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Kilgore City Council hears draft of Kilgore 2030 improvement plan

Kilgore’s Comprehensive Plan is meant to guide the city’s development over the next decade, and at a Tuesday workshop, city council members heard a presentation on the plan’s details.

Community members on the planning committee joined with the council at City Hall Tuesday evening to hear a detailed presentation by Freese & Nichols, a consulting firm specializing in community infrastructure development. The presentation covered details and important points of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, Downtown Master Plan and Transportation Master Plan.

“It’s been a long road. It’s been about 18 months,” said Carol Windham, Kilgore’s Director of Planning, about the effort made to assemble the first drafts of the three plans.

“This is going to the be the draft copy tonight,” she added, noting the first draft had first been reviewed about a month ago before being sent to the council and committee for review. Also, she said, if given the go-ahead by council and committee, the draft will be presented to the community at a public hearing sometime next month.

Dan Sefko, Erica Craycraft and Eddie Haas, of Freese and Nichols, broadcast into the meeting via video connection.

“What we’d like to do this evening is give you a brief overview of the process and some of the community input,” Sefko told those assembled in council chambers, noting each of the three components of the plan were intended to work together.

The Freese & Nichols representatives then displayed a slideshow detailing the gradual, deliberate process behind the creation of the plan, also known as the “Kilgore 2030 Plan” because it aims to steer the direction of Kilgore’s growth and development over the next decade.

For example, the presentation discussed how the planning began with an “Open House” at the Old Post Office, which invited members of the community to attend and write down things they’d like to see developed in Kilgore over the next 10 years. Following this initial meeting, community responses were studied before moving on to interviews with key stakeholders in Kilgore, including business owners, residents and civic groups.

The objective most desired by the community, as determined by the community-wide study, is to encourage more activities and entertainment. Specifically, Kilgoreos want to see more frequent concerts to highlight local performers; more shopping and sit-down restaurants; to revitalize older facilities; a community center; and more clusters of activity.

Also desired is more housing options, including smaller homes, apartments and low-cost rentals. Going along with this desire is a request for the improvement of existing housing options and neighborhoods, with some community members noting Kilgore has affordable housing options but these are in poor condition and many of the neighborhoods are old and in need of upgrades and repair.

In regards to the Transportation Plan, which covers roads and thoroughfares in and around the city, residents wanted to see improvements to Synergy Park, improvements to I-20 backage and frontage roads, I-20 interchange improvements and improved access to the landfill.

Also included in the Comprehensive Plan is the Downtown Master Plan, which covers improvements to existing structures and potential new developments in Kilgore’s historic downtown district.

According to the survey’s findings, the most desired improvements to the downtown area are:

  • Outdoor dining, shopping, coffee shops and nightlife
  • Enhanced lighting, street trees and indoor/outdoor gathering spaces
  • Townhomes and higher density housing
  • More events, art festivals and farmers markets
  • Businesses open later
  • Redevelopment/reuse of vacant buildings

An online survey conducted to bolster the finding of the study found that respondents most agreed with the statement “Vacant buildings in Downtown Kilgore deter or prevent me from visiting the area.”

In turn, the most disagreed with the statement: “There is adequate housing (apartments, lofts, townhomes, etc.) in or near Downtown Kilgore.”

Tuesday’s presentation was information-only and did not include any votes or official actions. Community members will be invited to a public hearing next month to review and comment on the plan’s findings, which will further inform the plan as it moves into its final stages.

The city has been asking for community input on the plan since 2019, aiming to keep Kilgore residents’ preferences and wishes at the front of the plan’s development. All told, the plan as it stands now has been 21 months in the making.

National Signing Day is normally a fairly big occasion at Kilgore High School, and it was again this year. From left: Donovan Adkins (2) signed with Sam Houston State; Dalton McElyea (5) signed with Stephen F. Austin; Eli Caruthers (14) signed with Texas A&M-Commerce; Tray Epps (21) also signed with SFA; and Kaden Kenney (82) signed with Kilgore College, who had a 28-player signing class. More on both in sports, page 1B.


