Year in Review: Palestine Herald Press’ Top 10 Stories of 2021 – Palestine Herald Press

Posted By on January 2, 2022

Editors Note: We took a look at the stories that made the news in 2021 and narrowed down our picks for the Top 10 to include stories that captured the most attention or affected the most readers throughout the year.

We invite you to follow along with the news of the day in 2022 through our print and digital outlets: The printed edition of the Palestine Herald Press; our web presence at palestineherald.com; our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/palestineheraldpress; and our Twitter feed, found @PalestineHerald.

Best wishes for a happy and successful 2022 from the staff and management of the Herald Press.

Now, in the order, our picks for the Top 10 Local Stories of 2021:

1. Winter storm Uri ravages Texas, shuts down power grids

A winter storm dropping snow and ice also sent temperatures plunging across the southern plains Feb. 13 through Feb. 17, 2021, prompting a power emergency in Texas a day after conditions canceled flights and impacted traffic across large swaths of the United States.

Rotating power outages were initiated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, meaning hundreds of thousands went without electricity as temperatures fell into the teens near Dallas and 20s around Houston.

Palestine and Anderson County residents had no idea the harsh realities they would endure throughout the week of Sunday, Feb. 14 through Friday, Feb. 19.

Frozen roads and problems with no electricity or water were issues throughout the county.

Many travelers were stranded in local hotels with limited resources, however, local residents and business owners did their best to help make them comfortable, providing food and meals when they could.

Locally, the storm not only kept residents in the cold and dark, it also wreaked havoc on Palestine water system. Initially, officials thought the problem was two fold, the gauges that show how much water is stored in the city tanks froze up, making it seem there was more water available than there actually was, and the feeder lines for the chemicals that treat the incoming water, stored inside the treatment plant, also froze.

Once the lines thawed, and the plant was operational, city water crews realized there was a power outage to the system that signals the river to send water to Palestine.

2. COVID-19, the continuation

Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston responded to the onset of COVID early in the year by working with the hospital and other stakeholders in procuring and administering hundreds of vaccines to the citizens of the county.

As vaccines became available to the masses in early 2021, and the economy slowly began to recover from the Alpha variant of COVID, the community was hit hard with the Delta variant. Palestine Regional Medical Center was overwhelmed with COVID cases, working at capacity with no available beds in its ICU. Patients that need to be in ICU are on hold in the emergency room and the hospital is still on diversion for outside transfers.

To help alleviate the strain on local hospitals, Johnston facilitated the opening of COVID-19 infusion center and a rapid testing center in the Anderson County Civic Center.

Both centers were staffed with volunteers. The infusion center was also staffed by Dr. Brandy Ricard-Watson, the Anderson County Health Advisor, retired nurses, Dr. Carolyn Salter and nine students from Liberty Medical School who are on rotation with PRMC.

During the time the center was in operation, 1,005 people were tested for COVID and 583 people were infused with the monoclonal antibodies.

Our local COVID numbers have fluctuated throughout the year but dropped off tremendously in the late fall. Those numbers began to climb again just after Christmas as the Omicron variant made it to Texas.

Judge Michael Davis listens to arguments regarding Union Pacific's agreement with the city of Palestine

3. Union Pacific jobs must stay

Union Pacific Railroad met with Palestine staff April 15 and told them they have 60 days until the Palestine car facility closes. Union Pacific said in a statement it has been accelerating its continuous improvement plan and implementing Precision Scheduled Railroading principles undertaking operational changes across its system. One of those operational changes is the closing of its main car repair facility in Palestine. The closure of the Palestine car repair facility would result in the abolishment of as many as 57 positions.

In June, the city of Palestine and Anderson County met Union Pacific in the 369th District Court in Cherokee County, presided over by Judge Michael Davis, in ongoing litigation with regard to the 1955 judgment between the parties. Union Pacific was found by the court to be out of compliance with the 1955 judgment requiring UP to provide employment numbers and payroll reports on a monthly basis to the city. UP had been out of compliance with this since December 2020.

In July, Davis ordered Union Pacific Railroad to stick to the 1955 judgment with the city of Palestine. Davis said he would strictly interpret the 1955 judgment as it was written. Davis said he would revisit the case if proper pleadings are filed in the future.

In a separate ongoing lawsuit, Union Pacific alleges that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 preempts the 1872 Agreement between the company and the city of Palestine/Anderson County and asked the court to void its obligations to Palestine to maintain a facility here and a percentage of employees at that facility.

Left to right: Mayor Dana Goolsby, Interim City Manager Teresa Herrera and John Christon, Palestine Mall Redevelopment, LLC

4. SOLD! Redevelopment plans coming for Palestine mall

The city of Palestine finalized the sale of the mall to the Christon Company.

The Christon Company got the 206,259 square foot shopping center, located at 2000 S. Loop 256, for the bargain price of $1.5 million, which pays off what the city owes on the building and gets it back on the tax rolls.

The mall was built in 1980 and renovated in 1991. The city purchased the mall in 2009 for $3.5 million.

The Christon Company has been interested in the mall since 2015 and has big plans for redevelopment of the property. Those plans include attracting national brands.

Current tenants include Aarons, Burkes Outlet, the Palestine City Library, the V.A. Clinic, Texas Workforce Office and Trinity Valley Community College.

5. Neches ISD principal indicted, arrested

Former elementary principal at Neches Independent School District, Kimberlyn Snider was indicted by the grand jury on charges of tampering/fabricating physical evidence with intent to impair, a third degree felony and five counts of official oppression in January. Snider turned herself into the Anderson County Sheriff's Office Feb. 2.

Despite the indictment and subsequent arrest, the Neches Board of Trustees voted Feb. 22 to extend Sniders contract, after her husband, Superintendent Randy Snider decided to retain his wife as elementary principal.

