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PEDC Chair Rebecca Clifford has said the mayor’s allegation of inconsistencies in her reporting about the investigation into Paris Economic Development Corp. is false.
“There were no discrepancies between what I was told by Mr. Defenbaugh and what I reported to the City Council,” Clifford said Monday in a written memo to the City Council and PEDC board members. “There do appear to be inconsistencies, but the inconsistencies are not with my report.”
The PEDC board is set to discuss the investigation and a $21,075 invoice from Defenbaugh & Associates when it meets at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the community room of the Depot.
In a June 23 meeting, Mayor Matt Frierson said he had had a phone conversation with Mayor Pro-Tem Richard Grossnickle, City Manager John Godwin, City Attorney Kent McIlyar and investigator Danny Defenbaugh. As a result of that meeting, Frierson said Defenbaugh reported that Clifford instructed him not to produce any written reports.
Clifford said the report she gave to the council in early June was screened by Defenbaugh for accuracy, and he OK’d it.
“As per the contract between PEDC and Defenbaugh & Associates, I was provided a weekly oral status report,” she wrote. “I never received a written report from Mr. Defenbaugh, and I never instructed Mr. Defenbaugh not to provide a written report to me.”
She also said that Defenbaugh was told in the phone conversation “to wait for further direction before proceeding.” She said the investigation should have been completed in mid-June if not for the “interruptions.”
Frierson has denied any interference from the city in the investigation.
“I was not a part of the conversation that members of the City Council and city staff had with Mr. Defenbaugh, so I cannot confirm what was or was not said,” Clifford wrote.
Other items on Tuesday’s agenda include:
The Boys and Girls Club of the Red River Valley is getting ready for the 11th annual Johnny Stallings Memorial Great Paris Turtle Float.
The event is set for July 26 at Love Civic Center. The checkered flag drops at noon, and the adoptive parents are encouraged to come out early and give their turtles pre-race pep talks and cheer them on as they head down the waterway.
This year, 5,000 turtles are up for adoption. The fee is $10 per turtle, or a herd of 11 for $100. Adoption papers (entry forms) must be completely filled out. Each adopted turtle will be assigned a number for the race, although the turtles remain the property of the Boys and Girls Club. In the case of multiple adoptions, all turtles in the same clutch will have the same number.
First place gets $3,000; second place prize is $2,000; third place is $1,000; fourth place prize is two Rangers tickets; and fifth place gets a Yeti cooler. A coin toss will decide any ties. Winners are responsible for all taxes on prizes.
Ten turtles will be selected at random for a quick-pick $50 prize.
“We are doing a series called ‘Around the World in Texas,’ focusing on cities with European names,” said Paige McCoy Smith, on-air talent with the WFAA show “Good Morning Texas.” Paris was third in the series, after Athens and Italy, but it remained a high priority for the series. “Paris was top on my list.”
People were encouraged to show up before 8:30 a.m., even though the segment did not start until after 9. Smith said the fact that a crowd was willing to show up on Monday morning shows a lot of support for the community.
“I think it’s great,” Mayor Matt Frierson said. “It’s another opportunity to tell people what Paris is all about – who we are and the wonderful things about the town itself.”
Main Street Coordinator Cheri Bedford, who did most of the coordinating work, said she was happy with the turnout and thrilled for the chance to show off Paris.
“This is a great opportunity,” she said. “We can showcase our history and the things going on. We’ve got a lot to brag about.”
Tourism Director Becky Semple said when she first heard Good Morning Texas was coming to Paris, she had a hard time believing the news.
“This is beyond exciting. This is so good for Paris,” she said. “Paris is being showcased as the beautiful destination it is.”
A film crew came to Paris a few weeks ago to shoot “B-roll,” stock footage used of the town in conjunction with the live shots.
“I’ve fallen in love with your town,” Smith said. “I love the culture. I love the friendly nature of everyone I meet. I love the history. It has so much to offer.”
She seemed especially taken with the museums, Santa Fe Depot, Eiffel Tower and 107.
