Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

December 31, 2013

Top 10 Cherokee County news headlines of 2013

Progress staff reports
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — With the new year just around the corner, the Daily Progress staff takes a look back at some of the stories that made headlines in 2013.

Of course the lingering financial concerns at the beginning of the year after the closure of Lon Morris College came to mind. However, the mayoral race that lead to a showdown between top candidates, Rob Gowin and Kenneth Melvin also proved worthy.

In addition, there were stories about controversial religious groups, school bonds, fires and executions, among others.

Here are the staff's picks for the Top 10 stories of 2013 in Cherokee County (listed in no specific order):

1. Lon Morris College financial situation

The July bankruptcy of Texas' oldest junior college, Lon Morris was a lesson in the complex issues involved in both legal proceedings and the division of assets and property.

The LMC estate declared bankruptcy in July 2012. In February 2013, a federal judge approached a formal liquidation plan.

During a subsequent, Dallas auction of the Lon Morris properties, the Jacksonville Independent School District, office supply company 11 x 17 Inc. and local businessman William Adcock Jr., took the high bids for a auction total of nearly $2.2 million.

However, despite those developments, there was nothing in the official paperwork addressing payment for the employees who worked there during the institution's final days.

Frustration over time regarding the pay issue drove the former employees to meet at the First United Methodist Church to discuss how to approach the issue with Jacksonville City Attorney Joe Angle, who volunteered his time to provide guidance.

The reasons for the bankruptcy remain under debate.

Attorneys with the Lon Morris College bankruptcy estate filed suit against McCall and members of the former LMC board of trustees in federal court in August— alleging mismanagement that effectively destroyed the institution.

2. County Court-At-Law Judge Craig Fletcher resigns

The unexpected resignation of seven-year County Court At Law Judge Craig Fletcher at a December 2013 commissioners court meeting set many things in motion:

• The aftermath of the resignation illustrated a fundamental disconnect in the way members of the Cherokee County Commissioners Court approach open government.

• It set in motion a scramble to occupy Fletcher's seat that probably will continue well into the March 4, 2014 primary election.

• And it also started a media firestorm revolving around the circumstances prompting Fletcher to resign.

County Attorney Kelley Peacock was then unexpectedly appointed to the position the same day as the resignation during a divided vote of the commissioners court.

Later, veteran lawyer Dana Norris Young was appointed by the court as interim county attorney to replace Peacock.

Fletcher, who did not appear in court when his resignation was read, has dropped out of sight since before his resignation was submitted. He has not responded to numerous requests for comment about his resignation.

An investigation on Fletcher was confirmed by the Texas Department of Public Safety a few days after his resignation. The agency said the results of the investigation were turned over to the Texas Attorney General's Office. No further information has been released.

3. Jacksonville Mayoral race runoff

Incumbent Jacksonville mayor Kenneth Melvin and challenger Rob Gowin continued to vie for the city's top elected leadership position during a special June 11 runoff election.

Melvin, 73, and Gowin, 44,  both essentially tied in their quest to be mayor during the May 11 election. Nearly 1,000 people cast ballots in that race.

Gowin won the popular vote with 426 votes to the 389 gained by Melvin. A third political candidate, William Igbokwe, 23, had 147 votes.

The June 11 runoff election became necessary because of the essential tie and the fact no single candidate gained over 50 percent of the vote.

In the end, Melvin was elected as Jacksonville's newest mayor. Later in the year, Gowin's campaign completed a documentary film called "Tomato Republic." The films synopsis: A flamboyant restaurateur, a good ol' boy and a political ingénue, walk into a small town political contest and compete head to head to head, for the non-paid mayoral seat of the Tomato Republic.

The film has not yet announced a public screening.

4. Yum Yum Building burns; building demolition

In late April of 2013, an explosive fire ravaged that building that housed a catering company called Yum Yums . In the months that followed, residents became increasingly concerned about the non-demolition of the building. Located between Dennie's Hair Design and Snaps Photography, many believed it might pose some kind of public danger if it is allowed to stay standing.

The structure was completely destroyed, and it damaged neighboring structures and killed a pet cat, officials said. A lack of structural stability made it difficult for authorities to investigate. The fire was believed to have started in the kitchen. The building was demolished in the winter of 2013.

