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Ennis Daily News

Ennis ups and downs of 2007

Like every city, Ennis has its highs and lows, its good news and its bad.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Ennis Daily News has attempted to report on all aspects of the city, and some of the top happenings from 2007 are included in the following concluding installment of a two-part series.

Once the new Ennis Regional Medical Center facility opened, a thought on local minds was what to do with the old building, located at 803 W. Lampasas St. The Ennis City Commission answered that question in October, giving local government permission to market the facility.
Two months later City Manager Steve Howerton stated there was an interest in the old hospital and that negotiations for the sale of the building would be entered. As of year’s end it has not been confirmed whether a deal is being brokered with a buyer to purchase the 66,620-square-foot complex. The building, licensed as a 49-bed acute-care hospital, was constructed from 1961 to 1963 with expansions made in the 1980s and 2004.
Major Arrests
A major victory for the City of Ennis and Ellis County came early in the year following two major drug busts that combined efforts of local law enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration. A total of 39 methamphetamine traffickers were arrested Jan. 17 in a series of raids that began at approximately 4:30 a.m. As a result of a nine-month investigation warrants were issued for 14 people on federal charges and 32 others on state charges.
In March another group of arrests was made at four locations in Ennis with agencies serving narcotics search warrants. The raids resulted in five arrests after a two-year investigation.
It was revealed in July that Robert Castillo, 39, was sentenced to 15 years, 10 months in prison when he pleaded guilty to three counts of distribution of methamphetamine following his arrest in the first drug raid in January.
An ongoing case to which area residents are paying close attention is the arrest of Dr. Stephen Durbin on charges of improper photography or video recording. Durbin, Ennis City Commissioner for Ward 5 since 2000, surrendered to police custody Aug. 18 after a warrant was issued for his arrest regarding reports of the discovery of a wireless color video camera hidden in a changing room in his office at 400 W. Ennis Ave. The report stated the camera was used to film female staff removing their clothes.
A grand jury indicted Durbin Nov. 21 and Det. Sgt. Mike Hopson of the Ennis Police Department said the case could go to trial as early as February.
Record Rains
Something completely out of the city’s control but affecting many projects was the flood-level rainstorms Ennis received the first part of the year. In March Ennis reported receiving 7.39 inches of rain, in May the city saw 6.71 inches and in June there were 7.65 inches recorded. In the first six months of the year, Ennis saw more than 34 inches or rainfall. That number surpassed the amount of rain Ennis received in both 2006 and 2005 combined. The last half of the year only witnessed approximately 2.5 inches of rainfall in Ennis.
Expected as a big boost to the local economy and a serious rival to the 2007 Polka Festival, the mega concert Country Thunder USA instead turned into a wet, muddy mess as unrelenting rains poured down on attendees and artists throughout the event. The national music festival made its first stop in Texas with top-shelf talent lined up including George Strait, Reba McEntire, Pat Green, Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich. But a disappointing freshman year hasn’t deterred a second chance for the concert. Tim McGraw, Pat Green, Neal McCoy and Jason Aldean are a few of the 40 bands scheduled to rock Ellis County from May 30 to June 1.
Local Elections
Ennis voters concerned over better law enforcement had a tough decision to make as six men vied for the job of City Marshal/Chief of Police. Eventual winner John Erisman received nearly twice the amount of votes as the first runner up. Other candidates were Sid Lopez, Bill McBee, Greg Housewright, Domingo Galban and Daryl Spence.
A major issue impacting not only Ennisites but all residents in Ellis County was the proposal of a $53 million bond package during the same election as the City Marshal race. The projected bond was for building a new civil and criminal court detention center and for levying a tax in payment. The bond was approved in a close vote of 3,682 for and 3,245 against.
According to Jon Vidaurri, Staubach Vice President of Design and Consulting Services, the bond would accommodate the growth of the area and the need of adequate administrative offices.
Industrial Growth
Industrial growth has long been a focus of Ennis government and 2007 was a remarkable year in development.
Early in the year the Sherwin Williams facility went before the City Commission to approve annexation and zoning of land for expanding its facility on Plant Road.
A projected new workshop was for a new caulk line to distribute to the west coast and requires six new employees.
JTEKT Automotive of Texas, formerly known as Koyo, also expanded its plant to bring in an additional 120 employees.
Along with expansions, two new industrial projects were completed in 2007. The first was Alliance Data Systems.
