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Galveston police release sketch of man accused in attempted kidnappings

GALVESTON

The Galveston Police Department is warning citizens to be on the lookout for a man suspected in a string of attempted kidnappings of women.

A press conference about the attempted kidnappings on the island is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. today at the Joe Max Taylor Law Enforcement Building, 601 54th St., Galveston, police said.

Police on Monday released a composite sketch of a man and a photograph of a vehicle sought in connection to three attempted kidnappings of women in downtown and on the island’s West End.

The man is described as Hispanic, 5 feet 3 inches to 5 feet 5 inches tall and between ages 25 and 40 with a thin, muscular build, police said.

Victims said the man who approached them was wearing dark pants, a short-sleeve T-shirt and tennis shoes, had no distinct facial hair and spoke Spanish and English, police said.

A vehicle involved is believed to be a burgundy or maroon 2008 to 2010 four-door Honda Accord with a child’s car seat in the back on the driver’s side.

At 9:10 p.m. on Sept. 20, a 60-year-old woman was approached by a man near the intersection of 20th Street and The Strand downtown, police said. The man got out of his vehicle and approached the woman, who ran into her apartment, police said.

The man circled the block for several minutes searching for the woman, who was able to take a photo of the car, police said.

At 9:40 p.m. on the same night, a 45-year-old woman was approached by the same man and vehicle at the intersection of 22nd and Market streets, police said. The man asked for directions and then got out of his vehicle, grabbed the woman and attempted to push her into the back seat, police said.

The woman escaped and ran, but the man caught her and tackled her to the ground, police said. The woman screamed repeatedly and fought, and several people were alerted to the attack, causing the suspect to retreat to his car, police said.

On Sept. 25, a similarly described man and vehicle approached two women walking with a man — all in their 20s — leaving an establishment near 82nd Street and Stewart Road, police said.

The man confronted the two women and made the statement to the man that he “just wanted the girls” when he was told to leave the women alone, police said. A short confrontation occurred, and the man fled in his vehicle, police said.

Those with additional information about this case are encouraged to contact Galveston Police detective Michelle Sollenberger at 409-765-3770 or at msollenberger@galvestontx.gov.


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Judge, sheriff's races left off some Hitchcock ballots

HITCHCOCK

Galveston County voting officials scrambled to review hundreds of ballot variations over the weekend after learning some voters in Hitchcock received absentee ballots that omitted races for two district court judges and the sheriff.

A programming error when the county clerk’s office was creating ballots for the Nov. 3 general election caused the omissions, County Clerk Dwight Sullivan said.

“While programming and proofing, we miscoded them,” Sullivan said. “We’re making the changes so that everything’s fixed by Election Day.”

The problem was human error on the part of the vendor that helps the county program ballots, as well as the county and political party officials who were tasked with checking ballots for accuracy, Sullivan said.

The clerk’s office distributed at least 55 incorrect absentee ballots in voting Precinct 334, which is in Hitchcock. It was unclear how many of those people already had submitted ballots or how the county would address the problem if that happened.

The ballots didn’t include the contested races for Galveston County sheriff, 405th District Court judge and 56th District Court judge. The ballots also were missing uncontested countywide races, such as tax assessor-collector, that should have been on the ballot, officials said.

The problems had been corrected by Monday morning, officials said.

County voting machines had been updated to include the missing names, and the county was reaching out to voters who received incorrect ballots.

The problem was first identified late Friday after a voter in Hitchcock opened an absentee ballot and noticed it was missing candidates for the countywide races, Galveston County Democrat Party Chairman C. John Young said.

The mistake prompted Young to alert state Democratic Party officials, and on Sunday he and other party members were reviewing hundreds of ballot variations to ensure the mistake wasn’t repeated in other places.

“We don’t know what happened,” Young said Sunday. “The ballot was very complex and as such it had many different variations.

“We discovered belatedly that one of those was missing all of the county-wide candidates. They were all missing, which was a big red flag.”

