Tiger Rock schools teach martial arts, 
self-defense, physical fitness – and more.

                                     Hannah Feldschau/photo by Yvonne Nabors

by james shannon
business journal

The large crowd gathered at Bulldog Stadium in Nederland for the 2011 Relay For Life last April 29 was of two minds – solemn at the gravity of the occasion and simultaneously euphoric as they rallied to the cause of the American Cancer Society’s campaign to soothe the afflicted and find a cure.
As hundreds of walkers circumnavigated the track, Master Wayne Mathews of the Mid-County TaeKwonDo Academy stood, surrounded by two dozen of his students, on a platform in the middle of the field. The cause was personal to Mathews, who had lost his mother to cancer less than a year before.
His students and instructors formed a protective phalanx around their leader, whose emotions that night, while under control, were close to the surface. Later, Mathews was typically low key as he recalled the event.
“During the relay, we had students of all age groups there, all the way from 4-year-olds to Miss Johnson, who is in her 60s, and it’s just something we enjoy doing,” said Mathews, making a reference to Paula Johnson, who is upfront and ebullient about her status as a breast cancer survivor – and a skilled black belt capable of more than holding her own with younger opponents of both genders.
Also on display was a clear demonstration that what comes out of that academy is more than martial arts, self-defense and physical fitness. Rather, it is an expression of community, values and discipline that encompasses all these items.
It is instructive to learn their outreach is not limited to the mats and sparring bags on the studio floor.
“We also go into the schools and do what we call a ‘Partners in Learning’ – we don’t to try to sell our business because we’re not there to do that. We’re there to teach about being safe; about school awareness; and if you do good in school, how it projects to every other aspect of your life,” said Mathews.
Mathews started his taekwondo training in 1983 under the leadership of Senior Master Marv Conway. He currently holds the rank of sixth-degree black belt with the International TaeKwonDo Alliance and is rated as a master instructor.
The lessons he imparts to students, children and adults alike draw on his nearly 30 years of taekwondo training.
“We try to expose them a way of life following the values and principles that we lay out,” he said.
                 Master Wayne Mathews hoists the national Men’s Free-Sparring trophy in 2000. 
                 Painting by Joyce Bourgeois.

Mathews is a large man who moves with grace on the floor, walking almost on the balls of his feet like a cat ready to pounce – the embodiment of a martial artist at the top of his game. Students of all ages are riveted by his presence and the wisdom he imparts in such a natural manner with seemingly effortless command, the philosopher king of his 60x120 foot realm.

Korean connection

Martial arts can be traced to roughly 10,000 years ago when the ancestors of the Korean people migrated to that peninsula from Central Asia. Formal martial arts training there is a mere 4,000 years old. During the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1909 to 1945, it was forbidden to practice any form of martial arts. After liberation at the end of World War II, The International TaeKwonDo Alliance traces its roots to Grandmaster Won-kuk Lee and his Gym of the Blue Wave. Lee remained active until his death at age 96 in 2003, and his influence continues to be felt today.
The founding members of Tiger Rock Martial Arts began their taekwondo training in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1983, the foundation of what has become Tiger Rock Martial Arts was formed by Grandmaster Bert Kollars, Grandmaster Art Monroe and Grandmaster Craig Kollars. In effect, it is a national franchising company with outlets throughout the U.S. – including a strong presence in Southeast Texas with schools in Beaumont, Nederland, Bridge City, Lumberton, Fannett, Orange and Vidor.
Tiger Rock is based on the solid principles of its tenets: Honor, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, courage, community, strength, humility and knowledge. Students, adults and children alike, recite these tenets of taekwondo at most classes. Full disclosure: I have personally witnessed these recitations many times over the past 17 months that my daughter has attended the Mid-County TaeKwonDo Academy ,where she currently holds the rank of brown belt.
What links the Tiger Rock Martial Arts academies here is the singular effort of the aforementioned Senior Master Marv Conway, who developed this territory at the behest of his teacher, Grandmaster Bert Kollars. Conway in turn became the mentor and master to the generation of taekwondo instructors he developed.
“We’re all in his family tree,” said Mathews. “My parents moved to Texas and that’s where I met my master. I was one of his first students.” That was in 1983; since that time, Mathews has not only founded the Mid-County TaeKwonDo Academy but also won a series of national championships including four consecutive titles in the Men’s Free-Sparring event. One of those was the 2000 event in Biloxi, Miss., pictured here in a painting by Joyce Bourgeois.
While the story of the major domo of each local academy is unique, the common element is the tutelage of Conway.
Master David Howells, owner of Beaumont TaeKwonDo & Jiu-Jitsu, emigrated from England in 1986 and shortly afterward began his TaeKwonDo training under Conway. After serving in the U.S. Army for four years, he returned to Beaumont where he continued his TaeKwonDo training. Master Howells has 24 years training and teaching experience and currently holds the rank of sixth-degree black belt and has consistently earned Top Ten national honors for both sparring and forms competition.
The journey to taekwondo can follow unexpected paths. Elyse Thibodeaux was a newspaper advertising writer when an assignment took her to the Beaumont school. She was intrigued by what she witnessed there, and decided it might be right for her son Aaron, then 10, who wanted to join a friend who took martial arts.
“I signed him up, sat there and watched him for a week, and then I signed up,” recalled Thibodeaux. “I had been looking for some kind of adult dance program and nobody had anything at the time but clogging. I was looking for something where I could get fit and flexible and it looked like fun.”
Thibodeaux described the process that led her to the floor.
“I thought the forms looked like dance routines and I said, ‘Hey, I can do that.’ I came in there thinking this was going to be easy. … No, it’s not. It’s different, but it became a challenge – a really good challenge. It’s so supportive an atmosphere that you can’t help but succeed if you keep coming to class,” she said. “The only regret I have that I didn’t find this earlier in my life.”
She began her training under Senior Master Conway and continues to train under Master Howells. Thibodeaux is a fourth-degree black belt and L4 certified instructor, and has also held the title of World Champion in several competitive categories over the past few years.
In 2010, she founded the Bridge City academy and experienced the roller-coaster ride involved in being the sole proprietor of a fledgling company.
“In terms of being a business, it kinda crosses gamuts,” she said. “It’s a service industry yet it’s a retail establishment, so you get all kinds of different aspects. As a single business owner, one of the coolest things for me is that I’m doing marketing; I’m doing advertising; I’m doing business management; and I’m doing bookkeeping and guess what? If somebody else doesn’t like my ideas, tough!”