The company’s doors opened to the public June 7. At the time of the call center’s ribbon cutting and grand opening the facility was already operational in areas, employing 140 people. Howerton said in May the company stands to house 546 employees within a year-and-a-half.
“We wanted to build a facility that employees in Ennis and Waxahachie will be really proud of,” Vice President of Alliance Data Call Center Marty Flores said.
The second grand opening was National Envelope’s 315,000-square-foot complex. The company invested more than $24 million in the first phase of the new facility’s development and hired about 300 employees, according to Howerton.
National Envelope Corporation is privately owned, employing more than 4,500 people in North America and producing some 220 million envelopes daily. The company’s products extend to printed announcements, greeting cards, invitations, presentation folders and other items.
“Quality is a hallmark of this facility and they have done so by working hand in hand with the city,” Howerton said at the ribbon cutting. “I’m impressed with the quality of leadership. This facility reflects a commitment to excellence.”
Infrastructure Upgrades
Progress was made in March in an effort to construct a replacement airport runway in Ennis after the Texas Transportation Commission approved the allocation of $350,000 for the study and evaluation of a new airport facility.
Funds have been released in order to pay for the development of a master plan and complete an environmental assessment of the first-choice site –– located near the Texas Motorplex –– that will analyze the impact of a runway and determine whether towers need to be relocated.
Howerton said following the allocation of funds it would take a year to a year-and-a-half to complete the master plan and environmental study, the third involving a new Ennis airport.
One of the final acts of the Ennis City Commission this year was beginning discussions for a prospective Street Bond Program, consisting of 83 streets that may receive concrete and overlay work from certificates of obligation over a 10-year period.
A draft list of the showed a total of 21.64 miles of streets that would cost approximately $29.1 million to improve. Howerton said the streets are used by the equivalent of 87,431 vehicles a day and provide direct access to about 1,700 structures.
“The prospective future Street Bond Program will be considered for adoption by the City Commission during the summer of 2008,” Howerton said. “As a part of the City Commission’s processes of consideration, public hearings will be conducted and public input will be sought.”
Local Events
This year hasn’t only been memorable for industry, city and school news. Culturally, 2007 was a banner year.
The third annual Ennis Relay for Life shaped up nicely, contributing nearly $100,000 to the American Cancer Society through the local arm’s April 27 walkathon and camping event benefiting the cause of cancer research.
“It’s amazing, and we are very excited,” said event chair Amy Martinez of the outpouring of giving.
Generosity was definitely the order of the day –– and night –– at the 12-hour charity extravaganza that started at 6 p.m. and carried through till 6 a.m. at the Ennis Junior High stadium. Some 33 relay teams, representing a cross-section of Ennis companies, civic departments, service organizations and private individuals set up camp around the football field, sharing their pride, spirit, dedication and dollars.
An unofficial estimate of the crowd at around 8 p.m. was more than 700.
“There’s a greater turnout because we have 13 more teams than we did last year,” Martinez said, pleased by the numbers of participants and the fund-raising figures. “It’s the biggest and best we’ve had.”
The Ennis Arts Commission has enjoyed similar success in its funding of a total of 12 community events for the 2007-08 fiscal year, the largest number of programs sponsored by the group.
In June the commission accepted proposals from local organizations seeking funding assistance for artistic programming. Schools, churches and a range of civic, ethnic and historical groups submitted applications. In October the Ennis City Commission approved the Arts Commission’s requested budget of $24,705 to sponsor the approved programs.
Ten of the entities receiving funding were the Ennis Literary Guild, Ennis Public Theatre, the Ellis County Czech Heritage Society, La Communidad Hispana de Ennis, the Ennis Historic Downtown Merchants Association, the Ennis Early Childhood Center, the Ennis Garden Club, the National Polka Festival, the Ennis Art Club and Grace Deliverance Bible Church.
In addition to supporting the interests of these groups, the Arts Commission allocated funds to two special programs of its own hosting, the “Antiques on the Road with David Gregory” appraisal fair that took place in September at the Ennis Public Library and the Christmas Showcase, the second annual holiday concert provided earlier this month by area choirs and other musical groups at First United Methodist Church. These two events proved among the most heavily attended of any city-funded entertainment in recent years.
The antiques show was so crowded an encore was held the following weekend to accommodate public interest, while the Christmas program was a standing room-only affair.
With the onset of football season and cooler temperatures came another mainstay of the local scene at harvest time –– the “Autumn Days in Ennis Fall Fest,” organized by the Ennis Historic Downtown Merchants Association.
