Top story of 2019

The Party Venue mass shooting with the resulting lack of arrest that created uproar in  the community was named the top story of 2019,

1. October shooting remains unsolved

It was billed as a party to celebrate homecoming festivities for Texas A&M-Commerce.

It ended in a mass shooting with two people dead and a dozen others injured, six by gunfire. More than six weeks later, no one is in custody.

Reports from the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office said a lone gunman opened fire inside the crowded venue early on the morning of Oct. 27.

The sheriff’s office was notified at around 11:30 p.m. of a large party and potential traffic hazard due to overflow parking at the business at 2275 U.S. Highway 380, just west of the Greenville city limits.

The first officers arrived about 10 minutes later and were investigating a possible intoxicated party goer at the front of the club when the shots rang out. Within five minutes the deputies contacted dispatch to report there were multiple victims.

Kevin Berry, 23, of Dallas and Byron Cravens Jr., 23, of Arlington died as a result of the gunfire.

One week after the shooting, a spirited crowd gathered in front of the Hunt County Sheriff’s Department, calling for justice and for the individual charged in connection with the deaths to be set free.

The “Brandon Gonzales Is Innocent” protest drew a few dozen people who supported Gonzales and who claimed law enforcement caught the wrong man.

Gonzales, the only suspect identified in the shooting, was released the next day and all charges dropped against him.

According to the probable cause affidavit, a source of information voluntarily contacted the sheriff’s office with eyewitness information concerning the murders.

No one else has been arrested or identified as a suspect in connection with the incident.

The sheriff’s office is still investigating the case. Anyone with information can call department at 903-408-6800, or to remain anonymous callers can contact Hunt County Crime Stoppers at 903-457-2929.

— Brad Kellar

2. Strong winds wreak havoc in city

There is still debate on whether the damage from the storms which hit Greenville on the evening of June 19 was the result of high winds or one or more tornadoes.

Regardless, the impact of the storms was felt for months.

Dozens of downtown businesses, as well as homes on the north and south ends of Greenville, were damaged.

The Highland Terrace Baptist Church on Joe Ramsey Boulevard sustained significant damage, while the Golden K Kiwanis lost the warehouse on the east end of Lee Street where it stored the materials it used to create wheelchair ramps it gave to assist Hunt County residents with mobility issues.

The strongest winds struck the west end of downtown Greenville at 5:38 p.m. as a tornado warning was issued by the National Weather Service and emergency responders on the police scanner said there were “two confirmed tornado touchdowns” in north Greenville.

The front of the Crawford Smith store was thrown into the middle of Lee Street, yet across the road, the chairs on the front porch of the Ain’t Just Pie restaurant weren’t touched.

The I.O.O.F. Lodge had a section of its roof torn away, and the Children’s Advocacy Center had a portion of an awning land a block away.

Several fire departments established a command post at the Hunt County Courthouse as the power remained off across the area.

Despite the devastation, there were no reports of injuries as a result of the storms.

The next day, the National Weather Service in Fort Worth indicated it did not believe the destruction was caused by an actual tornado.

Instead, saying “that damage was caused by straight-line winds.”

—  Brad Kellar

3. Senior tax freeze on its way to may ballot

In April, James Evans, who was on the Greenville City Council at the time, recommended that his fellow council members and city staff look into offering a tax exemption to residents aged 65 or older or those who are disabled.

Often referred to as simply the “senior tax freeze” in the months since it was first recommended, the exemption would not be a freeze on the property tax rate or the property’s appraised value, but a freeze on the tax dollar amount. It would also only apply to the resident’s homestead, or the house in which they live, and not any rental or commercial properties they may own.

This means that the actual dollar amount in city taxes that those who take the exemption would pay on their home would stay the same year after year, regardless of if the tax rate or the value of their home increases.

In August, a petition was started to demonstrate community support for the exemption. However, at the Sept. 10 city council meeting, multiple council members expressed the opinion that the freeze is too delicate of a matter for them to decide and that it should be voted upon by Greenville residents in a general election.

