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Man adopts daughter after 23 years of separation

Willard Robinson was the young father of three daughters when he was run over by a tractor-trailer and his life was changed forever.

Brandy Scrudato, his youngest daughter, was 2-years-old when her father was injured and her life was changed forever.

Separated by traumatic circumstances and apart for 23 years, Robinson and Scrudato have reunited this year and, soon, Brandy will become her biological father’s adopted child.

“I was working as an emergency response officer in New York, helping out some people on the side of the road and waiting for EMS to show up when I got run over by a tractor-trailer in a blizzard,” Robinson said.

“I woke up weeks later.”

This was in Suffern, New York, about 45 minutes north of the city. Robinson’s injuries were severe — a nearly severed vertebra, spine collapsed and hip crushed — and his recovery and rehabilitation were years long, in several different hospitals, he said. He was left paraplegic but eventually regained his ability to walk.

During the time he was hospitalized, his wife turned the girls over to children’s services in New York and they entered foster care, he said.

“She told them I was dead,” Robinson said.

Robinson visited his girls once at their foster home and thought the foster parents seemed pretty nice, he said. He thought when he pulled himself back together, he would reunite with the girls.

He spent time in Mexico, where he could recover in the warm air, and ended up in Texas, first San Antonio and eventually, Galveston.

Brandy Robinson, meanwhile, became Brandy Scrudato, the youngest of five children. The foster family had two other children before adopting the three Robinson sisters when Brandy was six.

Scrudato said nothing she ever did was good or good enough for her adoptive parents.

“They told me my dad didn’t love me,” she said. “They told me I wasn’t pretty. They told me I had a terrible singing voice.”

That hurt. A teacher in school, someone she cared about deeply, told her she had a beautiful voice, but her family put her down, she said.

“I gave it up and turned to sports,” she said. She became a competitive swimmer.

At age 12, she saw her birth mother for the last time. By the time she graduated high school, Scrudato had a 6-month-old son and was living with her son’s father and his parents. She was isolated from her sisters, both of whom had gone away and with whom she had lost contact.

She became anxious and depressed and struck out for Florida, leaving her young son with his father, a man Scrudato said is a great dad.

Florida turned out not so great. Scrudato was homeless, living on the streets where she was drugged and sexually assaulted, she said.

At her lowest point, in October 2018, she received an instant message on Facebook from a man named Robinson who said he was so sorry for leaving her behind, that he’d been trying to find her and would she please write him back.

Mistrusting, Scrudato wrote back: “What was my earliest nickname and what was my first dog’s name?”

“Bam Bam,” Robinson wrote. “Your dog was Feathers.”

Scrudato responded excitedly, asking him all the questions she’d stored up for 23 years, and soon father and daughter were reunited. He brought her to Galveston from Florida.

“When I moved in, I told him what had happened to me,” Scrudato said.

She has found help for her anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder since coming to Galveston, for which she is grateful, she said. Now, she’s planning a reunion with her son, 6-years-old and diagnosed with autism last March.

“We visit on webcam,” she said. “He’s talking a lot more. He’s full of life and he’s built like a tank.”

“Just like me and my father,” Robinson said.

Robinson and Scrudato said they’ve spent nights over the past months talking until 4 a.m., getting to know each other. They’ve collected the documents they have to file in court for Robinson to adopt his 25-year-old daughter.

Sometimes they sing karaoke together on Second Life, an internet entertainment site.

“She’ll inherit my pensions,” he said. “She’ll inherit this house I bought in 2016.” She’ll take the name Robinson again.

“For me, it’s more about getting to know my dad,” Scrudato said. “Him adopting me gives me a sturdier foundation.”


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La Marque offers South Texas man city manager job

LA MARQUE

The La Marque city council has chosen a South Texas city manager to be its next top administrator.

The council on Thursday evening unanimously voted to offer the position to Charles “Tink” Jackson, 51, who now manages Pearsall, Texas.

While Jackson’s salary wasn’t finalized on Friday, the city had offered to pay him $114,000, as well as moving expenses, Mayor Bobby Hocking said.

An agreement between Jackson and the city had not been finalized by Friday, though both Jackson and city officials said they expected to come to an agreement quickly. A final agreement will give La Marque its first permanent city manager in seven months.

“He’s just the most excellent candidate,” Hocking said on Thursday evening.

Pearsall is a town of about 10,000 people 50 or so miles southwest of San Antonio. The council was impressed by Jackson’s performance in leading the town past the oil downturn of recent years, which put a dent in that city’s economy, Hocking said.

“They were in dire straits when he got there and he brought them back to being an award-winning city,” Hocking said.

Pearsall’s city council was named the 2018 City Council of the Year by the Texas City Management Association.

Reached by phone Friday, Jackson said he looked forward to coming to La Marque.

“I think there’s a lot of potential in La Marque,” he said. “I was impressed with the mayor and city council. I think they definitely want to see La Marque grow and prosper and reach its full potential.”

Before starting his job in Pearsall in 2016, Jackson was the county manager for Luna County, New Mexico, and worked as a water resource specialist for New Mexico state government. Jackson has two degrees from New Mexico State University.

His nickname, “Tink,” is a family nickname given to the first son born every fourth generation. It’s a Scandinavian tradition, he said.

The city council spent nearly six hours in an executive session Thursday before announcing its decision. The council had interviewed four candidates over the course of three meetings in recent weeks before choosing Jackson.

One of the other candidates for the city manager job was Charlene Warren, who has been the city’s interim city manager since Carol Buttler retired in August.

Hocking expected Warren to remain employed at the city, despite losing out on the city manager’s position, he said.

Also on the city’s shortlist was Mary Gelles, who was hired as Hitchcock’s city administrator earlier in February, Hocking said.

The search for a city manager was conducted relatively quickly and quietly. In October, the council hired Friendswood-based Ron Cox Consulting to manage the search and rate candidates. The city agreed to pay $18,850 to run the search.

The city advertised the job on its own website and social media pages, as well as on the Texas Municipal League job board. Thirteen people applied for the job, Hocking said.

The cost of hiring a consultant was worth it, officials said.

“We couldn’t have done this as a council,” said District C Councilman Robert Michetich. “We’d be another six months if he hadn’t been around.”

In hindsight, Hocking would have preferred to have more public participation in the search process, he said before Thursday’s meeting. He noted Hitchcock had formed a citizen review committee to vet and recommend candidates. There were no proposals to extend the search on Thursday evening, however.

In La Marque, the city manager acts as the city’s chief executive officer and top administrator. The city manager is responsible for hiring and firing employees, and for preparing the city’s annual budget, among other things.


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Councilman wants mayor, administrator to pay $800

KEMAH

The city spent $800 on a presentation that was supposed to happen during a canceled council meeting, and the mayor and administrator should ultimately be responsible for repaying taxpayers, one council member argues.

“It’s pretty much a waste of taxpayer money,” said Matt Wiggins, a councilman and former mayor. “And I think they should be reimbursed.”

But Mayor Carl Joiner argues the ongoing debate about the bill isn’t fair and that consultant Ron Cox plans to give the presentation at a future meeting.

“It’s unfortunate Ron Cox is in the news, because he did nothing wrong here,” Joiner said.

Wiggins has been asking questions about events leading up to a July 11 meeting, which didn’t happen because of a lack of quorum. Cox, a Friendswood-based consultant, was supposed to give a presentation about city strategic planning and charged the city $800 for it, although it never happened, Wiggins said.

But Joiner and City Administrator Wendy Ellis knew there wasn’t going to be a quorum at that meeting and should have canceled it, so that Cox wouldn’t have to bill for his time, Wiggins said.

“Wendy Ellis knew at least four hours before the meeting that they didn’t have a quorum,” Wiggins said. “But they didn’t choose to call off the meeting, and we had to pay Ron Cox to come from Friendswood or wherever he was coming from.”

Ellis might have heard about Wiggins not coming, but she lacks the authority to cancel a council meeting, Joiner said.

Joiner, who had authority to cancel the meeting, didn’t know the council would be short of a quorum until it was too late to do so, he said.

The July 11 session was a special meeting that no council members had objected to when it was scheduled, Joiner said.

Cox, who billed the city for the time spent traveling to the meeting, has given staff and council members much of the information in the presentation and to make a presentation at future meeting, Joiner said.

Wiggins first brought the issue about the $800 bill before the council at a Jan. 16 meeting, and then requested an agenda item for Wednesday’s meeting to ask Joiner and Ellis to reimburse the city for the expense.

But that discussion was ultimately tabled, said Nick Haby, spokesman for the city.

That’s because Ellis wasn’t at Wednesday’s meeting, Joiner said.

Wiggins on Friday said he was focused on the bill because it’s a waste of taxpayer money. But, over the summer, the former mayor filed six public records requests for thousands of pages and documents, including information on fellow council members.

One of those open records requests, for instance, asked for all emails and text messages between Joiner and any residents, city employees or elected officials in Clinton, Mississippi, “from the beginning of time through” Aug. 22, according to city records.

Wiggins also requested all text messages, emails, letters and memorandums Joiner and Ellis sent or received between Jan. 1, 2015 and July 31, 2018, dealing with city business, according to records.

Wiggins also requested information about the city’s finances.

Wiggins has been a longtime fixture in Kemah politics. He served as a councilman from 2007 and 2009 and was mayor from 2009 to 2011.

He was recently re-elected after running unopposed for his Position 5 spot.

Wiggins owns many properties in and around Kemah.

Joiner, meanwhile, became the city’s mayor in 2015 when he defeated then-incumbent Bob Cummins by taking 61 percent of the vote.