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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.

City attorney retains job by one vote

City Attorney Kent McIlyar

City Attorney Kent McIlyar

City Attorney Kent McIlyar came within one vote of losing his job Monday.

“I’m not very happy with the performance of the city attorney in the last few months. I have multiple concerns, which include not representing the council as a whole and not giving documents to council members,” Councilman AJ Hashmi said after a 35-minute closed session for McIlyar’s performance review. “I would like to make a motion that the services of the city attorney be terminated.”

Councilwoman Sue Lancaster seconded the motion. Councilman Aaron Jenkins joined them, but Mayor Matt Frierson, Mayor Pro-Tem Richard Grossnickle and councilmen Benny Plata and Edwin Pickle voted against.

“I have received no performance evaluation for the last year, so I think that’s a highly unusual motion to make,” McIlyar said.

Hashmi said he asked for the evaluation as a public discussion item, but Frierson had it changed to a closed session. That sort of decision should be left up to the council, he said. Hashmi said Frierson called for transparency and unity when he became mayor, but has acted to the contrary, and the council has become “broken.”

“Hopefully at some point, we get over this and we quit arguing and move forward,” he said. “I feel you’re running it like a dictatorship and not like a democracy.”

At the time, Frierson had no comment other than to call the closed session. After the meeting he would only say, “I will not dignify that with a response.”

The evening started with Lancaster’s request for McIlyar to give his duties and responsibilities. He read the job description, which includes preparation of legal documents, contracts and ordinances; legal advice and representation; and interpretation and review of documents.

Lancaster said McIlyar failed in his job when he refused to turn over a preliminary report from Defenbaugh & Associates regarding the Paris Economic Development Corp. investigation.

District 2 City Councilwoman Sue Lancaster

District 2 City Councilwoman Sue Lancaster

Frierson said that might be beyond the scope of the agenda item. Lancaster accused him of trying to gag her.

“I’m not going to be shut up,” she said. “Do I need to be shut up?”

Audience members said, “No.”

Lancaster said she had a right to the preliminary report as a council member. McIlyar said he could not because the report was not a city document.

“That is a draft report from a third party investigator hired by the Paris Economic Development Corp.,” he said. “I am not at liberty to release that to you or anyone without approval from the council.”

When Hashmi started on his dissatisfaction with the city attorney’s performance, McIlyar objected. He said any problems the council had with him as an employee should be done in closed session.

“As a city employee, you cannot ask for a closed session,” Hashmi said. “You can ask for an open session, but a closed session is a City Council decision.”

“It’s inappropriate, sir,” McIlyar replied. “It’s also unethical and unprofessional.”

Frierson said once again the discussion was venturing beyond the posted agenda. Hashmi said he was wrong, which led to a brief, tense exchange.

“You’re asking for it,” Hashmi replied, laughing.

McIlyar said the matter was a council decision, but he felt both Defenbaugh and PEDC needed to give their OK to releasing the information to council members due to confidentially clauses in their contract.

“I have not shared it with anyone outside my staff in the city attorney’s office,” he said. “It’s the council’s pleasure. If you want be to burn it, I’ll burn it tonight. I’m just saying I need direction from the council.”

Plata said he could “see his point, myself” and made a motion for McIlyar to hand it over after PEDC and Defenbaugh sign off on it. His motion died for lack of a second. After further discussion, Lancaster made largely the same motion, adding that she wanted it within two weeks. Hashmi seconded the motion, which passed unanimously – including several “ayes” from the audience.

Turtles float past civic center to raise $37K for Boys & Girls Club

TurtleFloat_17Hundreds of turtles raced down the drainage ditch in front of Love Civic Center on Saturday to raise $37,890 in the Boys and Girls Club of the Red River Valley’s 11th annual Johnny Stallings Memorial Great Paris Turtle Float.

This year marked the first time to hold the race at the civic center.

“I think it’s a great idea to move the race over here,” Gene Stallings said. “I’m sure we’ll have a record number of turtles that will be adopted, and that’s a good thing.”

Executive Director Henry Shaw also expected to do well with the Turtle Float, which is one of two major fundraisers for the club each year. The other is the annual youth auction.

“Last year was $35,000. Our goal this year is $40,000. We’ll be close. We’ve had a ton of walk ups,” Shaw said. “Thank you to the community, our staff and our most excellent board of directors for supporting ‘the positive place for youth’ – your Boys and Girls Club of the Red River Valley.”

This year, 5,000 turtles were up for adoption at $10 each or a herd of 11 for $100. Mark Rhea won $3,000 for first place. The second-place prize of $2,000 went to Big Country Farm and Ranch. Gary Bassett earned $1,000 for third place as well as the fourth-place of two Rangers tickets. The fifth-place Yeti cooler went to Wayne Kirby. Ten turtles were also selected at random for a quick-pick $50 prize.

The event is named for Stalling’s son, and it was Stallings himself who brought the idea for the float to Paris.

“When I coached the Phoenix Cardinals, they had the Great Duck Race,” he said. “It was $100 a duck, and here you can get 11 turtles for $100. But they were giving away a Mercedes.”

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.