On Dec. 10, after four months of collecting signatures, the petition was delivered to the city secretary’s office.

“There’s a story behind every one of these signatures,” home builder Scott Ellis said as he accompanied the group of volunteers that delivered the petition.

To Ellis’ comment, resident Buddy Crump added, “So many people have told me that they don’t know what they’re going to do when their husband or wife passes when they’re already struggling to pay their taxes now.”

At the upcoming city council meeting Tuesday, Greenville City Attorney Daniel Ray will present the recommended wording for the proposition as it will appear on the actual ballot on May 2.

— Travis Hairgrove

4. City approves Stainback agreement

In May, the Greenville City Council approved an “economic development agreement” with the Stainback Organization – a commercial real estate developer – to help with phase two of the Keri Beth Crossing development at 3602 Interstate 30.

In that agreement, the city is to begin making payments toward a $4.3 million reimbursement to the Stainback Organization upon completion of the construction of KB Boulevard — a road connecting Monty Stratton Parkway and Sayle Street — as well as for the completion of supporting infrastructure such as erosion control, pavement, storm drains and water and sewer lines.

Also under the agreement, the city will begin making payments toward a second $4.3 million reimbursement after the promised Cinemark movie theater — the “entertainment anchor” for the development – is completed.

In December, the city council approved a zoning change request from the Stainback Organization, to change it from a “light industrial” zone to “multi-family 1.”

In response to concerns from residents about the apartment component of the development, Kent Stainback assured that the connector road mentioned in the economic development agreement would have to be built before any apartments could be added and that they just needed to get the zoning changed for the further planning and coordination of the development.

At the city council meeting on Dec. 10, Stainback also said that it is now his company’s plan to begin construction of the development “within the next 60 days” (or early February) and that the building of the Cinemark has to start within five days of that.

Regarding the actual apartments the developer intends to include in phase two of the Keri Beth project, Ryan Johnson of Covenant Development said the plan is for the complex to be an upscale community geared toward an active lifestyle, where people could shop, go out to eat and be entertained within walking distance.

— Travis Hairgrove

5. Greenville ISD faces challenging issues

In 2019, the Greenville Independent School District issued statements concerning two especially challenging issues – one concerning the indictments of two former employees on charges of theft of property by a public servant, and the other, a lawsuit filed by a mother and father against GISD alleging that the district had “failed to protect their child from repeated sexual abuse by another student.”

The two who were indicted on charges of “theft of property by a public servant of the value of $2,500 or more but less than $30,000” were former GISD Chief Human Resources Officer Ralph Lee Sanders, 61, and Tevin Brookins, 26, neither of whom had worked for the district since 2017.

The charge itself alleges that between Aug. 1 2016, and Dec. 31, 2017, Sanders and Brookins appropriated “money, or pay or benefits” from the district during Sanders’ tenure “and such property appropriated had therefore come into Ralph Sanders’ custody, possession, or control by virtue of his status as such a public servant.”

In October, Greenville ISD issued the following statement concerning the indictments: “In late October 2017, GISD became aware of issues regarding these two individuals named in the indictments. The district promptly conducted a thorough internal investigation and took appropriate personnel action … Investigations concerning this matter have been in process for over two years, and we are grateful to see them coming to a conclusion.”

In the lawsuit filed by the two parents in June, it was alleged that their child was sexually assaulted by another student at the Katherine G. Johnson STEM Academy twice during the 2018-19 school year.

On July 29, GISD Superintendent Demetrus Liggins released a statement saying that the “plaintiffs lack standing” to pursue a court order “because the student on whose behalf the suit is being filed is in no real, immediate threat of future injury.”

The letter also argued that “sufficient facts” had not been given in the lawsuit to claim that the parents’ or their child’s rights had been violated, that the district had failed to train employees correctly, or that there that there had not been adequate supervision.

— Travis Hairgrove

6. L3, Harris complete merger

In July, L3 Technologies and Florida-based Harris Corp. formally merged into L3Harris.

