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George W. Bush to be inaugural speaker in new East Texas speaker series

LONGVIEW — Former President George W. Bush is set to speak in early December at the inaugural program in a regional speaker series being launched by the Tyler Morning Telegraph and other leading institutions across East Texas.

The East Texas Speakers Forum, a new nonprofit organization, will present “An Evening With President George W. Bush” on Dec. 3 at the Belcher Center in Longview.

Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday through the Belcher Center box office. Seat prices are $65 and $100. For more information or to buy tickets, visit, call 903-233-3080 or visit the box office.

“We were inspired by enthusiasm in our communities after other recent speaker events, by hearing President Bush at another Texas fundraiser, and especially by the possibility of furthering a sense of regionalism and encouraging East Texas communities and organizations to pull together on this project,” said Ric Brack, president of the Speakers Forum.

Representatives of presenting sponsors Christus Health, LeTourneau University, Longview News-Journal, Texas Bank and Trust, Tyler Morning Telegraph and the University of Texas at Tyler have been working together on the project since early this year.

According to a mission statement developed by the regional partners, other goals include increasing civic engagement and community education by “providing a platform for interesting people to talk about topics that inspire, challenge and concern our communities.”

Bush, who served as the 43rd president of the United States from 2001 to 2009 and was the 46th governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000, will share stories from his life in business and politics in a Q&A format.

The board-led nonprofit has commitments of financial support from individuals and corporations across East Texas and fundraising efforts are underway, said Sam Forester, a founding director of the Speakers Forum.

“Our initial focus is to gain participation from Gregg, Harrison, Panola, Rusk, Smith, Titus and Upshur counties, which will include fundraising and future events in all these counties,” he said, adding that state and local officials also are pledging support. Future efforts would include other East Texas communities.

Forester said that any individual or business interested in being a founding sponsor may contact the Speakers Forum via email at or by calling 903-237-7755.

Along with Forester and Brack, who is editor of the Longview News-Journal, other founding directors are: Mary Elizabeth Jackson, vice president, government affairs at Christus Health; Cynthia Hellen, senior director of the Belcher Center at LeTourneau University; Jennifer Harris, senior vice president at Texas Bank and Trust; Gai Bennett, director of events at the Tyler Morning Telegraph; Laura Jackson, assistant vice president at the University of Texas at Tyler, and Amy McHaney of Tyler Morning Telegraph parent company M. Roberts Media.

Visit easttexasspeakers for more information.

Tyler’s fire chief hopes new academy will create a more diverse department

The chief of the Tyler Fire Department didn’t plan to be a firefighter until he sat for a civil service exam in Fort Worth on a suggestion from a friend.

David Coble had been studying to be an engineer at the time. After passing the civil service test, he entered the Fort Worth Fire Department’s training academy. The rest is history.

Now, Coble is planning to create a new fire academy within the Tyler Fire Department to train new firefighters in the same way he was trained. He hopes it will diversify the department in terms of race, ethnicity and gender.

The new academy would be a change from practices over the past two decades, during which the Tyler Fire Department has required incoming firefighters to have already completed their training at other institutions, such as community colleges.

In Tyler, the longtime program teaching the ground-up course for firefighting skills and hazardous materials training course right now has been Tyler Junior College. Other programs in the region include Kilgore College.

Historically, the city of Tyler did teach the basic fire suppression course. It’s not clear when that ended, but a 1998 article from the Tyler Morning Telegraph says that the city sent 14 new firefighters to fire academy that year.

“Normally in the large cities, they have their own academies,” Coble said. “Tyler is considered a midsize city, so we’re on the cusp of needing our own academy anyway. This will give us better control.”

“And again it gives us that opportunity for a diverse group of people,” he said. “Diversity is something that we’ve been lacking. I would like to see that the Tyler Fire Department reflects the community that we serve.”

When he was hired in 2016, Coble was Tyler’s first African American fire chief. He said the 163 members now include two African Americans and three Hispanic firefighters. There are no women.