                                       Elyse and Aaron Thibodeaux flank Walker Swindell.

Despite her dual roles as businesswoman and martial artist, at heart Thibodeaux is a teacher – and she instructs her charges in life lessons that go far beyond sidekicks.
“’Social competence’ is a good term to encompass some of the skills we teach not only to kids but to adults,” she said. “Kids learning how to do a polite and courteous greeting; kids learning the difference between discipline and self-discipline – a lot of that is social competence. You’re building confidence; you’re building better poise and personal presence.”
Thibodeaux emphasizes that taekwondo is not a fad or a passing fancy.
“It’s a lifestyle that you can do forever. It’s not something that you can do for a month or two months; it’s something that if you choose to do it, you can do it for your life,” she said. At her Bridge City school, she is assisted by son Aaron, now 17, who is a third-degree black belt and L2 regional instructor who will be attending LC-M high school as a senior the fall.
Currently holding classes in a rented space in Bridge City, Thibodeaux has acquired land to build a place of their own on Miller Drive.
All of the Tiger Rock academies offer a summer program. “It’s a way to introduce them to taekwondo,” said Mathews. “The classes are fun and it’s an exciting introductory class.”
From beginners learning their first basic forms to the spirited hand-to-hand combat called “free sparring” to pitched battles with stout bamboo poles that are actually native Korean practice swords, the disciplines taught in these schools are impressive to behold.
At the Relay for Life demonstration, Corbyn Lowe managed to steal the show with an extreme form demonstration. Lowe, 12, has been a student of Master Mathews since he was four years old and is already realizing ambitions as an actor and athlete.
But that night at Bulldog Stadium, he strung together a seemingly impossible routine of kicks and flips, leaving his feet to fly through the air then come slashing back to earth.
No, every Tiger Rock student is not destined to literally fly but each will soar in their own way, and that is something worthy of respect.

Geo Burrito sells Southeast Texas stores to Freebirds World Burrito

'They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.' 
Dave Jones, Geo Burrito owner

by james shannon
business journal

Employees who showed up for work at the Geo Burrito restaurants in Nederland and Beaumont on June 16 found the bulletin board where their schedules were normally displayed empty. A short time later, they learned that Geo Burrito would close its doors for good that night because the stores had been sold – and they were out of a job.
Geo Burrito was founded here in 2009 by owner Dave Jones, who also created the Novrozsky’s chain of burger joints in Southeast Texas. Jones reached an agreement with Tavistock Restaurants in Emeryville, Calif., owners of a number of high-end restaurant properties – and of the Freebirds World Burrito chain that occupies a large niche in the industry called “fast casual,” offering both quick service and a higher quality of food than typical fast-food restaurants.
The two Geo Burrito restaurants in the deal will be quickly converted into Freebirds outlets with hopes to have the new stores open within two weeks.
In an interview, Jones attributed his decision to sell to “economics” and said, “They’re the big boys out there as far as the burrito business, and they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I didn’t sell the name ‘Geo Burrito’ – I sold them my locations. I do have a limited non-compete agreement where I can’t open one around one of these two units.”
Although Jones had reportedly been eyeing expanding Geo Burrito to other cities including Dallas, he decided to let Freebirds purchase the locations here.
“I know they are going to take a piece of the market,” he commented. “My view was they were going to show up here eventually, so might as well take it and roll – at least for these two stores.”
Jones told the Business Journal he was eyeing other food concepts for this area and beyond.
As for those shell-shocked employees who showed up for work last week and discovered they were out of work, Jones offered some assurances.
“Basically I don’t think there will be any” impact on Geo Burrito staff, he insisted. “They’re good people and they said ‘we’ll pretty much hire anybody you got’ – and a lot of these people I’m moving over to Novrozsky’s. We need to hire help because we haven’t hired any help in a while.”

