DA, Law Enforcement Hold Press Conference On July 15th Indictments

Levelland PD, Hockley County Sheriff’s Office, as well as Hockley County DA and Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference yesterday in the basement of the Levelland Law Enforcement Center centered around the indictments for alleged July 15th gunman Omar Soto-Chavira. On July 15th this year Soto-Chavira was the subject of a deadly 11 hour standoff will local, state and national law enforcement agencies. The standoff claimed the life of Lubbock County SWAT Commander Josh Bartlett, and saw 4 other officers injured including Sgt. Shawn Wilson of the Levelland Police Department. After reviewing evidence turned in by Texas Rangers, the grand jury has indicted Soto-Chavira one one count of capital murder of Sgt. Bartlett, and on count of attempted capital murder of Shawn Wilson. “It was mainly to show that things are in motion,” Said Hockley County Sheriff Ray Scifres in a later interview. These cases will move forward through the court system, though Scifres says it could take quite some time for results. “It would be irresponsible to speculate at this time,” he said. When asked for more information at the press conference, DA Overman was not very forthcoming, but she stated that she would do nothing to jeopardize this case which means so much to the people of her city. Soto-Chavira faces additional federal charges, but no information about those has been released at this time. He remains in the Hale County Jail to await his trial.

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LISD Board Approves COVID Leave Proposal

Last night the LISD Board had a quick meeting to go over a few items to make this school year a bit easier on everyone. Firstly they voted to join the Texas Smart Buy Cooperative, which is a purchasing cooperative that will widen the scope from which the district may find certain products. Cheif Financial Officer for LISD Teresa Montemayor explained that it was mainly used instead of going out for bids on certain items, mostly those below $50K of cost. Next, the Board had been contacted by the Hockley County Appraisal District, much in the same manor as the Commissioner’s Court and the City Council. With all members terms coming to an end, the board could choose any number of candidates to nominate. Ronnie Watkins and Deete Edens are the current board representatives, but with Ronnie Watkins departure, a new member will need to take his place. Newly appointed board member Matt Buxkemper expressed interest in serving the Appraisal district, as did Deete Edens. They both received nominations from the board unanimously. Last year, teachers were given extra leave time from LISD due to COVID; In this meeting a proposal was brought forward, presented by Rodney Caddell, and advocated for 10 days of COVID specific leave time. This year, there would be a few restrictions however. The time was only eligible to be used if a staff member or one of their dependents received a lab-confirmed positive COVID test, and could not be used for close-contact quarantines. The plan would be retro-active, so any staff member that may have already used leave time for COVID related reasons would be reimbursed their hours. This year LISD is not doing any form of contact tracing, as last year it was incredibly time consuming. Currently there are 7 staff members out with COVID: 4 teachers, 2 Teacher’s Aides, and 1 Cafeteria Worker. LISD is struggling to find substitutes during this time, but when they are contacted, substitutes’ pay is taken out of the government granted ESSER funds. This request passed unanimously as well. Finally Lydia Michelle Martinez was hired on as School nurse for the Intermediate and High schools. Because this came up after September 1st, her contract had to be brought before the board, rather than the superintendent. Also rather than a regular contract, her contract is a 1-year at-will employment agreement. Should she stay with the district she will receive a regular contract next week. No word on the Superintendent search from last night’s meeting, though the board is anticipating a long process. Their next meeting is scheduled for next month.

