Bastrop County environmental leader dead at age 84

March 17th, 2011

Bastrop, Tx–Doyen of Bastrop County movements to protect environmental quality and preserve scenic open space John Prager, 84, died alone in a local nursing home Feb. 13.

Friends and associates held a gathering in his memory in Webberville earlier this month not far from the rude cabin where he lived for decades near FM 969. He is survived by a son, Paul, and a daughter , Heidi who became his legal guardian at the end of his life.

Prager was a veteran of World War II in the Pacific Theater and retired from enlisted service in the U.S. Air Force after 23 years. Subsequently the West Virginia native was a graduate student in rhetoric and literature, with a keen interest in contemporary poetry, at The University of Texas at Austin.

He was among the first handful of volunteers to begin organizing opposition to plans by the Lower Colorado River Authority to open a lignite strip mine at Camp Swift north of Bastrop in 1979. He became an organizing member of the Sayersville Historical Society and the Central Texas Lignite Watch, which also battled strip mine plans in Fayette and other parts of Bastrop County.

In later years Prager became a mentor to leaders of organizations including the Bastrop County Environmental Network, Neighbors for Neighbors and the Pines and Prairies Land Trust. He was among the first to realize the potential and call for the creation of a local groundwater conservation district.

In addition to his interests in history, natural science and the arts, Prager also devoted some years to the cultivation on grape vines with an eye to wine making with various partners. A sociable man, he valued both the friendships and the products those ventures led to.

Bastrop police seeking robbery tips

March 8th, 2011

Bastrop, Tx–Feb. 28 was Michael Blake’s first day on the job as Bastrop police chief, but before it was over he received rather a rude welcome. About 10:30 p.m. a pair of robbers hit a popular downtown convenience store and sped away in a dark colored sedan.

This week city police are still seeking the public’s help in identifying the two stick up men, one of whom brandished a black handgun during the heist.

The local newspaper said it was the fifth robbery in less than three years at the All Star convenience store and gasoline station at 902 Chestnut St.

Both robbers were wearing dark clothing, and one of them had a red bandana over his face.

Anyone with knowledge of the incident is asked to call police investigators at 332-8600 or CrimeStoppers at 836-930-8477.


Bastrop economic development chief quits

March 4th, 2011

Bastrop, Tx–Joe Newman, who led the Bastrop Economic Development Corp. as president and chief executive for more than 10 years, unexpectedly resigned this week following a private meeting with board president Steve Mills. The resignation was effective immediately.

Newman did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

The action came after Newman faced public criticism from some board members earlier in the week. During a board meeting Monday evening, Mayor Terry Orr called for rethinking how the board’s industrial park is being developed. “The industrial park needs a kick start,” said Orr. “I for one don’t know what our plans are (for the project).

Board member Pat Crawford called for a workshop to review the agency’s strategic plan. “Our strategic plan sucks,” she said.

In a different part of the meeting Monday, board members retreated behind closed doors in part to review and evaluate Newman’s recent job performance. Subsequently Mills scheduled a private meeting with Newman.

A board member, who was not authorized to speak for the agency and asked not to be named, said Newman was not asked to resign and no single issue apparently led to his sudden departure, adding “maybe it was just time to make a change.”

Mayor Orr praised Newman’s years of service to the agency and said Mills and other board members will cover Newman’s executive responsibilities until a new leader is selected.

The economic development agency is funded by a dedicated half-cent sales tax which was approved for the purpose by voters in the mid 1990s. In addition to the board’s industrial park and its popular matching grant program for improving the appearance of central business district buildings, other recent activities include building new sidewalks, crosswalks, lighting and landscaping along Chestnut Street from Water Street to Texas 95.

The board is also pledged to pay for new water, sewer and underground electric lines in Alley B on the west side of the 900 block of Main Street. The board is also planning to install new street lighting on Main Street between Pine and Spring Street.


Bastrop council picks ethics study panel

February 26th, 2011

Bastrop, Tx–The city council named a citzen task force Feb. 22 to advise them about toughening Bastrop’s ethics rules and what such changes might look like. The issue has been a topic of some controversy among council members since last year.

At one point the council decided it might not be the best group to decide on changes and agreed to seek an independent citizen group. Any new rules presumably would apply both to the council and to members of the city’s other boards, commissions and similar bodies.

The six-member panel includes a judge, a police officer, a businessman, a counselor and two members of the local clergy.Their charge is to tell the council if additional ethics rules are needed and, if so, what those might be.

Task force members include insurance agent Gilbert Solis, 423rd District Court Judge Chris Duggan, counselor Linda Seal, police officer Wuthipong Tantaksinanuki, along with Rev. R.D. Smith and Rev. Lisa Hines. Smith is pastor of Mt. Rose Missionary Baptist Church and Hines is rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, both in Bastrop.

Members were recommended by Council Members Julie Hart and Ken Kesselus, appointed by Mayor Terry Orr and confirmed by a unanimous council vote.

The task force will be advised by city attorney J.C. Brown and City Manager Mike Talbot. It will also organize itself and report back to the council later this year.


Teen admits mom’s murder, gets 12 years

February 25th, 2011

Bastrop, Tx–A McDade teenager pleaded guilty today to the murder of her mother, Tracy Bellard, and was sentenced to 12 years in an adult state prison.