A little research on the Freebirds World Burrito chain – there are currently 13 of them in the Houston area – indicates this not your usual burrito joint.
Described as the creation of two ex-hippies named Mark Orfalea and Pierre Dube, the first Freebirds World Burrito opened in 1987 in a beachfront community that was also a college town.
“They were two guys hanging out here and took up a location across the street from University of California at Santa Barbara,” said Jeff Carl, chief marketing officer for Tavistock Restaurants. When Dube wanted to expand their brand, he moved to College Station, Texas, while Orflea was content to stay in California.
“Mark is still rolling burritos in the original Freebirds in California, which he operates under an agreement with us,” said Carl. Tavistock Restaurants acquired the Freebirds chain in 2007 and it has grown to 50 restaurants, all owned and operated by the company, although franchising is scheduled to begin later this year.
But what exactly is the Freebirds style? “It’s a burrito joint that found its rock ‘n’ roll roots back in the ’60s and ’70s – it actually didn’t really get started until 1987,” said Carl who mentioned some other distinguishing characteristics.
“Not too many places sell ‘pot brownies’ – of course, we do that with a little wink and a nod and put brownies in a black pot,” he said. “And not many people hang motorcycles with the Statue of Liberty riding it holding a burrito, that’s true.”
Extreme décor is not the only source of the sensory overload ambience. The place is loud.
“It’s not for everybody,” said Carl. “We rock out pretty heavily; the music’s turned up to nine and a half. The place absolutely rocks in many ways.”
With an imaginative menu offering a modified Tex-Mex-via-California cuisine prepared fresh from quality ingredients, the formula has yielded benefits.
“We have a great demographic split – we have a lot of young men, as you might guess, but it’s as likely on any given opening day that the first person in the door is a mom with a couple of kids,” observed Carl.
The success of Freebirds World Burrito is all the more remarkable when you consider just how competitive the super burrito field really is.
The largest player is Chipotle Mexican Grill, founded by Steve Ells in 1993 and based in Denver, Colo. The company currently has more than 1,000 locations, with restaurants in 38 states, Washington, D.C., Toronto and London. Much of that growth occurred between 1998 and 2006 when its majority owner was McDonald’s Corporation.
Another burrito giant is Qdoba Mexican Grill, founded in Denver in 1995 by Anthony Miller and partner Robert Hauser. Acquired by the San Diego-based Jack in the Box company in 2004, Qdoba now operates more than 700 locations throughout the U.S. though most Texas stores are concentrated in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Moe’s Southwestern Burritos, another super burrito player whose fast casual Tex-Mex restaurants were originally decorated with large paintings of dead rock stars, was founded in Atlanta in 2000. It had grown to 360 locations by the time it was acquired in 2007 by Focus Brands, an affiliate of the Atlanta-based private equity firm, Roark Capital Group, that owns the Schlotzsky’s, Carvel and Cinnabon brands.
Make no mistake, Tavistock Restaurants harbors ambitions for Freebirds World Burrito to breathe the same rarified air as these top players, as Jeff Carl makes clear.
“All are stores are company owned now, but we’re getting ready to go into franchising this year,” he said. “We’re registered in 42 states with our franchise disclosure documents.”
Meanwhile, Freebirds World Burrito has taken its next small step with the acquisition of the Geo Burrito stores here. Stay tuned.

James Shannon can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 249, or by e-mail at james@beaumontbusinessjournal.com.

Help is on the way

Southeast Texas companies provided aid
in recent tornado outbreak


The massive outbreak of killer tornadoes that occurred April 25-28 resulted in an estimated 327 deaths and left a path of total destruction in its wake. When such disasters strike, the call for help goes out to neighboring states – and Golden Triangle companies and individuals answer the call.
The severe weather rolling across the south gave only a glancing blow to Southeast Texas. Crews with Entergy Texas Inc. restored power to fewer than 10,000 customers here, a very different picture from that seen in states served by other Engery division, particularly in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi where outages numbered in the tens of thousands.
 “After experiencing only a few scattered outages from more thunderstorms overnight, Texas crews are now packing up and heading north,” an April 25 statement from Entergy Texas says. “Crews that left this morning were bound for Arkansas where Tuesday’s storm, the third major storm to hit Arkansas in 11 days, left 88,000 without power. Another group is leaving for Mississippi this afternoon.”
Personnel sent to Arkansas included 49 Entergy Texas distribution line toolworkers, 27 contract toolworkers and 10 transmission line contract toolworkers, in addition to four, three-person management teams with 13 support personnel and a six-person staging crew. Later that same day, a team of 60 headed for Mississippi, 45 of whom were toolworkers with the remainder serving as support personnel.
Entergy Texas management said despite this deployment, the company was careful to maintain a sufficient number of crews within Southeast Texas to handle local customer service needs.
For Valrico Ventures, emergency response in a disaster represents more than a good deed – it is their reason for existing in the first place. They specialize in fuel delivery management, including delivery with four-wheel-drive trucks for difficult sites. On a moment’s notice, those trucks will be loaded with 300-gallon tanks to refuel emergency generators at cellphone towers. They can also deploy boats when needed, as they did after Hurricane Katrina, for rescue efforts or fuel delivery.
According to Cindy Perez, Valrico vice-president for operations in Port Arthur, the company also can perform debris removal as well as generator repairs, maintenance and reconnaissance work.
It was possible to follow Valrico’s progress in real time through posts by Perez on Valrico’s Facebook page.
“Our drivers are on the roads throughout the Alabama area fueling cell tower generators. It is devastating to see it in person,” she posted. “My guys have been through hurricanes and ice storms — this is the worst. Please pray for those who had something last weekend and this weekend have nothing.”
Clients including Sprint and Verizon depend on Valrico to keep their cellular customers on the air after a disaster.
Perez next posted this message: “(The) manager in Arkansas deployed us to his area to fuel in the area hit by the first set of tornadoes. While finishing there we received a call from the Mississippi region to fuel for the next set of tornadoes. It then went to a call for Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. In the midst of everything with Verizon, we received a call from Sprint asking us to deploy to Alabama.”
Valrico’s eastern hub is headquartered in Seffner, Fla.
“My crew from Florida hit the road headed to Alabama for Sprint. We tackled it head on and had ZERO cell towers go down because they ran out of fuel. This is a huge accomplishment,” posted Perez.
To date, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates the outbreak spawned 305 tornadoes, making this the largest tornado outbreak in history – surpassing the April 3-4, 1974, outbreak with 148 tornadoes. NOAA estimates there were more than 600 tornadoes during the month of April 2011. The previous April tornado record was 267, set in 1974. With an estimated 327 deaths, this is the third deadliest tornado outbreak on record, behind 1925 with 747 and 1932 with 332. So far, 2011 is the 13th deadliest year for tornadoes on record with 369. The deadliest year was 1925 with 794.


Lessons from Deepwater Horizon tragedy continue to unfold


April 20 marked the one year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, the  massive explosion and fire on an offshore drilling rig that killed 11, injured 16 and unleashed the biggest maritime oil spill in history.