The 6th annual family-oriented event took place Saturday, Oct. 20 and drew record crowds. The Merchants Association’s “Goblins and Ghosts Bash” on Halloween and the Ennis Chamber of Commerce’s “Parade of Lights” last month also scored high with the public.
The popularity of these open-air events repeated the unprecedented success in April and May of Bluebonnet Trails, a celebration drawing national media attention and thousands of tourists to the fields and roadsides of Ennis and Ellis County, bursting with the state flower that’s become this city’s mascot.
Other social highlights of the year included the founding of the Ennis Literary Guild by Ennis’ First Lady Nancy Thomas, Joanne Ventura and Sandra Wakefield, and the Ennis Heritage Society’s campaign to restore the Historic Templeton-McCanless District to single-family zoning status, an effort meeting with enthusiastic support from residents and city officials.
The productions of the Ennis Public Theatre were again well received this year, especially the musicals “Godspell” and “My Favorite Christmas.” Another hit for the local playhouse was the comedy “You Can’t Get There From Here,” which opened the season.
The party of the year was the annual “Catch the Vision” fundraiser for the annual “Lights of Ennis” holiday illumination program that has now spread from the downtown district to neighborhoods across town. This year’s benefit took the form of a pirate-themed costume ball hosted by project founder Harriett Adams at La Galleria Bistro.
Ennis shared its heart and wallet for other worthy causes this year, too –– the Boys & Girls Club, Treats for Troops, Helping Hands and blood drives for local citizens in need such as Kolache Depot owner Greg McElroy and Anna Thomas, daughter of Mayor Russell Thomas.
Names in the News
A positive sidebar to largely unhappy news for Carver alumni was Prairie View A&M’s naming of William Stell, a 1954 Carver graduate, to its Sports Hall of Fame in March. Stell attended the college where he was named All Conference (SWAC) in football in 1955,1956 and 1957, All Conference in track in 1954, 1955 and 1957 and lettered in football 1954-57 and track in 1954, 1955 and 1957. He was named “Most Outstanding Freshman Football Player” during the 1954 season when the team was named the Black College National Football Champions.
“It was a surprise,” Stell said. “But it was a really nice night. It took me back to a time I’d almost forgotten about. It is quite an honor.”
Many other residents or persons with ties to Ennis were spotlighted in the pages of the Ennis Daily News in 2007; top feature stories of the year included profiles of such colorful personalities as performer Jeanette Sanders (“Dusti the Clown”), musician Tony Vitovsky, ex-mayor Jim Bob Wilson, actors Matt Ludwig, Sandra Wakefield and Joe Skrivanek, late Pearl Harbor survivor Miles Strunc, pianists Anna Lee Davis and Marcus Hanus, golfer Alan Clark, singer Tanya Godsey, Ennis Golden Circle Director Mary Nell Glaspy, Chamber of Commerce President Jeannette Patak, late saxophonist Marchel Ivery, writer Annie Golightly and former Ennis Daily News editor Sarah Stephens.
Human interest stories with a local historical bent have been a feature of the EDN this year, ranging from tales of Old West bandits John Wesley Harding and the Sam Bass Gang to bios of country star Ernest Tubb, born at Telico, and New York gossip columnist Liz Smith, whose parents were married in Ennis.
A four-part series of articles on early 1900s author Katie Daffan was a special project of the EDN, concluding in February’s “History” supplement.
Although June brought news of the fourth local casualty in the War on Terror (the third in a little over a year) –– Sgt. Chadrick Domino, a 2002 EHS grad who was laid to rest in his native Longview –- the month also saw the triumphant return of another Ennis soldier. Tank commander Capt. Jonathan Goza was treated to a reception at La Galleria where he was honored by Mayor Thomas and Congressman Barton.
The Ennis Daily News has experienced its own milestones this year. Publisher Ben Brooks and general manager Lange Svehlak supervised the relocation of the newsroom and circulation department for the convenience of employees, and implemented an upgraded computer operating system. Sports editor Tye Chandler was named Sports Writer of the Year by the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools and honored with a Texas House of Representatives resolution. Reporter Matt Cook became a dad and also took on responsibilities as web editor for the EDN. Composition editor Melissa Severson Honza tied the knot, editor Sandy Manning retired, reporter Randy Bryan Bigham succeeded her and two new office staffers, Teresa Harris and Teresa Watson, were welcomed aboard.

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Posted by on Dec 31 2007. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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