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Jeff Parish Jeff Parish is a high school English teacher and journalist. He has worked for the Greenville Herald-Banner, Dallas Morning News, The Paris News and Galveston County Daily News, among others. For comments, feedback or suggestions, you can email him at jeff@eparistexas.com.

PEDC expects report this week; Lancaster files request for ‘all information’ sent to investigators

PEDC_depot_sliderParis Economic Development Corp. hopes to have the investigation report from Defenbaugh & Associates by Friday, but at least one council member is unwilling to wait that long.

Councilwoman Sue Lancaster has filed an open records request for “any and all information sent to Defenbaugh & Associates from PEDC.”

“I want to be an informed council person, and the only way I can be informed is to get the information,” Lancaster said. “It’s interesting that other people have seen that report, but I haven’t. (City Attorney Kent) McIlyar has seen it, and other council members have been reported to have seen it, but I haven’t. That leaves me making decisions in the dark, and I don’t like doing that. It’s not fair to the community I represent.”

Chairman Stephen Grubbs told the PEDC board of directors during a special session Monday that investigator Danny Defenbaugh said he would have the report to the council by Monday as requested, but he “would also try to have that report to the PEDC by Friday.” Once the report is received, PEDC plans to release payment for invoices submitted.

“I think the idea was to treat it like an audit – get the report, read it, understand it, and then look at next steps,” he said.

The report would be released to the public as quickly as possible, he said. Part of the board’s review could be to recommend changes or corrections.

“At some point, I would like to have an interview with Defenbaugh with that report in front of us,” board member Don Wilson said. He said he had questions, particularly about a timeline for where Defenbaugh got his information, when he gave reports and to whom. “He signed a contract on the third, and he started reviewing documents on the seventh. Did he have any documents to review?”

Board member Rebecca Clifford said Interim Director Shannon Barrentine started delivering things electronically April 7, and Bill Strathern hand delivered copies of credit card receipts he obtained through open records requests last summer. She said Strathern had been in attendance for part of the initial meeting with Defenbaugh.

The PEDC board may consider having a joint session with the City Council in August.

Barrentine said Lancaster’s request amounted to 630 pages of information such as account numbers that had to be redacted (marked out). Digital documents on a jump drive included thousands more pages – possibly as much as 8,000. The bill is estimated to be about $123.

An attorney general’s opinion is being requested for information contained in emails.

Lancaster filed the request July 11, meaning PEDC has until Friday to deliver the information. Wilson if an attorney needed to look over the information gathered.

“I would like that, because I am hanging out there,” Barrentine said.

McIlyar’s declaration of a conflict of interest with the investigation has left PEDC without legal counsel for more than a month, but the matter may resolve itself within the next week.

PEDC board members spent part of Monday’s special session discussing a request for proposals for a contract with an outside attorney to help finalize incentive agreements and deal with issues such as the open records quest and board meetings.

PEDC’s bylaws require the city attorney to serve as the board’s legal counsel “as provided for in the city charter unless there is a conflict of interest in which case the board may retain outside legal services.”

Board members estimated those outside legal services would cost $5,000 for the rest of this fiscal year and $24,000 next year. PEDC may wait until the report is delivered to see if the conflict is resolved so McIlyar can once again represent the board.

PRMC microbiology supervisor says farewell after 45 years

DanaHoog01Friday was Dana Hoog’s last day as supervisor of the microbiology lab at Paris Regional Medical Center after 45 years on the job.

“One day, I decided it was time,” she said. “I’m ready to do something else. I like to work in the yard, and I’ve got other projects I’d like to do.”

One of the first things she plans to do is take part in a family trip to Hawaii with her son and daughter-in-law. The idea of leaving work has not really impacted her just yet, but she said once she gets back and settles down, it might start feeling weird not having to punch a clock.

“I’ve always kept my interest. I live and breathe it. It’s kind of a part of me,” she said. “It’s probably going to be like, ‘What happened here?’”

Hoog is certified as a medical technologist and a specialist in microbiology with the American Society for Clinical Pathology. She started as a generalist, working in the blood bank, chemistry, microbiology and other areas of the lab. She “morphed into” microbiology in the 1980s, largely because no one else wanted to do it.

“I enjoy the work. It’s very challenging,” she said. “Microbiology is the growing of organisms to see what’s causing infection.”

Given that her job is basically looking for what makes people sick and helping to determine the best treatment, there is little surprise Hoog has seen a lot of odd things over the years. She said one of the strangest was looking for parasites in a child’s stool sample. What she found puzzled her, and she wasn’t sure her prognosis was correct until she consulted an expert – in this case, a veterinarian. The child had a dog tapeworm.