By the time the gushing wellhead was capped on July 15, the public had been treated – if that’s the right word - to 83 days of non-stop media coverage featuring millions of words of reportage, commentary and rank speculation presented over often-vivid footage of the spill. Beyond the images of oil-soaked birds, frantic hotel-keepers and mournful shrimpers whose livelihoods had been disrupted were questions about what the continuing environmental drama meant not just for British Petroleum but for entire the oil and gas industry. Some pundits went so far as to speculate this spill might be the beginning of the end for fossil fuel as an energy source.

As Mark Twain once famously declared, “Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated“ – and the industry has not only survived but will undoubtedly prosper, albeit with an increased focus on safety and environmental stewardship.

At the last minute before the one-year anniversary, a flurry of lawsuits were filed by virtually all the parties involved, with each company pointing the finger at the other guy. This timing of this legal equivalent of a circular firing squad was mandated by requirements imposed by the fact the spill took place at sea, bringing the affair under the mantle of maritime law.

As those with potential damage claims arising from the Eagle Otome incident in the Port of Port Arthur in early 2010 learned, maritime law marches to the beat of its own legal drummer even when the body of water is the intracoastal canal.

BP filed lawsuits seeking over $40 billion from Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig; Cameron International, the maker of the failed blowout preventer on the well; and Halliburton, the cement contractor on the well.

In its complaint against Transocean, based in Vernier, Switzerland, BP accused them of “misconduct” and asserted, “The simple fact is that on April 20, 2010, every single safety system and device and well control procedure on the Deepwater Horizon failed, resulting in the casualty.”

There appears to be some support for BP’s position. The same week the lawsuit was filed, the US Coast Guard released a 288-page report that detailed Transocean’s poor maintenance, inadequate training and the bypassing of alarms and automatic shutdown systems that prevented the crew from shutting down the runaway well after it blew. The report said these deficiencies led to a chaotic abandonment of the blazing Deepwater Horizon rig.

"The investigation revealed that Deepwater Horizon and its owner, Transocean, had serious safety management system failures and a poor safety culture," the Coast Guard report concluded.

For its part, Transocean filed a counter-suit against BP insisting “that under the drilling contract for Deepwater Horizon, BP has agreed, among other things, to assume full responsibility for and defend, release and indemnify Transocean from any loss, expense, claim, fine, penalty or liability.”

In the lawsuit BP filed against Halliburton, they charge their former partner with “improper conduct, errors and omissions, including fraud and concealment” concerning the cement used in the well.

BP asserted, “The record is clear that Halliburton's misconduct contributed to the accident and spill, and BP has filed this action to preserve its legal rights."

In their counter-suit, Halliburton also said they were contractually indemnified because the other parties' actions or omissions were to blame and called BP "negligent, grossly negligent, and/or acted with willful misconduct."

The Halliburton filing also said, "BP utterly failed to meet its duties and obligations, and knew so at the time… BP recklessly sacrificed safety for monetary savings and gain. BP carelessly ignored failed well integrity test results to move forward with procedures that put the well into an underbalanced condition that led to the blowout."

In addition, BP was also sued that week by its minority partners in the well, Mitsui subsidiary Moex Offshore and Anadarko Petroleum. Both said they should not be liable for any of the damages or cleanup costs related to the accident.

The intense legal wrangling was not the only commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issued a statement on April 20 that said, “Today, we remember the eleven men who died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion.  They were sons, fathers, husbands and brothers... Today, we also recognize the thousands of women and men who have worked tirelessly and relentlessly over the last year to contain the spill, clean marshes and coastlines, rehabilitate wildlife, and put the Gulf Coast on the path to restoration.  We honor their service and sacrifices for our country.”

Meanwhile, the political and social fallout from the spill has taken some unexpected twists and turns. The ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf announced by Salazar in May and lifted early in October no doubt imposed hardships on rig operators, their customers and employees, but its impact was not as dire as many predicted.

By Feb. 3 of this year, the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper reported, “While a backlog of drilling permits in Washington continues to feed oil industry angst, new data shows that more rigs are in the Gulf of Mexico than before the BP oil spill, indicating that operators might have more confidence in the future than they are letting on.”

In the months since the well was capped, learned observers have been able to gain some perspective on what happened at Deepwater Horizon, with valuable insights gleaned from such diverse sources as the conservative website Weekly Standard and The New Yorker.

Writing for the Weekly Standard, Andrew B. Wilson agreed with the conclusion of experts who said the Gulf oil spill was a preventable disaster but added, “Politicians may demand that oil rigs, artificial heart valves, airplanes, and other useful devices be made absolutely safe, but in the real world that engineers deal with, there is no such thing as 100 percent safety. Owing to human error in operating a system, or to some flaw in the original design, accidents are going to happen.”
Wilson also chided BP’s top management for what he called their “history of ‘green-washing,’ or playing up to environmental activists, while taking a cavalier attitude toward risk management in the operation of oil rigs, refineries, and other facilities.”

Whatever BP action or inaction that may have contributed to the disaster, Raffi Khatchadourian’s piece for The New Yorker detailed the scope of the company’s response.

“BP began to acquire matériel on a vast scale,” he wrote. “Every week, responders were using roughly three million hazmat suits, far more than the world’s supply, so Logistics teams scoured the globe for stockpiles and alternatives to make up for the shortfall… By midsummer, more than eight hundred skimmers had been mobilized by the shore and around the wellhead” in what was described as “the largest offshore-skimming operation in the history of spill response.”

Khatchadourian also acknowledged the response of some state officials.

“Louisiana officials, meanwhile, opened barriers restraining the Mississippi River; the water’s outward force appears to have greatly prevented the oil from penetrating too deeply into certain bayous,” he added.

Wilson gave credit to a higher authority.

