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Public Safety
Hearing in dog attack set in Victoria Municipal Court

The fate of two dogs that attacked a woman on Nov. 23 will be decided in a hearing at the Victoria City Municipal Court at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

Clara Ramos, a local activist who has visited with the victims, said she hopes the dogs, which are currently being held by Victoria Animal Control, are not released back to the owners.

“I’m hoping that they don’t let those dogs go back,” Ramos said. “They need to be put to sleep because they’ve already gotten a taste of blood.”

Blanca Vasquez, who was mauled in the attack, remains in the hospital and her sister, Marie Bowers, said she’s unsure when Vasquez will be released.

Victoria Animal Control would not release the name of the dogs’ owner.

Ramos said she especially worries about the dogs going back to their owners because the place where the attack occurred is less than half a mile from Dudley Elementary School.

“They have no business being in that area,” Ramos said. “There’s a school within a block and a half.”

Ramos said she hopes the hearing will bring some justice for Vasquez.

“This lady was literally torn apart by those dogs,” Ramos said.

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After 32 years, departing city leader regarded as ‘always the professional’

When Victoria’s assistant city manager started his first job with the city at age 23, he thought he’d work as a planner for a few years and then move on.

But, more than 30 years later, John Kaminski is just now saying goodbye to his work with the city of Victoria.

“I thought I would be here for a few years to get experience, and then I’d head on my way,” he said this week. “But almost 32 years later, it’s clear the community grew on me, and it really became home.”

Kaminski, 55, is officially retiring from the city on Jan. 31. His last day in the office is Friday. And Jan. 20 will mark 32 years of work with the city.

“It’s been a great journey, and it’s bittersweet moving on to the next job,” he said.

Kaminski began his career with the city of Victoria in 1988 as an entry-level planner. He held various positions in the planning department until he was promoted to director of planning in 1997.

He became the director of development services in 2008, merging the planning department with the city’s building inspections and code enforcement divisions. Kaminski was promoted to assistant city manager in 2012, which is the position he’s held since.

Among his greatest accomplishments, Kaminski said he is proud of overseeing the development of the city’s first comprehensive plan, as well as managing the creation of the city’s development services department by merging planning with inspections and code enforcement.

Kaminski said after merging departments, he made it a priority to change the perception of planning held by both residents and outsiders.

“It was always my philosophy of process that we should treat people like customers and provide customer service like any other business would, rather than put up roadblocks to understanding,” he said. “We’ve worked hard to get planning to the point we are able to really streamline the process and make it not painful for people wanting to come to Victoria.”

Further, he said he’s proud to have led the team responsible for developing the city’s “state-of-the-art” geographic information system.

Numerous city employees, residents and Kaminski’s family and friends gathered Monday afternoon to celebrate Kaminski at a retirement party, where he was presented with a plaque on behalf of the city, reading “always the professional with a vision for the future.”

Contributed photo 

Mayor Rawley McCoy, John Kaminski and City Manager Jesús Garza with the plaque presented to Kaminski in recognition of his almost 32 years of service to the city.

Adrian Cañas, the city’s GIS manager, thanked Kaminski at the party for hiring him as the GIS coordinator years ago. He said he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to begin working for the city if Kaminski hadn’t believed in him.

“He’s always been there for me, and I appreciate you, John,” he said.

Among the challenges Kaminski and the city faced throughout the past three decades, he said they mainly revolve around natural disasters. He said his biggest challenge came after Hurricane Harvey struck the region and he was one of the main city leaders dealing with the aftermath and recovery process.

“It’s been a challenging number of years since Harvey, but it’s been an opportunity for me to learn a lot about disaster recovery and get involved in something I could’ve never imagined,” he said.

Tuesday marked Kaminski’s last Victoria City Council meeting. He received a standing ovation at the meeting after Mayor Rawley McCoy commended him for his years of service.

“You’ve been here a long time, 32 years, and I’m glad and proud to say that I’ve known you all those 32 years, and worked with you on many projects,” McCoy said. “And I can tell folks that this is a very unique individual.”

Going forward, City Manager Jesús Garza has planned to bring on two assistant city managers to the city’s staff. The idea is to have one assistant city manager with an economic development background to focus on retail recruitment and other economic development matters. The other assistant city manager will have duties that Kaminski carried, such as overseeing the public works, environmental services and planning and development departments. The hiring process for both positions is underway.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to refocus the city’s efforts and organization,” Kaminski said of the plan. “Having two assistant city managers is a great opportunity for the city and will surely be an asset to the community.”

Though Garza only worked with Kaminski directly for about six months – he began his job as city manager in May – he said at Kaminski’s retirement party that the two have known each other for a few years. Garza said when he was the city manager in Kingsville he crossed paths with Kaminski because both attended events with the Texas City Management Association.

“And it was very obvious that he was well-respected in the profession, well-respected in the region and obviously here in our own organization as well,” he said.

As far as personal plans, Kaminski he said he will enjoy a short break and then begin working in the private sector with GrantWorks. He said he is glad to stay in the region as he begins his new career.

At his retirement party, Kaminski said although it was hard to end his years with the city, he is excited for what is ahead and knows that it is the right time.

“But what’s hard is leaving the team,” he said. “It’s hard leaving a family, my second family away from home, that has seen me through this crazy career that we call public service, that we’re all called to.”

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2020 Election
Longtime sheriff’s deputy files to run for commissioner seat in GOP race

As a lifelong resident of Victoria, Kenneth Wells said he has continuously looked for ways to make an impact and invest back into the community.