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Levelland City Council Approves Budget, Tax Rate

Levelland City Council has officially wrapped up a busy budget season as of last night. They held their regular meeting at 7pm in City Hall to tie up some loose ends and attend to other business as well. Firstly was the budget, which has been in the works by city staff for roughly 5 months. After many work sessions, multiple changes and a changed tax rate, the budget was finally ready to be passed. Former City Manager Erick Rejino presented to the board, thanking all his hard working staff and department heads who worked diligently the past few weeks. The budget, as well as the tax rate of $.625 were unanimously passed without issue. Next up was the resolution to charge fees when using debit/credit cards to pay city bills. During COVID these fees operated a different way, but now the council felt comfortable applying a $2.25 fee for any online, kiosk text or in person transaction using a card. This would aid the City’s Enterprise Fund for the city to the amount of approximately $75K per year. On the COVID Front total cases in the area are up to 3,112 and as high as 99,989 across the state as of September 3rd. However, there has been an uptick of around 2,000 more vaccines given out in our area since August. There was a bid put in for the boards consideration for the property at 1306 10th St. in Levelland. This bid came in at $500, but the taxes are currently behind on that property in the amount of $12K. The council was excited just to have someone show interest in the property, hopeful that the new owner would clean it up and bring a bit more revenue to the tax docket. The bid was approved, the purchaser must either demolish the current structure on the property within 30 days or bring it up to code within 90 days. The street departments request for a new pickup truck remains in limbo, as issues arise with the bidding process. The city received 3 bids for the pickup, 1 from John Rowley and 2 from Smith Auto Family. John Rowley’s price of $41K was undersold by Smith’s offer of $29K, however there is no current delivery date as the dealerships are still impacted by the chip shortage. Ultimately no bids were accepted, and the council will be attempting to reach out and determine when a delivery date can be pinned down. Finally the Hockley County Appraisal District had openings it needed to fill, and as such has reached out to numerous entities for nominations. The Council decided it would nominate Dale Brown and Katy Rush for those positions.

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Historical Commission Honors Captain Alan Hendrickson

The Hockley county Historical Commission dedicated an inscription on the war memorial next to the Courthouse today. The ceremony took place on the courthouse lawn at 10am today, Monday the 13th. It was in honor of Captain Alan Eugene Hendrickson with the U.S. Air force. Hendrickson was an air force pilot during the Vietnam War; He died in the line of duty August 3rd of 1967. His sons Randy and Gordy Hendrickson were present to speak to the small crowd gathered in honor of their father. Randy read his father’s “Citation for Distinguished Flying Cross,” and Gordy read a poem his father had written during his time in the military. A flag folding ceremony was performed, and the flag presented to Hendrickson’s sons before closing remarks and prayers were given by John Hope. Captain Alan E. Hendrickson’s name now sits proudly on the war memorial in Downtown Levelland, surrounded by fellow heroes.

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Hockley Count Commissioners Hear Requests From Sheriff’s Office, Award Bid For Jail Plumbing

The Hockley County Commissioner’s Court Had a meeting this morning to go over a few requests from the Sheriffs Office along with some additional items. The Sheriffs office had two separate requests for American Rescue Plan Act Funds, one for a Repeater for their radio tower and one for a software upgrade. The radio repeater would take approximately $20K and would include replacing the old repeater, as well as refurbishing it to store as a backup. This pertains to the Radio tower off of Highway 114, which is the only repeater tower the Sheriffs Office has for the entire county. With this expenditure, it would allow them to have a backup plan should something happen with the tower, and reduce down time between fixes. That request was approved. The software update ended up being a bit more difficult to manage than previously thought. The Sheriff’s Office requested a new software which would vastly increase the efficiency of their officers in the field, as it would allow them to enter evidence and reports without needing to return to the office. It was offered by a company the Sheriff’s Office does business with already, and is coming heavily discounted. While normally this software, which was created specifically for Law Enforcement Agencies, is around $180K, a hefty discount was given to the county, bringing the price down to $30K. However it would also impact county employees in the courthouse. As they did not yet know how many people or how great the impact would be, the issue was tabled until more information was available. Bonds were also approved for Elsa Cavazos and Clint Overland, the jailers for Hockley County Jail. A bid was also awarded for the Jail plumbing project. That bid was awarded to Lowery Plumbing for$64,707, with work expected to be finished by the 27th.

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LISD Has Their Homecoming Queen!