“If there was an unexpected hero to the story, it was Mother Nature,” he observed. “In the first few weeks after the blowout, BP CEO Tony Hayward was excoriated in the news media for stating that the ‘Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean’ and ‘the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest.’ It now appears that he was right. The Gulf oil spill is, indeed, much less of a calamity than most people expected. Said one environmental scientist in late July: ‘Mother Nature is doing what she is supposed to be doing and we’re losing most of [the spilled oil] to microbial degradation in the open ocean.’ By early August, an oil slick that had been the size of Kansas had all but disappeared, idling hundreds of skimmers.”

Khatchadourian said he believed the intense media scrutiny was essential in generating public pressure to resolve the crisis.

“Call it hysteria or call it a fully mobilized civil society: something was accomplished, and the Gulf is in better shape for it,” he insisted. “And looking back on the season of Deepwater Horizon, one wonders what else we might be able to engineer, or just make less dirty, if we put our minds to it, and yell a little.”

Taking on gambling, taxes and the Alamo

As the Texas Legislature hurtles toward the mandatory, sine die end of the biennial session on May 30, the situation in Austin remains fluid even as the extreme budget crunch colors every debate with the possible exception of the social and political legislation that the enlarged Republican majority will undoubtedly pass this session.
While the number of veteran reporters covering the Lege has been greatly diminished in recent years, the multiplicity of blogs, Web reporting and online access to legislative deliberations has expanded insights into the process. Presented here are reports on current issues before the House and Senate, gleaned from those sources, personal interviews and a little guesswork based on past performance.

— James Shannon

Gambling’s last gasp?

Although a bill to permit a statewide referendum on casino gambling has been declared dead on arrival since before the start of the legislative session, it appears the comatose patient may still have a flickering pulse. But prospects for such legislation remain in critical condition.
A poll released March 28 showed 86 percent of respondents want to be allowed to vote on whether to allow casinos slot machines across the state. The Texas Gaming Association officials who commissioned the survey said an expansion of gambling in Texas could generate more than $6.6 billion in revenue and more than $1.2 billion in taxes a year and create nearly 40,000 new full-time jobs.
Complicating the struggle are some serious issues in each legislative branch. On the House side, longstanding family gambling interests effectively prevent Speaker Joe Straus (R- San Antonio) from taking a lead role in legislation promoted by that industry.
In the Senate, gambling prospects – even for a referendum – face a major hurdle in Sen. Robert Duncan. The Lubbock Republican, an implacable gambling foe, chairs the State Affairs Committee. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has referred all gambling bills to that committee, which could effectively kill the already slim chances for gambling in this session.
As for the notion gambling could help soothe the state’s budget woes, Duncan reminded lawmakers any additional revenue would not come for several years and indicated he did not plan to hold hearings on the gambling bills.
Trial lawyers learn the best way to avoid hearing an answer you don’t like is to not to allow the question to be asked, which would apparently apply to Duncan’s view of a referendum that would likely result in some form of voter approval for gambling.
As if the equation was not complex enough, there are differences among the groups who support gambling. The Texas Gaming Association favors Las Vegas-style casino gambling while Win for Texas, a group that includes the racetrack owners, wants to install video-lottery terminals at the 13 racetracks in the state. That bill, HB 2111, makes no mention of allowing Las Vegas-style casino gaming in Texas.
The San Antonio Express-News blasted Duncan in a recent editorial that noted, “Texans are already gambling in casinos and playing slot machines at racetracks. They’re just doing so in states other than Texas. A 2007 report from Texans for Economic Development found that Texans gambled about $2.4 billion in other states. … But if Duncan has his way, voters will never have a chance to consider any of the 17 legislative proposals that would tap that revenue.”
The Express News, a Hearst newspaper along with the Beaumont Enterprise and Houston Chronicle, concluded, “When it comes to gambling, Texans are plenty grown up. They can decide for themselves whether the benefits of an expansion of gaming in the Lone Star State outweigh the costs. Texans should be able to determine whether their gambling dollars help pay teachers and pave roads in Texas or in Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Nevada. What they don’t need is paternalistic lawmakers thwarting the legislative process.”

Texas to increase taxes on 28,000 small businesses?

Will Newton is executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business/Texas, the state’s leading small business association. He is sounding an alarm as he calls on lawmakers to keep their promises of no new taxes as they begin considering the next biennial budget.
“Make no mistake about it,” said Newton. “If the Legislature does not extend the $1 million exemption during this session, 28,000 small businesses will see a tax increase in 2012.”
In 2009, the Texas Legislature increased the business tax exemption for small businesses to $1 million in gross receipts, up from $300,000 in gross receipts. This exemption increase spared 40,000 small businesses from paying the state’s business tax in 2010 and 2011.
The exemption is scheduled to drop back down to $600,000 in gross receipts in 2012. In Texas, there are 28,000 small businesses whose gross receipts fall within the range of $600,000 and $1 million, according to the Texas State Comptroller of Public Accounts.
“As Congress considered extending the Bush-era tax cuts last year, the case was made that inaction to extend the cuts would result in a tax increase,” Newton added. “By eliminating the exemption for 28,000 small businesses, Texas will be imposing a new tax on them. Period.
Extending the exemption will cost the state roughly $150 million over two years. But NFIB/Texas argues that the state provided a revenue stream when it passed the exemption in 2009.
“The fact is, this exemption was fully funded in 2009 and we should not have to continue finding new sources of funding. Lawmakers need to stick to their promises of no new taxes.”

Remember the Alamo

In a session where Texas lawmakers struggle with an unprecedented budget deficit, there is still time to remember the Alamo. A House committee is considering bills that would impose changes on the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT), a nonprofit group that has operated the shrine to Texas liberty since 1905.
Last year, the Texas Attorney General’s office launched an investigation of the group following allegations of mismanagement. Although the results of the investigation haven’t been made public, DRT members appeared before the House Committee on Culture, Recreation & Tourism to defend their group.
Also making an appearance was Sarah Reveley, a former DRT member who said she was the one who complained to the AG about potential mismanagement and wants the group of which she was once a member removed from Alamo operations.
Two bills authored by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, would both transfer oversight of the Alamo to the Texas Historical Commission and allow admission to be charged there.
This proposal is complicated by the steep budget cuts already facing the Texas Historical Commission, but it appears the handwriting is on the wall for the end of free admission to the historic site in the middle of downtown San Antonio.

