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Arts!Longview wins cultural arts district designation

State grant access, communitywide focus and greater collaboration are coming to Longview after a state panel’s unanimous decision to designate the Arts!Longview Cultural District.

On Thursday morning, the Texas Commission on the Arts picked Longview, Denton and Beaumont to join 40 other cultural districts in the state.

Cultural districts are special zones that harness the power of cultural resources to stimulate economic development and community revitalization, and they can become focal points for generating businesses, attracting tourists, stimulating cultural development and fostering civic pride, according to information at .

Longview scored 968 of a possible 1,000 points on its application, making it the highest score among all six applicants this summer, Arts!Longview board chairwoman Nancy Murray said from Austin.

“I was sitting in the room when they voted,” Murray said. “I am thrilled. Longview is running on all cylinders right now, and the arts are taking the lead.”

As for scoring a 968, “We’re very proud of that score,” she said.

The designation culminates more than 17 months of planning, petitioning and putting pieces in place first to tell the state commission of Longview’s intent to apply for the designation and then to submit the application in June.

“The winners here are the citizens of Longview,” Murray said. “They’re the winners.”

A celebration hosted by Arts!Longview is scheduled for 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 10 in downtown Longview in conjunction with ArtWalk Longview. Arts and cultural group members, their boards, community leaders, elected officials and the public are invited to attend and celebrate the recognition of the district, according to the city.

The 342-acre district incorporates the core of Longview’s cultural arts facilities and performing venues, along with the Gregg County Courthouse, three historical churches, Longview Public Library, two parks, the historical train depot and the S.E. Belcher Jr. Chapel and Performance Center at LeTourneau University.

"LeTourneau University and the Belcher Center are thrilled to know the TCA selected Longview for the cultural district designation,” said Cynthia Hellen, senior director of LeTourneau University’s Belcher Center. “There is so much potential that can be tapped through the arts — for this community and its residents — and we are happy to be included in the district’s boundaries. We look forward to everything that will come from this effort.”

According to the state commission, the establishment of a cultural district requires a focus on the arts with carefully laid-out plans and collaboration among arts organizations, city and county government entities, businesses and citizens.A wide range of groups and residents pitched in on Longview’s application, including nine local arts groups, schools and colleges, real estate groups, churches and service organizations.

A meeting last October to gather input for the application drew about 150 people to Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center, and more than 90 people signed a letter of intent in support of the district during a ceremony in January at the J.T. Smith Sculpture Garden inside Pelaia Plaza in downtown Longview.

Statewide, 11 communities submitted letters of intent to apply for a cultural district designation, but only six communities actually submitted the application, Murray said.

”It was because of the citizens of Longview pulling together and working together to get this arts district,” she said. “I couldn’t be more excited. I’m thrilled for Longview. I’m thrilled for our arts.”

Gregg County Fair kicks off 70th year today

The Gregg County Fair kicks off its 70th year of entertaining East Texans at 6 p.m. today.

Slated nightly through Sept. 14, the fair features rides, exhibits, stage entertainment, contests, pony races, the Miss Gregg County Pageant, food and a petting zoo and is sponsored by the Longview Jaycees.

Gates open at 6 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. on weekends at the Longview Fairgrounds and Exhibit Building, 1123 Jaycee Drive.

Admission is $6 and free for children 3 and younger, senior citizens and military members and their families with proper identification.

Armbands cost $20 Monday through Thursday and $25 Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

For information, go to or call (903) 753-4478.

Democrat Gilbert announces bid to seek nomination to challenge Rep. Gohmert in 2020 congressional race

A public school teacher and cattleman hopes to bring a focus on infrastructure, free education and health care to Washington in a campaign to unseat eight-term U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert.

Democrat Hank Gilbert announced his bid for his party’s nomination Thursday in Longview, Tyler and Nacogdoches. The cattleman and retired teacher, who lives near the Gregg/Smith county line, said East Texans grew up being taught values from their parents and churches.

“Unfortunately, we have a congressman who grew up in the same area but has lost those values,” Gilbert, 59, told five or six supporters on the Gregg County Courthouse lawn. “We have got a representative now that’s in his 15th year (in Congress) that believes more in representing what the president and millionaires want ... than he does the working people of East Texas.”