With Homecoming on Friday, LISD’s full Homecoming Court is as follows:

Freshman Attendee: Aurey Rivas Escorted by Neamiah Campos,

Sophomore Attendee: Mia Escandon Escorted by Taeshaun Jones,

Junior Attendee: Laci White Escorted by Marco Guillen,

Senior Court: Elisa Zamora-Venegas Escorted by Rusty Johnson, Emma Kent Escorted by Dillon Brogden, and Brianna Rodriguez Escorted by Xavier Jackson.

This year’s homecoming queen was Brianna Rodriguez! Photographers swooped in to take photos of everyone with the Mini Court!

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SPC Board Covers Scholarships, Renovations And More

South Plains College had its Board of Regents Meeting yesterday at noon to discuss a lighter agenda. SPC is in the process of completing it’s 10 year review for The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Though it seems like they just finished their 5 year review, it can take many months in advance to complete the process. Every school must undergo this process every 10 years in order to get re-accredited. SPC and Texas Tech’s transfer summit will be happening on October 29th. This is hopefully going to be an annual event, as its a chance for SPC and TTU staff to come together and agree on what curriculum needs to be taught in order to transfer credits from one college to another. Julie Gerstenberger, Vice President for Institutional Advancement was present to present the good fortune to the board that last year 14 scholarship charters were funded. She assured the board that SPC had a very healthy community of alumnus and financial supporters to make this and more future scholarships possible. The Science building renovation is reported to be coming along nicely as well, though currently a grand opening date is unknown. Classes are still taking place in the building with only small pockets of construction still on going. The Lubbock Center has started their construction. There have been some delays in material acquisition, though it has not adversely impacted that project. The next large project SPC will set its sights on will be a tennis court resurfacing. Finally there were reportedly 83 confirmed cases of COVID across all SPC campuses, 80 of them being students, and 3 being faculty. Dr. Satterwhite reminded the board they could not mandate masks, but instead encouraged students to inform the school if they receive a positive test, wash their hands and keep their personal hygiene diligently.

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LISD Board Appoints District 5 Member, Moves Forward With Superintendent Search

Newly appointed District 5 member Matt Buxkemper

With the departure of Ronnie Watkins from the District 5 seat on the LISD Board, and the ongoing search for a new Superintendent, the LISD School Board has been very busy as of late. Last nights special meeting was reflective of this with a packed agenda. On the Personnel front, the ISD is still filling some gaps left by departure of staff at the end of the school year. To that end Callie Sprowls has been hired on as a Life Skills Teacher at the High School, and Tobie Gattis has been hired on as a part time Special Education Inclusion teacher at Capitol Elementary. A new nurse will be brought before the board for confirmation next week, and there are still openings available for custodians, Grounds people, and cafeteria workers.

The AG Barn Facility student and parent contract also got a bit of an update after this last year. Staff believed it was not specific enough and needed to be modified to adequately convey what would be expected of those who keep animals at the AG Barn. AG staff were instrumental in helping rewrite this contract, and it now properly sets for the the District’s expectations for the care of animals housed therein. In addition, another AG shed has been proposed. It would be a three sided enclosure where feed and medicine would be stored. A time frame for construction is not complete yet, but staff is meeting today with Sodexo to clear that plan for action.

The Gen Z Youth Program is a mental health related curriculum developed by Matt Rush. Sommer Coats, School Counselor for Levelland Middle school, found this program to be a perfect fit for her school and wants to expand it to cover all of LISD. Sommer found that there was a certain population of kids she seemed to be missing from her office, kids she couldn’t seem to reach. Rather than let these kids slip through the cracks, she aided in the development of the Gen Z Youth Program, which focuses on 3 major issues for school aged kids: Self image, relationships with others, and goal setting. There are more than six years of research and development that have gone into this program, and plans have moved forward to use Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds to bring this curriculum in front of the entire district. Matt Rush and Sommer were both present at last night’s meeting to thank the board, give a presentation, and in turn be thanked for the work they are performing for our educational system.

