Rusk County Commissioners met in a swiftly moving special session Wednesday which was to be the last meeting in which Precinct 1 Commissioner Bill Hale would participate. 

District Judge Clay Gossett took a moment to interrupt Judge Hale’s quick progression into agenda topics with a kind word about Precinct 1 Commissioner Bill Hale who will soon be handing over his title to incoming Commissioner Randy Gaut. 

“I wanted to be here for Commissioner Hale’s last meeting and tell you, we’ve both been here together for 24 years and it’s been an honor. We appreciate your service to our county and we’re going to miss you and your counsel,” said Judge Gossett. “I’ve always appreciated to be able to pick up the phone and call and ask your advice and counsel on things.” 

Alexa McAnally spoke regarding the resolution that any person, or company, working on airplanes at the Rusk County Airport will be expected to carry a minimum of one million per incident and two million aggregate in insurance coverage and must indemnify Rusk County. While questions were raised as to whether that coverage amount should be raised, she assured the court they are reasonable amounts that the airport’s own mechanics will be carrying that type of coverage. 

Commissioners considered and approve the addition of Precinct 4 Commissioner Bennie Whitworth and Precinct 2 Commissioner Roberty Kuykendall to the East Texas Council of Governments (ETCOG) Board of Directors and subsequently moved to appoint Kuykendall to the ETCOG Executive Board. 

The commissioners quickly approved for East Texas Telephone to place fiber optic cables along the right-of-way of CR 3183 in Precinct 3 of Rusk County and moved on to the recently sensitive topic of Rusk County County Wide School Board tax.

Judge Hale has been in contact with Texas State Representative Travis Clardy who has drafted an Act and Resolution which could allow the people of Rusk County to vote on the continuance of the more than 80-year-old board and the taxes they control and distribute. Judge Hale mentioned that he has also contacted the office of Senator Bryan Hughes and expected his support in progressing the act through legislation. Support for this Act was unanimously approved. 

With the turnout reported in the recent elections, Rusk County felt they must consider resuming the branch voting option for early voting that had been changed by legislation and subsequently ended in the county due to the costs accrued from those open branches. 

“I have heard from one or two residents,” said Judge Hale, “Not many, but one or two that they would like to see that back in place.”

Travis Clardy’s office has drafted a resolution to the legislature that would allow Rusk County to restore branch voting. While the approved resolution holds no guarantees the court agreed the attempt should be made. 

Commissioners quickly considered and approved Constable 2 and 5 and Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 reports for the month of November. 

Rusk County Office of Emergency Management Coordinator, James Pike, came before the Commissioners to offer a COVID update for the county and explain the Governor’s Executive Order detailing the reduction of restaurant and business capacities to 50%. 

Rusk County falls into Piney Woods Trauma Service Area or RAC-G which is currently experiencing high hospitalization totals. RAC-G includes the counties of Anderson, Camp, Cherokee, Franklin, Freestone, Gregg, Harrison, Henderson, Houston, Marion, Panola, Rains, Rusk, Shelby, Smith, Trinity, Upshur, Van Zandt, and Wood.

These hospitalization totals have been at and over 15.28% COVID capacity since December 15, 2020, triggering the Governor’s order to decrease operating capacities in an attempt to regain some footing over the virus. 

Pike did explain that the order could be rescinded if counties within the RAC-G could maintain 7 days with hospitalization totals under 15% but didn’t expect that to happen anytime soon with totals as of Tuesday standing at 16.5%. 

As COVID-19 vaccines roll out throughout the country, hospitals and clinics within our county have reported front line workers have begun receiving the first vaccinations. 

Within the county, up to 13 area providers have registered for COVID vaccinations to include Brookshires in Tatum, the Overton Pharmacy, Henderson Dialysis, and both of the MTC Units.

Due to some adjustments made in the definitions of long-term care facilities Henderson’s Chalice apartments are now labeled long-term care and its residents will be getting vaccinations. Critical first responders and people with critical underlying issues could see vaccines within phase II which is expected to begin next month. 

Both approved vaccines are a two-shot regimen. 

Judge Hale did mention the low turn-out in recent free testing sites set up within the county. 

The recent testing in Mt. Enterprise showed only 13 participants with the same number showing up to Monday’s testing at the Rusk County Youth Expo Center. While these testing sites are federally funded and come at no cost to the county questions were raised as to whether they should continue offering the testing with such low turnout. 

Commissioner Hale halted the meeting’s adjournment to express some final thoughts regarding his time as Commissioner within Rusk County. 

“I talked about a lot of different things,” he said, “but one thing that I failed to mention is my appreciation to the people of pct 1 and all of Rusk County for allowing me to serve them for the last 24 years.”

“I’ve thanked a lot of people and expressed my opinion on how the rest of the county’s going, and it’s all positive, but I have not thanked the people of rusk county for allowing me to represent them.”

While the Commissioners Court will not function the same without the long-earned wisdom of Commissioner Hale, all parties look forward to their incoming compadre Randy Gaut. 

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