Kilgore's Jill McCartney named to Texas Chamber of Commerce board

President & CEO of Kilgore Area Chamber of Commerce Jill McCartney

Kilgore Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jill McCartney has been named to the Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives Board of Directors for the 2021 Fiscal Year.

“During my years spent in the chamber of commerce industry, I have received a great deal of value from being involved in the state organizations,” McCartney said in a statement. “My second week on the job here in Texas included me heading to Dallas to participate in the TCCE Annual Conference. I knew by the end of the conference that I would one day put my hat in the ring to serve on the Board of Directors. Having the ability to nurture relationships, assist in molding educational formats, and creating content for my fellow Texas Chamber executives is an honor and privilege.”

TCCE is the premier chamber association in the United States, with more than 260 Chamber members impacting the chamber profession in programs, leadership, and innovation in every large and small community in Texas.

TCCE was founded in 1906 and has impacted the Chamber profession in Texas for over 115 years. TCCE’s mission is to provide training, development, and leadership opportunities for chamber professionals throughout the state of Texas. TCCE has a rich history of producing the best chamber leaders in the country.

“I am excited to have Jill McCartney on the TCCE Board Member for TCCE this year,” TCCE 2021 Chairman Steve Ahlenius said in a statement. “Jill is an outstanding leader, innovator, and collaborator. I am fortunate to get the opportunity to work with Jill these next 12 months.”

TCCE will be conducting a wide variety of events across the state of Texas, virtually and in-person, during 2021.

The programs include topics of innovation, leadership, growing sponsorship dollar opportunities, selling, small business development and community impact.

Kilgore-area state legislators appointed to House, Senate committees

State Rep. Jay Dean is set to serve on committees focusing on the state budget and environmental regulations within the Texas House of Representatives this legislative session.

Other East Texas area legislators have been named to various other committees for the 87th Texas Legislature session taking place this spring. Committee appointments are made by House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) and Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

“The State of Texas has arrived at a pivotal moment in its history — one that requires us as lawmakers to work with one another, build consensus, and leverage the diverse strengths and backgrounds of those within our chamber to confront the unique challenges ahead,” Phelan said in a statement. “I have dedicated my speakership to creating a member-driven process that affords each of my colleagues a seat at the decision-making table, and have made these committee assignments to reflect their preferences, talents, and where I believe they will have the greatest impact on the issues to come before this body.”

Dean (R-Longview), who represents Gregg and Upshur Counties, will serve on the appropriations, environmental regulation and local and consent calendars committees.

Dean’s appointments mean he will help oversee the state budgeting process, environmental regulations and whether bills and resolutions will make it to the floor.

“I want to especially thank Speaker Phelan for asking me to once again serve on the Appropriations Committee and Local & Consent Committee, as well as the Environmental Regulation Committee,” Dean said in a statement. “It is clear Speaker Phelan carefully considered each member’s skillset and expertise in these committee assignments. I know my committees — especially Appropriations and Environmental Regulation — will draw on my experience both in local government and as a small business owner.”

Dean said this session would be facing critical issues in terms of the state budget.

“We have a budget gap to close in our supplemental appropriations from last biennium as well as limited revenue to allocate wisely in this upcoming biennium,” he said. “As always, I will be committed to a conservative, balanced budget that uses every taxpayer dollar wisely.”

State Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), who represents parts of Rusk and Cherokee Counties, will serve on the culture, recreation and tourism committee, as well as the elections committee.

State Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) is set to take the helm of the State Affairs Committee. Paddie, as chair of the State Affairs Committee, will replace now-House Speaker Dade Phelan, who served as chair during the 2019 session. Paddie represents Panola, Harrison, Marion, Sabine, Shelby and Cass Counties.

“I am excited to be working on issues that are vitally important to East Texas,” Paddie said in a statement. “This committee chairmanship will allow our district to have influence on many of the important issues that will be addressed by this legislature. Now that we have committee assignments, I am looking forward to getting to work and tackling the many issues facing our state.”

