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'Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins' sign removed overnight; church vows fight

A sign along U.S. 80 leading into Hawkins and that caused legal disputes between the city and a church congregation has been taken down.

Before sunrise Friday, city of Hawkins crews took down the sign, which read “Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins,” Police Chief Manfred Gilow said.

A municipal street will be constructed at the site, Hawkins City Secretary Dona Jordan said.

“We are fixing to put a street in on our easement,” Jordan said. “That is our platted street.”

The sign had been a point of controversy since it was erected next to a Hawkins coffeehouse near the city’s eastern edge in early 2015. Members of the Jesus Christ Open Altar Church and others stood watch from time to time, they said, to protect it.

Church members now have asked faith-based leaders and attorneys to take an interest in their cause, church trustee Mark McDonald said Friday.

“The city employees destroyed our church property, pulled up our crosses and destroyed everything,” McDonald said. He said he was notified of the action by police.

“We’re treating it like a hate crime of religious discrimination that was conspired by the city. We have enough documents to prove that,” McDonald said. “The city was warned (Thursday) by our attorneys not to touch it and not to bother it. There’s been closed meetings, closed records (and) a lot of things wrong.”

He accused the city of breaking several laws, saying that federal and state agencies are probing not only matters involving the sign but other municipal issues in Hawkins.

“I’ve got eight open records violations alleged against the city,” McDonald said. “They were in full knowledge that they were violating the law.”

Police officers responded to the site about 7 a.m. Friday on a disturbance call and found the sign had been taken down, he said. During a subsequent investigation, officers learned it was city crews who removed it.

“I knew it was in the working for many, many months … to change the street to have 90-degree access to the highway as it is now,” Gilow said.

Since 2015, the sign stood on property owned by the Jesus Christ Open Altar Church, McDonald said.

The city contended that it held an easement on the property, where a 1909 Texas and Pacific Railway plat conveyed a fee-simple title to the city.

However, the church asserted the city abandoned its interest in the property in 1994.

A Wood County court ruled in the city’s favor two years ago, and in December 2017, the 12th Court of Appeals in Tyler affirmed the trial court’s decision.

McDonald said he’s been advised by his attorney that the legal ruling “was totally voidable.”

It took more than a year of planning and consulting with prospective companies before the city took its first step toward constructing the proposed Ash Street, Gilow said. That first step happened Friday.

“Any structural sign on the property has to be removed,” Gilow said, adding that the Texas Department of Transportation forbids anything that obstructs drivers’ view within 50 feet of the intersection with U.S. 80.

“It was a Jesus sign, but it would have been any sign,” the chief said. “It has nothing to do with it. As chief of police here, we’re just here to keep the peace, and we just respond. We did not know when (city workers) took it down.”

Fireworks sales pick up in Longview area as Fourth of July nears

Fireworks sales began this week and will get hotter as the Fourth of July holiday approaches, according to a Longview-area fireworks business.

While sales had been slow as of early Wednesday afternoon, they are expected to rise steadily until stands close at midnight on the Fourth of July, said Bryan Maxwell, who works at the Fireworks Express stand on U.S. 80 east of Longview.

“We will be running constantly through the last day,” he said.

Fireworks Express carries 600 items ranging from firecrackers to fountains to aerial displays and assortment packs, said Debra Kirby, who owns the business with husband Frank and works out of their 5,000-square-foot warehouse on U.S. 80.

Kirby and Maxwell said artilleries are the most popular fireworks among consumers because they shoot as high as 100 feet into the air.

In business since 2004, Kirby said Fireworks Express has 11 stands in the region.

Fireworks range in price from 50 cents to $100 for multi-shot items, Maxwell said.

Buyers younger than 16 must be accompanied by an adult under Texas law, and other restrictions apply for personal use in the Longview area.

The cities of Longview, White Oak and other jurisdictions ban the sale and use of fireworks. Violators who discharge personal fireworks in Longview face fines as high as $2,000 for the misdemeanor offense, Fire Marshal Kevin May said.

The city of Gladewater allows the use of fireworks for people living along Lake Gladewater as long as they shoot them toward the water and a burn ban is not in effect, City Clerk Judy Van Houten said.

The city of Hallsville allows the personal use of fireworks but bans their sales within the city limits, Police Chief Wesley Freeman said.

Restrictions for the personal use of fireworks are more relaxed in unincorporated areas, and fireworks are allowed outside city limits in Gregg, Harrison, Rusk, Upshur and Panola counties because no burn bans are in effect.

Fireworks users may set them off on their properties or on someone else’s land with the owner’s written permission, Harrison County Fire Marshal Thomas Mock said.

