ADVOCATE Staff Report
It is time to start nominating the best people and businesses in the Crossroads.
Now through Dec. 24, readers can nominate their favorite restaurants, pastors, hair stylists and others in more than 100 categories for the 2020 Best of the Best competition.
All it takes is one nomination per business per category to appear on the ballot. Some of the categories have changed since last year, so please read the categories carefully.
The nomination platform has been updated for an improved user experience. For questions, to report issues or to just comment write to email@example.com.
To make your nominations, go to victoriaadvocate.com/bestof/.
After all the nominations are compiled, the voting will take place Jan. 1-31.
World Renew, a faith-based disaster relief nonprofit headquartered in Michigan, has transformed five classrooms at Trinity Lutheran Church in Victoria into 10 bedrooms for its volunteers who will arrive Jan. 11 to help with Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.
“We do want to recognize Trinity Lutheran Church because this is a commitment on their part, as well as generosity, to go ahead and allow the transformation within their church for the volunteer teams,” said Rick Villa, executive director of the Victoria County Long-Term Recovery Group. “From the kitchen to the recreation area to the classrooms, this church definitely needs to be applauded for their efforts to help accelerate recovery efforts of Hurricane Harvey.”
From 18 to 22 World Renew volunteers will help with Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts at any one time in Victoria and Port Lavaca, and the groups of volunteers will change every three weeks.
The volunteers erected temporary walls in the classrooms to create hallways with doors to each bedroom. They insulated the rooms to make them soundproof and installed clean carpet. Catholic Charities donated the mattresses and bed linens.
Three RV spots also are reserved in Victoria for volunteers.
Through funding provided by Rebuild Texas Fund, Missions on Wheels donated a shower trailer with seven stalls and a clothes washer and dryer for the volunteers. Another identical shower trailer has provided service for volunteers through First United Methodist Church in Victoria since 2018, said Mike Costello, president and CEO of Missions on Wheels. Fifteen trailers are deployed across Texas with the bulk of them along the Coastal Bend, including the two in Victoria.
“In 2018, the Rebuild Texas Fund, through a grant, charged us with help to ensure no volunteers who came to Texas were turned away due to a lack of beds and showers following Hurricane Harvey,” Costello said. Having trailers allows volunteers to set up multiple sites for long-term recovery and rebuilding from the disaster. In 2019, the trailers’ total impact with all deployments is in excess of $4 million.
The World Renew volunteers will work through the end of April. They likely will continue working in the fall, depending on the need.
“We anticipate working longer,” said Phyl Grevenstuk, who is managing the World Renew projects with her husband, Rich Grevenstuk.
Victoria County Judge Ben Zeller has big plans for the county in the new year.
During Victoria County commissioners’ Monday meeting, Zeller presented an array of suggestions and proposals for the court to consider, an effort he called “Innovation 2020 & Beyond.”
“As we go into 2020, that’s not only going to be a new year but a new decade, and really, most importantly, a new era, I think of county government as we deal with challenges and opportunities,” he said.
Victoria County shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that the way things have always been done is still the best way to do things, Zeller said. So, the purpose of “Innovation 2020” is to streamline county government, improve county procedures and ensure the county is following best practices. The effort will have multiple phases, the first of which Zeller presented Monday.
Some of the initial proposals includes creating a court liaison program; conducting an analysis of the county’s procurement policy and purchasing practices, increasing cybersecurity protections; updating commissioners court rules and procedures; reviewing the reserve fund and debt issuance policy; and enhancing services and safety without increasing taxes.
The court liaison program was discussed in part during the county’s budget process this summer. Zeller said the idea, which is to “enhance communication and reinforce understanding of the challenges and opportunities faced by county offices and departments” by assigning each county office or department a member of commissioners court to serve as their liaison, has been successful in other counties. He said the program would be advantageous for both the court and all county departments.
During the budget hearings this summer when each department presented to the court, Zeller said, some department heads said the court doesn’t necessarily have a complete understanding of the challenges that department is facing. Having a member of the court acting as a liaison would help address that problem, he said.
Also, having court liaisons would work to fix the notion that there is a “gatekeeper” people would have to go through to access commissioners court, Zeller said, as offices would have a clear, more direct line of access to the court. However, it wouldn’t mean any member of a county department can’t reach out to any member of the court or come to commissioners court to address issues directly, nor would it mean that the court liaisons in any way “act over” the departments.
One of the other initiatives kicked off in November, when commissioners approved a new committee that will examine all aspects of the county’s spending and procurement practices and write a policy that will act as a guide for county officials to follow.
Further, Zeller explained one of the initiatives will be to study the feasibility of a county assistance district and a public defender’s office. In short, he said, the county could implement a county assistance district that would allow the county to raise the sales tax that the county collects outside of city limits.
Currently outside of the city limits, half a cent is collected in county sales tax, but that could be increased all the way to two cents, which is the same amount collected within the city limits, he said.
The change would need to be approved by voters but in essence would enable a new non-property tax revenue source to help fund certain county operations, Zeller said, such as public safety and economic development operations.
Additionally, earlier this year the county considered forming a public defender’s office, but Zeller said previously the county did not seek the funding available for the office “largely due to our stakeholders not being on the same page and us still having some unanswered questions.”
At that time, with a public defender’s office, the state would have paid for 80% of the costs in the program’s first year, 60% in the second year and 50% for all subsequent years. But that’s now been increased to the state paying two-thirds of the costs annually as opposed to 50%.
