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New Longview High School band director ready to lead 'gold standard' Big Green Marching Machine

Rhonda Daniel has known her calling is music education since the eighth grade.

Now, as the new Longview High School band director and the first woman at the post, she is preparing to lead a band she called the “gold standard.“

“I’m really excited for the opportunity to come work at the school,“ she said. “I believe the Lobo band is the gold standard for military bands in East Texas, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.“

Though she is from Center and did not attend Longview High School, Daniel said the teaching the Lobo band did in the ‘60s and ‘70s influenced her through her high school and college band directors, who were Longview High School graduates.

Daniel, who has been teaching for 18 years, previously worked as the assistant high school band director at Groesbeck, head middle school band director at Center and Henderson and head band director at Tenaha, Timpson and Gladewater, she said. She studied music education at Stephen F. Austin State University.

During her time as a band director, Daniel said her bands have won multiple University Interscholastic League sweepstakes awards, earned recognition at the state level in marching and concert contests, been named best in class at the National Association of Military Marching Bands competition numerous times and earned several other state honors.

She said she also has students who are now in collegiate bands at Stephen F. Austin State University and Texas A&M University.

Now at a much larger school than she has taught at before, Daniel said she wants to maintain the traditions of the Big Green Marching Machine and also add to its success.

“I’m competitive, and in any position I’ve ever been in, I’ve tried to showcase what our students do and put us on display whenever we get a chance,“ she said. “I’m the president of the National Association of Military Marching Bands, and that contest is held every fall. And I believe as the Lobo band, we should participate in that contest.“

Daniel said she wants to continue the military-style marching, because it puts the entire emphasis on playing well. She also wants to advance to the area and state levels of the University Interscholastic League’s marching contest.

Brian Shobert, president of the Lobo Band Boosters, said the club is excited about Daniel as the new director and the first woman head band director at the high school.

“The band has a massive history of being very well known in the state and country for military marching and being very successful at it,“ he said. “This is one of those traditions for us and the community, and it’s very important to sustain that. To have a band director that doesn’t just understand that but wants to excel that is very important to us.“

While Daniel knows not all her students will continue with careers in music, she still wants to pass valuable skills to them, she said.

“I want them to know how to work together with a group of individuals for a common goal, and I want them to have a good work ethic,“ she said. “I want them to understand what it takes to achieve their dreams. I want them to gain the tools that are necessary to achieve their dreams so they can carry that over into other aspects of their lives.“

Gohmert says Democrats refusing to address migrant detention center crowding issue

Letters from Longview deploring overcrowded conditions in migrant detention centers sent last week to U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, drew ire for House Democrats on Wednesday from the Northeast Texas congressman.

“Unfortunately, Democrats in Congress are refusing to address this escalating and worrisome overcrowding issue,” Gohmert wrote in an email to the News-Journal. “Their refusal to address the border crisis is ultimately encouraging more and more illegal immigrants to make the dangerous trip to our border while bringing very young children — creating heartbreaking injury and death.”

Gohmert acknowledged a damning Department of Homeland Security report on overcrowding at adult and children’s facilities on the border that was released July 2, even as about a dozen constituents delivered letters of criticism to his Longview field office. The effort was organized by local Democrats.

The congressman did not say in his Wednesday email whether he had read any of the letters sent last week. He did not address any specific problems cited in the letters, other than to blame Democrats.

“The Department of Homeland Security is entirely correct when they describe the border situation in their recent Office of Inspector General Report report as ‘an acute and worsening crisis,’” he wrote. “Hopefully, those complaining will encourage the Democratic Party to help us stop the massive illegal invasion without any place to put those coming in illegally.”

The report by the Office of Inspector General in the Department of Homeland Security described conditions at the children and adult migrant detention centers as “a ticking time bomb.”

Inspectors documented children going for days without hot meals and lacking access to showers and clean clothes. Minors were held for weeks instead of being transferred within 72 hours to the Department of Health and Human Services as required by law, the report said.

Fifty women were found living in a large cell designed for 40 juveniles, and adults were refusing to return to filthy cells, the report said.

Longview attorney Mary Lou Tevebaugh had joined the letter writers outside Gohmert’s Gregg County Courthouse office late July 2, fresh from visiting the children’s detention facility in Clint where she attended a protest led by Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. She briefly described what she’s been able to observe from outside the facility.

“There were guards on the roof,” she said. “Of course, we couldn’t get in, but it looked for everything like a prison. It didn’t look like a place for children.”