Various regulations do apply where fireworks are allowed. Among other things, it is illegal to:

Sell or shoot fireworks within 100 feet of a place where flammable liquids, flammable compressed gases or fireworks are sold or stored;

Shoot fireworks from or toward a vehicle and boat;

Shoot fireworks from a public road, public land, park or lake; and

Shoot fireworks within 600 feet of a church, hospital, child-care facility, primary or high school without written permission.

Longview church mourns death of youth pastor, 37

Ryan Carlisle was, above all else, a model husband and father, the Rev. Nathan Rogers, lead pastor at Longview Missionary Baptist Church said Friday — a day after the church lost its youth pastor.

“He was the kind of man all men should watch and learn from the example he set,” Rogers said.

Carlisle died at age 37 Thursday evening after going into cardiac arrest while working out at the Christus Good Shepherd Institute for Healthy Living. He was taken by ambulance to Longview Regional Medical Center.

His funeral service is planned for 2 p.m. Monday at Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview. Rogers said the service will need to be at Mobberly because he does not believe Missionary Baptist will have enough space.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family — his wife, Bridgit, daughter, Ava, 13, and son, Max, 9. As of 10 p.m. Friday, the fundraiser had reached more than $22,000 of a $50,000 goal.

According to GoFundMe, Carlisle did not have life insurance, and help is needed with funeral costs and the family’s support.

Carlisle, a Longview High School graduate, joined Longview Missionary Baptist Church in April 2018, Rogers said. He had served as a youth pastor in Mount Enterprise for eight years before coming back to Longview.

He also helped coach baseball and football teams at Judson STEAM Academy in 2018, Rogers said.

As a youth pastor, Carlisle spent much of his time in Bible studies, mentoring teenagers in the church and planning mission trips and camps, Rogers said.

“He had a great relationship with the kids that he ministered to,” Rogers said. “He was very deeply loved.”

Carlisle stood out as a youth minister in how he cared for students at the church, Rogers said.

“Ryan was humble. He invested in people,” Rogers said. “He loved one-on-one mentorship. He was a team player. He had a big heart, especially for students.”

The church gathered for a prayer vigil Thursday night, but will honor Carlisle again at 10:30 Sunday morning worship, Rogers said. A special offering will be taken for the family.

LEDCO: AAON to create 125 jobs in Longview amid $28 million capital expansion

AAON Inc. plans to create 125 new jobs over five years and build a new facility in Longview as part of a $28 million capital investment expansion.

The premium HVAC equipment manufacturer wants to relocate the manufacturing of its SA Series self-contained unit product from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to its Longview facility on Gum Springs Road, where 422,000 square feet of manufacturing space will be added within the next three years.

AAON Marketing Manager Eric Taylor said the Longview facility already produces a smaller self-contained unit, but the SA Series is a larger product that will have its own dedicated assembly line.

Pay range for the jobs will be $15 to $18 an hour, Taylor said.

AAON President Gary Fields praised the East Texas workforce.

“We continue to strengthen our business with the expansion of our Longview operation. The exceptional workforce in the East Texas area provides a great opportunity for us to grow the company and create value for our customers and stockholders,” Fields said.

Longview Economic Development Corp. made the announcement Friday after its board of directors approved a five-year, $1.25 million performance agreement with AAON. LEDCO also will recommend that the city of Longview and Gregg County each extend 50 percent property tax abatement incentives to the company.

“We couldn’t be more excited about AAON choosing us to expand their footprint,” LEDCO board Chairman Conner Cupit said, “and we feel like using taxpayer dollars to incentivize them to choose Longview is exactly what LEDCO is designed to do. We couldn’t be more excited about it and are extremely excited to see the great things to come from this company adding this value not only to themselves but also to the community.”

AAON executives have 90 days to agree to the terms of LEDCO’s offer.

“I am thrilled that AAON has chosen to locate a new portion of their operations to their Longview facility,” Mayor Andy Mack said in a statement. “Existing companies are the backbone to our community, and we are honored with their decision to invest, grow and prosper in Longview.”

According to LEDCO, AAON will make a capital investment of $28 million, including the construction of a new facility, equipment and the creation of 125 new jobs. The first phase of facility expansion, 195,000 square feet, will be completed by October 2020. The ultimate build-out of 422,000 square feet is tentatively scheduled for 2022 completion.

The performance agreement calls for LEDCO to provide $250,000 yearly to AAON over a five-year period provided that the company adds 25 full-time primary jobs at its Longview facility in each year.

“AAON has been an incredible community partner for Longview since 1991. We are pleased that AAON has selected our community for their expansion project. This decision certainly is a testament to the work ethic and capabilities that Longview can provide,” LEDCO President/CEO Wayne Mansfield said.

The announcement regarding AAON comes on the heels of Longview City Council’s vote Thursday to approve a 10-year tax abatement to Indevco Plastics, which is making a $9 million investment into its facility on Jordan Valley Road. Indevco is adding 40 new jobs over the next four years, Mansfield said.