During a brief appearance before 423rd District Judge Chris Duggan, Hailey Bellard pleaded guilty in the August 2009 shooting death of her mother at their McDade home. Duggan accepted a plea agreement negotiated between prosecutors and defense lawyers in the case. Hailey Bellard was 14 at the time of the shooting.

Investigators believe Tracy Belllard 42, was killed after she attempted to interfere with a romantic relationship between her daughter and Joseph D. Douglas, who was 18 at the time. Douglas pleaded guilty to murder last year and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

After a hearing last year Judge Duggan ruled that Hailey Bellard could be tried as an adult. She was subsequently ordered to stand trial for murder by a Bastrop County grand jury.

The most dramatic moment of the Feb. 25 proceeding came when Hailey Bellard’s grandmother, Yolanda Warren, addressed her directly after the judge pronounced sentence. “I still love you, you’re all I’ve got left,” said Warren, “but I can’t forgive you, not yet. There was no reason for it (the murder). If (the situation) was that bad you could have come to any of us (for help).”

“I wish you could bell me why and what happened,” the grandmother added.

Bastrop again invites airport talks, rejects developer complaints

February 18th, 2011

Bastrop, Tx–The city manager is challenging charges that the council has been “non-responsive and/or obstructive” to proposals for a private general aviation airport on a 1,500-acre tract west of Bastrop.

The project has drawn sharp opposition from county residents in the area, but the city is involved because the tract is part of Bastrop’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, an area where it exercises some development controls.

In a letter dated Feb. 1, City Manager Mike Talbot invited Austin developer James Carpenter and his group to suggest dates for a public workshop with the city council as a step toward “meaningful” talks on issues related to the $150 million project which Carpenter has claimed will create thousands of jobs in the next 10 years.

Talbot also charged that the city has heard nothing from the Carpenter group since a Nov. 9 meeting at which the council outlined its conditions for moving discussions forward.

“The council and I have been disturbed to have heard complaints voiced, over the past several weeks, in various forums (and directly by local citizens), to the effect that the City of Bastrop has been ‘non-responsive and/or obstructive’ to you and your team in your development of the project. In the city’s view, nothing could be further from the truth,” Talbot wrote to Carpenter.

Talbot’s letter was released Feb. 18 among materials distributed to the city council ahead of its scheduled Feb. 22 meeting, set for 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Bastrop council seeks ethics advisors

February 17th, 2011

Bastrop, Tx–The city council agreed earlier this month to select a citizen panel to advice them about whether and perhaps in what way to reinforce the ethics rules which govern council members as well as those who serve on official city boards, commissions and similar bodies.

A move last year by Council Member Julie Hart for the council itself to draft and consider additional rules met resistance among other council members who suggested they might not be in an unbiased position to propose rules to govern themselves.

Apart from state law, Bastrop apparently has no special ethics regulations, as many cities do.

The council decision to create an ethics advisory group also included two charges for the panel. First will be to decide if additional city rules are needed. If the answer is yes, the group will be asked to draft proposals for council consideration.

Hart has argued that Bastrop needs more specific rules to prevent or curtail a number of potential conflicts of interest , not addressed by state law, in conducting the city’s public business. Others, including Council Member Joe Beal, have suggested that detailed regulations may prove troublesome to follow and enforce and have little effect in the end on making sound public policy and decisions.

The topic could come up again as early as the Feb. 22 council meeting.

Bastrop candidates sign up for new terms

February 17th, 2011

Bastrop, Tx–Only incumbents have signed up so far to seek election to seats on the Bastrop City Council and Bastrop school board in elections set for May.

Candidates have until March 14 to apply for places on the ballots.

City council members Ken Kesselus, Kay Garcia McAnally and Bill Peterson have all filed for re-election.

Former school board president John Eaton is seeking re-election. The other school board term coming to an end this year is the one currently held by Board President Johnny Sanders. So far no one has signed up to seek that seat.

New police chief due Feb. 28 in Bastrop

February 16th, 2011

Bastrop, Tx–In just over a week the city is expecting a new police chief to take up his duties here after almost three years leading the police department in Kyle.

The chief’s office in Bastrop has been vacant since former chief David Board abruptly resigned in August after being charged with drunk driving in Austin. Assistant Chief Matt Wagner has been the acting chief since then.

Gregory Michael Blake is slated to begin his duties in Bastrop beginning Feb. 28, according to City Manager Mike Talbot.

Blake spent more than 20 years rising through the ranks of the Garland Police Department, beginning in 1973, to become assistant chief. In 2000 he was named chief of the Harlingen department, a post he left in 2002 before taking charge of the Tomball Police Department where he remained until moving to the Kyle position in early 2008.

Cedar Creek football coach resigns

February 16th, 2011

Bastrop, Tx–The Cedar Creek High School athletic coordinator and head football coach tendered his resignation Tuesday ahead of a Bastrop school board meeting set to consider possible disciplinary action.

Mike Ferrell was placed on administrative leave from his post Jan. 19 following unspecified complaints to school officials. School trustees accepted the resignation without public comment Tuesday.

Ferrell was the new high school’s first athletic coordinator and he fielded freshman and junior varsity football teams last fall, the first season for the campus. Cedar Creek is scheduled to play its first varsity sports season in 2012.

Before coming to Cedar Creek, Ferrell coached for three seasons at El Paso Socorro High School.