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Lt. Gov. Patrick says he's 'all in' on Galveston issues

GALVESTON

In a speech at Moody Gardens on Friday, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pledged to support issues important to Galveston.

Citing his close relationship with state Sen. Larry Taylor and a fondness for the island, where his family vacations, Patrick said he would support some of the local issues the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce had named as its top priorities for the current legislative session.

Among those issues is the continued advocacy for a coastal barrier to protect Galveston and surrounding areas from hurricane-driven storm surges.

“I’m all in,” Patrick said. “I know these issues for Galveston, like the coastal barrier, are correct, so we need to be all in.”

The chamber, which hosted Patrick at a legislative luncheon, has said addressing public education funding, securing a coastal spine, reforming windstorm insurance and supporting Texas port and maritime issues were among the most important things the legislature could do for Galveston during the session.

The session began last month and ends on May 27.

Patrick offered few actual comments about the Galveston issues and delivered a speech about some of the early highlights of the session — including a renewed bid to cap local property tax rate hikes and on his work with the White House on advocating on issues related to illegal immigration.

Most notably, however, Patrick said that he, Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott were working together and in agreement on major policy priorities, which may make some locally important bills easier to pass during the session.

During the 2017 legislative session, Patrick found himself at odds with some cities over proposals for a tax cap, and with chambers of commerce and tourism groups over his support for the so-called bathroom bill, which would have prescribed which bathroom transgender people should use based on a birth certificate.

The bathroom bill failed and Patrick has said he doesn’t intend to make it an issue again this session. Meanwhile, he’s lauded the apparent agreement already reached over property tax reform. Members of the house and senate have filed identical bills that would place a cap on property tax increases at 2.5 percent, unless local voters approve a greater increase.

Speaking after Patrick, Taylor said he was hopeful local issues would also come as easily during the session.

It was critical that the legislature come to an agreement on how to provide matching funds for a $4 billion federal project to build storm surge protection barriers in counties north and south of Galveston, Taylor said.

Getting those funds secured this year was critical to the state’s hopes for building a larger, $32 billion system of barriers, seawalls and gates around Galveston County some time in the future, Taylor said.

“This session we have to get our act together on the coastal barrier,” Taylor said. “They’ve given us $4 billion that we have to match. If we don’t do that, we won’t get the middle part.”


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centerpiece
Popular isle baseball field could become a landmark

GALVESTON

A popular island baseball field may soon join the ranks of other historically significant sites in Galveston.

This week, the city planning commission recommended that Galveston City Council grant landmark status to the Leroy Naschke Sr. Field in Lindale Park, 301 Albacore Drive.

The park is important to area residents, who want to ensure baseball games are played on the field for years to come, Frank Maceo said.

Maceo, a former District 3 councilman, has for the past six months worked to get the landmark designation passed.

“Any changes to that baseball field has to go before the landmark commission and their goal is bringing those pieces of property back to their original state,” Maceo said.

Built in the late 1950s, the ball field was a centerpiece for people growing up in the neighborhood, Mary Jo Naschke, president of the University Area Association, said.

The field is named after Naschke’s father-in-law.

“There’s a lot of people that you meet in a park environment and a ballpark just lends to that,” Naschke said.

Leroy Naschke Sr. helped bring Little League and Pony-Colt baseball to the island. He played for the 1938 Galveston Rattler American Legion baseball team and served as the president of Galveston East Little League for 25 years.

“Mr. Naschke was instrumental in developing the Little League program on the island, so that was the driving reason for naming the field after him,” city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.

Lifelong resident Robert Mihovil grew up playing in the park, he said.

“It was a hot spot and, back then, every house in the neighborhood had kids and every kid played baseball,” Mihovil said.

Now, the field is used less often, but Island Little League President Blanca Flores predicts the park will be used more in the future, she said.

Last year, while the fields at Crockett Park, Avenue S and 53rd Street, were under construction, Little League payers used the Lindale Park field, Flores said.

“All the neighbors were so happy to see all the commotion,” Flores said. “All the older people came out in the afternoon and they would stop by.”

She plans to continue using the park as island baseball continues to become more popular, she said.

Designating a baseball field as a landmark is a little unusual because the designation typically goes to buildings, city Historic Preservation Officer Catherine Gorman said.

The code allows the designation to go to structures, objects or sites at least 50 years old with historical significance, Gorman said.

“We’ve designated the Broadway Cemetery complex as a Galveston landmark,” Gorman said. “Kempner Park is also designated, along with the Garten Verein building.”

The neighborhood association wants to encourage more use of the park, Naschke said.

“One of the things we’d like to see is families getting out there more and more,” Naschke said. “We’ve seen a lot of that the last two seasons. Wouldn’t it be great to protect that for future generations?”

The city’s invested in improvements to Lindale Park in the past few years. In 2016, the city council approved more than $200,000 for playground equipment.

The city council will likely consider the final approval necessary to make the landmark official at its Feb. 28 meeting. If approved, the landmark designation would only apply to the baseball field.


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Property owners push back against city's blight fight

TEXAS CITY

When Jeremy Nolan bought his house on 22nd Avenue in Texas City in 2016, he planned for the dilapidated residence to become his family’s home.

Nolan, who works as a youth pastor at Northside Baptist Church in Texas City, had grown up in the neighborhood. Texas City feels like home to him, and moving into the house, which he concedes was in poor condition when he bought it, would be a dream come true, he said.

“I got a great deal on it,” he said. “I had to pay off around $25,000 in taxes the previous owners owed on it, but I was about ready to start moving in.”

But two years after buying the house and working to pay off the taxes owed on it, Nolan still hasn’t moved in. Instead, he’s fighting the city to keep it from being demolished.

In early January, a municipal court judge in Texas City gave the city permission to demolish Nolan’s house. The decision came after months of nuisance abatement notices from the city, for violations having to do with the building’s deteriorating roof, overgrown weeds and trash, Chris Rasco, Nolan’s attorney said.

The city maintains that the house is a “sub-standard property” and isn’t safe for habitation, City Attorney Russell Plackemeier said. Nolan didn’t comply with the abatement orders and now the city is moving to have the property demolished.

But Nolan sees the situation differently, attorney Cris Rasco, who represents Nolan, said. The city is moving too fast, he said.

Nolan had spent thousands of dollars attempting to clean up the mess, and was about “90 percent done” with the work the city was asking for, but city officials moved ahead with demanding the demolition of his property, Rasco said.

“As far as I’m concerned, he took care of everything on the order,” Rasco said. “But the city’s position is he still isn’t in compliance, and the judge agreed.”

Now Nolan is suing to stop the demolition in a lawsuit he filed last month in Galveston County district court that claims the city violated his right to due process when it asked a judge to grant its demolition request. It’s the same reason why Wendy Seghers, who co-owns Texas City Apartments, a condemned apartment complex on Ninth Avenue, filed a separate lawsuit against the city last month as well.

The city condemned her property last September after a gas inspection at a nearby property revealed defects that led to building officials shutting the apartment complex down. Officials contend that Seghers didn’t do enough to address the rotting walls and floor that made the structure inhabitable, but Seghers disagrees and is suing to be able to reopen her apartment complex.

Both Seghers and Nolan believe that something more devious is afoot, they said.

In Seghers’ opinion, officials have targeted the apartment complex because it’s in the middle of the city’s 6th Street Revitalization District, she said. Similarly, Nolan believes the city wants his house demolished so new homes can be built on the lot that will bring in more property tax dollars.

“They want to take down properties like this because they’re not desirable,” Nolan said. “They want the tax money that they could get by building more houses.”

At the very least, it’s a violation of people’s constitutional rights, Rasco, who is also representing Seghers in her lawsuit, said.

“The city is trying to make Texas City a better place to live and work and that’s fine,” he said. “There are a lot of eyesores and dilapidated buildings that need to be torn down. But they have to do things right. These people’s constitutional rights are being violated because the city isn’t following the correct process. They’re cutting corners.”

For its part, the city just sees the two properties as hazards to tenants and neighbors, Plackemeier said.

“I fundamentally disagree with Cris Rasco’s analysis,” Plackemeier said. “We don’t want anyone’s properties, and this isn’t some overarching conspiracy. We just want structures that are safe for our citizens.”


Coming Sunday

Part 3 of a six-part special report explores legal challenges to wetlands protection, including key U.S. Supreme Court decisions and recent White House actions.


News
City settles police shooting lawsuit for nearly $500K

GALVESTON

The city has reached a legal settlement of almost $500,000 with relatives of a woman shot and killed by a Galveston police officer in 2017.

The relatives of Toni Jo Collins filed a lawsuit in July that asserted city officials influenced the investigation of the events in favor of the officers.

The city agreed Feb. 1 to pay $475,000 to settle the lawsuit Collins’ relatives had filed against the city and officer Evan Fraley, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.

The lawsuit, brought by Collins’ father, Bobby Jack Collins, and Leisa Collins, whose relationship to the woman was unclear, claimed that it had been unnecessary for Fraley to shoot Collins.

City officials declined to comment on the settlement Friday. The settlement money will come from a public entry risk fund, which is the city’s insurance, instead of the general fund, Barnett said.

Fraley, who is no longer employed by the Galveston Police Department, shot and killed Collins on March 9, 2017, while he was off duty and in plain clothes.

He reported seeing Collins brandishing a rifle as he approached two people arguing, police said.

This weapon was a pink Daisy BB gun or air rifle, according to the lawsuit.

Fraley shot Collins after a brief confrontation and she was pronounced dead shortly thereafter, according to police reports.

The lawsuit asserted the officer should have had other options and that the city caused the investigation to conclude Fraley had been in fear of his life and was justified in using deadly force.

The lawsuit noted Fraley is 6 feet, 8 inches tall, while Collins is 5 feet, 2 inches tall, and that police officials helped Fraley find a new job with the Hutto Police Department.

A Galveston County grand jury declined to indict Fraley in December 2017, a decision the lawsuit asserted was influenced by city officials to benefit the officer.


Toni Jo Collins