Wild Game Dinner April 14

Fundraiser at MCM Elegante to benefit Hughen Center

Zona Jones presents a wild game dinner prepared by cowboy chef Grady Spears on April 14 at the MCM Elegante, beginning at 6 p.m.  Spears was named one of the top Five Chefs of 1998 by “Restaurants and Institutions” and Rising Star of 1999 by “Restaurant Hospitality Magazine.”

Spears was working as a manager in a restaurant in Marathon, TX when a chef quit during a weekend’s dinner rush.  He took over the stove and a culinary star was born.  His work has been widely praised in the New York Times, Texas Monthly, P.O.V., Martha Stewart Living, Country Homes, and Southern Living, to name a few.

The menu for the evening’s repast is definitely not chuck wagon stew.  The game being served at this feast is lucky to be paired with mouth-watering sauces and glazes.  Imagine wild boar ribs with Parker County peach glaze, coffee-rubbed venison loin with East Texas blackberry jam, Hill Country mixed grill of bock battered bog white quail with cider adobo, in addition to appetizers, side dishes and desserts.

Coach Bum Phillips and his wife Debbie will be the guests of honor at the dinner.  The Phillips will be joined by former Houston Oilers Dan Pastorini, Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea, David Carter and Willie Alexander.  Other notable football players include Beaumont favorites Jordan Babineaux, "Goose" Gonsoulin, Gary Hammond, and Alois BlackwellAdditional guests include Al Caldwell, Bob West, and the official Texas Sports Hall of Fame Artist Robert Hurst.

The evening’s entertainment will continue the country theme.  Daryle Singletary has a well-deserved reputation as an authentic country songwriter and singer, including hits such as “I Let Her Lie,” and “Too Much Fun.”

Singletary will be joined by a special unannounced guest performer, which has prompted wild speculation about the identity of the singer to be named later.

There will be an auction during the evening.  A wide array of musical and sports memorabilia, trips and art will be available.  Anyone wishing to capture a daughter’s or granddaughter’s heart should note the autographed photo of Justin Bieber.

Auction Items:

Garth Brooks autographed guitar

Taylor Swift autographed guitar

Houston Oiler authentic helmet autographed by Bum Phillips, Dan Pastorini, Earl Campbell and 19 other Oiler players

Houston Texan authentic helmet autographed by Head Coach Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips

Trip for 2 to Nashville for the 2011 CMA Country Music Awards

Hyatt Regency Paris Madeleine 5-Night Stay with Airfare for  (2)

Sonoma VIP Wine Experience Features Chauffeur, Winery Tours, 3-Night Stay with Airfare for (2)

NASCAR Car Racing Experience with 4-Night Stay and Airfare for (2)

America's Cup Stars & Stripes Experience in San Diego 4-Night Package with Airfare for (2)

Beatles Album autographed by Paul, Ringo, and George

Aerosmith autographed drum head

Muhammad Ali print autographed by Ali and artist Leroy Nieman

Snoopy as Red Baron sketch autographed by artist Charles Shultz

Photo autographed by Justin Bieber

Apollo 11 astronaut photo autographed by Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin

Robert Hurst prints

Tickets for the dinner are available from the Hughen Center 
at 409-983-6659.  They are $125 each.

Patsy Cline lives…

Studio 33 delivers memorable musical

Ashley Riley, an actress and singer from Nederland, returned home and founded a new theatre company, Studio 33.  Now that their first production “Always... Patsy Cline” has concluded its run at the Port Arthur Little Theatre Playhouse, its time to consider the future of this fledgling troupe – and the news is good.

“Always…Patsy Cline”  - a hit musical created by Ted Swindley in 1988 in Houston – was the perfect vehicle to showcase the talents of Riley, who has amassed a impressive string of credits over her still-young career.

The 27 songs in this musical posed a stern test that Riley passed with flying colors. Early in the show, she had to sing “I Fall to Pieces” and “Walking After Midnight” – two of Cline’s biggest hits. In this oft-produced show, it is imperative the actress playing Cline perform these two signature songs with skill while evoking Cline at her most memorable. Simply put, Riley knocked those songs out of the ballpark, securing the devotion of a rapt audience for the rest of the show.

In front of a simple set of four barn-door panels to evoke the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville – home of the Grand Ole Opry – Riley made beautiful music with the eight-piece band who could go on the road today with this show to honky-tonks and fancy theatres alike.

Equally impressive was Kathryn Griffith as Louise Seger, Cline’s fan-turned-friend who serves as the audience surrogate – a divorced, 1961 Texas housewife in gold  spandex pants with a snappy patter and irrepressible spirit. Griffith would have walked away with the show if Riley’s vocal tour-de-force had not been so strong.

As it was, these two dynamic women kept the crowd enthralled from beginning to end for as enjoyable an evening at the theater as I have experienced in years.

Where Studio 33 goes from here has not been announced. Riley is four months pregnant, which would surprise anybody who witnessed her star turn as Patsy Cline. But this is a performer – and theatre group – that merits your attention.

- James Shannon

Feds preparing oil & gas leases in Gulf

BOEMRE Calls for Public Input on Proposed 2012-2017 
Gulf of Mexico Lease Sales

Information to be Used to Prioritize Areas, Avoid Potential Conflicts

NEW ORLEANS – The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) today announced it is seeking information and nominations from all interested parties regarding proposed oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico Western and Central Planning Areas for the 2012-2017 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Natural Gas Leasing Program.