The Neches Independent School District accepted the retirement letter of Randy Snider as superintendent May 17. Sniders retirement was effective June 30.

Kimberlyn was eventually put on administrative leave by the school district.

She was in court on Aug. 27 for a pre-trial hearing. During the hearing District Court Judge Deborah Oaks Evans set the trial announcement for Dec. 16 and the trial for January 10, 2022. Snider has pled not guilty to all charges.

Snider is also currently under review by the Texas Education Agency.

The TEA reported there were 33 complaints against her since Jan. 1, 2021 and that shes under review by the agencys Educator Investigation Division. The TEAs review of Snider remains ongoing.

Employees with the city of Palestine raised $10, 314 in around three hours with a barbecue fundraiser for the family of a fellow employee, Dustin Rodgers, who was shot and killed Saturday, March 20. Dustin Rodgers, 28, a mechanic with the city of Palestine, was well liked by his fellow staff members. Pictured from left, Dustins mother, Lisa Rodgers, his wife, Kayla Rodgers holding their youngest child and Patsy Smith, City Parks and Recreation Director. For those who couldnt make it, but would like to help the family can make donations through a GoFund Me account at http://www.gofundme.com/f/dustin-rodgers-family.

6. Elkhart man killed, child injured in shooting

In March, Dustin Rodgers, 28, of Elkhart was killed and his son, 6, injured in a shooting in Palestine.

The Palestine Police Department responded to reports of a shooting around Spring and Magnolia Streets where they found a truck stopped in the road. Rodgers was shot in the torso and his son suffered a gunshot wound to the foot. Rodgers wife and daughter were also in the vehicle, but were uninjured. Rodgers and his son were taken to Palestine Regional Medical Center where Rodgers passed away from his injuries and his son was treated and released.

Based on witness statements, the gunfire came from another vehicle also traveling on Spring Street. According to police, the circumstances leading up to the shooting are unknown.

Rodgers, 28, a mechanic with the city of Palestine, was well liked by his fellow staff members.

Later in the month of March, employees with the city of Palestine raised $10, 314 with a barbecue fundraiser for the family of Rodgers.

The Palestine Police Department has issued no new updates on this case and no arrests have been made.

Republican candidate for Anderson County Sheriff, Rudy Flores

7. Theres a new sheriff in town

At midnight on New Year's Eve 2021, Anderson County ushered in a new year and welcomed new sheriff Rudy Flores.

Surrounded by family and friends, Flores was sworn into office by the Honorable Michael Davis, judge of the 369th Judicial District Court. Afterwards, Flores swore in his new leadership team, made up of his new Chief Deputy Nick Webb and three captains.

This was Flores first bid for public office.

8. Museum for East Texas Culture tops discussion in city council

The Museum of East Texas Culture, currently closed, was a big topic of conversation during the Palestine City Council meetings this year.

The Reagan Building, home of the Museum of East Texas Culture, is owned by the city and they are responsible for that building. Through a study done by the city, when they were considering moving the library into the building with the museum, they were quoted a cost of $10 million for a complete renovation including Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades. ADA requirements include a reasonable and achievable plan in place by the owner and any lessee before it can be opened to the public. The city is in favor of allowing the museum to reopen, but there are some requirements that must be met first, including a lease and an ADA Compliance Plan.

An issue that complicated the situation was disagreements among museum board members and an attempt to form a new board. The city does not know which board to recognize and will have to wait to go forward with the museum, until the two entities can come to an agreement.

The new location for the Palestine Library will actually be one of its former locations--the Carnegie building on N. Queen St.

9. Palestine Library headed back to one of its former homes

The search for a new home for the Palestine Library began in July when the city council sold the mall and signed a one-year lease with the Christon Company, who purchased the Palestine Mall and gave them 12 months to relocate.

Surveys and studies to build a new library and to possibly rehabilitate the Reagan School building met dead ends when the costs were too exorbitant for the current city budget, however the cost to rehab Reagan School for the library is estimated at $10 million.

City Manager Teresa Herrera suggested the Carnegie building as an alternative for the library, at a cost of roughly $600,000 to rehab and make it ADA compliant. The Carnegie building, 502 N. Queen St., was a previous home of the library. Built in 1914, the Carnegie building will soon once again become home to the Palestine Library.

This solution will be a reduction of space for the library, but will allow for them to continue their programs and services.

Robert Roberson leaving courthouse on Wednesday afternoon, March 10.

10. Evidentiary hearing in death penalty case

After a two and a half year hiatus, the evidentiary hearing in the death penalty case of Robert Roberson was held in March in a hybrid of Zoom and in-person testimony at the Anderson County Courthouse.

Roberson was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2003 in Anderson County for the death of Nikki Curtis, his two-year-old daughter.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his scheduled June 21, 2016 execution and sent Robersons case back to the trial court level to consider the merits of four distinct claims including a junk science claim.

An evidentiary hearing initially began in August 2018 but was placed on continuance Aug. 14, 2018 after District Clerk Teresia Coker found 15-year-old evidence, including Nikkis lost head CAT scans in the Anderson County Courthouse basement.

The evidentiary hearing took eight days and was a hybird of Zoom and in-person testimony at the Anderson County Courthouse.

Robersons legal team, lead by Gretchen Sween, called a total of six witnesses, including three experts, to the stand before resting after six days of testimony.

The attorneys and judge then each wrote Findings of Facts and conclusions of law and submitted them back to Court of Criminal Appeals. The CCA will review these finding and conclusions, which could take over a year, before a decision is rendered by the highest appeals court in Texas.

Roberson has long maintained he does not understand what happened to his daughter and he had no intent to harm her, or cause her death.

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Year in Review: Palestine Herald Press' Top 10 Stories of 2021 - Palestine Herald Press

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