“The child had been eating the dog food, and the dog had fleas,” she said. “We’ve seen worms in diapers that were still alive. You want to talk about freaky, that was freaky.”

DanaHoog03Hoog has been interested in medicine since she was a freshman in high school, but she knew she didn’t want to be a doctor because of the years of training and long hours. The decision cemented when she had an opportunity to attend a couple of presentations on career day of her junior year in high school. She picked flight attendant and medical technologist. The medical presentation left her with little doubt where her career would take her.

After attending Paris Junior College and University of Texas, she spent 13 months training on rotation at Baylor in Dallas before graduating with a degree in medical technology. While “medical technology” is a more general term now, then it meant specifically lab equipment.

Hoog started her medical career in February 1969 at McCuistion Regional Medical Center. Her family was here, but she did not intend to remain in Paris for more than a couple of years. But she wound up getting married, raising a family and settling here. Unless they moved or she commuted a great distance, the hospital was the only place for her to work. The camaraderie and support of her co-workers has meant a great deal over the years.

“I loved where I worked, and the people I worked with,” she said. “There are about six other people who have been here 30 and 35 years I have worked with all that time. So that was a big part of it.”

The biggest change in that time is the reliance on computers and automated procedures, she said.

“In the distant past – I hate to put it that way, but it’s true – we did the testing in actual test tubes,” she said. “Now the machines run most of it.”

The transition came slowly. The first laboratory computers did not work well and “bombed horribly,” but technology advanced. Hoog said she has never had a problem adapting with it.

DanaHoog02“It is a little scary when you’re so manual,” she said. “It always worked out. We have embraced it.”

These days, most lab work is is more or less completely automated, although Hoog said microbiology still requires some manual input and decision making.

“You have to look at it and say, ‘This is a respiratory specimen. Is this ordinary bacteria or something else?’” she said.

The next big thing will likely be molecular testing to look at the DNA and RNA of infectious organisms. It’s already being done in some areas, Hoog said, and it speeds up the microbiology lab work a great deal. Which is important, as the trend in medicine is to not keep anyone in the hospital any longer than necessary. The more traditional method, as is done here, is to take a sample and grow cultures, which can take a couple of days.

“You can do a glucose test in about 10 minutes, but if you’re going to grow a culture and see if a person is infected, that’s going to take 36 to 48 hours,” she said. “We’re still a little on the slow side.”

PEDC to crack down on incentive, abatement compliance

PEDC_depot_sliderRecipients of tax abatements and incentives could soon be put on notice.

The Paris Economic Development Corp. board of directors plans to review the current incentive and abatement agreements to see who has complied with the information requirements. So far, it appears not many.

The information required usually includes property valuations for capital investments and payroll data to show job growth. Compliance has not been monitored very closely in the past, said Rebecca Clifford, the board secretary/treasurer. She has been working with Shannon Barrentine, interim executive director, since March to try to rectify that, including phone calls and emails every few weeks.

“Since they haven’t done it in the past, we’ve given them a little more time,” Clifford said. “We should not be sitting here in July saying, ‘Where is the information?’”

The PEDC board Tuesday put an Aug. 15 deadline on the submissions.

There are incentives committed to Campbell Soup, Harrison Walker & Harper, Paris Lakes, Skinner, Daisy Farms, T&K Machine, Bodyguard and Potters Industries. Campbell Soup, HWH, Bodyguard and Skinner have submitted information, Clifford said.

“The others we still have information that is missing,” she said. “We’ll need to get with them.”

There are also several tax abatements for industries, including Campbell Soup, Paris Warehouse, Kimberly-Clark, Paris Regional Medical Center and T&K. Of those, only Campbell Soup has submitted everything, Clifford said.

“You could say in a letter that failure to respond to this could mean an end to your tax abatement,” board member Don Wilson said.

It would be up to the various taxing authorities to actually cancel an abatement; the PEDC has no authority to do so on its own.

“You have no teeth,” said Edwin Pickle, the City Council liaison to the PEDC board. “You’re just the compliance monitor.”

He asked if PEDC could provide the information about who’s in compliance or not in the regular reports to the City Council.

“I guarantee the City Council would be interested in this,” he said.

Part of the problem is no two agreements are written the same, Barrentine said, which makes verifying compliance harder. Chairman Stephen Grubbs said the board may want to address that in the future.