Gohmert had replied to news of the letters last week by saying he’d like to hear any firsthand accounts if any of the letter writers had visited the centers. He also said he relies on the assessments of border patrol officers.

When Tevebaugh read the congressman’s comments in the next day’s News-Journal, she printed a copy of the inspector general’s report and made a second trip to Gohmert’s field office.

“It talks about the overcrowding in that report,” she said. “And the sanitary environment — they are not getting baths, they are not getting showers. It’s also a danger to the officers that are guarding them. I think he should be interested in that. He seems to think everything’s OK.”

Tevebaugh said Field Officer Shannon Crisp referred her to the congressman’s district director in Tyler, Jonna Fitzgerald Boersma. She telephoned but couldn’t get Boersma on the line.

“The receptionist was just, like, ‘Didn’t you just call here? We gave her your message,’” she said.

Gohmert indicated Wednesday that a fix for problems at the centers rests with the majority party in the House.

“Republicans have been relentlessly trying to get the Democrats to allocate funding for additional beds at the detention facilities,” he wrote. “However, they have not only refused to fund additional detention beds, their actions continue to encourage people around the world to come illegally into the U.S. It is imperative that Congress fix the loopholes in our asylum laws which would eliminate the backlog of immigration cases. Right now, it is critical that both parties work together to end this problem once and for all. Yet, Democrats seem more interested in fanning the flames of exaggerated news reports while encouraging more to continue the dangerous unlawful trip.”

Tevebaugh indicated she expects her congressman to stand up against conditions on the border rather than make partisan comments.

“We’re better than that,” she said.

New holding center for migrant children opens in Texas

CARRIZO SPRINGS — A former oilfield worker camp off a dirt road in rural Texas has become the U.S. government’s newest holding center for detaining migrant children after they leave Border Patrol stations, where complaints of overcrowding and filthy conditions have sparked a worldwide outcry.

Inside the wire fence that encircles the site are soccer fields, a giant air-conditioned tent that serves as a dining hall, and trailers set up for use as classrooms and as places where children can call their families.

The long trailers once used to house workers in two-bedroom suites have been converted into 12-person dorms, with two pairs of bunk beds in each bedroom and the living room.

The Department of Health and Human Services said about 225 children are being held at the site in Carrizo Springs, with plans to expand to as many as 1,300, making it one of the biggest camps in the U.S. government system.

The government said the holding center will give it much-needed capacity to take in more children from the Border Patrol and prevent their detention in stations like the one in Clint, Texas, where lawyers last month reported some 250 youngsters were being held in cells with inadequate food, water and sanitation. Of the children held at Carrizo Springs, 21 had previously been detained at Clint, HHS spokesman Mark Weber said.

HHS said the Carrizo Springs location is a comfortable environment for children while they wait to be placed with family members or sponsors in the U.S.

But immigrant advocates and others liken such places to child prison camps and worry that the isolated location 110 miles from San Antonio, the nearest major city, will make it more difficult to find lawyers to help the teenagers with their immigration cases.

Advocates have complained that HHS’ largest holding centers — a facility in Homestead, Florida, a converted Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, and a now-closed tent camp at Tornillo, Texas — have traumatized children through overcrowding and inadequate staffing.

“All of this is part of a morally bankrupt system,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, a San Antonio Democrat.

There’s also the huge cost: an average of $775 per day for each child. HHS plans to pay the nonprofit Baptist Child and Family Services up to $300 million through January to run the Carrizo Springs site.

The government allowed The Associated Press to visit on Tuesday and distribute photos and video, though the AP could not show children’s faces because of privacy restrictions.

Boys and girls are kept in separate buildings and follow separate schedules.

They have decorated their rooms with drawings of superheroes and the flags of their home countries, including Guatemala and El Salvador. Many children smiled and greeted visitors as they walked by. Several girls knitted yarn hats and armbands.

A series of tents serves as the infirmary, with nurses on hand treating a few children for lice and flu-like symptoms.

Breakfast is at 7 a.m., followed by soccer, then six hours of classes in reading, writing, social studies, science and math.

In reading class on Tuesday, the students were asked to practice reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in English. Many did so haltingly before the teachers called one student to the front to help lead them. After he finished, the whole class applauded.

HHS said the goal is to move the children through the holding center and others like it as quickly as possible. The department said it has sped up placing children with sponsors to an average of 45 days, down from 93 days last November. One key, HHS said, was lifting a requirement that all adult relatives be fingerprinted before they can take a child out of custody.

