LUFKIN — Judge Keith F. Giblin signed an order Feb. 24, granting a motion by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas to delay any action related to a Feb 6 ruling that found that the Restoration Act governs gaming on the tribe's land in Polk and Tyler counties.
In essence, the order means Naskila Entertainment Center can remain open during the appeal and cancels a hearing set for Wednesday, Feb. 28 on contempt issues filed by the State of Texas.
"We are grateful that the court has granted the Tribe's motion to stay pending appeal. This means that Naskila Gaming will remain open during the appeal process, which can take anywhere from 12 to 16 months," said Jo Ann Battise, Chairperson of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Council. "This is wonderful news for the immediate future of the 330 employees whose families' livelihood depends on Naskila Gaming."
"As suggested in Judge Giblin's Order, protecting these Naskila jobs, pending appeal, avoids residual negative impact on the local economy. It is also critically important to the Tribe's ability to improve the quality of life for our people by providing more housing, healthcare and educational services. We will not rest while appealing the state's lawsuit against the Tribe. We will continue the fight for fairness," Battise said.
"On Feb. 8, Congressman Brian Babin (R-36) filed a bill, HR 4985, relating to our ability to offer electronic bingo entertainment that will restore an opportunity for economic development on terms that are equal and fair with other federally recognized tribes in Texas, Battise added. "We will advocate vigorously for passage of this bill."
The court's memorandum opinion and order acknowledge that the circumstances of the case present a serious legal question. Ultimately, the final decision will determine whether the tribe is subject to the authority of the National Indian Gaming Commission or the State of Texas.
"The Tribe has also advanced a number of legitimate legal arguments which – although declined by this Court – are sufficient to at least present a substantial argument on the merits on appeal," Giblin said in the order.
Giblin also found that the balance of equities tilt in the tribe's favor when considering whether to issue a stay.
The order cites the positive economic impact of Naskila through its employment of 318 people — 87 of whom are tribal members.
"The Tribe also points to evidence indicating that if the Court orders Naskila closed, these individuals will lose their employment and that the local economy cannot supply comparable employment to those affected," Giblin wrote.
"Wet Willie," a longtime attraction at Lake Tejas, the waterpark owned and operated by Colmesneil ISD, will come down soon due to the potential safety risks it poses.
The 100-foot long water slide, described as the "crown jewel" of the lake on its website, "will not be a fixture at Lake Tejas for us this year," CISD Superintendent Angela Matterson said at the district's board meeting on Monday, Feb. 26. Matterson said there have been safety concerns with the slide and in looking to dismantle it, the district is "just looking out for the safety of our children."
As a possible alternative to Wet Willie, Matterson suggested the construction of fiberglass water slides. The report on Wet Willie came during Matterson's report to the school board. At this time there are no plans or any actions taken to proceed with the demolition of the slide or for subsequent replacement. Matterson added that with the recent rains, the water level at the lake is up substantially, henceforth it would be impossible to do any work on the project at present.
In further comments on Lake Tejas, Matterson spoke about the job being done by lake manager Dena Kay Stewart-Settlocker. "She is doing a great job as manager," Matterson said. She also commended Settlocker's job of running the kitchen and concessions area of Lake Tejas, and the variety of food items she has provided for patrons of the lake since taking over those tasks.
Other Business On its regular agenda, CISD Board of Trustees approved its District Improvement Plan for the 2017-18 school year. Matterson made mention of several items included in the plan, including the addition of I-Excel testing software across the CISD campuses, additional needs for students, teacher retention and incentives for end-of-course testing. Matterson said she meets with new teachers each six weeks to "discuss anything they've got going on from grading to lesson plans." "We've got all those things [within the plan] in place in hopes of keeping them," she said.
Board members also reviewed and approved the 2016-17 Texas Academic Performance Report. The Texas Education Agency-issued report examines "all accountability, credibility, financials...everything everyone would want to know about the school," Matterson said. Prior to Monday night's meeting, a public hearing was held for discussion of the report. There were no members of the public present at the meeting to provide any comments.