Clifford said the job description for PEDC executive director puts the burden for compliance on PEDC, although at one time, city personnel took care of that.

“When Lisa Wright left in ’08, nobody has done compliance since,” Barrentine said.

Invoice shows about a third of PEDC investigation spent on financials

PEDC_depot_sliderThe investigation into Paris Economic Development Corp. was initially described as a forensic audit looking into PEDC’s financials. So how much time has been spent on those financial records? If the investigator’s invoices are any indication, not much.

Defenbaugh & Associates has submitted two invoices, one in April for about $22,000 and one in May for $21,075. The May payment has been withheld until a final report is delivered. That invoice was part of an information packet available during Tuesday’s PEDC board meeting, and eParis Extra acquired the April invoice on Wednesday.

Based on the invoices’ descriptions, of 378.6 billed hours, about a third were actually spent reviewing PEDC policy and financial records, while the rest was devoted to areas such as the business incubator, consultants, the veterans memorial and the diversity program.

A total of $3,750 was charged for looking into individuals, including the largest single line item, $3,000 for “DDBI” of former Mayor Will Baird, former PEDC Director Steve Gilbert and “Pikehurst” (probably former PEDC Chair Pike Burkhart). In forensic circles, DDBI generally means “due diligence/background investigations.” Defenbaugh’s website does not list what all that entails, but a look at other firms’ sites include background checks, identity verification, court and criminal records, business records and asset searches. The other $750 was to review files on Gilbert and Baird.

Review of PEDC finances – including bookkeeping, policies, procedures, financial records, credit cards and incentive agreements – accounted for 113 hours and $13,635. That accounts for 29.8 percent of the billable hours and 31.6 percent of the bill.

The investigation came about after the city received an anonymous letter raising concerns over a deal made in 2010 with Paris Warehouse Southwest and Rodgers-Wade. Review of HWH documents took 11 hours and $1,100.

Investigators spent 97.2 hours looking into R3bi, consultant Richard Seline, the Red River Valley Veterans Memorial and the Diversity Task Force for a total of $14,455. That accounts for 25.7 percent of the hours and 33.5 percent of the bill.

A total of 109.8 hours and $6,582.50 were spent on review and compilation of various documents, or 29 percent of the hours and 15.3 percent of the final bill.

A total of 29.1 hours were spent compiling, drafting and finishing reports for $2,645 — when the lack of a final report has been a hot-button issue in the debates surrounding the investigation.

PEDC was also billed for Defenbaugh taking the matter to the FBI in the first place, at a cost of $350 and two hours.

Five hours were spent on meetings at a cost of $200.

A $400 charge was paid for travel expenses when Danny Defenbaugh came to Paris to bid on the project.

PEDC vacancy draws dozens of applicants

PEDC Chariman Stephen Grubbs rests his arm on a stack of resumes received for the executive director position. (eParis Extra photo by Jeff Parish)

PEDC Chariman Stephen Grubbs rests his arm on a stack of resumes received for the executive director position. (eParis Extra photo by Jeff Parish)

The search for a new Paris Economic Development Corp. executive director has attracted quite a bit of attention.

A total of 78 people have expressed an interest in the position, yielding a stack of resumes several inches thick.

“We’re looking for the right leader,” Chairman Stephen Grubbs said. “I see folks here who have a ton of EDC experience and city management experience.”

In addition to those, there are several other candidates who may have simply been applying to every job they found. The list includes a sports consultant, college teachers, public relations professionals, sales professionals, a former newspaper publisher, an oilfield worker, agriculture professionals, a preacher, youth coordinator, an archivist, a former Michaels laborer and a title company director.

“About 25 percent of those people might be qualified,” board member David Turner said. “Somehow we need to go through and cull these.”

Previously, Grubbs said, the board had decided to set up a separate committee that would review those candidates the PEDC board felt were most qualified. The committee so far consists of Grubbs, Turner, Paris Junior College President Pam Anglin and Campbell Soup plant manager Ray Oldach, plus a representative from the City Council. PEDC had considered then-Mayor A.J. Hashmi, but Grubbs noted that may be best left up to the council.

“I think we’d appreciate that more,” Edwin Pickle, the City Council liaison to the PEDC board, said with a laugh. “The mayor is an ex-officio member of the board. I think it should be the mayor or his designee.”

By Aug. 1, each of the board members is expected to go through the list and mark each one as a “yes” or “no” to move forward to round two. The board of directors will then discuss five or so to pass on to the interview committee for further consideration. That committee will then make a recommendation or two to the board.