“Given that fact alone, I think it merits additional review,” Zeller said.
The plan is to research the feasibility of both the public defender’s office and the county assistance district, Zeller said, before the matters return to the court for further discussion. He said he plans to discuss the next phases of “Innovation 2020 & Beyond” in the future.
Also on Monday, commissioners revisited a discussion about the county’s courtroom renovation project. To address a lack of courtroom space and increasing courthouse activity, county officials agreed on a plan to expand available courtroom space and reconfigure part of the 1967 courthouse last year, when they decided to use the room where commissioners court currently meets as an additional courtroom for a county court-at-law judge. Commissioners would meet in the renovated space of County Treasurer Sean Kennedy’s office.
The matter has returned to the court multiple times, including after it became clear that the work could cost $124,000 more than originally anticipated. After that discussion last month, commissioners voted to begin the work in-house, and County Commission Gary Burns went on to work with a crew to begin demolition of the walls and clearing the space.
The biggest area of concern for commissioners is a vertical beam that is in the space but would block part of the audience’s view in the renovated courtroom. The county received only one bid for the overall renovation project, which came from Weaver & Jacobs Constructors in Cuero for $442,000.
However, Burns suggested Monday that commissioners reject the bid from Weaver & Jacobs, saying he believed the county could save money moving in a different direction. He said John Clegg of Clegg Industries had verbally proposed removing the beam for $48,000, and then the county could do some of the rest of the work in-house or could rebid it out. Burns said this option could save the county a significant amount of money.
Commissioner Clint Ives said, however, the decision needed to be made in the interest of expediency as well. Choosing to reject the current bid and begin from there could add a few months to the timeline, though even with Weaver & Jacobs’ bid, it is unclear when work would start, said Kelly Hubert, the county’s facilities manager.
The situation becomes complicated quickly, Hubert explained, because the county is unable to formally discuss the project with Clegg or any other contractor until it rejects the current bid on the table.
Ives said the choice to accept Weaver & Jacobs’ proposal would be more efficient because Clegg’s proposal hadn’t been formally approved by an engineer. Though going with Burns’ suggestion could save some money, Ives said, there’s no way to guarantee that fact until rejecting the bid from Weaver & Jacobs, which has been approved by an engineer.
An engineer had reviewed Clegg’s proposal however, Burns said – though not in the formal sense as Weaver & Jacobs’ had been – and Hubert added he had “confidence it would likely work.”
After a lengthy discussion, commissioners voted to approve the Weaver & Jacobs contract in its entirety and move forward with the project in that direction. Burns voted against the plan.
Col. Mike Petrash could barely believe his luck when he learned one one of the soldiers scheduled to arrive by helicopter in Victoria on Monday was a close friend of his son's.
In fact, it had been about four years since he had last seen Capt. Trevor Askins, who attended the U.S. Military Academy West Point with his son, Capt. Michael Petrash II.
"We happened to come down to Texas. They happened to message me, and they are here – just like that," said a grinning Askins, adding, "I set foot in Texas and the first people I see are the Petrashes."
"I'm smiling inside and outside right now," said Petrash, 63, of Victoria, and director of the annual Field of Honor display.
Monday, Askins, a helicopter pilot, and more than a 100 fellow members of the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade arrived at the Victoria Regional Airport via about a dozen Army-green helicopters.
Master Sgt. Lynn Mills said the group was in the process of moving their helicopters, which had come by ship to Corpus Christi and were then flown to Victoria. After stopping in Victoria for a period of time that Mills declined to reveal, the soldiers and the refueled helicopters would depart for Fort Riley in Kansas.
Standing in an aircraft hangar at the Victoria Regional Airport, the elder Petrash and Askins were catching up as Victoria community members prepared a spread of barbecue and cake for the soldiers. That food and warm welcome were prepared by Warrior's Weekend volunteers, said Ron Kocian,president and founder.
The nonprofit not only offers an annual fishing trip for veterans, but also offers support year-round, he said.
That support, Askins said, was much appreciated.
"They hear we are here, and they are here to support us," Askins said. "They are part of that family. They are part of that camaraderie, and that is something you don't see in many organizations."
It had been about four years since Petrash had last seen Askins.
And the fortuitous meeting Monday was more than a chance for Petrash, who flew Cobra and Black Hawk helicopters for the Army decades ago, to catch up with a fellow Army helicopter pilot, which was no small opportunity in itself.
It was also a chance to visit a man who was close friends with his son, who has had few opportunities to return home during his five years of Army service, which took him on two deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The younger Petrash, the father said, is currently undergoing career officer training in Oklahoma.
While Askins and Mills said they could not reveal whether the group had been deployed to combat recently, Petrash said danger abounds for such soldiers even during times of peace.
"I'm glad to see these guys in good shape. They have a dangerous job," Petrash said.
As an example, Petrash recalled how 12 pilots had been killed in 1981 when he was learning to fly. One of those killed, he said, was his instructor.
"Aviation is dangerous even if it is in practice," Petrash said.
During his training, Petrash said he sometimes was required to perform risky emergency maneuvers at low altitude in the dark with cumbersome night-vision goggles that allowed little to no depth perception.
"Now that I'm 63, I'm going, 'What the hell was I thinking?'" he said.
But at least for a little while, Petrash and Askins forgot about the dangers that come with flying helicopters for the Army and enjoyed one anther's company that fate had brought them.
"Army families just learn to really, really enjoy when they are together," Petrash said.