It’s the beginning of a new era for performing arts at Tyler Junior College.
The college broke ground on the new Rogers Palmer Performing Arts Center in a ceremony on Wednesday.
The new facility, which will take the place of Wise Auditorium, will serve as the centerpiece in TJC’s developing Cultural Arts District. The district eventually will stretch from the Tyler Museum of Art to TJC’s Culinary School.
Vice President for Advancement Mitch Andrews said the new facility will serve the college’s robust performing arts programs, many of which are as old as the college itself.
The center is expected to open in January 2021, just in time to celebrate TJC’s 95th anniversary.
The groundbreaking also served as Chancellor Mike Metke’s final public event, as he retires at the end of the month.
“This project addresses our No. 1 unmet need,” Metke said. “I talk about it as a new building because it’s not going to be just a renovation.”
Metke said the vision for the project grew from a concern about whether Wise was still adequate, or even safe, for performers.
The facility is notorious for what professors have nicknamed “the wicked steps” which force performers to go outside of the facility, often in the dark and exposed to the elements, just to cross to the other side of the stage.
That conversation about safety grew and Metke formed a steering committee to decide the path forward.
The Rogers Foundation, who have supported numerous projects at the college over the years, made a $3 million gift to name the new facility.
The center will add 14,000 square feet of space, including a new state-of-the-art stage, performance spaces, art gallery and rehearsal studios.
The entryway will be marked by the Will and Carol Jennings Lobby, and feature memorabilia from Academy Award-winning alumnus Will Jennings. The Amy Faulkner Stage is among other areas of the facility that will honor community members who have made substantial contributions.
The TJC Campaign for the Performing Arts was led by Sheryl Palmer and Margaret Perkins with the goal of raising $7.5 million in private funding for the new construction. Metke said the college also will launch a public phase of fundraising.
During construction the performing arts department will move performances to Jean Browne Theatre and other local venues, for larger performances such as the college’s annual Apache Belle Spring Show and the dance academy’s Nutcracker performance.
The sound of circular saws and hammers could be heard at the end of North Central Avenue on Wednesday where Scott Duncan was leading a team of volunteers to repair and remodel the Rios’ family home.
Duncan, who owns a construction company, took a week off from work to join about 400 others from four Tyler churches to take part in Marvin United Methodist Church’s Mission Week 2019.
Members of Pollard and St. Paul’s United Methodist churches and Iglesia Vida Abundante teamed to repair and remodel three homes, paint restrooms, make blankets, sew dresses, sanitize used medication bottles and make encouragement cards.
Duncan suggested the Rios’ home be a project for Mission Week. He took on the role of crew chief to guide the other volunteers through expanding a bedroom closet, putting in flooring, hanging drywall and paneling, replacing siding and windows and painting the exterior.
“God has blessed me in ways I can’t even talk about,” Duncan said.
Duncan said he does Mission Week because Marvin United Methodist Church supported him through hard times in his life and now he works in a capacity that allows him to give the same support he received.
As Duncan guided the team with the heavy construction efforts, Anne Pattullo, 73, and Marilyn Newman, 65, both of Tyler, and two other women painted the exterior of the house.
Newman said she is a new member of Marvin United Methodist and this was her first time to do Mission Week.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding,” Newman said. “I will be doing it again.”
Pattullo said she has participated in Marvin United Methodist Church’s Mission Week almost all of the 31 years the church has held the event.
“I’ve done this every year, except that one time I got pneumonia and the half a week I had to sit out because I fell off a ladder,” Pattullo said as she dipped her paint brush into a pail of white paint and covered the faded green paint on one of the window frames on the front porch. “The blessings we get from doing this are greater than what we give.”
Duncan said he came over to the Rios’ house about three months ago when he got word the house was selected by the committee.
“There was a water pipe spraying water under the house,” Duncan said. “I pumped about 150 gallons of water from under the house. The humidity, termites and water rotted the floor.”
