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The Texas Department of Transportation has partnered with over 30 state agencies and businesses to encourage Texas drivers to have a sober holiday season.  TxDOT has recruited some special help to encourage drivers NOT to drink and drive.  TxDOT Elves in a special red stretch limo have been touring around Texas including stops in the Golden Triangle Tuesday.  Sarah Dupre with TxDOT explains the Sober Sleigh Ride Limo tour is basically asking people to pledge to have a sober ride this holiday season.  Dupre adds, “We want to make sure people aren’t drinking and driving, that they have designated drivers, or that they pledge to be a designated driver for somebody else and so it is really about everybody having a safe and happy holidays.”  Two TxDOT employees dressed as elves visited the Texas Travel Information Center on Interstate 10 in Orange around noon Tuesday getting people to sign pledge cards that they will not drink and drive or that they will be a designated driver for a friend or family member.  Dupre says the elves and limo will travel to 13 Texas cities when their sleigh ride is over and are wrapping things up this week.  TxDOT wants all Texas drivers to make a personal commitment to drive sober, especially during the holiday season.

Students and staff at Mauriceville Elementary School were evacuated for a short time Wednesday morning after a fire alarm sounded in the Fifth Grade Building. District Spokeswoman Sherry Combs said a teacher heard a beeping sound from a fire alarm and noticed a faint smell of smoke about 9:40. The Mauriceville Volunteer Fire Department arrived and checked the building. No fire, heat or smoke was found. Students and teachers were able to return to their classrooms about 10 a.m.

Lamar State College-Orange conferred more than 215 degrees, certificates and institutional awards at the Fall 2014 Commencement ceremony on December 12th at the Lutcher Theater.

Eight graduates of Lamar State College-Orange graduated with the designation of summa cum laude, with “highest honors.”  Summa cum laude designation includes those students with grade point averages of 3.8 to 4.0.  The students with this designation were Shelly Michelle Smith, Orange;        Hunter Aaron Anderson, Vidor; Victoria Kathleen Elliott, Orange; Krissi Leigh Rickert, Orange; John Paul Patronell, Orange; Renee’ Laverne Clark, Buna; Gina Kay Gross, Orange; and Brittany Heather Sheldon, Nederland. more

Consumers were spending their money across Orange County in November as sales tax returns stayed strong. Nearly all of the cities along with the county have increases in sales tax receipts for the year-to-date. The Texas Comptroller's Officer reports that these amounts were sent to entities in Orange County:
Orange County: $373,458 for the month of November. The county's returns for the year so far are $4.66 million, a 5.8 percent increase from the same time last year.
Bridge City: $111,437 for the month. The city is at $1.36 million for the year, up about 8.8 percent from last year.
Orange: $270,279 for the month. The city has $3.63 million for the year, an increase of 7.4 percent.
Pinehurst: $48,476 for the month. The city so far this year has $670,817, a decrease of 2.63 percent.
Vidor: $208,576 for the month. The city has $2.54 million for the year, an increase of 7.1 percent.
West Orange: $86,516 for the month. The city's returns for the year are $1.07 million, an increase of 6.86 percent.
Orange County Emergency Services District No. 3 (Little Cypress fire and rescue): $54,424 for the month and $474,166 for the year to date.

