Although coronavirus has gripped the country for about three months now, Kilgore’s numbers still aren’t rising greatly whatsoever, a testament to the cautionary measures taken.
According to the city’s weekly release concerning the virus, Kilgore has one additional case from last week, now 13 active, and it’s from the same household as the most recent case. Kilgore has 13 positive cases within the city limits – 10 in the Gregg County portion of the city, three in the Rusk County portion, and most are known recoveries.
In Gregg County, though, the total is now 307, according to county health administrator A.J. Harris. Harris said 2,426 total tests had been administered as of Thursday, with 1,978 negative results and 141 pending, with three recoveries, 80 recoveries total. Nine people from Gregg County have died as a result of the virus.
For Rusk, there were three new cases reported in that time frame, now 50 positive cases, with 34 recoveries.
In Smith County, which includes Tyler, coronavirus cases were up just one, to 216. Smith has had four virus deaths, and has 35 active cases. Smith County has had 177 known recoveries.
According to the Associated Press, the Department of State Health Services said 1,649 more cases of coronavirus were reported to the state on Thursday, bringing the total number of reported cases in Texas to just shy of 67,000.
The total reported death toll from the virus in the state is 1,767.
Gov. Greg Abbott called for Phase 3 of the coronavirus re-opening to begin this past Wednesday, allowing retailers to accommodate 50 percent capacity. Restaurants can serve groups as large as 10 and expand to 75 percent capacity beginning June 12. Abbott also noted that Phase 3 allows for July 4th celebrations as large as 500 people, at the discretion of local officials.
Kilgore has a planned night-time celebration for July 4, which is on a Saturday.
Nursing home testing: According to MRoberts Media reports, the Longview Fire Department is helping conduct mandated testing at nursing homes in Gregg County, most recently The Willows here in Kilgore.
In May, Abbott ordered that all staff and residents of nursing homes in the state be tested. Longview Fire Chief J.P. Steelman said the responsibility to carry out that testing ultimately was pushed to fire departments.
“All the regulated fire departments in Texas were asked to step up and test your local nursing homes in your response area,” Steelman said. “We were already preparing to do this. Here in Longview, we have a special team that has special training in disease response to do this kind of work. We had already ramped that team up to do this.”
Some nursing homes had already conducted their own tests, and any after April 15 don’t have to go through the process again.
Beginning Monday, LFD started testing at nine facilities in Gregg County, which ends this coming Monday.
Mobile testing: There is free testing ongoing at several places across Longview, the second round of state screenings, led by the National Guard. Testings will be conducted at Foster Middle School on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Longview on Tuesday; on Thursday at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church at 2500 McCann Road; on Friday, June 12, at Community Connections, at 501 Pine Tree Road; and next Saturday, June 13, at the Broughton Recreation Center at 801 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Testing on Tuesday and on Thursday is drive-up, and it requires an appointment. The final two testing days are walk-up, no appointment needed.
Economic comeback: Nationally, the economy continues a recovery, a bit of a rapid one, according to the Associated Press and stock numbers on Friday. President Donald Trump reported Friday that the unemployment rate had dropped to 13.3 nationally, that U.S. employers had added 2.5 million workers to payrolls within the last month.
“This shows that what we’ve been doing is right,” Trump said of the job numbers, to the Associated Press. “This is outstanding what’s happened today.”
At this writing on Friday, the Dow Jones was 27,218.34, up some 900 points.
Executive Director of the Kilgore Economic Development Corporation Amanda Nobles retired yesterday and Assistant Director & Marketing Manager Jana Russell will now fill the head role.
This marks the first time in KEDC’s three decades in Kilgore in which Nobles will no longer lead the organization.
KEDC released a press report announcing the retirement and promotion June 1, and Nobles was honored at a recent city council meeting.
“Amanda has led the KEDC since it was established in 1990. She is recognized across the state and region for her economic development knowledge, and has played a key role in the economic development of Kilgore. She has spent her years here working diligently to attract businesses from not only the United States, but also around the world, to relocate to Kilgore, Texas. She leaves a great foundation for her staff to build and continue this mission in the future,” said KEDC Board President Bob Davis in the release.