There are 113 contested races in the county this year among national, state, county and municipal elections. The ballot is more complicated than normal because it includes municipal races that were postponed from May to November because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new ballot variation is created for combinations of elections that voters can participate in. Even relatively small voter precincts might have multiple ballot variations because of boundaries for city council or school board races.

“This one slipped through the cracks,” Sullivan said. “These ballots were very complicated.”

Young emphasized that the problem wasn’t specifically with the mail-in ballot system, but rather with the coding of all of the county’s ballots. If the issue hadn’t been caught on mail ballots, it would have occurred when voters from the precinct used voting machines during early voting, which begins today.

“This has nothing to do with the mail ballot scare and all the nonsense,” Young said. “This is a technical issue.”

If it hadn’t been caught, the mistake might have unfairly affected Democratic candidates during the election, Young said.

Democrat Mark Salinas is running against incumbent Sheriff Henry Trochesset; Democrat George Lindsey is running for 56th District Court judge against Lonnie Cox; and Democrat Teresa Hudson is running against incumbent 405th District Court Judge Jared Robinson.

The three Democrats are trying to be the first to break the total Republican control of countywide offices that has existed since 2010.

In the 2016 presidential election, 83 percent of voters in precinct 334— 596 voters total — voted for Hilary Clinton, according to a 2018 analysis of voting precinct results published by The New York Times.

Only 107 people in the precinct voted for Donald Trump.

The precinct had one of the widest pro-Democrat voting splits during the 2016 election in Galveston County.

“That precinct has special priority for us,” Young said. “Losing votes there, especially for a county-level race, would be disastrous. Losing votes there would disproportionately affect us.”

On Monday, Young said the party is prohibited from knowing who received the incorrect ballots until after the election is over but that the party was all but certain to request that information — and ensure the people with the bad ballots were given their chance to vote in every race.

Voters can check their personalized sample ballots online at galvestonvotes.org to check whether there are any potential problems before they head to the polls.


Coming Wednesday

COVID-19 prevention efforts have helped local high school sports teams, but positive cases have sidelined some.


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Drainage, traffic and pandemic take center stage in League City elections

LEAGUE CITY

Just as the saying goes that death and taxes are the only two certainties in life, the same might be said about drainage and transportation issues in League City elections.

But this year, local candidates also are focusing on the coronavirus pandemic ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Here are some of the main issues candidates are raising:

FLOODING AND DRAINAGE

Each candidate interviewed for this article agreed flooding and drainage were major issues for residents, and some argued the city needs to move faster on projects to reduce flooding in Galveston County’s biggest city.

“After the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, we know flooding must be addressed to keep our citizens safe,” said Rachel McAdam, a school principal vying for the Position 4 spot alongside Shawn Byars, an engineer; John Bowen, a retired process control professional; and Ange Mertens, a longtime resident and flight attendant who has run for office before.

All of McAdam’s opponents, as well as those candidates for the Position 5 spot, agreed with her assessment of the importance of drainage projects.

“Harvey is still a sore subject, and most voters want to see drainage projects expedited,” Byars said. “Many are also wanting to know what the long-term regional plans are and how we are addressing them.”

League City voters in 2019 passed a $145 million bond referendum aimed at traffic and drainage improvements.

In total, the 2019 bond provides funds for 31 projects in League City — 21 for drainage and 10 for traffic improvements.

Wes Chorn, a business owner seeking the Position 5 spot, agreed drainage was the issue most residents seem to care about.

City leaders should consider starting a local task force to handle smaller drainage issues while waiting for movement on the larger problems, said Frederick Rogers, a retired military veteran and real estate agent, who’s facing Chorn and Justin Hicks, an engineer and program manager.

TRAFFIC AND MOBILITY

Traffic problems in the fast-growing city also are an election issue.

“I would like to make sure that when dealing with all infrastructure needs, I want to make sure that we are looking at needs with our growth in mind 30 years down the road, and not just our immediate needs, so that we are ahead of growth,” Mertens said.