In February, the Tyler City Council approved an ordinance change to compensate bilingual firefighters who speak Spanish at the scene of fires. Coble said at the time that the pay could help bring in Hispanic firefighters who speak Spanish.

The fire academy is Coble’s largest diversity effort so far, but it won’t come overnight. Existing firefighters who train others will need to get additional certifications. That money, about $21,000, is in the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget that the City Council is scheduled to vote on at the end of the month.

Construction also needs to finish on Fire Station No. 4 on Cherryhill Drive, near Jack Elementary School. Ground was first broken in November. The station is being built with a classroom to host the fire academy from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Coble said he expects to offer the first civil service exam a year from now, in the fall of 2020. The first class of the new fire academy would start sometime in 2021. The full fire academy course would take six to seven months, he said.

People coming into the department who already were certified through another program would be offered an abbreviated academy for six weeks. In both cases, firefighters would be paid a salary while they are in training.

Any increase in diversity would come at the rate of natural turnover. Coble said about five to seven firefighters leave the department each year, so each year’s fire academy class would need to have approximately that many members.

They would be chosen from a list of test scores, from highest to lowest, with five points added to the scores of veterans. Members would not be chosen based on race, ethnicity or gender, but the wider availability of the exam could prompt nontraditional candidates to take it.

Coble said the department plans to hold fitness boot camps next summer to help prepare applicants for the physical requirements of the job. He said the classes would be geared toward women but open to anyone.

“(The) fire department traditionally is a family-type job where people have an uncle or are third-, fourth-generation in the fire service,” Coble said. “That’s never going to go away. That is just a great tradition to have.

“But then there’s those of us who influxed in who didn’t have a relative already on the job who learned about it through recruitment or somewhere and decided to become a firefighter and end up being a very good firefighter,” he said.

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield

What do you want to know about affordable housing in Tyler? We’re reporting together to answer your questions

The Tyler Loop, an in-depth digital magazine, and the Tyler Morning Telegraph, Tyler’s daily newspaper, are teaming up to help our community better understand a topic that’s on a lot of people’s minds.

As Tyler continues to grow, and with increased interest in downtown revitalization, we want to answer your questions. What are Tyler’s affordable housing needs likely to look like going forward? How prepared is our city to meet changing needs? What does affordable housing in Tyler look like today? Where is it? And what role does it play in Tyler’s present and future?

Tell us what you want to know about affordable housing in Tyler by emailing us at or at with “Affordable Housing” in the subject line, or through a simple online form.

We’ll read all of your questions and address as many as we can in our joint reporting on this issue in print and online over the coming weeks. We won’t get to everything, but we’ll try our best.

Why are we working together on this? For one thing, affordable housing is an enormous — and enormously complex — issue, and we believe we can serve our audiences better, and reach more readers, by working together.

In fact, newsrooms in cities and towns across the country are experimenting with collaborations just like this one. For example, in Ohio, over 50 media organizations from across the state worked together to explore how the opioid crisis is impacting Ohio and its residents. In Philadelphia, over 20 news outlets have jointly produced a project called Broke in Philly, reporting on economic mobility and solutions to poverty.

Collaborations like these are becoming more common, and we think that’s a good thing. Newsrooms across the country have drastically shrunk over the past 20 years, or shuttered altogether. In Texas, 14 daily newspapers and nearly 150 weekly newspapers have folded since 2004, and 22 counties have no daily paper. In the face of these challenges, we’re innovating. To best serve our communities going forward, news organizations like ours are finding ways to join forces and pool resources.

We hope you’ll participate in this first-ever collaboration between The Tyler Loop and the Tyler Morning Telegraph. Affordable housing continues to be one of Tyler’s growing issues, and we want to help you be informed and engaged about it. Share your questions with our reporters, and we’ll get to work.

Tasneem Raja is the executive editor of The Tyler Loop and Emily Guevara is the editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph.