About the Author
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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.

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.

Council addresses west Paris issues

City Manager John Godwin

City Manager John Godwin

Monday’s City Council session dealt largely with West Paris.

Council members denied two requests for mobile homes. The first was from Charles Braswell for an empty lot on Maple Avenue. The Planning & Zoning Commission and staff recommended denial.

Braswell said his inlaws own the property; he planned to put the mobile home there as rental property.

“It’s not junk. There’s a mobile home park approximately three houses from where I propose to put this. From Maple Avenue to 19th, there are mobile homes scattered through there,” he said. “I’m trying to put something on the lot that’s taxable. I don’t think it’ll hurt the neighborhood.”

Others disagreed. James Price asked the council to deny the request, asking why west Paris is the only area with mobile homes.

“Get off our backs in District 2. We love our land over there,” he said. “Put it over in Morningside. I bet you won’t do that, will you?”

Mary Davenport, who lives one street over, worried about the precedent it might set if this request was approved.

“I live in an area where there are several vacant lots. My concern is if this is zoned here one street over, who’s to say the lots across the street from me will not be bought and someone will try to put a mobile home there?” she said. “West Paris does not need any more run down. We need build up, and we need clean up.”

Ray Banks said he opposed it even though it was “nowhere even close to me.”

“We keep saying west Paris needs to be improved,” he said. “We cannot improve west Paris if we keep putting rental mobile homes there.”

Councilman Edwin Pickle said he thought the city had adopted a policy concerning mobile homes, but City Attorney Kent McIlyar said it had been discussed without ever being approved.

The Planning & Zoning Commission is looking at a moratorium on all mobile homes for several months while a subcommittee looks at a policy, Engineering Director Shawn Napier said.

The second request needed to be denied or tabled because it was an incomplete submission, City Planner Alan Efrussy said. The applicant, Terry Arnold, planned to get the zoning and permission for a mobile home and then buy one to place on West Campbell, but a specific use permit does not allow for that approach, he said.

Both request were unanimously denied.

In other business, Councilwoman Sue Lancaster said the city needs to take care of drainage ditches. They were a problem before the ice storm and worse after, she said. A heavy rainstorm or two could start flooding homes.

“Those drainage ditches were put there for a purpose,” she said. “Paris has flooded, and we strongly urge that all these little drainage areas that were put in – they have been there a long time – they need to be cleaned out so we don’t have to worry about flooding.”

Councilman Benny Plata asked if any work is being done now to clean out the ditches. City Manager John Godwin said there is some, but the parks department is primarily busy working on parks. The city got behind in cleaning up after the ice storm and has remained backlogged, he said. Godwin promised to bring a report to the next council meeting.

Lancaster also sought to have the city mow along the “Safe Sidewalks for Kids.”

“We built these Safe Sidewalks going to the elementary schools to keep kids out of the streets,” she said. “We had a young man killed on Graham because he was riding his bicycle in the street going to school. The problem is we are seeing really high weeds growing all along there, and I’m seeing some children avoiding that and going in the street.”

Godwin said it would be taken care of.