The West Orange-Cove CISD will not have an interim superintendent until after the Christmas-New Year's holidays. The WO-C school board on Monday met for the third week in a row to vote for the interim position. After meeting in a closed-door executive session for about 30 minutes, the board returned and no one made a motion to name an individual for the interim spot. On December 1, a proposal to make Assistant Superintendent Dr. Silvia Martinez failed in a split vote. A week later, on December 8, a proposal to make former Beaumont ISD superintendent Dr. Timothy Chargois failed in a split vote. Only about a dozen citizens attended Monday's meeting, a big difference than the week before.
The split in the board was evident once again during a discussion of a calendar timeline for hiring a permanent superintendent. Board President Pete Amy's proposal of a calendar for applications and interview has a goal of having a new superintendent starting work April 1. However, Trustee Bryan "Chop" Thomas Muhammad said a competent interim could carry the school district through the spring semester. He suggested starting the process back to May 18 and hire someone in June.
Amy then said he was going to "ask a candid question." He wanted to know if Muhammad was waiting until after the May school board election to see if new trustees would choose the superintendent. Muhammad asked back "Are you pushing to have the process because of the election?" Amy's seat will be up for election in 2015 along with the position held by Eric Mitchell. In addition, Nathaniel Colbert was elected for an unexpired term and he will have to run in 2015.
Muhammad made a motion not to pass Amy's calendar for the hiring process. Colbert voted with Muhammad. The Rev. Hardy O'Neal, who in previous weeks has voted the same as Muhammad and Colbert, was absent. After that motion failed, Amy, along with Trustees Mitchell, Sarah Jefferson-Simon and Ruth Hancock voted to adopt Amy's calendar.
The superintendent's position is vacant because James Colbert resigned to become the superintendent of the Harris County Department of Education in Houston.
Students, faculty and staff in the West Orange-Cove school district will get an early holiday because of the state championship football game Friday. The school board Monday agreed to change the calendar to have an early release day for classes on Thursday. Friday will be a holiday. The day will be made up later in the year. The West Orange-Stark High Mustangs play for the state football championship Friday at noon at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Pregame on KOGT at 11:45am.

Orange County Sheriff's Office Calls Dec. 10-16

The City Council meeting Tuesday evening in Bridge City was touched with a bit of remorse as the council accepted the letter of resignation of longtime municipal judge Don Peters because of illness. Mayor Kirk Roccaforte spoke for the whole council in thanking Judge Peters for his many years of service. Roccaforte said, “I certainly appreciate it, and I feel everyone else does also.” The main order of business was appointing a new Associate Municipal Judge, and Ida Schossow the president of the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce was appointed to the position. Schossow accepted the appointment, “I’m looking forward to working with Bridge City and with the court and I’m just excited about taking on the challenge.” Schossow admitted there are some big shoes to fill replacing Don Peters. She will need some training, but does have many years experience in management and is a retired banker. Schossow added, “Fill the shoes of Judge Peters, I can’t do that, I can just hope to do half as good as he has done.” The City Council reappointed Jimmy Scales as the Municipal Judge who will work with Schossow to get her trained for her new responsibilities. Paul Fukuda was reappointed as city attorney and Sherry Tisdale was reappointed as city secretary. All the positions are for 2 years beginning the first of the year. The city council also heard a report about the recent fiscal year audit of the city from Keri Michutka who performed the audit. The council accepted the bid for a trust property at 150 Crepe Myrtle which gives Bridge City $605 in back taxes and puts the property back on the tax roll for future years.

Essie Bellfield, City of Orange, Council Member - District 3, received the Honorary Membership Award by the International Executive Housekeeping Association (IEHA) at the 48th Conference in Orlando, Florida. The IEHA is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping facility managers maintain cleaner, safer, and healthier buildings. Ms. Bellfield was awarded this Award for her “notable contributions to the cleaning industry and as a leader in cleaning science by protecting the health of building occupants while raising the value of cleaning operations.” Ms. Bellfield was first elected to City Council in 1994. Since then, she has served several terms and as Mayor from 1997 - 2000.
   
West Orange - Stark Middle School recently raised over $1000 in a penny drive for the Gulf Coast Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. First period classes competed against one another. Students in Cornelius' Cooper first period class raised over $200 and were recognized as Silver Champions (group picture). Students in Kathleen Rogers' first period class received Bronze Champion recognition for raising close to $200. 
   
The Orangefield High School Freshman Academy held a 3 day competition to raise money for the American Cancer Society. In the "Quarters For Cancer" competition, the freshman class raised a total of $82.25 in quarters. Mrs. Gravett's 2nd period English class won the competition, raising $60.75 of the total amount. All proceeds will be donated to the American Cancer Society on behalf of the ORANGEFIELD ISD Relay For Life team.

The ATF and the Houston Police Department Gang Task Force are now working with the Orange Police Department to help find three men from Houston who shot up a house in Orange. The residents of the house had a large assortment of illegal drugs.
A fourth man riding with the other three died during an invasion Friday night on Ridgemont Drive. Orange Detective Captain Cliff Hargrave said the man had a prison record and was covered in gang tattoos.
A man living at the house is in critical condition with more than a dozen gunshot wounds. Two women, a mother and daughter, living at the house have been arrested on several charges. Police found a seven-pound brick of marijuana along with numerous baggies of the substance. Other drugs found included hundreds of prescription pills and PCP.
Captain Hargrave said investigators are trying to determine why men from Houston would drive more than 100 miles to attack a house in Orange.
The house invasion was about 10 p.m. Friday at 3733 Ridgemont Drive. Four men drove up in a white, four-door, full-sized pickup truck. They were armed with pistols and a military assault-style rifle. One of the men rammed the front door open with his shoulder. The occupants also had guns and a shoot-out ensued. 35-year-old Francisco Sanchez of Houston managed to get outside and he died in the yard. The other three in the pickup truck left.
31-year-old Brian Gant, who lives at the house, was taken by ambulance to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Beaumont in critical condition.
35-year-old Kenyatta Walker (left) and her 21-year-old daughter, Tymecia Walker, have been charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of more than five pounds of marijuana. Kenyatta was also charged with felon in possession of a firearm and tampering with evidence. She has been released from the Orange County Jail on a total of $100,000 bond.

The Orange Police Department investigated two residential burglaries and the burglary of a vehicle during the past three days. A woman living in the 1300 block of First Street reported a break-in at 11:46 a.m. She told police she had been at work when her godson called her because he had discovered that the back door was open. The woman said someone had gotten inside and ransacked the house. The woman reported more than $1,600 in cash and items were taken including a .9 mm Smith and Wesson pistol, Playstation 4 and a 37-inch TV. The other burglary was at an apartment at 3333 Ridgemont Drive. The resident reported the theft at 8:29 a.m. Saturday. A microwave oven, pots, pans and food were missing. A vehicle parked in the lot of a business at 400 16th Street had money stolen. The burglary was reported at 12:48 p.m. Saturday.

Cheryl Royal, Director of Student Activities for Bridge City ISD, received the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce Employee of the Month Award for December 2014. Cheryl has been married for almost 25 years to Keith Royal, Pastor of Winfree Baptist Church and has 3 children – Kelly, Jordan and Tanner all BCHS graduates. Cheryl graduated from Texas State University in 1990. Her first career was stay-at-home mom for 10 years before going to work for BCISD as a US History/Psychology Teacher. Five years ago Cheryl became Director of Student Activities and Leadership Teacher as well as Student Council Advisor which has over 275 members this 2014-2015 school year. Cheryl said, “I am absolutely certain that I have the BEST job in the state of Texas because of the incredible students and faculty/staff that I get to work with every day. The best part is seeing students develop into their leadership potential and discovering who they were created to be.” Cheryl was presented her award, sponsored by Sabine River Ford, by Kelly Zoch – BCHS Student Body President and Kellyn Cormier – BCHS Student Body Vice President at the December Monthly Networking Coffee hosted by Bridge City ISD. Cheryl also received gifts from the following businesses: Little Caesars, Total Impressions Salon, Dupuis Tire, Geaux Mail, The Record Newspaper, Tiger Rock Martial Arts, Michele Michelle Day Spa, Dairy Queen, Sabine Federal Credit Union and Mary Kelone, LMT, NCBTMT.

Several tourism sponsors in Orange County will be getting checks in the next week from the County Auditor.  The Commissioners Court headed by County Judge Pro Tem David Dubose voted unanimously Monday on awarding Hotel Occupancy Tax funds to seven applicants for the HOT funds that had been approved by County Auditor Mary Johnson who was wanting to pay all the HOT funds checks at the same time, but there are a couple of applicants for the funds that did not have their proper paperwork.  Monday’s action will at least pay those applicants that are incompliance which has the president of the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce Ida Schossow happy for them.  Schossow said, “I think it’s great that these entities are going to be getting their money back, and it’s a great way to bring tourism into our town so I think it’s good that it was all clarified.”  The Orange County Jail’s inspection by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards was received by commissioners Monday.  The inspection report done on December 5 noted the excellent work of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and stated it demonstrates the outstanding leadership of Sheriff Keith Merritt and the diligent work of the jail’s staff.  Sheriff Merritt expressed his appreciation for the outstanding performance by his staff reminding again that the inspections come unannounced thus requiring the jail to be ready for inspection year round.  Merritt also thanked the Commissioners, “A lot of the credit goes to the commissioners also for making sure the budgetary support is there to support the jail and what we do.”  The sheriff thinks it is important to note Orange County does not have problems with overcrowding or structural problems with the jail like many counties in the state.  Merritt said this was actually the second inspection of the jail by the commission this year which is unusual.  The previous inspection was done in March, and Merritt added the jail passed with flying colors that time also.

   
Saturday night the 2014 OHS Winter Formal King and Queen were crowned. Pictured is King, Chase Slaughter, and Queen, Kristen Blanke.

The Bobcats, like most area schools, will have an Early Release Day Friday for the start of the Christmas Break.

Christmas!  "Cast Your Vote" in this weeks poll

Boil Water Rescind Notice - On 12/11/14, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TECQ) required our public water system Mauriceville M.U.D., PWS ID 1810144 to issue a Boil Water Notice (BWN) to inform our customers that due to the presence of contaminants or an interruption in service, water from our system must be boiled prior to consumption for all of its customers from Saxon Circle to Meadowlark Road, this includes all roads between Saxon and Meadowlark. . Our system has taken the necessary corrective actions to restore adequate pressure. Disinfectant levels, and/or bacteriological quality and has provided (TECQ) with testing results that indicate that the water no longer requires boiling as of 12/13/14.

The Orangefield Cajun Country Christmas Parade and Festival was held Saturday.  You can see more photos in the KOGT Photo Gallery.

What's happening around town?  Check the Happenings page!

The Orange Housing Authority is boosting the local economy in 2014 with new construction of three separate apartment complexes. In November, the City of Orange issued two permits totaling $9.7 million on two of the complexes. ITex Construction received a permit for $4.2 million worth of work at 2540 W. Park Avenue, the former Pine Grove site. The same company got a permit for $5.2 million of construction at 2500 Allie Payne Road, the Velma Jeter complex. ITexas paid a total fee of $31,080 for the two permits.  Also during the month, the housing authority took out a permit for a $107,000 fire sprinkler system at the Sikes Road apartments that have been under construction since July. That complex is valued at $3.57 million.

Another apartment complex also received a building permit in November. The Fox Run Apartments at 2600 Allie Payne Road is doing $30,000 worth of remodeling work to convert a four-bedroom apartment into a handicap unit.

Two permits were issued for residential storage buildings worth a total of $5,300. Two houses on West Cherry Avenue in the Old Orange Historic District having remodeling projects totaling $27,000. The city issued one permit for a residential fence worth $1,952. Four houses have permits for residential mechanical work for heating and air-conditioning systems.  The total value was $16,931.

Two houses are getting swimming pools. A permit for a $33,685 pool was issued for a residence on Chasse Stone. A house on Hillbrook Drive is getting a $35,000 lap pool.

The deal between the City of Orange and private developer Brazos Urban for the renovation of the old Southern Printers Building is now dead. Tuesday morning the Orange City Council and the board of the city Economic Development Corporation voted to end all negotiations with Brazos Urban and Michael Wray. The council and board met in closed-door executive session for more than an hour to discuss the real estate deal. "The city has spent many months in negotiations with Mr. Wray and just could not get to the point where we could resolve all the issues," City Manager Dr. Shawn Oubre said after the meeting. In a phone interview later in the morning, Wray, an Orange native who lives in Austin, said the city killed its own deal because of a new requirement. He said the city lately asked for a deed of trust, which had never been discussed before during 11 months of negotiations. According to Wray, a deed of trust is never needed in similar projects. In October, the city and Wray reached an agreement for Brazos Urban to receive $350,000 in special economic development money for the project. The Southern Printers Building is on Fifth Street near the city's board walk and Riverfront Pavilion. The plans were to turn the upstairs of the building into six loft-style apartments. The downstairs would become a restaurant, coffee lounge and shops. Brazos Urban would eventually repay $50,000. The city would pay the financial incentives in increments based on the amount of work that had been completed. Wray said he is still interested in developments in the area, but he mentioned Orangefield and Lake Charles as good possibilities. He did not mention Orange. After the meeting, City Councilmember Larry Spears Jr. said he hopes that the end of the Brazos Urban deal does not discourage other developers from downtown Orange.

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