Duncan said places in the floor sunk about 6 inches due to rotting boards and other issues.
“There are seven people who live in the house,” Duncan said. “They only know we’re replacing the flooring and the siding. It’s going to be a surprise for them.”
Duncan said the elder Rios is in Mexico with a terminally ill family member and the other family members have found places to stay while the work is being done.
“We’re doing good on time,” Duncan said. “We should have everything done by the end of next week.”
Mission Director Melissa Brigman said church members made written suggestions on the potential projects and a committee determined which needs could be met during Mission Week.
“We have people ranging in age from 5 to people in their 90s,” Brigman said. “There are outside projects and inside projects like making blankets and princess dresses.”
The youth mission teams visited nursing home facilities and went to Alto on Wednesday to fill backpacks with school supplies for students affected by recent tornadoes.
Mary Beth Dawes had enough volunteers to set up an assembly line to sew more than 50 princess dresses. The reversible dresses are being made in six different sizes. They will be sent to a church in Tennessee for distribution to children in the Appalachian Region.
“One lady cut fabric all day,” Dawes said. “Another lady ironed and some of the children organized buttons that looked like they belonged together.”
Brigman said another group is working to sanitize medication bottles that will be given to medical mission teams who will reuse the bottles during their work.
Another group made blankets that will be distributed to youth who are in crisis at a local hospital.
The 31st year of Mission Week began June 14 and will end Saturday with a closing ceremony.
A new law will change the licensing process for long-term care providers for persons with intellectual disabilities.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3117 on June 14, and leaders of Breckenridge Village of Tyler said the facility can serve more people as a result of the changes.
“There’s a finite number of licenses to operate these facilities,” said Steven Campbell, Breckenridge Village of Tyler executive director. “And so, in order to obtain one, you have to wait until someone closes down or one’s suspended or they want to sell theirs.”
Texas Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, said he authored the bill after Campbell came to him. The new bill will allow facilities like Breckenridge Village to apply to receive reallocated “beds,” which are a measure of how many people a facility is licensed to serve.
In fall 2017, Breckenridge Village completed construction on three homes, which each can serve six individuals with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. However, the licensing process has been a barrier to admitting more residents, Campbell said.
The three homes were built with private donations and two remain vacant, he said. The third home is operational after Breckenridge Village purchased a license from a broker, a process that has cost the organization up to $250,000 in the past.
“As a result of this bill, there will be processes put in place to — hopefully soon — obtain additional licenses to open up these facilities,” Campbell said.
A discussion about whether to give a raise to the county treasurer turned into a debate about whether the county has been practicing gender parity when giving raises to elected officials.
Two members of the Smith County Commissioners Court raised questions at a budget workshop Tuesday about whether female elected officials were getting appropriate raises compared to male elected officials.
The discussion started when Smith County Treasurer Kelli White asked County Judge Nathaniel Moran during her budget presentation for a raise, and Moran said she was asking for too much.
Between salary and supplements, White made $68,135 in fiscal year 2018, according to data from the county. In the last budget year, White asked for a raise and received a raise of $3,351, bringing her base salary to $70,366.
That same year, Sheriff Larry Smith and Tax Assessor Gary Barber received a $12,000 raise each, bringing their base salaries to $103,027 and $88,718, respectively. Smith County’s constables received $6,613 each, bringing their base salaries to $60,000. Other elected officials received 2.9 percent cost of living raises.
White said Tuesday she is paid 33 percent lower than the state average for her position. She said Smith and Barber were in similar situations but received $12,000 raises, while she received a smaller amount.
“As far as fair is fair, basically the sheriff and the tax collector got half of what they were behind,” she said. “If I’m behind 33 percent, then 15 to 16 percent is fair.”
Moran’s working budget calls for a $3,500 raise for the District Clerk, the County Clerk, and The Treasurer; 1.5 percent cost-of-living increases for employees, excluding Moran and members of the Commissioners Court; additional travel allowances for the four justices of the peace; and supplements for county judges and district judges.