Amanda has closed numerous agreements with companies such as Closure Systems International (CSI), Skeeter Products, Command Packaging Texas (Pak-Sher)and General Dynamics to assist them with expansions, creating new jobs and keeping their business in Kilgore.
“It has been a great joy working with Amanda over the past 20 years. Her constant and sincere efforts personally and also through KEDC in providing so much to the Kilgore community in the business sector as well as to its citizens will be felt for many years to come. Through her guidance of and assistance from KEDC, Skeeter Boats has been able to grow not only as a boat manufacturer, but also as a company with increased operational diversity which has provided many valuable jobs for our local economy,”said Jeff Stone, Sr. Vice President/GM, Skeeter Products.
Nobles was integral to the development of Synergy Park, a Class-A campus-style industrial park that includes the Amanda S. Nobles pavilion, dedicated to her as a tribute to her tireless efforts to the economic development of Kilgore.
She has been an active member of many different organizations in economic development such as the Texas Economic Development Council and the North East Texas Economic Developers Roundtable, as well as community organizations such as a founding member of the Kilgore Historic Preservation Foundation and the Texas Shakespeare Festival Guild.
“We are pleased to announce Jana Russell as the new Executive Director,” KEDC Board President Bob Davis said. “We are confident in Jana’s experience and her abilities to lead our organization and we are excited about the future.”
Russell joined KEDC in 2009 after working 17 years with Southwestern Electric Power Company as a regional project manager, managing prospect leads and assisting economic developers with local activities. She also served communities as a regional community development specialist and as a senior communications specialist during her time at SWEPCO.
During her time at SWEPCO, Jana worked closely with Kilgore EDC and became familiar with the community and developed lasting relationships with business owners.
“It has been a pleasure working with Jana over the years. She has become a family friend since I moved to East Texas 20 years ago. When I was deciding to bring my business to East Texas, she leveraged her breadth of knowledge in economic development as regional manager at SWEPCO and showed me the benefits that came with choosing Kilgore as the place to be. Jana always goes above and beyond as a friend, professional peer, and as a respected individual in the community,” said local businessman and KEDC Board Member Ricardo Viloria.
■ Now 13 cases in Kilgore, almost all recoveries, up just one from last week.
■ There are 307 active cases in Gregg County, 216 in Smith County.
■ Reported cases in Texas just under 67,000.
■ Phase 3 of recovery began Wednesday, with businesses allowed 50 percent of capacity, ups again for some on June 12.
■ National unemployment numbers went down, and the stock market was up on Friday.
Once again, Kilgore Chamber of Commerce and the Kilgore News Herald will host a candidate forum for locals running for elected office at both the city and county level.
Although delayed slightly by the COVID-19 pandemic, the event is set to take place Thursday, June 18 at Forest Home Baptist Church in Kilgore. KNH publisher Jerry Pye will serve as moderator, as he did in 2019.
Several elections were delayed by the pandemic. In early March, Gregg and Rusk County voters made decisions in local elections, and while there were some decisive races, there were a few that headed to runoffs.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting in Gregg County, for commissioner precinct three, Floyd Wingo defeated former Kilgore mayor Joe T. Parker. Wingo received 2,396 votes to Parker’s 1,024, roughly 70 percent of the vote to Parker’s 30 percent.
In a pair of constable races, in precinct two, Billy Fort, the incumbent, won re-election, taking 1,892 votes to 695 for his opponent, John Bisese.
Winning the constable precinct three race was Kilgore’s John Slagle, who had been appointed to the office to fill out the term. Slagle won the contest against John McCubbin – Slagle had 1,994 votes, and McCubbin had 1,308.
Sheriff Jeff Price, the incumbent, had three opponents, and while Price did receive the most votes (3,791), he will be in a runoff with his nearest opponent, Johnwayne Valdez, who received 2,643 votes. The other two candidates in that race were Jesse Stewart (1,598 votes) and Nathan Parker (509).
In the race for Rusk County commissioner precinct one, Randy Gaut received 852 votes, but will be in a runoff with Shannon Thompson, who received 700. Will Hale was also in that race, and received 424 votes.