After Ronnie Watkins’ from his seat as district 5’s representative last month, it was time the board appointed a temporary member to fill that slot. After a brief executive session, the board reached a decision of appointing Matt Buxkemper as the new District 5 seat. Board President Carrie Ellis made it clear that after the remainder of the term was up (a little more than a year) Matt would have to run in a formal election if he wished to stay on the board. Matt was given the oath of office and took his seat among the other board members.

With the ongoing search for a new superintendent, ESC 17 has been going about to different groups and getting community input on what they would like to see from a new hire. They presented this information to the Board last night, and also aided in the formulation of a profile for which to base candidates off of. Currently we are in the advertising and scheduling portion of the timeline, and last night saw a tentative schedule for interviews and deadlines begin to form. All applications will come through ESC 17, mostly electronically. One thing that they made sure to emphasize was that the language of the advertisement would affect the number and types of applicants the board received. For example, listing a desire for someone with “administrative experience” opens the door for other superintendents all the way down to assistant principals. Board member Treva Potter expressed worry that should they be too restrictive with their requirements that they may miss a “diamond in the rough”. In the end, the things that mattered the most to the board were that the superintendent had experience in Texas schools and would be active in their community. While the board reserves the right to modify any proposed schedules, currently application deadline will be by October 20th. Interviews can begin in early November, with second round interviews later in the month. A meeting to hire a new superintendent will be held on December 15th.

Finally the board voted to move their meeting next week to Tuesday, as some board members had conflicts with schedule. That will happen Tuesday, September 14th at 6pm in the Admin Building.

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SPC Back-To-School Bash

South Plains College held their Back-To-School Bash Yesterday evening from 4pm-8pm to celebrate the start of a new school year. There were tents for cooling off from the heat, food and drinks as well as a variety of activities. A Rock wall was brought in, the rowdy bull ride was set up, as well as several inflatable obstacle courses. Nearby games of Volleyball were being held as well, as students flocked to the area to celebrate over the long weekend.

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Levelland Planning & Zoning Board To Host Town Hall October 4th

Last night saw the beginning of a new project for staff of the City of Levelland. It was the first of meetings designed to give a comprehensive look at Levelland’s Zoning code in an effort to modernize them, as former City Manager Eric Rejino says they have not done this since 1981. This process will be a long one, with monthly meetings to be held by the task force, as well as an emphasis put on community input. This task force is comprised of Chairman Butch Wade, Pete Cunningham, Ryan Fitzgerald, Roger Lindsey, and Dallas Pena with input from Chief Building Inspector Joe Shedd, Enforcement Officer Eli Collunga, and City Attorney Matt Wade. Having an outdated zoning code means that many things that have become more prevalent in the past years have gone unanswered, and thus fall in a gray area of the code. Tiny houses are in this category, and a hard definition needs to be developed for them. Manufactured homes are also becoming more prevalent, and the task force will look at the possibility of a manufactured home subdivision or district. City Attorney Matt Wade says the the Zoning Board of Adjustments, the body that makes exceptions to the zoning code and grants variances in some cases, should rarely meet. But recently, there’s been an uptick in variance requests, which is indicative of a flawed zoning code. Many of these variance requests have been for the addition of carports to citizen’s home. Building Inspector Joe Shedd says they were receiving at least one a week on the topic, and Chairman Butch Wade agreed it was a priority issue. Also called into question were the current laws around RV’s as primary dwellings and shipping containers, as those are technically temporary items. It was decided a town hall should be put together, in order to see just exactly how Levelland citizens feel about these issues. The date for that meeting is currently set at October 4th starting at 6pm in City Hall. Citizens are encouraged to attend to speak their mind and get informed about the current zoning laws. The next steps for the board are going to be categorizing the zoning laws for efficient meetings and contacting any consultants that might be needed. The next meeting for the board will be October 19th in City Hall.

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