Once the camera started rolling, the crowd yelled, “Bonjour, y’all!” and a beret-sporting Smith popped up from behind people holding letters that spelled “y’all.” The “bonjour” was behind her. Other signs abounded, including slick banners from Paris Regional Medical Center and Fit City Paris and handmade signs with messages such as “Bonjour, y’all,” “Welcome to Paris,” “We ❤ Paris” and “Read my sign.”
The final few minutes prior to going live were the busiest. Bedford had the crowd practice their “bonjour” a few times. Smith had everyone turn off their cell phones so as not to interfere with the live broadcast. Bedford coaxed those watching from the sidelines into the crowd on the fountain while Smith had a few try runs and offered some last-minute instructions.
“I want a lot of energy. You just can’t have a lot of whooping and hollering in a live interview,” Smith said. “I hate to seem so bossy. I’m sorry.”
After she spent about five minutes talking to the mayor and others downtown, the broadcast moved to Love Civic Center for some filming at the Eiffel Tower. Smith teased the segment from the Trolley de Paris – which almost didn’t make it when technical difficulties threatened to strand it downtown.
Smith closed her broadcast thanking the people there for their support of the community.
“Paris is a perfect place or a staycation. It has been my pleasure,” she said. Once the cameras stopped rolling, she gave Bedford a hug. “Cheri, you did it!”
If you missed the broadcast or just want to watch it again, be sure to check it out on the Good Morning Texas webpage.
Fireworks begin around dark, with music performed by the Paris Municipal Band prior to that. Admission to the fireworks is free, but donations are encouraged – and needed.
So far, Rotary Club of Paris has raised $11,600. Major sponsors include the city of Paris, First Federal Bank, Guaranty Bond Bank, Lamar National Bank and Liberty National Bank. Other sponsors include:
Such corporate and individual donations are only cover part of the cost for this annual tradition. The rest is paid for through money collected at the parking lots and parks by the Rotary Bucket Brigade.
As Lamar County looks into the cost of updating climate control at the county services building, community members have rallied behind saving the old post office.
“Let’s not take a risk on what makes us unique,” said Rob Spencer, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church across the street from the old post office. “The buildings we have downtown make us unique. We can ride this horse a long way.”
Spencer said FUMC plans to spend about $3 million on projects that include refurbishing the old sanctuary, a new youth building and improvements to the parking lot.
The county services building has long been a point of contention as what Precinct 1 Commissioner Lawrence Malone called “a money pit” as various repairs crop up. The building was originally constructed in 1924 and added onto in 1965, County Judge Chuck Superville said. The driver this time is air conditioning.
Cooling in the county services building is handled through an antiquated chilled water system that dates to the 1960s. Engineers said the system probably had a useful lifespan of 20 years when it was installed, and now it is so old that parts have proven almost impossible to find when it breaks down. Superville said it could possibly be repaired at a cost of about $50,000, but the county would likely only get another five years out of it.
Commissioners voted Monday to seek bid specifications for a new air conditioning system, which would give the county an idea of what all needs to be done before actual bids are sought on the work. The motion passed 4-1 with Precinct 3 Commissioner Rodney Pollard objecting.
“I think it’s just a Band-Aid,” he said.
Estimates on a new, modern air conditioning system have ranged from $88,000 to close to $1 million, Superville said. The lower estimates did not include any work to upgrade the electrical system.
“There may be some electrical issues,” he said. “The electrical system is as old as the air conditioning system.”
Malone said representatives from Hargis Electric told him the building has a sufficient power supply to handle a new air conditioning system, although he did not have an estimate on upgrading or replacing the electric panel.
Because of recurring expenses with the building, some commissioners have suggested simply building a new one. Pollard said he does not necessarily want to abandon the old post office, but the county does not know exactly what all the building needs. He mentioned plumbing, wiring and cracking steps. County Tax Assessor-Collector Haskell Maroney said the building needs work to be truly handicapped accessible, and Treasurer Shirley Fults said there is still water getting into the basement at times, such as a drain backing up during a recent rain storm. Glossup said a sealant was applied to the interior, but to truly waterproof the building would require an external sealant as well, which would mean digging up around the foundation.