5. Richard Cobb execution

Richard Cobb, 29, was executed April 25 for the Sept. 2, 2002, shooting death of a mentally-challenged Rusk convenience store customer — a crime compounded by robbery, the kidnapping of two female store clerks, and his co-defendant's sexual assault of one of those clerks.

Cobb's accomplice, Beunka Adams, 29, was executed for the crimes almost exactly a year prior.

Cobb and Adams were on the tail end of a two-week robbing spree when they kidnapped mentally-challenged Kenneth Vandever, Daniels and Candace Driver from a Rusk convenience store and took them to a remote Cherokee County field.

There, Adams sexually assaulted Daniels. He and Cobb forced all three to kneel on the ground, and shot them all from behind. Vandever died. The two women were left for dead in the field but survived. Daniels and Driver fled in opposite directions to nearby homes to get help.

6. Church of Wells controversy

Despite numerous claims from her parents that she was being held against her will by the Church of Wells, Catherine Grove came forward in October after a months-long silence to say that is not the case.

Grove, 26, who at the time had just been  baptized into the church said she has no intent of rejoining her family in Arkansas. She told the Jacksonville Progress in an exclusive interview that she is in good shape, good spirits and very much looking forward to the future as a church member.

Her parents launched a campaign to bring their daughter back to Arkansas shortly after she left the family home in Fayetteville in early July. They have publicly denounced the Church of Wells, a small Evangelical congregation, and its leaders in local and national interviews.

Patty Grove has said she and her family are worried for her daughter because of “what is going on behind closed doors” with the church.

The three elders of the Church of Wells – Sean Morris, Ryan Ringnald and Jake Gardner –  were not present during the Jacksonville Progress interview with Catherine Grove.

7. Jacksonville ISD bond election

— Jacksonville ISD won voter support in a $22.8 million bond election on Nov. 5, in a 831-782 vote in favor of of the package, which calls for the construction of a new West Side Elementary School, along with eight new classrooms and a band hall at Nichols Intermediate School.

The new school will be similar in design to Joe Wright and East Side elementary schools – dedicated on Feb. 3 after a year-long construction phase – with upgraded security designs and measures, and constructed along College Avenue on a 38-acre tract purchased earlier this year when Lon Morris College auctioned off its property after declaring bankruptcy.

The former West Side campus ideally will be repurposed for housing the district's COMPASS Center, according to JISD Superintendent Dr. Joe Wardell, while Jacksonville College has plans to utilize the former Joe Wright campus in attempts to meet needs of a growing student body.

8. Robert Fox arrest

In early December, the  state's Sixth Appellate District Court of Appeals reversed Jacksonville House of Israel member Robert Fox's 2009 conviction for tampering with a government record – formally acquitting him of the charge.

The court of appeals declared that the case evidence was "legally insufficient to support the conviction.”

However, Fox, 64, remained in custody on a Homeland Security hold and still faces deportation to Canada on murder charges. Constable Eric Hofley, of Winnipeg, Alberta, Canada, has said there still is a country-wide warrant for Fox's arrest.

Jacksonville Police Chief Reece Daniel said he remains confident the original verdict was justified.

The chief said the acquittal stems from Fox's continued manipulation of the system, which includes his continued refusal to recognize legal proceedings or statutes at any level of American


Also, Fox's

adherence to “natural law” has prevented him subscribing to notions of taxation or even U.S. currency, officials say.

9. Jacksonville College's new

student residences

— Jacksonville College broke ground Sept. 21 for three new student residences, the first new major building project at the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas school whose roots date back to 1899.

Each building is approximately 4,200 square feet in size and will house 20 students in suite-style living quarters. Project is estimated at $500,000, according to Dr. Mike Smith, college president.

Approximately one-fourth of the school's 500-plus students live on campus.

10. Bullard solar car – A team from Bullard High School was one of 14 participants in the July 23-30 national Winston Solar Car Challenge, whose course ran from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to Los Angeles.

Despite minor setbacks along the way, the local squad was the first to clear Los Angeles City Hall July 30 on the final leg of the race with their entry, which weighed between 500-600 pounds and measured 1.6 meters tall, 1.8 meters wide and 116 feet in length.