A former high school teacher, 4-H sponsor and owner of a carpet cleaning and water restoration business for more than 30 years, Gilbert said Gohmert’s alignment with President Donald Trump has harmed people who live in the dozen counties of the 1st Congressional District.

Filing for the 2020 primary elections starts Nov. 9 and continues through Dec. 9.

“The Gohmert-Trump tariffs and the Gohmert-Trump tax bill are prime examples of how our current congressman is out of touch with East Texas,” Gilbert said, singling out the tax bill as promising middle-class relief that instead benefited the wealthy. “They get to buy another yacht or another jet on the backs of the working people. That’s got to stop.”

The president’s trade tariffs, he said, are a burden on more than just manufacturers who pay them.

“The U.S. companies are paying for these tariffs, and they are passing them on to the taxpayers in this country,” he said.

Gilbert, a widowed father of two grown sons, announced a plan to make two-year higher education free, including for certifications in trades such as welding and electrical fields.

“Those jobs are there, waiting for somebody to take them,” he said. “They are going to pay that debt manifold in their lifetime. That’s an investment.”

Students on four-year college paths would get the first two years free, and all of those education loans would be interest-free, he said. Payments would not start for three years — the first year to use the education in public service in a program similar to Peace Corps, followed by two years to get careers underway.

Gilbert said Gohmert has stood idle while hospitals and medical clinics in Northeast Texas have closed.

“Under the watch of this congressman, we’ve had countless health care centers close in this district,” he said.

To contrast himself with Gohmert, who refuses to hold town hall meetings with residents, Gilbert said he would have those public Q&A sessions in each county in the district twice a year.

“And I’ll invite everyone to attend,” he said.

Gohmert has said he doesn’t have town hall meetings for fear they could turn violent. Gilbert said Gohmert misses an opportunity to be a voice for his constituents.

“The only thing we, unfortunately, don’t have are political leaders who will speak on our behalf,” Gilbert said. “And Louie Gohmert is a prime example of that.”

The Democrat vowed to restart congressional action on repairing the nation’s infrastructure, a goal blocked by the Republican Congress under President Barack Obama and that remains an unfulfilled campaign pledge of Trump.

“The first of my goals as congressman will be to get infrastructure to the top of the ticket,” he said.

Gilbert was the Democratic nominee for state agriculture commissioner in 2006 and 2010, garnering 36% of the vote in the most recent race to incumbent Todd Staples’ 61%.

“I’ll work both sides of the aisle,” he said after promising not to spend his time on television opinion/news shows. “Am I bucking for a position on Fox News like it looks like my opponent is? No. I’ll talk to anybody that wants to listen with an open mind.”

Arts groups vie for city aid with state grants on horizon

Cultural groups in Longview are awaiting word on a pot of city grant funding that increased 3.6% this year because of rising hotel/motel tax revenues.

As with every year, the pot falls short of the total request from the arts groups by nearly $200,000, but big news from Austin could make up that shortfall with state grants, officials said.

On Thursday morning, the Arts!Longview Cultural District was named a Texas Cultural District by unanimous vote of the Texas Commission on the Arts.

The designation makes Longview’s nine cultural arts groups eligible to apply for project grants totaling $2.5 million annually through the state commission, Arts!Longview Task Force Chairwoman Nancy Murray said.

Meanwhile, representatives from eight groups ranging from the performing arts to local museums spent Wednesday and Thursday evenings making their pitches to the city’s Cultural Activities Advisory Commission, which must split $285,000 in municipal grants.

The groups have asked the city for a combined $471,814.49 to pay for performances, showcases or other events held in Longview between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30, 2020, Community Services Assistant Director Dietrich Johnson said.

The city’s pot increased $10,000, or 3.6%, from last year’s pot, while the groups want about $1,500 less than they did a year ago.

“We’re excited about the increase, which means that there is an increase in our hotel occupancy taxes, which is a direct correlation as to how much funding is available to various cultural entities,” Johnson said.

The final award recommendations will be tabulated over the next week or so before they are presented to the Longview City Council for final approval, Johnson said.

Local hotel owners, operators or managers collect a 9% hotel tax from their guests. The tax covers hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts, along with apartments, homes or condos that are rented fewer than 30 consecutive days.

The city divvies up those revenues seven ways on community-based programs and activities that enrich local tourism.