On Tuesday, Moran cited the raise given in last year’s budget, but he said if he gave White $5,000, it would be a significant increase over the course of two years.
He added that White’s office has fewer duties than other treasurer’s offices throughout the state, so it isn’t appropriate to look at counties with similar populations and seek to pay her the same amount.
“Those comparisons are a little bit disingenuous to just continue to put those from population to population,” Moran said.
Moran said County Clerk Karen Phillips, who made a $72,302 base salary plus $240 in supplements in fiscal year 2018, had at one point asked for a $20,000 raise.
“I think that’s unreasonable, and I wasn’t willing to go there,” Moran said.
“So, over a two-year period of time, I think it was appropriate to give you a $7,000 raise — even an $8,500 raise to get you higher and more equivalent to your counterparts across the state — but I don’t think a $10,000 raise this year on top of a $3,500 raise last year is appropriate,” he said.
Moran said he is open to changing his mind based on what members of the Commissioners Court say, but he didn’t want to keep rehashing salary issues. “We just see them differently,” he said.
Commissioner Jeff Warr said he would support $5,000 raises each for the county clerk, the district clerk and for White.
However, Warr said elected officials run for the offices.
“It is different when we hire a department head,” Warr said. He said elected officials have “a posted salary. If we’re tired of it, we should leave or term-limit out.”
Commissioner Cary Nix said the public gets mad every time members of the Commissioners Court take a pay raise.
“I want everybody to get what they deserve, but personally I won’t take a pay raise for a job that I ran for,” he said.
Commissioner Terry Phillips, who is married to County Clerk Karen Phillips, spoke next. He said he would not comment on his wife’s situation but could comment on the salaries of District Clerk Penny Clarkston and White.
Clarkston took office at the beginning of the year, but her predecessor made a base salary of $72,302 and supplement of $960 in fiscal year 2018, according to data from the county.
“I still have a problem with why you would give a $12,000 raise to the tax assessor collector — and I love Gary — I ain’t saying he ain’t worth it. He was behind just like the other two ladies are behind, so why would you treat the male different than the female.
“I mean it just seems like that’s where it’s at with me,” Phillips said. “But I’m fine because I’m not for exorbitant raises. I voted against raises last year for that particular reason. I just don’t know where the reasoning is.”
Commissioner JoAnn Hampton agreed.
“What you have — and I’m not saying this is true — but you have discrimination because you have no problem just flat out just saying, ‘Tax assessor $12,000, sheriff, whatever percent,’ and there was really no discussion on it,” Hampton said.
Warr called Hampton’s statement ludicrous.
He said officials should take into account how many people someone is responsible for managing, and whether there are life-and-death issues at hand. He said clerks don’t deal with life-and-death issues.
Hampton added: “You have to look at the duties and all that, but the way it was done, that’s the way it looks.”
Phillips said if officials only looked at the number of people in the department, then the sheriff is very underpaid.
“The numbers don’t pan out, and I made a mistake thinking about it that way,” he said.
Moran said the number of people a person manages isn’t the sole factor of determining a salary, but it has to be considered. He said he was not happy with what Phillips and Hampton said but would get over it by the end of the meeting.
“I totally reject the notion that somehow I’ve made a recommendation on the basis of gender in this case,” Moran said. “That’s ludicrous to me and I’m stunned that either one of you would actually mention that or suggest that I did that.”
The Commissioners Court remains in the early stages of setting a budget for fiscal year 2020, which starts Oct. 1. Members will hold their next budget workshop July 23.
At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Jeff Warr told Moran he would recommend the draft working budget be amended to include a raise for the county judge.
“I would like that to be put back in, for you, not for us,” Warr said. “We all have ability to have some other time to pursue our other jobs or interests” but the County Judge position is a full-time job.
Phillips added that he would be fine with Moran taking a raise.
TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield