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Hundreds seek shelter after storm batters Texas City apartment complex

TEXAS CITY

David Kuni was just getting home from work when the tornado hit.

Kuni, a resident of the Tradewinds Apartments, was hit by the forceful wind as he was trying to get out of his truck, he said. He could barely get out of the truck and then tried to scramble to his apartment, he said.

He made it only a few feet before he was holding on for dear life, he said.

“It just took me off my feet,” Kuni said. “I grabbed on to a fence, and I held onto that sonofabitch until my feet came down. It happened in like 10 seconds. I’m a big ol’ fat boy. I’m 250. If I wasn’t holding onto that fence, I would have been gone.”

An F1 tornado, with winds estimated up to 110 mph, struck the apartment complex, 1919 13th Ave. N., and a nearby mini-mart Wednesday evening.

No one was injured by the twister, which touched down just after 6 p.m. as a line of strong winter storms was passing through Galveston County.

The storms left lasting damage in other ways.

On Thursday morning, city officials announced that all 129 units at the Tradewinds would have to be evacuated until engineers and building inspectors could confirm that all of the buildings were structurally sound.

Herman Meyers, Texas City’s building official, said a group of engineers was going through the complex Thursday to check for electrical, plumbing and structural damage. There was some fear that some of the buildings, even the ones that didn’t look more severely damaged, could have been destabilized.

“We thought it was necessary to make them uninhabitable,” Meyers said. “At this point, it’s precautionary.”

The damage to some of the buildings in the area was obvious. The roof was peeled off of the complex’s community center. The roof of the Grab ‘N Go convenience store fell in completely, and a wall was left torn open by the tornado. The store’s owner said the building was a complete loss but that the one employee who was inside at the time got out safely.

It was unclear how many people were displaced by the order, but city officials said they assumed there were four people living in each unit.

For some residents of the complex, the damage means even more disruption during a time when so many things are upended

Standing in the parking lot behind the complex, Jameisha Justice said she had just recovered from COVID-19 and had been preparing to start a new job and now had to figure out where to move her family, at least temporarily.

Justice spent the night at her cousin’s house in League City and returned to the complex Thursday to attempt to retrieve her son’s asthma medication.

“I just don’t know what I’m going to do,” Justice said. “I don’t know if it’s even going to be safe to stay here or if they’re going to move us.”

City officials said they were using every available resource to provide help to the apartment complex’s residents. The Red Cross, the United Way and The Salvation Army were all helping to provide food, shelter and clothing to the residents.

One United Way official called the event the largest mobilization of resources in Texas City since Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

It was unclear how long it would take for buildings to be assessed and deemed safe. Until then, residents would have to find other places to stay.


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Board hires turn-around specialist to lead Galveston schools

GALVESTON

Trustees this week hired Jerry Gibson, an educator with a reputation for improving struggling campuses and successfully managing capital projects, to run the island’s public schools.

Galveston Independent School District agreed to pay Gibson a base annual salary of $245,000, about $40,000 more than Superintendent Kelli Moulton earned when she was hired five years ago.

Gibson, superintendent of Marshall Independent School District, will take the helm during a time of significant change, which includes the effects of the pandemic, major middle-school realignment and efforts to bring several struggling campuses up to state standards.

His three-year contract begins Feb. 1.

Trustees sang Gibson’s praises Wednesday night when they officially hired him.

“The board’s focus was, simply put, we want to get better at delivering instruction,” board president Tony Brown said.

The board also is focused on improving facilities, and Gibson can help them do both, Brown said.

After hiring Gibson, the board spent several hours discussing a major bond package planned for 2020 but delayed by the pandemic, a controversial middle school realignment, pandemic-related challenges and a proposal for Moody Early Childhood Center to take over the district’s preschool program.

Gibson said he’s ready for the task.

Gibson has spent his career bringing schools in need of improvement up to state standard, pointing to his time in Marshall as an example, he said.

“They had 11 possible campuses that could be rated and six came in as IR or improvement required campus,” Gibson said. “Three years later, there were zero.”

Earlier this year, Gibson was recognized as the Regional Superintendent of the Year by the Region 7 Education Service Center for that effort.

Gibson also oversaw major bond-funded projects that resulted in the opening of four new buildings, a $17 million high school renovation and $9.5 million renovation of an elementary school.

Galveston school officials last year proposed a $219 million bond that would include the construction of a new high school. That election was canceled because of disruption caused by COVID-19, and the board Wednesday discussed pushing off the bond to November.

Gibson would look forward to navigating the process, he said.

“I wrote my dissertation on passing bonds,” Gibson said. “I get to put into practice what I researched and learned.”

Gibson, who plans to visit Galveston often in the next few weeks, is ready to get started, he said.

“I’m just so excited,” Gibson said. “My greatest goal, why I get up in the morning, is because I want to make a difference in children’s lives.”

Gibson also has family in the region and is looking forward to being closer to them, he said.

The board received more than 70 applicants from nine states for the position, Brown said.

Gibson was one of 10 candidates interviewed to replace Moulton, Brown said.

Along with his base pay, Gibson will receive health insurance and retirement funds, according to the contract. Gibson also will be in a performance-based incentive program that’s yet to be determined between the board and Gibson, according to the contract.

The district did not immediately respond with specific limits it would pay on health care and retirement contributions or performance-based incentives.

Moulton was paid $206,040 when she was hired in 2016, according to school records. On average in 2020, school districts of Galveston’s size paid superintendents salaries of $224,266, according to a study released by the Texas Association of School Boards.


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Trump finally concedes amid talk f ouster from office

WASHINGTON

With 13 days left in his term, President Donald Trump finally bent to reality on Thursday amid growing talk of trying to force him out early, acknowledging he’ll peacefully leave after Congress affirmed his defeat.

Trump led off a video from the White House by condemning the violence carried out in his name a day earlier at the Capitol. Then, for the first time, he admitted that his presidency would soon end — though he declined to mention President-elect Joe Biden by name or explicitly state that he had lost.

“A new administration will be inaugurated on Jan. 20,” Trump said in the video. “My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”

The address, which appeared designed to stave off talk of a forced early eviction, came at the end of a day when the cornered president stayed out of sight in the White House. Silenced on some of his favorite internet lines of communication, he watched the resignations of several top aides, including a Cabinet secretary.

And as officials sifted through the aftermath of the pro-Trump mob’s siege of the U.S. Capitol, there was growing discussion of impeaching him a second time or invoking the 25th Amendment to oust him from the Oval Office.

The invasion of the Capitol building, a powerful symbol of the nation’s democracy, rattled Republicans and Democrats alike. They struggled with how best to contain the impulses of a president deemed too dangerous to control his own social media accounts but who remains commander in chief of the world’s greatest military.

“I’m not worried about the next election, I’m worried about getting through the next 14 days,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s staunchest allies. He condemned the president’s role in Wednesday’s riots and said, “If something else happens, all options would be on the table.”

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that “the president of the United States incited an armed insurrection against America.” She called him “a very dangerous person who should not continue in office. This is urgent, an emergency of the highest magnitude.”

Neither option to remove Trump seemed likely, with little time left in his term to draft the Cabinet members needed to invoke the amendment or to organize the hearings and trial mandated for an impeachment. But the fact that the dramatic options were even the subject of discussion in Washington’s corridors of power served as a warning to Trump.

Fears of what a desperate president could do in his final days spread in the nation’s capital and beyond, including speculation Trump could incite more violence, make rash appointments, issue ill-conceived pardons — including for himself and his family — or even trigger a destabilizing international incident.

The president’s video Thursday — which was released upon his return to Twitter after his account was restored — was a complete reversal from the one he put out just 24 hours earlier in which he said to the violent mob, “We love you. You’re very special.” His refusal to condemn the violence sparked a firestorm of criticism and, in the new video, he at last denounced the demonstrators’ “lawlessness and mayhem.”

As for his feelings on leaving office, he told the nation that “serving as your president has been the honor of my lifetime” while hinting at a return to the public arena. He told supporters “that our incredible journey is only just beginning.”

Just a day earlier, Trump unleashed the destructive forces at the Capitol with his baseless claims of election fraud at a rally that prompted supporters to disrupt the congressional certification of Biden’s victory. After the storming of the Capitol and the eventual wee-hours certification of Biden’s win by members of Congress, Trump released a statement that merely acknowledged he would abide by a peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 20.

The statement was posted by an aide and did not originate from the president’s own Twitter account, which has 88 million followers and for four years has been wielded as a political weapon that dictates policy and sows division and conspiracy.

Trump couldn’t tweet it himself because, for the first time, the social media platform suspended his account, stating that the president had violated its rules of service by inciting violence. Facebook adopted a broader ban, saying Trump’s account would be offline until after Biden’s inauguration.

Deprived of that social media lifeblood, Trump remained silent and ensconced in the executive mansion until Thursday evening. But around him, loyalists headed for the exits, their departures — which were coming in two weeks anyway — moved up to protest the president’s handling of the riot.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao became the first Cabinet member to resign. Chao, married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the lawmakers trapped at the Capitol on Wednesday, said in a message to staff that the attack “has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”

Others who resigned in the wake of the riot: Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger, Ryan Tully, senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council, and first lady Melania Trump’s chief of staff Stephanie Grisham, a former White House press secretary.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former chief of staff-turned-special envoy to Northern Ireland, told CNBC that he had called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “to let him know I was resigning. ... I can’t do it. I can’t stay.”