After the merger, the globe-sprawling aerospace and defense technology contractor became the six-largest defense company in the country and employs about 50,000 people in 130 countries.

The Greenville facility, which currently employs about 6,500 people, has been a major employer in Hunt County since 1951 when it was owned by TEMCO Aircraft Corp. In 1955, the Greenville TEMCO facility was chosen to upgrade Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers with new electronic systems, setting the plant on a path to a reputation as a systems integration leader.

In 1972, the company was purchased by E-Systems, then it became part of Raytheon in 1995, and then L3 in 2002.

Initially announced in October 2018, the merger between L3 and Harris was approved by shareholders of both companies, by the U.S. Justice Department, and lastly, by the European Union. The EU’s approval in June was the final hurdle required before L3 and Harris could join forces to become the sixth-largest maker of equipment and technology used by departments of defense all over the world.

As L3Harris, the company is organized into four divisions, each specializing in different types of defense technology: aviation systems, communication systems, space and airborne systems, and integrated mission systems. The Greenville facility is under the aviation systems division, which is headquartered in Arlington.

In recent years before the merger, Harris aggressively competed for high-profile contracts in the space industry. Back in April, the company scored an $84 million deal from the Space Enterprise Consortium to build an experimental satellite to test new position, navigation and timing technologies to boost the performance of GPS to allow better operation for the military in “contested environments.”

The L3Harris website currently shows seven job openings at the Greenville facility, with five of those positions being engineers.

The job listing can be seen online at https://bit.ly/2sdzkUI.

— Travis Hairgrove

7. City focusing on numerous road repairs

Whether it’s needed for repair, traffic congestion or safety, Greenville’s roads have been a major concern for several residents.

One of the most extensive planned road improvement projects is the $15 million bond project approved by voters in May, which specifies improvements to Stonewall Street, from Poplar Avenue to Joe Ramsey Boulevard, and Sayle Street, from Kari Lane to Joe Ramsey Boulevard – sections of road traveled by 10,000 to 15,000 drivers per day, Greenville City Manager Summer Spurlock has said.

In November, the Greenville City Council approved a $244,900 agreement between the city and MTG Engineering to begin the planning stages for the reconstruction of Stonewall Street.

Under the contract, MTG Engineering is providing the following services: pre-design meeting, pre-survey walk-through, topographic design survey, schematic roadway design, roadway construction plan, roadway construction specifications and bidding and construction support.

If the plan design and contract documents are completed close to schedule, the city’s estimated start date for the bidding process for the construction phase of the road improvements is April 21, and the city council will vote on whether or not to approve the winning bid at either their April 28 or May 12 meeting.

By early June, city staff hopes to begin the actual reconstruction on Stonewall Street, Spurlock said.

The rebuilding of both Stonewall and Sayle street is also supposed to include upgrades to their underlying utilities, such as water and sewer lines.

Also in regard to the renovation of roads and other needs, the city council added “building infrastructure that lasts” to the city’s list of goals and objectives in October.

In response to frustration from residents about the quality of road repairs in the recent past, Greenville Mayor David Dreiling recommended to Spurlock at the Oct. 11 council meeting, “We may need to have some retraining of city employees in this regard … and either the hot mix they use or process needs to be looked into.”

— Travis Hairgrove

8. Police chief leaves city under odd circumstances

The Greenville Police Department changed command in early 2019, but the decision to remove former Police Chief Daniel J. Busken did not come as a surprise.

The city issued a brief press release on the morning of Feb. 11, 2019, indicating Busken was no longer employed and that assistant Chief Scott Smith was now acting police chief.

Busken had been on leave since June 21, 2018, reportedly to deal with a medical issue.

The departure capped months of reported turmoil between the department’s leadership and its rank and file membership.

In April 2018, the Greenville Municipal Police Association, GMPA, surveyed all police employees on morale and views of management.

According to the survey, 84.5 percent of respondents disagreed with the comment that their morale was high, 96 percent disagreed that morale was high for the department as a whole.

