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Credit union to tear down old Longview restaurant to build 3-story branch office

Out with the old and in with the new.

Eastman Credit Union plans to build a three-story branch location for banking operations and offices at the site of the former Hometown Buffet restaurant in Longview.

Eastman, a banking firm based in Kingsport, Tennessee, was granted a zoning variance Tuesday by a unanimous vote of the city of Longview’s Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Eastman needed the variance to meet its design plans, which call for a three-story building with a parapet — measuring a total of 55 feet, 4 inches high, architect Luther Kane said.

Located at 2026 W. Loop 281 at the entrance to Pine Tree Junior High School, the former Hometown Buffet exterior was remodeled to become a Wei Asian Buffet, but it never opened.

The former Hometown Buffet was partially demolished in 2013. Two years later, a Dallas family was still working to revive the 8,800-square-foot site into a Wei Asian Buffet restaurant, but the business never opened a Longview location.

Liang-Longview LLC has owned the restaurant property since July 2012, according to Gregg Appraisal District records.

Eastman wants to demolish the site and use it as the parking lot area for its branch building, to be constructed on the open-field property immediately east of the restaurant site, Kane said.

City ordinances allow three-story structures in general retail-zoned areas, but each floor must measure no more than 11 feet, 6 inches without a variance.

Without a variance, Eastman would have been maxed out at a height of 34 feet, 6 inches, which would have created “several building” issues for the overall design, according to the credit union’s application.

The higher floor-to-ceiling heights will better accommodate banking operations on the first floor and office spaces on the second and third floors, along with the air conditioning systems, King said. They also will reduce cramped conditions or acoustical problems, he said.

A 20-foot landscaped buffer with a 6-foot privacy fence are planned between the new credit union branch and adjacent residential properties. Also, 12-foot Eastern red cedar, pine and Nellie R. Stevens holly trees will be installed, and Eastman intends to preserve as many of the existing trees as possible, City Planner Angela Choy said.

Eastman Credit Union has existing branch locations in the northeast and southeast sectors of Longview, so the new location will expand its operations to the west.

Choy added that current ordinances governing building heights are “a little antiquated” and that they are being reviewed as part of the ongoing Unified Development Code process.

Local schools receive top scores at UIL regional marching band contest

Spring Hill alumnus Michael Moody led his alma mater to a “superior” score at the University Interscholastic League marching band contest Tuesday.

The Spring Hill High School band received a 1, the highest rating at the contest, from all three judges at the Region 4 contest.

Moody, who is in his first year leading the “Blue Brigade,” said the conferences alternate going to state every other year, depending on whether they’re even numbered or odd numbered — 1A-3A-5A or 2A-4A-6A.

So, the Spring Hill band, which comes from a 4A school, cannot compete for state this year, but it will compete Nov. 2 at the National Association of Military Marching Bands at Stephen F. Austin State University.

“To come back to Spring Hill and to lead them to a first division has been really exciting, humbling and an experience not a lot of directors get to experience,” Moody said. “Coming back home made it much more unique, and I’m just really excited for these kids.”

When Moody was offered the position over the summer, it was after attending the funeral of his former Kilgore College band director and mentor Glenn Wells. He said at the time it felt like getting the position was a “higher calling.”

After Tuesday’s performance, he feels the same, if not stronger, he said.

“Even when I rehearse, I still have a lot of Mr. Glenn Wells in me,” he said. “It still feels awkward, him not being around.”

But the transition to lead the band was smooth because of the students, Moody said.

Pine Tree High School band students also earned a 1, or first division, and will advance to the area contest.

Director Aaron Turner said Pine Tree, a 5A district, is eligible to advance toward state competition, so it will take the next step and compete at the area contest Oct. 26 in Dallas.

“We’ve got a week and a half to get it done,” he said on preparation for the next level. “We’re going to take the comment sheets we got from this contest and look at the things the judges thought we could improve on and work on those one-by-one.”

Turner said the students played and marched well, and he could not have asked for better results.

“We just have a hard-working group of kids that really have put out their very best effort,” he said. “I could not be more proud of them and all they’ve accomplished.”