And Mulvaney said that others who work for Trump had decided to remain in their posts in an effort to provide some sort of guardrails for the president during his final days in office.

“Those who choose to stay, and I have talked with some of them, are choosing to stay because they’re worried the president might put someone worse in,” Mulvaney said.

Mulvaney’s predecessor in the chief of staff job, retired U.S. Marine Corps general John Kelly, told CNN that “I think the Cabinet should meet and have a discussion” about Section 4 of the 25th Amendment — allowing the forceful removal of Trump by his own Cabinet.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer joined Pelosi in declaring that Trump “should not hold office one day longer” and urged Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to act. But Chao’s departure may stall nascent efforts to invoke the amendment.

Staff-level discussions on the matter took place across multiple departments and even in parts of the White House, according to two people briefed on the talks. But no member of the Cabinet has publicly expressed support for the move — which would make Pence the acting president — though several were believed to be sympathetic to the notion, believing Trump is too volatile in his waning days in office.

In the West Wing, shell-shocked aides were packing up, acting on a delayed directive to begin offboarding their posts ahead of the Biden team’s arrival. The slowdown before now was due to Trump’s single-minded focus on his defeat since Election Day at the expense of the other responsibilities of his office.

Most glaringly, that included the fight against the raging coronavirus that is killing record numbers of Americans each day.

Few aides had any sense of the president’s plans, with some wondering if Trump would largely remain out of sight until he left the White House. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany read a brief statement in which she declared that the Capitol siege was “appalling, reprehensible and antithetical to the American way.”

But her words carried little weight. Trump has long made clear that only he speaks for his presidency.


Coming Saturday

Special relationships moved some county residents to the front of the line for COVID vaccines.


News
Top hat drawing ends with Skipworth as Dickinson mayor

Months of campaigning and multiple elections later, the race for the next mayor of Dickinson came to an end in unusual fashion Thursday night — with Friendswood Mayor Mike Foreman drawing Sean Skipworth’s name out of a top hat.

“I have to thank the candidates for stepping up, you need candidates in a small town,” Foreman said before drawing the name. “And for them to do all this work, with the campaign extended, I feel terrible for both of them.”

The whole event lasted about 10 minutes. Mayor Julie Masters opened proceedings by explaining Skipworth and Jennifer Lawrence would write their names on ping-pong balls and then Foreman would draw a name.

Skipworth in limited comments after the drawing praised those that supported him.

“I just thank everyone for coming out and voting,” he said. “Literally, every vote counted.”

The race for the mayor’s seat ended with the casting of lots because Skipworth and Lawrence ended their runoff election in a tie of 1,010 votes.

Thursday’s drawing comes eight months later than Julie Masters expected to end her 15-year tenure as mayor.

Lawrence and Skipworth were vying to replace Masters initially in a May election. But that race was pushed back, along with several others around the county, to November because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawrence held a sizeable lead after the general election in November, receiving 3,206 votes, 46 percent, to Skipworth’s 2,559 votes, good for 36.7 percent.

But the tally wasn’t quite enough to avoid a runoff election.

In the runoff election, Skipworth seized a three-vote lead with 1,005 to 1,002 votes, according to election night returns.

But the race evened to 1,010 votes apiece, for an appropriate total of 2,020, after election officials counted the outstanding ballots, a mix of overseas, mail-in and provisional votes.

The count remained the same even after a recount earlier this week.

Because of that, city rules stipulate the race be decided by casting lots, Galveston County Clerk Dwight Sullivan said.

Skipworth takes over as mayor with Dickinson in a state of flux.

The council in December officially ended Chris Heard’s tenure as city administrator, voting to terminate his employment with about $20,000 in severance pay after his November arrest on one count of injury to a child.

Heard’s arrest wasn’t in connection to city business, but his administration had been a source of controversy for months.

Texas Rangers in October visited city hall seeking as of yet unspecified government records.

The rangers, the state’s main criminal investigators, arrived just two weeks after claims by finance director Penny Hunter, who had begun her job in July, that Heard created a hostile work environment, that he wouldn’t allow her to do her job and that he was creating false and misleading financial data.

“I cannot ethically or professionally be forced to be associated with financial data I believe to be false and misleading,” she wrote at the time.

The city has since placed Hunter on administrative leave and has terminated another longtime employee, City Secretary Alun Thomas, after months of disagreement between him and Heard.

Joe Dickson, who retired as Santa Fe’s city manager at the end of 2019 after serving for more than 20 years, has agreed to serve as the interim manager in Dickinson until the council finds a replacement, Skipworth said.

Voters in November adopted a council-manager form of government along with 20 other proposed charter amendments.


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