will begin developing a timeline and plan for purchasing property and moving forward with building a detention pond, Clark said.

In the Highland Bayou watershed, voters approved spending $1.5 million on slope stability along the Highland Bayou Diversionary Canal and $1.5 million to bury pipelines deeper on Jay Road in Hitchcock.


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League City mayor's health continues to improve

LEAGUE CITY

League City Mayor Pat Hallisey’s health continues to improve at a Houston facility after he suffered a heart attack in October, his wife said Tuesday.

“Next week, I will be looking for a rehab center to move him closer to home,” Janice Hallisey said. “His progress is nothing short of amazing, the doctors say.”

Pat Hallisey, 67, is staying at the Texas Medical Center after several leg surgeries, including the amputation of his left leg. After his heart attack on Oct. 10, his legs lost circulation, and doctors performed surgeries to improve his blood flow, Janice Hallisey said.

He is attending physical therapy sessions, she said. Talking is still difficult for him after having a tube in his throat during his surgeries, she said.

The Halliseys’ home in Clear Creek Village flooded during Hurricane Harvey at the end of August. Pat Hallisey posted daily videos on social media to keep residents updated on debris pickup and Federal Emergency Management Agency sightings. He also toured different neighborhoods and visited with residents, listening to their concerns and fears.

Pat Hallisey was working at the home Oct. 10 when he became ill before that evening’s city council meeting. He went to the hospital and council members learned about his condition by the end of the meeting.

Friends took over repairs of the Halliseys’ flood-damaged home. They are still making improvements with a goal of having the home ready by the time Pat Hallisey is released from the rehab center.

Individuals, businesses and organizations have posted get well wishes on social media and on electronic signs in League City.

Janice Hallisey canceled this year’s Mayor’s Holiday Ball, a moneymaker for the three-day Holiday in the Park celebration in December. She had considered going ahead with the event and fundraiser, which would have been held Saturday, she changed plans after her husband’s heart attack, she said.

But Holiday in the Park is happening Dec. 1-3, she said. The theme for the Dec. 2 parade is favorite Christmas movies. And one of the favorite Hallisey movies playing Dec. 1 is “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

That movie fits Pat Hallisey’s attitude, Janice Hallisey said.

“We’re hoping the mayor will lead the parade,” she said. “He could be wearing a red sweater in a convertible. And then he’ll go straight home.”


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Coming Sunday

Businesses in downtown League City dish on a proposed Old Town District plan.


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County explores potential suit against opioid makers

GALVESTON

The county will begin a multistep legal process to potentially file a lawsuit against manufacturers of opioids to recover the costs to taxpayers related to the drug, including the expenses of law enforcement, incarceration and addiction treatment.

Galveston County Commissioners Court on Monday voted unanimously to authorize County Judge Mark Henry to request the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts review and approve the county to contract with law firms on a contingent fee basis.

The state must approve contingent fee contracts, said Robert Boemer, an attorney for the county. Commissioners court would still need to vote on a contingent fee contract with the law firms, which would allow the firms to sue on behalf of the county and collect a fee from any money awarded, he said. The suit would not cost the county, he said.

Several law firms, including Watts Guerra LLP and The Gallagher Firm LLP, have explored an agreement between the county and the firms to recover costs related to opioid abuse in Galveston County.

Two representatives met with Henry and county legal recently to discuss a potential lawsuit against manufacturers of opioids.

If the county sued, it would be one of several municipalities nationwide who have lodged challenges against opioid manufacturers with the hope of stemming an epidemic. Harris and Bexar counties in Texas have both moved toward filing similar lawsuits, Henry said.

The small East Texas county of Upshur filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court last month against prescription painkiller manufacturers and distributors.

In September, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the state had joined a coalition of 40 others in serving subpoenas against eight companies that manufacture or distribute prescription painkillers to collect information. The intent is to evaluate whether the companies engaged in unlawful practices, he said in a statement.

The county’s exploration of a lawsuit stems from allegations that certain opioid manufacturers have engaged in “negligent and reckless promotion of opioid painkillers for inappropriate uses,” the court order approved by Galveston County commissioners said.

The county did not yet have a list of potential manufacturers that may be the target of a lawsuit, Boemer said. Representatives from Watts Guerra LLP and The Gallagher Firm LLP did not respond to requests for comment.

While the county doesn’t know the exact cost of opioid abuse in Galveston County, the county’s criminal justice system sees its effects nearly daily, District Attorney Jack Roady said.

The justice system frequently sees addiction-related cases due to opioids such as Oxycodone and cases of children entering into the state’s child services system because parents are addicted to prescription opioids and no longer caring for their children, Roady said.

The expenses also show up in providing emergency medical services for people who have overdosed or nearly overdosed on prescription pills or the street drugs many opioid addicts turn to when they don’t have access to pills, he said.

That’s just the economic toll.

“We’re fighting those battles in every part of the county,” Roady said. “The idea is to recover taxpayer funds that the county has had to extend over the years in all those areas, including caring for families, legal and medical costs.”

The law firms did not respond this week. But representatives discussed suing major pharamecutical companies, Henry said. The companies have not yet been named, he said.

“The only targets here really are the pharmaceutical companies,” Henry said. “These businesses are not in Galveston County, no businesses here would be sued.”

In recent memory, the county has filed just one other lawsuit on a contingent fee basis, Boemer said. That lawsuit was against the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association over damages from Hurricane Ike in 2008, he said.