“It’s pretty straightforward and simple,” Wells said Wednesday. “My whole career has been based on service, and I want to lead that now into serving Precinct 1 of the county.”

Wells, 54, has filed to run as a Republican for Victoria County commissioner of Precinct 1 in the 2020 election. The deadline to file is Monday.

Wells said his 22-year career as a sheriff’s deputy with the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office has provided him the privilege to work directly with a wide-range of the county’s residents. Additionally, he is an instructor with the D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T. programs in local schools, and has worked in the courts unit and holds numerous peace officer certifications.

In Wells’ news release announcing his candidacy, he said the principles of transparency, efficiency and access will guide his administration. His outlook is simple, he said, “To be proactive in bringing transparency and access back to the people of Precinct 1.”

The people of Precinct 1 deserve a commissioner with an open-door policy and an efficient user-friendly website that serves as a “one stop, one phone number, one email address for you to find a solution to any need you might have for Victoria County,” he said.

“My constituents will never have to question how to reach me in order to share their ideas and suggestions,” Wells said.

The website would also offer updates on current and projected capital improvement projects such as road expansion plans, traffic signals and intersection improvements, Wells said, explaining that a cornerstone of his administration would be to “increase efficiency and eliminate needless spending to save taxpayers’ money.” With the website, residents would be continuously informed of progress in the precinct and easily keep up with where their tax dollars are being spent.

To help build trust with transparency, Wells said, the complete budget for Precinct 1 will be on the website, and will list line by line the amount of money allocated for each item.

“Victoria County isn’t a small area anymore, but it has a large population and is seeing growth,” he said. “I feel prepared to lead and will use the website to bring about clarity and transparency to the people in Precinct 1.”

Wells will face at least one opponent in the general election in November 2020, as incumbent Danny Garcia has filed as a Democrat to seek reelection to the position. Wells ran against Garcia in the 2016 election as well, but lost after earning about 40% of the vote. He also sought the Democratic nomination in 2012 in a six-person race, again losing to Garcia.

Wells said in his release that if elected in 2020, he plans to create a program for the senior residents of Precinct 1 to “enhance their well-being, good health and basic quality of life.” The program would be a place for senior residents to inquire about local community services as well as offer a wide variety of hobbies and games to give seniors the chance to keep busy.

He would also create a leadership academy that would place high school seniors and college students in internship positions that align with their chosen major, he said. The program would allow students the opportunity to get real hands-on experience in today’s working arena and gain knowledge while they still have the opportunity to decide on a career path.

Wells said he looks forward to hearing the viewpoints of the residents of Precinct 1 moving forward into the election process.

“It would be my honor to serve as your Victoria County Commissioner for Precinct 1,” he said.

Advocate staff photo 

Kaleh Esparza, 9, of Cuero, is the son of Israel and Sherry Esparza. He attends Hunt Elementary School, in Cuero. For Christmas, he wants Santa to bring him a Rare Pokemon and cool Pokemon cards, iPhone 11 and Roblox card.

Emree Weaver / Emree Weaver | eweaver@vicad.com 

Refugio’s Zavien Wills runs past defenders during the Class 2A, Division I quarterfinal against Holland on Thursday night at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

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Tree of Angels event honors those who left too soon

PORT LAVACA – John Amador remembers his mother every year the same way – with an angel.

Close to 100 families gathered to honored their loved ones who died of violent crimes during the 17 annual Tree of Angels on Thursday at the Bauer Community Center in Port Lavaca. This year, 221 victims of violent crimes were honored, said event founder Mary Sue Woods.

Amador, 30, of Port Lavaca, has attended the annual ceremony since 2003 when he was 13 years old. His mother, Georgina Villegas, was murdered in Port Lavaca during a domestic violence incident involving her boyfriend at the time.

His mother died March 2003 and his grandmother brought him to Tree of Angels to help him grieve during the holiday season, Amador said.

“At first, it was really hard,” Amador said. “I didn’t like coming.”

Now, he shares the event with his wife, stepchildren and his 1-month-old daughter, Jorgina Amador, named after his mother.

“This shows them what I went through,” he said.

Amador said the event has become a time he sets aside to remember his mother. It’s turned into a tradition of sorts, he said.

For the past 16 years, he and his family go out to dinner after the event, and they share stories of his late-mother.

This year, he placed a red bell angel on the tree among the hundreds of others to honor his mother.

“When a bell rings, an angel gets its wings,” he explained.

Among those grieving, Crossroads law enforcement agencies stood beside them.

Calhoun County Sheriff Bobby Vickery said Port Lavaca was among 43 other communities celebrating the Tree of Angels event. The event originated in 1991 in Austin, and Port Lavaca started the tradition in 2002. Gov. Greg Abbott proclaimed Dec. 2-8 as Tree of Angels week.

“Know that we stand shoulder to shoulder with you,” Vickery said.

He said the event was bittersweet because of the circumstances, but he hopes the event helps heal those who attend.

“We stand beside you and forever behind you,” he said to the families.

Woods said the event started as a way to bring families together going through similar tragedies. She said it is important for the children in these instances to know there are people beside them enduring the same thing.

The commonality keeps everyone bound together, and it’s one of the reasons many continue to attend like Amador.

“There’s a lot of people here tonight who were here at the first one,” Woods said.

Amador isn’t alone during the Tree of Angels event. He was surrounded by adults and children who have endured similar hardships.

He continues to attend the event to show kids like him that the pain and grief passes and success is possible, he said.

“It’s a good thing,” he said. “This is bringing everyone together who have something in common.”