BOEMRE will analyze information received in response to this Call for Information and Nominations (Call), which will primarily identify and evaluate areas with potential for oil and gas development, as well as determine possible environmental effects and potential conflicts in the Call area.  This is in addition to the information collected through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process. Comments will be used to develop lease terms and conditions to ensure safe offshore operations. Comments will also be used to assess potential conflicts between offshore oil and gas exploration and development operations and state coastal management programs, and to develop proposed actions and alternatives in the NEPA review process.
This early planning and consultation step, in addition to the NEPA-related reviews we are conducting, will ensure that all interests and concerns are communicated to us and are appropriately considered in decisions regarding the leasing process,” said BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich. “All area nominations as well as any information submitted will be fully analyzed and considered as we prepare for the next 5-year program.”

Ten lease sales are specifically covered by this Call: five in the Central Gulf of Mexico (GOM) Planning Area, offshore Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and five in the Western GOM Planning Area, offshore Texas. Concurrent with this Call, BOEMRE is preparing a multi-sale Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) covering the same sales. 

The Central GOM Planning Area consists of approximately 66.45 million acres, of which approximately 40.85 million acres are currently unleased. The Western GOM Planning Area consists of approximately 28.58 million acres, of which approximately 19.45 million acres are currently unleased. A map outlining available blocks and those excluded is posted at: http://www.gomr.boemre.gov/homepg/lsesale/callmap-2012-2017.pdfThe Call is available for public inspection today through the Federal Register’s website at:  http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/public-inspection/index.html.

Nominations and comments must be received no later than April 14, 2011 and may be submitted via mail or email to:

·  Mail:  "Nominations for Proposed 2012-2017 Lease Sales in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico" or "Comments on the Call for Information and Nominations for Proposed 2012-2017 Lease Sales in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico,” Mr. Carrol Williams, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, 1201 Elmwood Park Boulevard, New Orleans, Louisiana 70123-2394. 

·  E-mail: carrol.williams@boemre.gov. Please include “Comments on the Call for Proposed 2012-2017 Lease Sales in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico” in the subject line.

Changing the face of health care

Gulf Coast Health Center modifies its mission for 2011 to rewrite the health care equation                                                  

It began life as the Port Arthur Community Health Center, chartered in 1989 as a nonprofit corporation whose resources would be used to provide primary health care services to needy people in the area.
In the more than 20 years since its founding, things have changed both at the center and in the business of medicine in this country. In 1998, the name changed the Gulf Coast Health Center (GCHC) even as many people previously covered under employer health insurance have found themselves on their own, without a “medical home.”
Their service area extended far beyond Port Arthur to facilities in Beaumont, Silsbee, Newton and Orange. The Beaumont clinic near Baptist Hospital shut down in mid-2008, but plans are in the works to reopen it later this year.
The goal of our physicians, nurses and administrative support staff is to ensure all patients have the opportunity for quality and affordable health care for the entire family. While other doctors are ceasing to accept Medicaid and Medicare, we are expanding our services to meet the needs of our community,” said David L. Hartman Jr., CEO of GCHC.
“We want to ensure the women of Jefferson County have access to the care necessary for healthy pregnancies and overall health. Our goal is to change the face of health care throughout Southeast Texas,” he added.
That’s a daunting task, and one that Hartman has tackled with a degree of skill and enthusiasm that is transforming GCHC in ways both simple and profound, without losing sight of its core mission.
“Our health center is a private, nonprofit community-based organization. This permits us to be partially funded through DHHS/HRSA. We are therefore able to supplement our services by sliding patient fees, third-party insurance, donations and private foundations. The benefits from this support are passed on to our customers through affordable rates for every family and individual in the Jefferson, Orange, Hardin and Newton counties and their surrounding communities,” he said.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary federal agency responsible for improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable.

‘Our goal is to change the face of health care
throughout Southeast Texas.’
-      David L. Hartman Jr.
             CEO, Gulf Coast Health Center