“This facility is all about unification,” said Weber, the HHS spokesman.

The holding center is opening amid record numbers of family members apprehended at the border and thousands of children traveling without their parents as they flee violence and poverty in Central America.

Baptist Child and Family Services also ran the Tornillo camp, which opened last summer as thousands of children were separated from their parents by Trump administration policy. Tornillo reached as many as 2,800 children until it was closed in January.

BCFS CEO Kevin Dinnin said he had refused in December to take more children at Tornillo because the camp was holding them for so long, a decision that led to its closing. Dinnin said he resolved never to open another emergency center like it, but the conditions reported in Border Patrol custody changed his mind. He said he also believes HHS is doing more to process children more quickly.

“At the end of the day, our philosophy has been ... to keep kids out of CBP jail cells,” Dinnin said.

Jonathan Ryan, executive director of the legal group RAICES, said his organization is ready to send lawyers to Carrizo Springs but is waiting for the OK from the government.

“We just want to get inside and work with those kids,” Ryan said. “Children who have been detained, who have gone through deprivation and cages in Border Patrol custody, are potentially being released without ever having had access to legal advice and screening.”

Flooding swamps New Orleans as hurricane possible; Gregg County prepares for evacuees

From Staff and Wire Reports

NEW ORLEANS — Gregg County officials prepared Wednesday as a storm swamped New Orleans streets and paralyzed traffic amid concerns that even worse weather was on the way: a possible hurricane that could strike the Gulf Coast and raise the Mississippi River to the brim of the city’s protective levees.

The wide-ranging system was the topic of a webinar that Gregg County Community Emergency Response Team joined Tuesday, Emergency Services Director A.J. Harris said. He said the county will be ready if evacuees turn up here again like they did during hurricanes Ike and Katrina.

“There isn’t any potential threat yet, but if the case does arise, we’ll be ready,” he said. “The storm looks like it’s turning more north through Louisiana and the western part of Louisiana through Mississippi.”

Harris urged residents to be ready in case the storm hits this area significantly enough to kill power.

“Being pre-prepared is the best way to be prepared,” he said. “It’s always good to stock up on clean water, have medical supplies on hand and a hand-held radio with fresh batteries. Have your cellphones charged up.”

The storm was associated with a broad area of disturbed weather in the Gulf that forecasters said was on track to strengthen into a hurricane by the weekend. The system was expected to become a tropical depression by this morning, a tropical storm by tonight and a hurricane on Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Lines of thunderstorms ranged far out in into the Gulf and battered New Orleans, where as much as 8 inches of rain fell over a three-hour period Wednesday morning, forecasters said.

Mississippi and Texas were also at risk of torrential rains.

In New Orleans, streets turned into small, swift rivers that overturned garbage cans and picked up pieces of floating wood. Water was up to the doors of many cars. Other vehicles were abandoned. Kayakers paddled their way down some streets.

Chandris Rethmeyer lost her car to the flood and had to wade through water about 4 feet deep to get to safety. She was on her way home after working an overnight shift when she got stuck behind an accident in an underpass and the water started rising.

“I was going to sit in my car and let the storm pass,” she said. “But I reached back to get my son’s iPad and put my hand into a puddle of water.”

Valerie R. Burton woke up Wednesday to what looked like a lake outside her door.

“There was about 3 to 4 feet of water in the street, pouring onto the sidewalks and at my door. So I went to my neighbors to alert them and tell them to move their cars,” she said.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency and said National Guard troops and high-water vehicles would be positioned all over the state.

“The entire coast of Louisiana is at play in this storm,” Edwards said.

Forecasters said Louisiana could see up to 12 inches of rain by Monday, with isolated areas receiving as much as 18 inches.

The additional rain could push the already swollen Mississippi River precariously close to the tops of levees that protect New Orleans, officials said.

A spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans said the agency was not expecting widespread overtopping of the levees, but concerns remain for areas south of the city. The river was expected to rise to 20 feet by Saturday morning at a key gauge in New Orleans. The area is protected by levees 20 to 25 feet high, he said.

The Corps was working with local officials to identify any low-lying areas and reinforce them, he said. He cautioned that the situation might change as more information about the storm arrives.

“We’re confident the levees themselves are in good shape. The big focus is height,” spokesman Ricky Boyett said.

New Orleans officials have asked residents to keep at least three days of supplies on hand and to keep their neighborhood storm drains clear so water can move quickly. As the water from Wednesday morning’s storms receded, people worried about what might come next.

Tanya Gulliver-Garcia was trying to make her way home during the deluge. Flooded streets turned a 15-minute drive into an ordeal lasting more than two hours. She was supposed to head out of town for a weekend trip but now wonders whether the flights will take off.

“This is going to be a slow storm. ... That’s what I’m concerned about,” she said.

Wednesday’s floodwaters were a grim reminder of sudden flooding that surprised the city during an August 2017 rain. That flood exposed major problems at the agency overseeing street drainage. It led to personnel shake-ups at the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board and required major repair efforts.

On Wednesday, the board said 118 of 120 drainage pumps were operational and the agency was fully staffed. But the agency’s director says that much rain in such a short time would have overwhelmed any drainage system.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Survey shows homeless population stable while falling in six-county region in 2019

The results of an annual survey conducted in January show that the homeless population in Longview has been stable since 2017, while it has risen, then declined in a six-county region that includes the city over the past five years.

The Point-in-Time survey showed the homeless population at 230 in Longview in January, the same as 2017 and up from 226 in 2018.

Broken down, it shows the number of homeless children declined from 27 in 2017 and 14 in 2018 to six in 2019, while the number of homeless veterans dropped from 20 in 2017 and 14 in 2018 to 12 this year.

The Longview-specific numbers go back to only 2017, according to Kyra Henderson, data coordinator at the Texas Homeless Network, which coordinated the survey.

A broader survey that covers Longview and all of Gregg, Upshur, Harrison, Panola, Rusk and Marion counties shows a homeless population at 293 in 2015, 397 in 2016, 480 in 2017, 262 in 2018 and 242 this year.

The 2019 results show 168 people identifying themselves as white, and 34 people designated as “chronically” homeless.

The Texas Homeless Network defines chronically homeless as someone with a disability and has been homeless for a year or longer or someone with a disability and has had at least three homeless episodes over the past three years.

The Texas Homeless Network in Austin shares the data to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Henderson said.

“It can be used to increase community awareness, advocate with elected officials and to help to obtain funding,” Henderson said in a statement. “Each community makes the determination of how they want to use their PIT data.”

The 2019 survey took place regionally Jan. 24 at homeless shelters, parks, outdoor encampments and in cars, Henderson said.

Henderson acknowledged the survey results do not present a comprehensive report on homelessness, adding, “People are not required to answer the information.”

That was the whole point with a survey named Point-in-Time, according to Laura Hill, Longview’s community services director. She said she does not know whether homeless people who live in Longview or were simply passing through constitute the majority of the 230 people counted in January.

She mentioned the city’s commitment to tackling the longstanding homeless problem, starting with Mayor Andy Mack creating a task force in March 2017 and assigning two police officers in 2018 to do outreach with the homeless population.

While acknowledging veterans are a small minority of homeless people counted, Hill said they enjoy the most opportunities for services of the homeless population.

Hill said the Longview Housing Authority within the past three years has budgeted for vouchers to help 39 veterans pay for rent. She said all 39 vouchers have been allocated.

She said HUD and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are collaborating on serving homeless veterans.

VA staff participated in the homeless population count in January, and the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport and Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Longview work with city staff, according to Shannon Arledge, public affairs officer at Overton Brooks.

He said in a statement that the VA has a range of programs to prevent and end homelessness among veterans, including health care, housing, job training and education.

In addition to the public sector, nonprofit groups have a role to play in response to the survey results, according to Hill.

Hollie Bruce, executive director of Newgate Mission at 207 S. Mobberly Ave. in Longview, did not directly respond to questions about the Point-In-Time survey.

However, she said in an email that Newgate continues to provide services for homeless and low-income people. Services include providing meals, worship, showers and clothing, medical consultation.

“Newgate is carefully balancing provision of services to the homeless and the lowest-income members of our community,” Bruce wrote. “As it is crucial to assist the homeless in becoming housed, it is also vital that we assist those who do have homes in staying housed. Preventing homelessness is every bit as important as moving people out of it. The goal has to remain twofold.”

One positive sign for dealing with the long-term homelessness problem is improved communications and better working relations among city staff and area agencies, Hill said.

“It’s a complicated issue,” Hill said, referring to homelessness. “There is no place that is doing it all. It takes all of us. We are all part of the puzzle. We are going to keep plugging away. It is an issue that is not going to go away, and we need our community’s support.”

To view the Point-in-Time survey results, go to .