“I don’t think we need to throw $1 million to half a million at it – or whatever – and patch it. We need to fix it,” Pollard said. “If I serve the taxpayers, I have to look at all options.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Keith Mitchell also said he has not made up his mind about whether to work on the county services building or construct something new. He said he sees both sides of the argument.
“What this court needs is reliable information, reliable documentation that will support an economically feasible decision,” he said. “I’m for what’s best. Our roots are behind us, and growth is in front of us.”
Ongoing repairs are part of owning an old building, Superville said. As long as taxpayers support the county keeping it up, he said the county needs to keep it for the betterment of downtown. Even if a new building is constructed, he said, there will still be a question of what to do with the old one.
“I think we’ve got a beautiful building downtown,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Lonnie Layton said. “I’m not for vacating the building. We’ve got some major issues with it, but instead of rigging them, I think we should fix them.”
That seemed to be the general consensus of the audience packing the commissioners courtroom.
Patsy Davis said her father opened Williams Sporting Goods downtown in the 1940s.
“We know about maintaining an old building, but we also know how important it is to the community to have merchants downtown,” she said. “When they come to Paris, they want to see the historic parts That’s what drives people.”
A new building still requires ongoing maintenance said her husband, Norm Davis, and nothing the county built would be as structurally sound as the old post office.
“If we take care of it, it’s going to pay us back in dividends many times over,” he said. “Please, please, please take care of it.”
The services building is a source of pride for county officials, as well.
“That building is home to us,” Maroney said. “We take pride in what we’ve done to clean up that building.”
The cost of maintaining the building is only one piece of the puzzle, according to Greg Wilson, president of the Paris Downtown Association. Commissioners also need to consider the economic impact of having an abandoned building at the gateway to downtown. The old Gibraltar Hotel and the building across the street are both vacant, and property values in the area are low as a result, he said.
“One of the most exciting things I’ve seen in a long time is what the First United Methodist Church is doing with the parking lot,” Wilson said, referring to plans to beautify the lot with green space and a small “splash park.” “It’s $800,000 with complete buy-in from the church and community.”
Wilson said the old post office could not be anything but a government building. If the county abandoned it, he said, there would not be anyone else who could pick it up. Wiilson said it was ironic that the conversation was taking place on the same day the Lamar County Historic Commission had received an award for its preservation efforts.
At the meeting, commissioners announced the Lamar County Historical Commission received the 2013 Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Historical Commission. The award is given to local organizations that manage successful preservation programs that generate interest in Texas history. Susan Harper said that it is largely a matter of keeping records and “bragging” to the THC about what has been done locally.
“Thank you, commissioners, for your support, and thank you to everyone seated here today,” Harper said. “It’s easy to brag with all your accomplishments.”
The courthouse itself has had ongoing issues with water leaking, and Superville said representatives from the Texas Historic Commission plan to make a presentation to the Commissioners Court in July to discuss ways to fix it.
Liberty National Bank President Carl Cecil said he understands the struggle to use and maintain an old building. The bank has committed $20,000 to the project if it goes through, he said.
“It’s an important building,” he said. “With the American Legion building the shape it’s in, I hate to see this building closed at the gateway to downtown.”
Main Street Coordinator Cheri Bedford said the first quarter of this year alone saw $200,000 invested in downtown. It takes money, but the dividends pay off because potential investors often look downtown first to judge the health of a community, she said.
“We want a thriving downtown. It takes a lot of time and effort to get there,” she said. “I encourage you to make the tough decision to stay in that building and maintain it.”
Kari Daniel, who operates the Green Boutique and lives downtown, is one of those making such an investment, which she said would not be as likely without the county’s support as seen in maintaining the old post office.
“Y’all stepped up and committed to fixing that building. It instilled a lot of confidence downtown,” she said. “It’s something no money can buy, what we have downtown. It’s the heart of the city.”
Without a thriving, viable downtown, tourists are not as interested in a city, Tourism Director Becky Semple said.
“Tourists come to Paris, Texas. We’re not a sleepover spot anymore; we are a destination,” she said. “People come in to the Chamber of Commerce and they say, ‘You have such a beautiful town. I wish we hadn’t torn our historic buildings down.’”
In other business, commissioners: