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New buildings will ease crowding, serve growing Galveston County

BACLIFF

A flurry of construction on county facility projects will wind down later this fall, when bigger, newer offices replace aging buildings.

Many of the offices are meant to help serve residents in growing parts of the county.

Of the four facilities under construction, three are being paid for through an $80 million bond county voters passed in 2017.

Several of the new buildings, such as the Bayshore Annex, 4500 10th St. in Bacliff, are replacing metal-sided buildings that were rusting outside and cramped inside.

The $5.8 million Bacliff building is slated for completion by the end of November, county spokesman Zach Davidson said.

“This is a huge upgrade,” Davidson said.

The building contains offices for the Precinct 1 Commissioner and Constable and a courtroom for Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace.

The old building consisted of two metal 2,500-square-foot structures, while the new building is 9,000 square feet, according to the county.

The building also features better accommodations for voting, Davidson said.

“The Bayshore area is growing,” Davidson said. “We need to be able to provide services for the public.”

Also slated for completion by the end of the year is a $9 million road and bridge office and maintenance garage to replace decades-old facilities.

The old office and shop, 5115 state Highway 3 in Dickinson, were first built in the 1940s and have been added onto and renovated over the decades, said Lee Crowder, director of the road and bridge department.

Now that the bones for both buildings are rising next to the older one, staff is eager to get in, he said.

“It’s kind of like being on a diet and sitting right next to the buffet,” Crowder said.

The new garage is bigger, taller, has modern amenities and work bays that vehicles can easily roll in and out of without blocking other cars, which has been a problem, he said.

The higher ceilings and bigger facility means county employees can lift the massive equipment up on jacks and work on more of the county’s 650 vehicles and equipment at once, he said.

Costs have risen for all the projects.

The 2017 bond proposal set aside $18 million of the $80 million for the four buildings.

But the three projects paid for through the bond cost $26.9 million, which officials attribute to a rise in material costs.

Also part of the bond is a major $12.1 million reconstruction of the North County Annex, which won’t be finished until next spring, Davidson said.

Crews are constructing the building, 174 N. Calder Drive in League City, directly across from the portable offices county officials are working from now.

The building is home to offices for the district clerk, county clerk, the county tax office and offices for U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, state Sen. Larry Taylor and County Commissioner Ken Clark.

The only building not funded through the 2017 bond is the new $6.5 million Galveston County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Construction for that building was funded through 2008’s Hurricane Ike FEMA money, Davidson said.

The building will replace an older one the office largely has outgrown.


NASA astronaut boldly went and left her mark in space

GALVESTON

Galveston resident and NASA astronaut Christina Koch has gone where few men and fewer women have gone — to space, and she made history there.

Koch gave a presentation as part of the Galveston College’s “New Worlds” lecture series Tuesday in the Abe and Annie Seibel Foundation Wing on the campus, 4015 Ave. Q.

She spoke about her life and her journey to becoming an astronaut for NASA.

“When I was young, I was fascinated by things that made me feel small; things that made me ponder my place in the universe,” Koch said.

Koch studied electrical engineering and physics at North Carolina State University, she said.

“I was fortunate enough to have an internship that I had turned into a full time job at NASA,” Koch said.

Koch became an electrical engineer and worked on space science instruments for NASA, she said.

“I got to make the gadgets that study the solar system and our universe,” Koch said.

Two years into her job, she left to explore Antarctica and the rest of the world, she said.

“I decided that maybe I’ve accumulated enough experience and skills following my passions to put my name in the hat to achieve becoming an astronaut,” Koch said.

She was chosen to be part of an eight-member team of astronauts, she said.

She had to learn the Russian language, become an expert on robotic systems aboard the International Space Station and learn to pilot jet aircraft, she said.

“We actually used T-38 supersonic jets to train to become astronauts,” Koch said. “So people like me, that have a background in engineering solving problems in a lab, had to learn how to solve tough problems with a crew mate because your life depended on it.”

In March 2019, she boarded Soyuz MS-12 to be launched to the International Space Station, she said.

“This day was like no other,” Koch said. “What I remember thinking was the next place I’ll be is in space.”

Koch lived on the International Space Station for 11 months, she said.

The International Space Station is a large spacecraft and science lab that orbits around the world, according to NASA.

The International Space Station also is the most expensive man-made object with a cost of more than $100 billion, according to the Guinness World Records.

Astronauts study such things as pharmaceuticals, plants and themselves while aboard the craft, Koch said.

“One of my favorite things was growing plants, because it’s the one thing that smells like Earth,” she said. “When you’ve been up there for a while, you tend to forget the scent.”

One of the most difficult things to learn about are spacewalks, Koch said.

A spacewalk is anytime an astronaut gets out of a vehicle while in space, according to NASA’s website.

Koch has conducted six spacewalks during her career and made history as part of the first all-woman spacewalk.

More than the gender of astronauts made that spacewalk special, Koch said.

“It was unexpected and unplanned,” she said. “Normally, spacewalks are planned within a span of years. We actually planned it together with the ground team within the week.”

She most recently served as flight engineer on the International Space Station for Expeditions 59, 60 and 61, according to NASA.

Koch also talked about NASA’s plan for landing on Mars to conduct research, she said.

It was an honor to speak in Galveston, the community that had supported her career from the beginning, Koch said.

Koch is known for setting the record for the longest single space flight by a woman after spending 328 days outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

“What they don’t often say about that record is that it wasn’t just 328 days in space,” Koch said. “It was 328 days away from this beautiful island of Galveston that I call home and that I love.”


Politics
AP
Fed attacks inflation with another big hike and expects more
Intensifying its fight against high inflation, the Federal Reserve raised its key interest rate by a substantial three-quarters of a point for a third straight time and signaled more large rate hikes to come — an aggressive pace that will heighten the risk of an eventual recession

WASHINGTON

Intensifying its fight against high inflation, the Federal Reserve raised its key interest rate Wednesday by a substantial three-quarters of a point for a third straight time and signaled more large rate hikes to come — an aggressive pace that will heighten the risk of an eventual recession.

The Fed’s move boosted its benchmark short-term rate, which affects many consumer and business loans, to a range of 3 percent to 3.25 percent, the highest level since early 2008.

The officials also forecast that they will further raise their benchmark rate to roughly 4.4 percent by year’s end, a full point higher than they had envisioned as recently as June. And they expect to raise the rate again next year, to about 4.6 percent. That would be the highest level since 2007.

By raising borrowing rates, the Fed makes it costlier to take out a mortgage or an auto or business loan. Consumers and businesses then presumably borrow and spend less, cooling the economy and slowing inflation.

Falling gas prices have slightly lowered headline inflation, which was a still-painful 8.3 percent in August compared with a year earlier. Those declining prices at the gas pump might have contributed to a recent rise in President Joe Biden’s public approval ratings, which Democrats hope will boost their prospects in the November midterm elections.

Speaking at a news conference, Chair Jerome Powell said that before Fed officials would consider halting their rate hikes, they would “want to be very confident that inflation is moving back down” to their 2 percent target. He noted that the strength of the job market is fueling pay gains that are helping drive up inflation.

And he stressed his belief that curbing inflation is vital to ensuring the long-term health of the job market.

“If we want to light the way to another period of a very strong labor market,” Powell said, “we have got to get inflation behind us. I wish there was painless way to do that. There isn’t.”

Fed officials have said they are seeking a “soft landing,” by which they would manage to slow growth enough to tame inflation but not so much as to trigger a recession. Yet most economists are skeptical. They say they think the Fed’s steep rate hikes will lead, over time, to job cuts, rising unemployment and a full-blown recession late this year or early next year.

“No one knows whether this process will lead to a recession, or if so, how significant that recession would be,” Powell said at his news conference. “That’s going to depend on how quickly we bring down inflation.”

In their updated economic forecasts, the Fed’s policymakers project that economic growth will remain weak for the next few years, with rising unemployment. They expect the jobless rate to reach 4.4 percent by the end of 2023, up from its current level of 3.7 percent. Historically, economists say, any time unemployment has risen by a half-point over several months, a recession has always followed.

Fed officials now foresee the economy expanding just 0.2 percent this year, sharply lower than their forecast of 1.7 percent growth just three months ago. And they envision sluggish growth below 2 percent from 2023 through 2025.

Even with the steep rate hikes the Fed foresees, it still expects core inflation — which excludes the volatile food and gas categories — to be 3.1 percent at the end of next year, well above its 2 percent target.

Powell acknowledged in a speech last month that the Fed’s moves will “bring some pain” to households and businesses. And he added that the central bank’s commitment to bringing inflation back down to its 2 percent target was “unconditional.”

Short-term rates at a level the Fed is now envisioning would make a recession likelier next year by sharply raising the costs of mortgages, car loans and business loans. Last week, the average fixed mortgage rate topped 6 percent, its highest point in 14 years, which helps explain why home sales have tumbled. Credit card borrowing costs have reached their highest level since 1996, according to Bankrate.com.

Inflation now appears increasingly fueled by higher wages and by consumers’ steady desire to spend and less by the supply shortages that had bedeviled the economy during the pandemic recession. On Sunday, Biden said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that he believed a soft landing for the economy was still possible, suggesting that his administration’s recent energy and health care legislation would lower prices for pharmaceuticals and health care.

The law may help lower prescription drug prices, but outside analyses suggest it will do little to immediately bring down overall inflation. Last month, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office judged it would have a “negligible” effect on prices through 2023. The University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Wharton Budget Model went even further to say “the impact on inflation is statistically indistinguishable from zero” over the next decade.

Even so, some economists are beginning to express concern that the Fed’s rapid rate hikes — the fastest since the early 1980s — will cause more economic damage than necessary to tame inflation. Mike Konczal, an economist at the Roosevelt Institute, noted that the economy is already slowing and that wage increases — a key driver of inflation — are levelling off and by some measures even declining a bit.

Surveys also show that Americans are expecting inflation to ease significantly over the next five years. That is an important trend because inflation expectations can become self-fulfilling: If people expect inflation to ease, some will feel less pressure to accelerate their purchases. Less spending would then help moderate price increases.

The Fed’s rapid rate hikes mirror steps that other major central banks are taking, contributing to concerns about a potential global recession. The European Central Bank last week raised its benchmark rate by three-quarters of a percentage point. The Bank of England, the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Bank of Canada have all carried out hefty rate increases in recent weeks.

And in China, the world’s second-largest economy, growth is already suffering from the government’s repeated COVID lockdowns. If recession sweeps through most large economies, that could derail the U.S. economy, too.

Even at the Fed’s accelerated pace of rate hikes, some economists — and some Fed officials — argue that they have yet to raise rates to a level that would actually restrict borrowing and spending and slow growth.

Many economists sound convinced that widespread layoffs will be necessary to slow rising prices. Research published earlier this month under the auspices of the Brookings Institution concluded that unemployment might have to go as high as 7.5 percent to get inflation back to the Fed’s 2 percent target.

“The risk is that the Fed acts more aggressively in its mission to return inflation back to its 2 percent objective, pushing the funds rate higher than previously expected and keeping it higher for longer,’’ Nancy Vanden Houten, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, said Wednesday after the Fed’s meeting.

AP Economics Writer Paul Wiseman contributed to this report.


News
League City police assert developer interfered with public duty

LEAGUE CITY

Steps leading to the arrest of a prominent local developer and his wife began with a phone call to police from the other driver involved in a parking-lot car crash Sunday, according to probable-cause affidavits released Wednesday.

That driver accused Rachael Hall, wife of developer Randy Hall, of hitting his car and leaving the scene of the accident in a parking lot of the South Shore Harbour without providing him with her insurance information, according the affidavit filed to seek a warrant for her arrest.

Rachael Hall told The Daily News on Monday the driver of that Infinity car had immediately after the collision apologized, admitted responsibility and suggested there was no need to involve the police.

“He said his whole family was HPD,” she said Monday, referring to the Houston Police Department. “He said officers wouldn’t come anyway because it was on private property.”

The driver called the police himself, however, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit sworn by a League City police officer accused Randy Hall, who was speaking over a cell phone from El Campo, of interfering with his official duties when he went to the family’s house to collect Rachael Hall’s driver’s license and proof of insurance.

“We totally disagree with the entire representation the officer made in the probable cause affidavits,” Randy Hall said Wednesday.

The two had retained a criminal defense attorney, he said Wednesday.

The competing versions of events are central to a controversy about which the League City Police Department had opened an internal investigation.

WHO HIT WHO

The driver of the Infinity told a League City police officer Rachael Hall had been at fault, according to the affidavit.

“He stated a vehicle was driving fast through the parking lot and struck his vehicle from behind,” the officer said in the affidavit.

The driver asserted he provided Rachael Hall with his driver’s license, insurance information and all other information required by statute, according to the affidavit.

Rachael Hall then refused to give him her information after requesting her information numerous times, the driver stated.

Rachael Hall said Monday the insurance information the driver had given her turned out to be invalid because he had not paid the policy premium in several months.

The couple also disputed the assertions that she had left while the other driver remained at the scene.

Rachael Hall and the driver left the scene at the same time, Randy Hall said.

OFFICIAL DUTIES

The officer who spoke to the Infinity driver accused Rachael Hall of refusing to provide him with required information, according to the affidavit.

“After requesting the proper information from Rachael, she declined to provide me with her driver’s license and insurance information, and only provided me with her name and cell phone number,” the officer stated.

Rachael Hall said Monday she wasn’t convinced the man was a police officer, and was concerned about what she called aggressive behavior.

Rachael Hall called her husband and he instructed the officer to leave their property if he didn’t have a warrant to be there.

“I began to explain to Randy why I was making contact with his wife because of her not providing information after being involved in an accident,” the officer states on the affidavit. “Randy began to ramble about the accident being in a private parking lot and that we don’t determine fault.”

Randy Hall then informed the officer that Rachael Hall was stalked after an accident where her information was given, and that he instructed her to not provide the driver with any of her information, but to get all of their information since they were at fault,” according to the affidavit.

“Rachael initially agreed to providing her information until she requested I speak with her husband, Randy. While speaking with Rachael, Randy, with criminal negligence, interfered with my ability to conduct proper investigation and acquire Rachael’s proper vehicle information and driver’s license information.

“Randy impeded me from acquiring Rachael’s information by instructing her to not provide me with the information required by Texas Statute TRC 550.023 Duty to Give Information and Render Aid,” according to the affidavit.

Based on Randy Hall’s interference with the investigation and impeding the officer from gathering required information, a warrant request was completed for Interference with Public Duties, the affidavit states.

League City Chief of Police Gary Ratliff confirmed Wednesday an internal investigation was under way and that the department still was trying to determine the truth.

Both he and Randy Hall said The Daily News had incorrectly reported Tuesday that Hall had said Ratliff ordered the charges dropped.

“We did not say that the charges would be dropped,” Ratliff said.


News
Son arrested in connection to father's death, police say

FRIENDSWOOD

The son of a Friendswood man found dead Sept. 12 has been arrested and charged in connection with the death of his father.

Luke Michael Starling, 18, of Friendswood has been charged with murder in the death of his father, Christopher Todd Starling, 51, of Friendswood.

Christopher Starling was found dead in his home in the 400 block of Oak Vista Drive about 12:30 p.m. Sept. 12 with an apparent gunshot wound to the head.

Friendswood police suspect Starling had been dead for several days, officials said.

The elder Starling’s 2008 GMC Sierra 1500 extended cab truck was seen on security camera about 11 a.m. Sept. 10, police said. The vehicle was found Sept. 12 in a Houston impound lot.

The younger Starling was booked into Galveston County Jail on Monday night, after being arrested Sept. 16 near U.S. Highway 190 in Lampasas County on a warrant issued by Harris County for unlawful carrying of a weapon.

Starling was being held Wednesday at the Galveston County Jail on a $250,000 bond.