A career military man who spent 25 years in the U.S. Army in hospital administration, Hartman left the service and became a senior human resources administrator with TOTAL Port Arthur Refinery. As such, he was active in the Port Arthur Industrial Group. He became aware of Gulf Coast Health Center when he was asked to join the nonprofit’s board of directors.
Once there, it became obvious the clinic was in trouble. Organizational fatigue had set in, and a series of turnovers led to management failures by board members and staff that had the clinic reeling. They continued to see patients in a crumbling facility under difficult conditions.
His fellow board members set out to convince Hartman to leave TOTAL to become CEO of GCHC. In January 2010, he agreed, and the former soldier with a MBA in health care management assumed his new duties.
Hartman was brought in to stop the bleeding, an unfortunate metaphor for a health care facility, but it applied to this situation.
“What we had to do internally is recognize the fact we were a business and that we had to operate under solid business principals,” said Hartman, who immediately set to work to reinvent a clinic with faded walls, dangling window treatments and the occasional hole in the sagging floor. Patients sat for hours, and the staff ranged from disorganized to disinterested with training and medical uniforms in short supply.
“I had to start with basic infrastructure – painting walls, buying new furniture, fixing the building,” he said. “We put money into employees – hiring more staff and training staff to be responsive to patient needs.”
The change came not a moment too soon. Hartman had to confront the reality that Gulf Coast had become what he described as a “clinic of last resort” for people with few health care options.
“You’d make sure you’re here at 6:30 in the morning and don’t plan on leaving until 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon – we did away with that,” he said. “We took down the barriers to health care. We made a pact that we would try to get people appointments as soon as possible, and when they come in, we get them in and out the door in a reasonable amount of time.”
One constant throughout this process has been the performance of GCHC physicians.
“None of our doctors have ever had any kinds of issues at all. Dr. Annette Okpeki, for example, has been here for eight years – she came here right out of residency. Dr. Patricia Patterson has been a practicing pediatrician in the Port Arthur area for 30 years – she merged her practice with us. Dr. Mary Pastor, a family practice physician, has been with Gulf Coast for eight years so she has a lot of experience,” Hartman said, describing perhaps GCHC’s greatest assets when he arrived.
“The service they can provide is only as good as the infrastructure to provide it in,” he observed. “If you’re limiting their practice to one or two exam rooms and you give them one assistant — these guys still have a heart for medicine but they can’t give that quality service without the infrastructure.”
In the course of a year, there has been a remarkable transformation, albeit one that definitely remains a work in progress. The walls have been painted, new carpet laid and the dingy, old furniture consigned to the dustbins of history. Bright artwork adorns the walls, including a number of paintings by Herb and Cindy Kreutzer of Kizmet Studios in Groves.
Patients sit in discrete waiting areas, depending on which practice they need to see. Their numbers at any one time have dwindled because the new appointment system has imposed order where chaos once reigned. Plant workers in Nomex suits sit alongside other men and women, with most youngsters in waiting rooms designated for sick and well children.
A series of specialty clinics dedicated to women’s health and pediatric care are nearing completion with services including well-woman visits, immunizations, prenatal/obstetrical care and well-baby visits with ancillary services and even sports physicals. Partnerships with local hospitals for delivery services are enhanced by the new electronic medical records system that ensures all relevant patient information will be available at the hospital at the time of birth.
Hartman’s background in military health care has no doubt contributed to his early success at GCHC, and his attitude remains optimistic. Hanging on his office wall is a portrait of another optimist, Ronald Reagan.
In response to a question from a visitor, Hartman said he is not a doctrinaire Republican. He described meeting the president when he attended 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas. He had press credentials from an uncle who was an editor with the magazine U.S. News and World Report, and was allowed on the delegate floor where he shook hands with Reagan.
“I admired Ronald Reagan,” said Hartman. “He was somebody that I felt truly cared about people.”
A larger part of his commitment to improving access to health care is personal, as he described the plight of his brother.
“He and I were blood cousins but we called each other brothers and were inseparable for years,” began Hartman. “Don was a self-employed contractor and had a lot of problems obtaining health insurance and he had medical issues. Because he couldn’t get medical insurance, he often couldn’t get his medication. When times were good, he had plenty of money and had health care. When times were bad and he had no income coming in, he cut back.”
Pausing for a moment to reflect, Hartman finished the story.
“At the time, I didn’t know there were places like (Gulf Coast) and neither did Don … as a result, he died at the age of 55 and a lot of it could be attributed to poor health care. Had he received routine treatment, he would be alive today.”
A significant alteration to the GCHC equation is the determination of who is medically needy these days, with so many people lacking basic coverage, including many with jobs.
“We offer to see them on a sliding scale,” he said. “As more and more private physicians refuse to take Medicare and Medicaid, we are seeing many of those patients here.”
Even more surprising is the way this former “clinic of last resort” is expanding its client base in the shifting health-care environment.
“As businesses reorganize their benefits, a lot of them are dropping their health-care options. Health-care costs are rising so much that people need to find a way to make their medical dollar go further,” said Hartman, adding that the new GCHC is willing and able to lend a hand.
“We negotiate with companies who can no longer afford health care. Instead of dropping their employees altogether and paying the fines – something like $750 a year under the health-care bill – they still want to offer (employees) something, so they come to us,” he related.
“We negotiate a capitated rate — in other words, we agree to see their employees and we are their primary care home. All the company then has to do is offer a plan in case there is a catastrophic need,” said Hartman, who described a scenario that would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago.
“For example, they can agree to give us $70 a month per employee and we will see those employees as often as the employee needs to see us,” he said. “There could be a negotiated co-pay, but we will see the employee if they come six times or 15 times for that set fee. It gives us the incentive to take care of that patient while they’re here instead of creating an atmosphere where they have to keep coming back again and again.”
As GCHC continues to broaden its client base, they have not neglected other areas of concern beyond its headquarters on Memorial Boulevard in Port Arthur. Their innovative approach to serving uninsured and underinsured patients while offering employers another health care option will continue in Port Arthur, Silsbee, Newton, Orange and Beaumont when that facility reopens later this year.
GCHC is also reaching out to another underserved population – the homeless.
“We have a mobile unit to start a homeless outreach,” said Hartman, an effort that will be funded by homeless outreach grants from HRSA.
“The idea is to have the mobile unit at the same place each weekday to offer medical services at no cost to homeless people by a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant,” he said. “They are part of the group showing up at emergency rooms in insulin shock or having some kind of chronic disease we could help manage.”
Hartman suggests these unnecessary ER visits are further inflating medical costs and clogging emergency rooms with patients who don’t need to be there.
“Beaumont has the distinction of seeing 800 percent more non-emergent cases than anywhere else in the state of  Texas meaning people that who do not have medical homes go to the emergency rooms for anything,” he said.
Finding ways to treat medically underserved patients before they end up in the ER makes sense from both a social and financial point of view.
“I was standing in Baptist emergency room last week and the majority of the people sitting there could have been seen in a private practice office, but they don’t have a medical home through lack of insurance or under-insured,” said Hartman. “Baptist has a huge patient set that shows up who have Medicaid and Medicare – they just have nowhere to go.”
Ultimately, this system is unsustainable.
“It increases the cost of health care,” Hartman said. “For Baptist, the moment the ER patient walks through the door, it costs $200 and they are only reimbursed for $45.”
Some combination of innovation and a return to traditional practices that provide patients with a medical home will be required to restore sanity to the practice of medicine for the masses. David Hartman and Gulf Coast Health Center don’t pretend to have all the answers, but it seems they are asking the right questions.