Gilmer and Kilgore, both 4A districts; Marshall, 5A; and Union Grove, 2A; also all earned first divisions. One judge gave Kilgore a 2, but other schools received straight 1s.

East Texas lawmakers: 'Horrible scandal,' speaker 'should resign'

What House Speaker Dennis Bonnen is heard saying on a secret recording that was made public Tuesday is “crazy,” a “horrible scandal” that should lead to his resignation, East Texas lawmakers said Tuesday.

“The question everybody is still asking, why in the world? Why?” state Rep. Travis Clardy, a Nacogdoches Republican, said after the tape of the speaker’s private June 12 meeting with a conservative activist was released. “What did they hope to gain by it?”

The recording shows Bonnen, a Republican, sought help ousting Clardy and other fellow Republicans in next year’s election, that he called a female lawmaker “vile” and said President Donald Trump is “killing us” in pivotal races where the party is in danger of losing seats.

The speaker also profanely disparaged another Democratic House member in the hourlong tape, which also reveals other political scheming that has thrown the GOP-controlled Legislature into disarray at a fragile moment when their majority is at stake.

State Rep. Matt Schaefer, a Tyler Republican, responded bluntly.

“Bonnen should resign,” he said. “We do not need a legal and ethical cloud hanging over House Republicans as we ask Texans to trust us with their vote in 2020.”

Already, the tape has uncorked the biggest Texas political scandal in years.

Democrats filed a lawsuit accusing Bonnen — the third-most powerful Republican in the Texas Capitol — of breaking campaign finance laws during the meeting with then-GOP caucus Chair Dustin Burrows and the head of Empower Texans, which has spent lavishly in pursuit of pulling the Legislature far to the right on issues such as abortion and guns.

State investigators responsible for looking into allegations of corruption by public officials have also opened a case.

The meeting was secretly recorded and released by Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan, who said he surreptitiously recorded the meeting at Bonnen’s Capitol office to protect himself. Bonnen can be heard seeking Sullivan’s help in targeting Clardy and nine other Republican incumbents in primaries next year, while also suggesting that a news affiliate of Empower Texans could obtain media credentials that would provide access to the House floor where votes are taken. Bonnen sought to drive out moderate GOP members who he saw as standing in the way of his agenda.

“You need to hear what I want to do,” Bonnen said. “We can make this work. I’ll put your guys on the floor next session.”

Republicans have controlled the Texas House for nearly two decades, but their dominance is eroding quickly. Since the GOP reached a peak of a 101-49 super-majority in 2011, Democrats have tapped into a growing Hispanic population and liberal shifts in suburban areas to shrink that gap. Heading into 2020, Democrats can grab a majority if they flip nine seats.

Bonnen also suggests on the tape that Trump — who is having a campaign rally Thursday in Dallas — isn’t helping.

“With all due respect to Trump, who I love, he’s killing us in urban, suburban districts,” the speaker said.

Bonnen also used crude language while discussing freshmen Democrats whose midterm victories in 2018 weakened the GOP’s House majority.

“Jon Rosenthal makes my skin crawl. He’s a piece of (expletive),” Bonnen said in the recording.

Mentioning another Democrat, Bonnen adds, “We’ve got Michelle Beckley, who’s vile. But we got people who beat our Republicans that are not even trying to act like moderate Democrats, OK? Which is good for us. Because we ought to be able to take their heads off. But I need you firing harder that way.”

It wasn’t clear whether the hour-long recording had been edited prior to its release.

Bonnen previously apologized for “embarrassing” and “hurtful” comments revealed on the tape. Tuesday, he released a statement that only expressed vindication at the tape finally being made public.

“I have repeatedly called for the recording to be released because it will be immediately clear that no laws were broken. This was nothing more than a political discussion — the problem is that I had it with that guy,” Bonnen said. “My colleagues have always deserved the facts and context this recording provides, and with clear evidence now disproving allegations of criminal wrongdoing, the House can finally move on.”

Clardy disagreed with that analysis.

“It didn’t address any issues. It expressed no remorse. It didn’t offer any apologies. It didn’t do anything except suggest to the House and the people of Texas that we all just need to move on and forget about it,” he said. “That is not an option. This is exactly what it was the first time I heard it: It is political corruption and it must be treated as such.”

Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, remained largely silent after the tape was released, making Bonnen’s future unclear. He is coming off his first term as House speaker and the Legislature won’t meet again until 2021.

But the release of the tape amplified calls for Bonnen’s resignation, including from Beckley, who said, “This a bunch of a men that are in a backroom afraid” of the Democrats taking control the House.

Rep. Chris Turner, the House Democratic leader, called Bonnen’s comments “completely out of bounds, even with the Republican Party’s low standards of the Donald Trump era.”

That sentiment was echoed by Schaefer.

“The behavior we tolerate becomes the standard we set,” he said. “The transcript released today confirms that a serious breach of integrity has been committed on multiple levels.”

Clardy, who was described by Burrows as “the ringleader of all opposition” at one point in the recorded conversation, said nothing’s changed since he first heard the full recording earlier in Austin.

“The words speak for themselves. This is not a he-said, she-said, who-do-you-believe deal,” Clardy said. “Why in the world, why would my Republican speaker and my Republican caucus chair push this crazy idea to attack members of our own caucus, and what did they hope to gain by it?”

He suggested the question now is being answered, but not in the way Bonnen and Burrows might have hoped.

“What they have gained by it is a horrible scandal that is hurting the institution that I cherish and that the members I serve with cherish. They have embroiled us in a stupid controversy which does damage to the institution, damage to the Republican Party and I think it’s done irrevocable damage to our caucus.”

Clardy said he was looking forward to a House Republican caucus meeting that was already set for Friday in Austin.

“This is a Republican mess, and I believe it’s incumbent on the Republican House members to clean it up,” he said.

Area Republicans to attend Trump rally to show support for president

Jim Cogar

Nearly three dozen Longview Republicans plan to attend a campaign rally Thursday for President Donald Trump in Dallas while a smaller number of Democrats plan to travel to a counterrally.

Twenty-nine to 35 Republicans from Longview plan to show up at the Keep America Great rally at 7 p.m. at the American Airlines Center, the chairman of the Republican Party of Gregg County, Tracy Vincent, said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Mary Lou Tevebaugh, former president of Democratic Women of East Texas, said Tuesday that she thinks about 15 people from Longview will caravan to the Rally Against Fear set for 6 p.m. Thursday at The Theatre in Grand Prairie. She said they plan to join with a similar-size group from Tyler.

The rallies come at a time when Trump faces impeachment efforts over his phone call to the president of Ukraine urging him to investigate the business activities of Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden, Democratic front-runner and former vice president. Trump also has faced criticism from congressional Democrats and Republicans alike for withdrawing support for Kurds in Syria who have been fighting ISIS.

Marty Rhymes, vice chairwoman of the Gregg County Republicans, defended Trump’s phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“He released everything” about the call to Zelenskiy, Rhymes said. “I don’t know what they are going to impeach him for. They have not called for a vote on the floor.”

Rhymes said she will share a ride to Dallas with two other women, attend a gathering of Women for Trump at 5 p.m. and the main rally at 7 p.m. to show support for Trump.

“I just think he is a great president, and he has done a lot for this country,” Rhymes said.

Carol Meyer, a lifelong Republican and 40-year Longview resident, concurred.

“I support this president and voted for this president, because he talks the way I feel,” Meyer said. “He has done more for this country than any other president before him.”

Meyer said she thinks America “would be a much safer place if people on Capitol Hill” supported Trump.

“There are those on Capitol Hill who are trying to take our country into socialism,” Meyer said.

Tevebaugh has a different take by attending a rally Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke plans to stage.

“I think we are going to make a statement,” Tevebaugh said. “This is a rally against hate. I think we are going to show up to show we are united against that hateful rhetoric and animosity that has been going on in our country.”

James Cogar, chairman of the Gregg County Democratic Party, said he will not attend and thinks local Democrats would be more interested in watching the Democratic presidential debate that was set to take place Tuesday night.

Cogar had harsh words for Trump, saying, “Right now, the man has blood on his hands. As an ex-military man, I am ashamed of our president.”