“Every one of those organizations is actively bringing great programming to Longview. That’s at the city level,” Murray said. “Now, a new pot of money has been opened up at the state level for those organizations. This can have a huge economic impact in Longview.”

Last year, the city collected $2.42 million in hotel/motel tax revenue. According to city records, $1.48 million went to convention and information centers, $347,000 went to promoting regulating sporting events in the city and $275,000 went to promoting or improving the arts. The remaining $320,000 was divided out to advertising, historical restoration or registering convention delegates.

The city projects that it will collect $2.62 million for the 2019 fiscal year, which is about $80,000 more than initial budget projections, according to City Manager Keith Bonds’ 2020 budget that the City Council approved last week.

Ex-White Oak mayor, Gregg GOP chair gets year in federal prison for forgery

TYLER — A man who served six terms as mayor of White Oak, has been chairman of the Gregg County Republican Party and chaired the board of trustees for Longview Regional Medical Center was sentenced Thursday to a year in federal prison for forging his wife’s signature on loan documents.

Tim Vaughn had pleaded guilty in May to making false statements to a bank — false statements that a federal judge said got the former East Texas politico a loan on which he later defaulted.

Judge Jeremy Kernodle declared on Thursday that Vaughn will spend 12 months and 1 day in federal prison and forfeit $145,100 plus proceeds and interest as part of a plea deal.

Vaughn’s federal public defender Matt Millslagle requested that his client be sentenced to the prison in Texarkana, and Kernodle agreed to make the request.

After Vaughn’s imprisonment, he will face five years of supervised release.

Vaughn pleaded guilty to one of four counts on which a federal grand jury indicted him on Feb. 20 under his legal name of Timmy Lynn Vaughn. The prosecution agreed to dismiss the other three counts — a second count of false statement to the bank and two counts of aggravated identity theft.

Each false statement offense carried up to 30 years in prison, a fine of up to $1 million and five years of supervised release. Each identity theft count carried a minimum of two years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and up to one year of supervised release and would have to be served consecutively.

The sentencing took place in the Tyler courthouse for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

At the hearing, Millslagle asked the judge to limit Vaughn’s sentence based on who he is and suggested the 12 months and 1 day in prison, to comply with sentencing guidelines of 12 to 18 months.

Millslagle said Vaughn forged signatures to take out the loans in desperation when he was in financial trouble and has since lost everything. He said the losses include Vaughn’s 18-year marriage, his goodwill in the community and his businesses.

At the direction of his lawyer, Vaughn told the judge what he learned from the experience and what his plan was moving forward.

“You can’t live on your reputation, and you can’t use others,” Vaughn said. His voice broke as he spoke into the microphone.

“No one made me sign that document but me,” he said. “I still have a heart to serve, and I want to serve, but I will have to rebuild.”

Kernodle spoke directly to Vaughn about the crime.

“Mr. Vaughn, you admitted to forging your wife’s signature,” he said. “You defaulted on those loans.”

Kernodle said those loans resulted in a total loss for First Bank & Trust-East Texas, now known as Southside Bank.

The sentencing ends three years of scandal that began when Vaughn announced in November 2016 that he would resign his post as chairman of the Gregg County Republican Party.

Vaughn, who had been well known for serving as mayor of White Oak, was five months into his second term as the county GOP leader. At the time, he said he had received a lobbying job in Dallas.

Days later, the News-Journal revealed that a business partner had sued Vaughn in September 2016 over a real estate deal. The business partner claimed he put $250,000 into a joint business account and that Vaughn made transfers to his own companies.

In December 2016, Vaughn filed for bankruptcy. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2017 without an explanation. The business partner had requested the lawsuit be dismissed.

The federal grand jury charged Vaughn with four felonies on Feb. 20 for interactions with Southside Bank and Texas Bank and Trust. He pleaded guilty to the plea deal with the single charge on May 3.

Vaughn was White Oak mayor from 1996 until 2008 and has been a member of the board of directors of the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

According to his biographical information that had been posted at, he served 18 years on the Longview Metropolitan Planning Organization executive board, was appointed to the 12-member State Rail Planning Task Force for the Texas Department of Transportation, chaired the board for Gregg and Harrison County Children’s Advocacy Center and served on the Texas Association of Business board of directors and its Transportation Committee.

Vaughn has six weeks to self-surrender to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.