Hicks, meanwhile, touted his professional life as a project manager as a reason he’d be a good candidate to handle the varied projects League City has, he said.

“I’d like to see more communication with the citizens of League City, so that they know where we are with these projects, and I would recommend reevaluating the city approved vendors list,” he said.

Many residents are frustrated with traffic congestion and construction delays, so projects must be expedited, Byars said.

GROWING POPULATION

Beyond just traffic and drainage issues, city leaders must be prepared to face exponential growth over the next two decades, Rogers said.

The League City Council had an estimated population count in January 2020 of 109,087, up from 106,803 in 2019. Officials are projecting the League City population to one day top 200,000.

The city should consider expanding beyond just residential growth because commercial growth would lower taxes for residents, McAdam said.

“To create more local jobs, revenue and excitement for our city, we need to increase business,” McAdam said.

Along with that growth, city officials must be prepared to scale services to meet the needs of new residents, Rogers said.

But some residents want to see housing development slow down, Byars said.

Hicks went a step further, arguing the city should explore ways to throttle growth so officials can complete existing projects.

“Moving forward, we must match our growth to the drainage, traffic and infrastructure projects,” he said. “I think that economic development and growth are intertwined.”

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

The candidates were divided on what role, specifically, the city needed to play in terms of regulating safety during the pandemic. But all agreed the focus should be helping those businesses and people hurt financially.

The city shouldn’t be in the business of mandating things such as masks but should instead leave that up to the governor, Chorn said.

Hicks wants to see all businesses open, with no limits to their capacity, he said.

“Recommendations are fine, mandates are not,” he said.

What the city could do, however, is encourage residents to visit local businesses and help residents and business owners apply for available funding, Rogers said.

The city can serve as a central hub of information and online resources for those seeking to shop local, McAdam said.

TAX BURDENS

City leaders should balance the needs of residents against a desire to avoid raising property taxes, Chorn said.

“I don’t believe the council should raise them without citizen approval and, that if they ever do raise the rate, then it needs to be the citizens that vote for it,” he said. “The council has no right to do that.”

While the council races are nonpartisan, the majority of local voters are conservative and want to know how the candidates align politically, Byars said.

The council, for instance, did a great job including new projects while keeping the tax rate low this year, Hicks said.


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In council vote, Galveston facing a possible sea change

GALVESTON

It’s been six years since the Galveston City Council was set up for a straight sweep.

Since 2014, the year Jim Yarbrough took office, there hasn’t been an election in which the mayor’s race and all six council races were challenged. The period marked a time of mostly political calm after four tough years post-Hurricane Ike.

Now in 2020, Yarbrough is gone, having served six years and then some because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He resigned months before the election to replace him and left one of the five men vying to be his replacement in charge.

The move left Galveston mayor pro tem Craig Brown as the top elected official in the city. For months, residents have seen him leading council meetings, guiding the city through a hurricane evacuation and making decisions on reopening the city from some of the COVID-19 restrictions Yarbrough and the council had put in place earlier this year.

Intended or not, Brown’s ascension was able to give voters a taste of his leadership and compare it — at least to those with longer memories — to the style of Roger “Bo” Quiroga, who served as the city’s mayor from 1998 until 2004 and is now running for new, fourth term 20 years later.

Quiroga is by far Brown’s most well-funded opponent and has asked voters to remember things that were accomplished in the early aughts, such as the deal that resulted in the construction of the Galveston Island Convention Center. Bill Keese, a former state representative and recent island transplant, is a distant third in spending in the five-person race.

Quiroga has at times focused his campaign not on Brown but on City Manager Brian Maxwell. Quiroga has said city hall needs to review its staffing level and salaries, an implication that Maxwell’s office might be in for a less friendly relationship than he had under the six years of Yarbrough should Quiroga win.

The council slate includes four incumbents running for reelection: Jason Hardcastle, John Paul Listowski, David Collins and Jackie Cole. That leaves the potential that a majority of the last “Yarbrough council” could serve another term.