National
AP
Southern Baptists cut ties with LGBTQ-friendly church
The Southern Baptists’ Executive Committee has voted effectively to cut ties with two congregations

The Southern Baptist Convention’s top administrative body voted to cut ties with two congregations on Tuesday — an LGBTQ-friendly church in North Carolina that had itself quit the denomination decades ago and a New Jersey congregation it cited for “alleged discriminatory behavior.”

The votes of the Executive Committee came at the end of a two-day meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, even as the committee copes with a Department of Justice investigation. The federal-level scrutiny follows a blistering report by a consultant earlier this year into sexual abuse in Southern Baptist settings and mistreatment of survivors by past Executive Committee officials.

The committee on Tuesday approved a statement that College Park Baptist Church of Greensboro, North Carolina, was not in “friendly cooperation” because of its “open affirmation, approval and endorsement of homosexual behavior,” which conflicts with the denomination’s theological conservative positions.

In fact, College Park had voted in 1999 to leave the denomination, and its website makes a point of stating it’s not a member of the Southern Baptist Convention but rather of more progressive Baptist bodies.

It wasn’t immediately clear why the Executive Committee decided now to put the matter to a vote. But Executive Committee Chairman Jared Wellman said afterward that the convention still had the congregation on its rolls until now.

On its website, the church describes itself as an “LGBTQIA Affirming Baptist Church” and says it “fully welcomes and affirms all persons without distinction regarding race, ethnicity, national origin, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other human category.”

The committee, in a separate vote, declared that Amazing Grace Community Church of Franklinville, New Jersey, was no longer in friendly cooperation. It cited its “lack of cooperation ... to resolve concerns regarding alleged discriminatory behavior.”

Requests for comment from both congregations via phone and email were not immediately returned.

Since Baptist congregations are self-governing, the denomination can’t force them to follow their policies, but it can effectively expel them by declaring them not in “friendly cooperation” if they don’t conform to denominational stances in particular areas, such as for pro-LGBTQ polices, alleged support for racism or alleged failure in responding adequately to child sexual abuse, such as employing offenders as pastors.

There could be more congregations in the last category in the pipeline.

The committee learned that more than 200 referrals had been made to a newly established hotline about alleged mishandling of abuse cases by SBC churches or organizations.

That news came from the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force — created after the release of consultant Guidepost Solutions’ scathing report earlier this year into the sexual abuse of children in SBC settings and the mistreatment of survivors by the Executive Committee.

Mike Keahbone, vice chair of the task force, said it is working to hire personnel to receive and investigate reports of abuse and of mishandling abuse in Southern Baptist circles.

The convention said in August that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the convention. The DOJ didn’t confirm the report, but the convention suggested in a statement that it related to sexual abuse. On Tuesday, the committee voted to transfer $500,000 from investments to its operating budget, in part to respond to that investigation.

The Executive Committee on Tuesday also added a “Caring Well Sunday” to the official Southern Baptist calendar of activities, which would aim to spread awareness and education about abuse. Churches have the option whether to observe such dates. But Wellman urged them to do so: “We want to be building a culture that addresses and prevents abuse, and this is a really great educational opportunity.”

“Our dream ... is that our churches would be safe for the vulnerable and unsafe for abusers,” Wellman said, citing numerous reforms underway. “There is no place, there is no tolerance for abuse in a Southern Baptist church.”

Some abuse survivors, following the meeting on social media, found the committee’s actions lacking. Long-time advocate and survivor Christa Brown criticized it for “self-congratulatory” talk on Twitter and said it’s failed to take concrete steps toward making amends to survivors or to take disciplinary steps toward former officials faulted in the Guidepost report.

Keahbone said he understands the criticism and that compared to what survivors endured, “there’s nothing we could say or do that would be worthy of any praise at all.” He said the task force is doing what it can to implement reforms correctly.

“We’re not celebrating anything,” he said. “We’re just trying to have markers of improvement.”

Wellman echoed the thought. “I’ve just grieved and been broken-hearted for what they’ve experienced,” he said. “We recognize we have a really long way to go.”

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.


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