The influential House committee oversees questions of state policy and administration of state government, as well as powers and management of state departments and agencies except when jurisdiction is granted to other committees, as well as regulations pertaining to utilities, telecommunications, pipelines, access of scientific and technological information and the following organizations and state agencies: the Council of State Governments, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Office of the Governor, the Texas Ethics Commission, the Texas Facilities Commission, the Department of Information Resources, the Inaugural Endowment Fund Committee, the Sunset Advisory Commission, the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Office of Public Utility Counsel.

In particular, Paddie said he was looking forward to addressing the issue of broadband internet access while serving on the state affairs committee.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the digital divide that exists in our state,” he said in a statement. “This lack of access is one of the most important issues that will come before the State Affairs Committee and I look forward to leading the charge to bring broadband internet, and the economic development that comes with it, to East Texas.”

State Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), who represents part of Smith County, has been named to the appropriations committee and the homeland security and public safety committee. State Rep. Cole Hefner (R-Mount Pleasant), who represents part of Smith County along with Camp, Morris, Rains, Titus and Wood Counties, will serve as Vice Chair of the business and industry committee and as a member of the calendars and homeland security and public safety committees.

On the Texas Senate side, State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) has been appointed chair of the State Affairs Committee and to the education, jurisprudence, natural resources and economic development, nominations and redistricting committees.

State Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) has been appointed Chair of the transportation committee, Vice Chair of the business and commerce committee, as well as a member of the criminal justice, finance, local government and redistricting committees.

“The Texas Senate is comprised of proven leaders with the expertise and experience that makes them more than prepared to take on the difficult challenges we face in this new legislative session,” Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said in statement announcing Senate committee assignments. “The committee appointments I am making today call on all senators – Republicans and Democrats, freshmen and senior members – to play an integral role in crafting public policy that will ensure our state remains strong and every Texan can prosper.”

Police: Kilgore woman stole more than $37K from law firm

A Kilgore woman is accused of stealing more than $37,000 over a two-year period as a paralegal at a Longview law firm.

Rebecca Sue Williams, 39, was arrested by Gregg County sheriff’s deputies Jan. 27 at her home in Kilgore and charged with felony theft of property between $30,000 and $150,000.

She was later booked into the Gregg County Jail where she was held Thursday on $20,000 bond. The arrest warrant was issued Oct. 8.

According to a criminal complaint, Longview police began investigating in October 2019 when Charles Connolly, a lawyer at a practice formerly 113 E. Tyler St. in Longview, contacted law enforcement to report the theft.

Connolly had hired Williams as a paralegal.

Between June 26, 2017 and Feb. 4, 2019, Williams allegedly stole at least $37,000 by forging company checks and withholding some of the deposit money, according to court documents.

On Nov. 4, 2019, police contacted Connolly, and Connolly said he would like to press charges against Williams.

“He stated nothing on the trustee account was ever allowed,” court documents said. “He said no checks were allowed, that were written out to her, besides her salary.”

On July 17, 2020, police spoke with Williams at her home in Kilgore and asked her if she knew why the officer was talking with her.

“Williams said, ‘I took money from him,’” court documents said. “She stated she wrote checks for the company, and she would write checks to herself sometimes if she needed to pay a bill that she did not have. She said she knew it was wrong at the time, but she could not stop doing it even though she knew it was wrong because it was just her and her kid and she did not want to lose everything.”

She stated that she told Connolly about the theft and “came clean to him about it,” according to court documents.

Williams described the amount of money taken as “quite a bit” and told police that the amount Connolly calculated was “way more” than what she thought she had taken. She later estimated that over the two-year span, it was about $20,000 or $30,000, the criminal complaint said.

Williams told police that she started writing checks when she was behind on her car payments and her rent.

“She stated when she started struggling she made a bad decision,” the criminal complaint said. “She said she did not have enough money to pay her bills, so she started paying her bills out of his account. She stated that she could not stop because it was easy.”

No court date has been set.