But the incumbents aren’t the only familiar faces on the ballot.

Along with Quiroga, multiple other public officials — former council members Tarris Woods, Marie Robb, Frank Maceo and former school board trustee Beau Rawlins — are on the ballot seeking a seat on the council. Former City Secretary Doug Godinich is running, as is Bill Quiroga, Bo Quiroga’s brother.

They all are joined by other candidates that have never held public office in Galveston.

There’s some thought that if Brown is elected, more incumbents likely will join him. If Quiroga wins, more new faces could join the council, the thinking goes.

Notably, there are fewer endorsements by public groups this year than there have been in the past. Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Galveston Hotel & Lodging Association and the Galveston Baptist Ministerial Alliance have all forgone endorsements this year.

Quiroga’s stance against city hall might speak to some voters and special interest groups. Willis Gandhi, the president of the hotel association, said he was looking for candidates who treated tourism issues seriously — especially in light of the damage wrought on the industry by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Terrilyn Tarlton-Shannon, the chairwoman-elect of the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she personally felt that the city council in recent years had become less transparent and less willing to seek community input.

“I think people have gotten completely demoralized,” Tarlton-Shannon said of her attitude about the current administration. “If you keep trying to be active and keep trying to be involved, and kind of get led down a path to nowhere, people throw their hands up and move on.”

If that attitude is pervasive, the current council might end up paying for it, Tarlton-Shannon said.

Early voting begins Tuesday. Election Day is Nov. 3.


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Four contested races in Texas City election include one for new mayor

TEXAS CITY

Voters in Texas City will have the choice between largely maintaining the city’s current leadership or shaking up the makeup of the Texas City Commission, as four members of the current commission will be in contested elections.

THE ISSUES

Among the issues facing Texas City, one frequently mentioned by the 2020 candidates is public safety and community policing.

A challenger for the District 1 commissioner’s seat, Keith Henry is calling for peaceful community- police relations and a policing model seeking to eliminate perceptions of mistrust.

District 4 incumbent Jami Clark said the city commission should do all it can to support the city’s police and fire departments.

“We need to have enough men and women on our streets to keep us all safe,” Clark said. “I fully support both departments.”

At-large commissioner candidate and current District 2 Commissioner Abel Garza Jr. cited public safety as his No. 1 issue, saying he favors the construction of a public safety facility near the Tanger Outlet Mall or Lago Mar subdivision to reduce the response time for emergencies in that growing area of Texas City.

Other issues raised by Texas City candidates include diversifying the city’s economic base, infrastructure, code enforcement and providing affordable housing.

WHO’S RUNNING FOR WHAT?

In the Texas City mayoral race, Phil Roberts, an at-large commissioner and mayor pro tem, is facing Dedrick Johnson, a former commissioner. The winner steps into a role synonymous with the Doyle family for the better part of 30 years.

Outgoing Mayor Matt Doyle has held the position since 2004, and his father, Chuck Doyle, was Texas City’s mayor from 1990 to 2000. While Matt Doyle did not go as far as endorsing a single candidate, saying either man would perform the job well, he did refer to Roberts as his “right-hand man” on the city commission.

With Roberts leaving his at-large commissioner seat to run for mayor, four candidates are running for the commission’s two at-large positions: Thelma Bowie, Bruce Clawson, Garza and Kevin Yackly.

Clawson is a commissioner at-large incumbent, and Garza is the current District 2 commissioner and is leaving that seat to run for the at-large spot. Bowie is a former city commissioner, and Yackly is a local restaurant owner and philanthropist.

In the District 1 Texas City Commission race, incumbent Earl Alexander faces Henry, whose background includes multiple leadership roles in government.

The District 4 city commission election pits the incumbent Clark against resident Henry Gomez.

The District 2 and 3 commissioner races are uncontested, with Felix Herrera and Dorthea Jones set to take those respective seats.