CISD's district-wide accountability rating per the report is that it met standards in all examined fields. Both the campuses of Colmesneil Elementary as well as the secondary campus were given the "met standard" accountability rating, as well, with the secondary campus achieving several distinction designations from TEA. These distinctions include: Academic Achievements in English Language Arts/Reading; Academic Achievement in Mathematics; Top 25 percent in student progress and Top 25 percent in closing performance gaps.
Matterson said once the report was approved by the board, it will be posted on the district's website. Following the review, the report was approved after board member Twyla Darder motioned for its approval and board member Danny Brown provided a second.
Matterson presented the trustees a packet of accountability ratings from TEA for districts in the region, all measured by the new letter grade system. She explained that while CISD is "far above the standard" in comparison to neighboring districts, the ratings system still represents an unfair system. "Hopefully when the legislature meets again things will change," she said. Currently the ratings system, which assigns school districts letter grades of A-F depending on three domains used to measure academic performance, is being used as a test. "We don't get penalized right now," Matterson explained. The system was passed during the 85th Texas Legislature, and is slated to begin in August 2018, when TEA plans to measure overall performance, as well as performance in each domain. The A-F ratings for campuses is scheduled to begin the following year, according to the TEA website. Matterson showed the board members how the letter grading system is broken down, and how TEA decides to cut points and for what.
Brian HensarlingTyler County deputies responded to a call from a Fred resident at about 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, reporting a suspicious vehicle near a residence.
The caller reporting seeing a black Ford Mustang parked near a fence that bordered property owned by his brother-in-law. When deputies arrived at the location, several witnesses said they heard someone running from the home into a nearby wooded area. Those witnesses also said the homeowner was out of town. Deputies found that the door had been forced open as well as other evidence a burglary had occurred.
At about 8:45 p.m. deputies saw a white male exit the woods near the black Mustang. They identified the man as Brian Hensarling, 37, of Woodville. Hensarling was sweating and out of breath. Deputies saw dirt all over his jeans, and small twigs were around the neck and collar area of his shirt. Investigators then were able to match Hensarling's shoe prints with footprints found at the scene of the break-in.
Hensarling was taken to the Tyler County jail and charged with burglary of a habitation. He remains in custody in lieu of a $15,000 bond set by Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace Trisher Ford.
City officials announced last week that March 17 will be a citywide cleanup day throughout Woodville. Volunteer teams from local businesses and civic groups are being asked to choose an area of the city that they will clean up — either an area near their location or adopt an area that needs extra attention. The goal is to have the city looking its best for the 75th annual Dogwood Festival.
The city will accept heavier items that residents need to dispose of at the city warehouse from March 5 to 16. Although hazardous waste such as chemicals, tires and batteries can't be accepted, this will be an opportunity to dispose of items that don't fit in the trash can, City Administrator Mandy Risinger said.
Council members also approved a request from Sam Haney to block off a portion of Village Street adjacent to Emporium for the Arts on March 24 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tents will be placed in the area to allow artists space to demonstrate and sell their work during the Festival of the Arts.
City officials have also been meeting with representatives who are considering locating a packing house south of Woodville.
"They asked the city to take their sewerage, which would be trucked to the wastewater plant," Risinger said. "We proposed a couple of other sites nearer the city that have utilities available. They are looking at those."
The investors are considering opening a packing plant because there are not many beef packing plants left in Texas, they told Risinger. An internet search revealed two packing operations in East Texas that primarily process wild game.
Current city projects Risinger announced the new industrial park water well is now online. The Pine Street water well has a few minor items on a punch list that need to be completed as of Tuesday.
The city has submitted all records for public assistance projects in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
The roof damage at city hall has been repaired under the terms of the warranty given when the roof was installed.
"The interior damage doesn't meet the threshold for a public assistance project," Risinger said. She will work with a contractor to repair drywall and other damage.
Employee recognition Public Works Director Charles Maclin will retire at the end of February after 20 years of service with the City of Woodville. He worked with the City of Diboll prior to Woodville. Risinger said Charles Odom will be promoted to the position after Maclin's retirement.
The next city council meeting will be March 12. City hall will be closed Feb. 19 for President's Day.
