By Gloria Roemer
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
The year 2021 has come and gone, and it will ultimately be judged by the impact those 365 days had on each one of us. What continues to be the #1 issue that has mercilessly affected us all… is the never-ending virus – COVID-19…Delta yesterday, Omicron today…who knows what tomorrow brings? According to the Chamber County Public Health Department, the total number of persons in Chambers County who tested positive for COVID-19 is 9,260. This is data that has been collected since March 2020. Please see chart on page 4 for a complete accounting of how COVID-19 has affected Chambers County.
There has been other news over the past year that triggered conflicting emotions. Let us begin with January 2021.
January 2021 – (1) East Chambers High School Head Boys Basketball Coach Todd Sutherland became the most winning high school boys basketball coach in Southeast Texas. (2) Joe Biden takes office as the 46th President of the US and immediately eradicates major immigration reform executive orders by former President Trump. Texas has been heavily affected by hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants rushing to enter the US due to Biden’s “open border” policies.
February 2021 – The Freeze! What started out as a winter wonderland quickly turned into a dangerous frozen tundra in most of the state of Texas. The electric grid operated by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) failed miserably to keep up with the demand of its consumers and as a result people died, millions suffered, and hundreds of millions of dollars of damages were reported. PUC and ERCOT were totally unprepared for the freeze and vowed to fix the problems. To date, it is questionable as to whether the current grid could handle a possible repeat.
March 2021 – (1) East Chambers’ Ernest “Third” Ceasar becomes the first four time All-State Basketball Player in ECHS history. (2) Chambers County District Attorney Cheryl Lieck opened an investigation into the operations of Trinity Bay Conservation District (TBCD). Nepotism was a hot topic as one of the then board directors voted for his son’s employment at TBCD. There were also credible reports of financial malfeasance and lack of accountability and transparency. The nepotism issue was resolved due to the then board director finally resigning after intense pressure. As to other misdeeds, Lieck has yet to produce a public report but has said “TBCD probably has the worst record keeping of any entity I have ever seen.” And under bad legal advice, TBCD would not hold a regular board meeting due to the “investigation”. (3) Yale Devillier, JP Pct 1, passes away following battle with cancer. His widow, Celia Devillier, was appointed to serve out his term.
April 2021 – The Toccara Green Debacle – How did this ever happen??? Toccara Green was hired by Chambers County Commissioners Court to be the Human Resources Director for the county. Three weeks after her hiring as HR director, her duties were significantly expanded that allowed her access to every current and former employee of the county’s social security number, bank information, as well as medical records. Her new job description and duties were not presented to or approved by Commissioners Court. Then the mic dropped…Green was arrested by the Department of the Army and Navy for fraud and tampering with a government document. As it turns out, Green had lied on her job application for HR and lied about her credentials and experience. No one vetted her or did a background check on her when she came to work for Chambers County. She was eventually fired from the County and has been charged with tampering with a government document in the County. Case is pending.
May 2021 – State Representative Mayes Middleton filed legislation to separate the two entities that make up TBCD. The drainage department is funded by ad valorem taxes while the water/sewer department is funded by users. After misuse of drainage funds that went to fund water/sewer and not on much needed drainage projects, and a loss of a $10 million grant due to mismanagement, Middleton filed to separate the entities. It failed on the house of the senate due to heavy lobbying against the bill by people who have nothing to do TBCD or how it operates.
June 2021 – County votes on $49 million in new debt. The certificates of obligation (CO) will fund four new baseball complexes in Chambers County and needed road/bridge and transportation projects south of I-10. Jeff Chapman with PBK Architects refuses to meet with citizens who would like input on how the baseball fields should be designed to fit the needs of their teams.
July 2021 – Texas Governor Greg Abbott refuses to mandate masks for children returning to school.
August 2021 – Chambers County GOP censure County Judge Jimmy Sylvia for actions taken by the Judge during the COVID-19 lockdown. For an update, Sylvia appeared before the CC GOP in December asking for the group to rescind the censure. A vote was taken 5-4 to rescind but 2/3 vote was needed to rescind. As a result, the censure stands.
September 2021- (1) Open carry becomes law in Texas. (2)Bella Abshier was named 2021 Texas Gatorfest Senior Queen.
October 2021 – (1) Texas Rice Festival returns after two-year hiatus due to storms and COVID-19. Winnie’s Ellie Miller is named TRF Senior Queen. (2) An East Chambers high school student was struck in the leg by a “stray” bullet as she watched the JV ECHS football team play in Buccaneer Stadium. The case is currently under investigation. (3) Mike Emmons and Leslie Turner lead the Board of Directors of Chambers Health in passing a historic tax rate cut for its residents. (4) Chambers County Commissioners Court vote to eliminate JP/Constable Pct. 3 in spite of protests of people living in the precinct being affected. (5) Ray Chesson, JP Pct. 4 in Jefferson County passes away following battle with cancer.
November 2021 – (1) Winnie Area Chamber of Commerce holds its first awards banquet in several years. Vortech Contracting, Inc. is named Company for the Year, Citizen of the Year was the late Judge Ray Chesson, Todd East is named Educator of the Year. (2) Redistricting mostly affects east side of county. East side district is mainly Jimmy Gore, Commissioner Pct. 1, with Mark Tice, Commissioner Pct.2, having a small part of the east side and most of his precinct is on the west side.
December 2021 – (1) The best of Chambers County was revealed in its handling of the funeral of Seaman 2nd Class Charles L Saunders of Winnie who died in the Pearl Harbor attacks on December 7, 1941. Saunders was welcomed home with dignity and respect. (2) District Judges appoint Aaron Thomas as County Auditor despite his limited experience, education, and lack of college degree. (3) The Winnie-Stowell Hospital District Board of Directors unanimously approved moving forward to bring a healthcare clinic to the Winnie area.
*It must be noted that the headline of the January 5, 2021, issue of The Seabreeze Beacon was “2021: The Year of Accountability… or Not”. Now after a year, we can unequivocally state that 2021 was not a year of accountability…far from it. Starting with the Toccara Green debacle and ending with the appointment of a county auditor who does not have the expertise or qualifications to do the job, Chambers County government is no more accountable to its citizens than Fiona the Hippo.