Kilgore Police Department officer Richard Stanley, who has also served as a resource officer at Kilgore ISD, will be in a runoff for Rusk County constable precinct one against Michael D. Smith. Stanley received 704 votes; Smith had 439; and Bob Mitchell had 414.
Kenneth W. Miley won the Rusk County constable precinct three race, defeating Micah Buzbee. Miley had 726 votes, Buzbee, 301.
Bobby Armstrong defeated Parker Hunt Sweeney in the Rusk County constable precinct four race.
In the race for Rusk County constable precinct five, Trey Hacker won, with 2,508 votes to 577 for his opponent, Daniel McMillen.
The primary runoff election for Republican candidates in Rusk County will be held July 14, 2020.
Visit http://www.co.rusk.tx.us/page/rusk. Elections for voting and registration information.
Dozens of protesters marched from Kilgore City Park to Kilgore Police Department headquarters on Kilgore Street on Thursday evening to directly address city government officials and police officers over what they say is systemic racism in law enforcement departments here and across the nation.
The march comes in the wake of the recent death of George Floyd, a black man killed in Minneapolis, Minn., on May 25 while in police custody.
Thursday’s demonstration remained peaceful, though voices from protestors and city officials at times became raised as those in front of KPD debated solutions to issues of what they say is racism in the local school system and government.
Meeting with protestors were Kilgore Police Chief Todd Hunter, Mayor Ronnie Spradlin, Councilman Victor Boyd, City Manager Josh Selleck and several KPD officers and city staff.
Hunter addressed the crowd first, thanking them for coming and inviting questions. He began by acknowledging he had called Floyd’s death a tragedy and a crime but said KPD was an accredited law enforcement institution with strong policies against racism and discrimination.
“Black lives still matter, you hear me?” one marcher shouted.
“They do matter,” Hunter replied over a megaphone. “They all matter.”
When asked about KPD’s policies regarding anti-discrimination training, Hunter held up a copy of the department’s policies and invited anyone interested to read it, adding Kilgore officers go through months of training and testing before donning their KPD uniforms.
Mayor Spradlin and Boyd also addressed the crowd, encouraging those marching to attend city council meetings and run for city offices to make a change.
Boyd said he first decided to run for his council seat because there were no other black council members and he wanted to change things in the community.
“If there’s someone that you don’t want in that (city official) position, then you step up and run for that office,” Boyd told the assembly.
Several of the marchers expressed frustration with the suggestion, saying many people didn’t have internet access to find out information about upcoming council meetings and many did not have the money to finance a political campaign. The group made clear a desire for more immediate solutions.
“What can we do today?” several in the crowd shouted.
Selleck proposed sending written notifications to Kilgore residents informing them of city council meeting dates, times and agendas. Spradlin quickly agreed and announced the information would be mailed out with city water bills.
A Facebook livestream of the event gathered over 250 viewers as the group of more than 100 stood in the heat by KPD.
Joshua Daniels, a former Kilgore High student and athlete who organized the march, was one of the first to speak to the group, describing his own experience with law enforcement. He said he had been unfairly sentenced after being charged with a drug crime several years ago, ruining his chances to better his future with an athletic scholarship.
“I feel like there’s more that needs to be done. The problem is that the system is racist, period. That’s how I feel. Until something is done, I’m going to keep stepping up and be a voice in Kilgore, Texas,” Daniels said after Rev. Will Wilson of First Presbyterian Church closed the demonstration with a prayer for unity.
Many of the demonstrators echoed this point, calling the criminal justice system in Texas and the U.S. racially biased against people of color.
“The criminal justice system is broken,” Hunter said, acknowledging the nationwide problem after reaffirming KPD’s strict no-tolerance policy for racist behavior among its officers and staff.
Spradlin said he was appreciative of the opportunity for peaceful dialogue with community members.
“People cared what they thought and people wanted to listen. A lot of people felt like they’d never had the opportunity to be listened to before and were surprised that what they believe matters,” he said.
He added he and city staff were ready and willing to work with Kilgoreites.
“We’re very interested and we’re hoping to have some involvement and start with a new awakening to city government.”