By Greg Peak and Valerie Reddell Polk County Publishing Company
BEAUMONT — Although a trial dealing with the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas's gaming operation is still set for Feb. 28, the tribe suffered a major setback Feb. 8 when the federal magistrate in Beaumont sided with the state on which law will apply.
The issue addressed Tuesday as part of the pretrial procedures was whether the Indian Restoration Act of 1987 or the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 would apply during the trial. The two federal measures conflict in that the Indian Restoration Act — which created the Alabama-Coushatta federal reservation — prohibits gaming while the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows it.
Rep. Brian Babin (R-Woodville) appeared before Congress on Feb. 9, representing several other members to file HR 4985, a bill that puts the Alabama-Coushatta and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribes on equal standing with other Native American tribes who operate Class II gaming businesses. The bill would make the two Texas tribes subject to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (25 U.S.C. et seq), and legalizes the electronic bingo games played at Naskila Entertainment Center.
"I was surprised by the ruling last week against the Alabama-Coushatta tribe and their ability to continue operating their Naskila Gaming Center," Babin said Tuesday. "This decision has put hundreds of jobs in jeopardy. I have introduced legislation, along with several other Members of Congress, to resolve the issue created by conflicting statutes and provide full relief for the Alabama-Coushatta tribe so that they can continue their operations. This is a fairness issue as this bill would ensure the Alabama-Coushatta tribe receives the same treatment that the federal government extends to other tribes under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. I will continue working with the tribe to address this issue and am hopeful that Congress will soon take action on this legislation."
As to whether this bill can make its way to President Donald Trump's desk before Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton takes action to close Naskila, only time will tell. Judge Keith F. Giblin is hearing the state's challenge to the Native American tribe's legal right to operate under the Class II gaming license issued by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC).
Calling it an "unjust" situation, Giblin ruled that the Indian Restoration Act requires the tribe to obey state law on gaming issues and supersedes the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Because of this, the court could not defer to the NIGC's 2015 decision to authorize a Class II gaming license to the tribe.
Based on the NIGC's decision, the Tribe opened the Naskila Entertainment Center on the reservation in 2016. The Class II NIGC license authorized the Tribes to operate bingo or electronic bingo machines, such as the ones now in use at the Naskila facility.
While Tuesday's order does not immediately impact the operation of the Naskila gaming facility located near Livingston, tribal leaders have already filed a notice of appeal and are asking that Giblin's order be placed on hold until the matter can be taken to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, a process that can take a year or more.
"We are very disappointed with the ruling issued by the U.S. Federal District Court today," Tribal Council Chairperson Jo Ann Battise said last week. "The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe remains confident in its legal position and has already filed a notice of appeal. The Tribe has also filed a motion with the court requesting the ability to stay open pending the appeal process in order to protect the 330 jobs that the Tribe provides as the third largest employer in Polk County.
"These jobs represent an annual payroll and benefits of almost $17 million, they significantly contribute to the economies of Polk and Tyler Counties, and are vital to the greater Deep East Texas economy," she added.
"The conflicting regulatory scheme is unjust," Battise said. "We will continue to fight this injustice by working closely with our elected officials." In his 26-page order issued Tuesday, Giblin almost apologized to the Tribe for the decision.
"Given the complex history of this matter and its importance to the Tribe, the undersigned must take the time to express the court's understanding and sympathy for the Tribe's position," Giblin wrote. "The Tribe is bearing the brunt of a conflicting statutory scheme, the result of which is arguably undesirable to its interests and, many would say, unjust.
"Counsel for both sides have done a thorough and excellent job in advocating for their clients and presenting the best case possible, especially given the context and the complicated historical, legal, social and economic issues at stake. The fact remains, however, that the Tribe submitted itself to the gaming laws of the state when it certified Tribal Resolution No. T.C. -86-07 in exchange for passage of the Restoration Act.
"This may have indeed taken effect under duress, but that issue is not up for consideration by this court 30 years after the fact. The plain language of the Restoration Act stands, as does the Fifth Circuit's undisturbed interpretation of the application of that act to the restoration tribes of Texas.
"Until Congress can be persuaded to amend or repeal the Restoration Act, the court is obligated to abide by the plain language of the statute and the Tribe must conform to the gaming laws and regulations of Texas as provided by the Restoration Act," he added.