The GMPA claimed the department was losing officers and morale because “of mismanagement and failure of our leadership.”

During spring 2018, Busken had sought to become the next Greenville city manager, while claiming his department was down 20 percent in manpower at one point because of the low officer salaries.

The issues addressed in the survey included Busken preventing his employees from seeking any employment outside of the city limits – even as Busken was applying for police chief positions with at least five other cities.

Busken was one of the 15 applicants for city manager, which eventually went to Summer Spurlock.

Smith was formally installed in May 2019 as the chief of police, after being appointed to the post full time in March.

— Brad Kellar

9. Stovall appointed cas county judge

January saw the appointment of Bobby Stovall as Hunt County judge after county commissioners narrowed down the field from 11 candidates to two.

The Hunt County Commissioners Court voted 3-1 during a special session Jan. 28, naming Stovall over Randy Tarpley, the other finalist in the running for the position.

“I’m going to do my best I know how,” Stovall said, as he thanked the commissioners and county residents who supported his candidacy. “I’m ready to go to work.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner Phillip Martin was the dissenting vote. The need for the appointment came about after former Hunt County Judge John Horn died suddenly in September 2018 and it was too late to remove his name from the Nov. 6 general election ballot, where he ran unopposed in seeking re-election to the post.

The commissioners voted in early January to make Precinct 1 Commissioner Eric Evans the new Hunt County Judge Pro Tem, who filled the post until an appointment was made. The commissioners chose from 11 candidates including, in alphabetical order: Jay Atkins, David Bird, Larry Fitzgerald, Mark Hutchins, Patricia Lattig, Tod McMahan, Jerry Minter, Bobby Stovall, Randy Tarpley, Toby Wilkinson and Gabriel Wittkopf.

Stovall is expected to begin his term upon completion of initial legal requirements, and his term will continue through the November 2020 general election, at which time the county judge will be chosen by voters.

Stovall is the founder of Stovall and Associates Land Surveying in Greenville. He has been a member of the GEUS board of directors since 2015, and he is chairman of the Greenville Flood Mapping Effects Committee and chairman of the Greenville Economic Development Sales Tax Re-Allocation Committee.

Stovall also serves a business adviser for the city’s economic development efforts, and he was active in helping keep L3 operations in Greenville between 2010 and 2018.

— Christian Aleman

10. Herald-Banner celebrates 150th anniversary

The Herald-Banner celebrated its 150th anniversary of serving Hunt County residents in July. The oldest business in Hunt County marked the milestone by hosting a come-and-go reception at Landon Winery, which included hors d’oeuvres, door prizes and more.

A century and a half of local reporting has been made possible by the continuous support of the surrounding community. In a changing news landscape that has seen many local news outlets shrink, transition online entirely or close altogether, the Herald-Banner has transitioned time and again to keep bringing the community insightful, local news five days a week in print and 24 hours a day online. The newspaper continues to expand its coverage area and currently includes weekly sections on the Quinlan-Lake Tawakoni area and Commerce.

Community newspapers share something with their readers — trust. It is that trust that allows small-town newspapers like the Herald-Banner to thrive. Community newspapers build relationships with readers and allow those readers to become stockholders in the news published in print and online. Readers have a vested interest in their communities through their local newspaper. That is something that larger metropolitan newspapers can’t, and will not, do.

Readers of the Herald-Banner expect the paper to tell it like it is, and do it truthfully. Readers see through “fake news” or “rumors.” The employees of the Herald-Banner are your friends and neighbors and they too care about what happens in their town. They are the ones you visit with at church and see at the grocery store. That’s what sets the Herald-Banner apart from big-city newspapers. The Herald-Banner, and other small-town newspapers, record the history of your town and that is an invaluable asset that cannot be replicated.

Today, the Herald-Banner is owned by CNHI LLC, published five days a week and also produces two weekly newspapers: the Rockwall County Herald-Banner and Royse City Herald-Banner. The publication also produces a quarterly lifestyle magazine called Greenville Life.

— Christian Aleman

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