Members of VFW Post 6119 along with Busby raised the U.S.A. flag as Three Rivers’ Junior Krissy Arnst sang the national anthem. Afterward, Huff led the Pledge of Allegiance. Pastor Doug Hinchcliff of the First United Methodist Church in George West led the invocation. Hinchcliff began by saying, “The judge asked me to pray for a beautiful morning until noon and then pray for rain at noon. And we will have rain at noon; I am working on it.” Before the prayer he asked that the gathering to remember “where we are.” He said, “This is a correctional facility. The people that will be dealt with here are going to need to be transformed, to be changed, they will have hit bottom. And you are the people that are going to help make a difference. So as we pray together, that God bless this facility, let us pray also that each of you as well, so that the facility and the people that go through here are truly transformed.”
Following the invocation, Huff welcomed and recognized area elected officials. He said, “We are proud to have you here today; we are proud that all of you have shown up. I am going to begin by introducing our Commissioners Court.” Following the introductions, Huff said, “I think it is proper to mention and recognize past County Commissioner Barbara Kopplin, who was on the Commissioners Court when this facility was conceived.” Next, Huff recognized other local elected officials including Sally Rodriguez, TR City Council; Paul Koonce, commissioner of McMullen County; Sylvia Steele, GW Mayor Pro-Tem and a dozen others. Huff said Busby would introduce local and visiting law enforcement officers at a later time.
“You can probably tell I am very excited about what has been accomplished. This criminal justice center was built to serve the public in a number of different ways. The obvious, keeping some individuals separated from society; however, this center houses a first class communication department that will serve you with information as well as needed dispatch assistance and be able to do it more efficiently. You will also see an emergency operation center designed to shelter and to provide for those involved in making emergency response decisions during any event. We will be better able to serve the needs not only of our residents but also the volume of people that travel through our highways. And I will match this criminal justice courtroom with any other in its design, for efficiency, for comfort and for physical safety that it provides for the public and for its participants. Yes, I, and many others are excited about this project. In my 21 years as county judge, this center is the biggest project we have undertaken and I am happy to say we are on time and under budget,” Huff said.
The key to making this project successful is simple — working with the best, said Huff. “In my opinion, this is the best criminal justice center its size. It was created by the best architectural firm and the best in construction companies and the best contracting office representatives bar none, he said. “DRG Architects of San Antonio are masters of what they do. We made the right choice in hiring DRG. At this time, I would like to recognize Mr. Perry Rabke and Wayne Gondeck and thank them for doing a superb job. Interestingly, Wayne’s father was an architect in our present jail built in 1962,” Huff said.
Next Huff introduced and thanked Joe Fulton of Fulton/Coastcon. Fulton then introduced Jimmy Bednorz and David Williams. “These two local guys got to go home and eat supper at home during the course of this job,” Fulton jokingly said. “We appreciate the business and have never worked for a nicer group of representatives — Sheriff Busby and Commissioner Bassett and, of course, the other Live Oak County commissioners,” Fulton said.
Huff returned by saying, “One of the best things I like about Mr. Fulton is that he personally made several trips down here, even though Live Oak County wasn’t one of his biggest projects. He gave us, and continues to give us, first class treatment as if we were the biggest clients he has ever had.” Huff turned his attention to the center of the crowd and said, “The Commissioner’s Court struck a home run when they employed Jack Solka of Solka Nava and Torno as our contracting office representative. His expertise, common sense and pursuit of perfection has definitely led to creating what I feel is a great facility.”
Huff next introduced, Pct. 3 Commissioner Jim Bassett as the supervisor and leader of the project. This was really a fun project, said Bassett. “Part of the reason it was such a fun project is that it involved so many people in a collaborative and cooperative way. This project started back in 2006. I remember very vividly sitting with Judge Huff and the Commissioners Court and Sheriff Busby and we were looking at what we were spending in our expenses in 2006 and projecting for 2007. A line item caught our attention. We were spending and projecting to spend between $12,000 and $15,000 a month to house prisoners that we could not keep in our county jail. Certainly that became a real priority for us. We turned to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to do a study and tell us what we needed to do.”
After researching the county’s needs, Bassett and Busby reported back to the Commissioners Court and they made the decision to build a new jail facility. “We turned to Senator Judith Zaffirini’s office for help. In May 2007 we issued $8 million in certificates of obligation before designing a building. We put out an appeal to find a place to build the facility. We no sooner put the word out and the Perkins family stepped up. The Perkins family [descendants of George West] came to us and said we have a piece of property that was part of the George West ranch. It is within the city limits and has all the facilities, infrastructure that you need,” said Bassett. The county accepted the Perkins family’s generous offer and broke ground on the criminal justice center on June 25, 2007. The commissioners signed a contract with Joe Fulton and Fulton told them the facility would be completed Nov. 28, 2008. “Well, I am here to tell you on Nov. 28 we were over here completing a punch list. I don’t know how Joe did that but despite all the interruptions he did meet that deadline. And just like Judge Huff said the project came in on time and under budget,” said Bassett. The 96-bed facility features security controlled by state-of-the-art touch screen technology, a courtroom, conference area, and additional offices for the judge and district attorney.
“The person that really needs to be congratulated and awarded a golden hammer for spending a year and half on this project is Jimmy Bednorz. He is a hometown guy that took pride in this project and he wanted to make sure this project was completed on time and under budget. We need to give praise to Mr. Bednorz, the construction superintendent, for his hard work and dedication,” Bassett said in closing.
Following Bassett, Huff introduced Judy McAda, who spoke on behalf of U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa. She congratulated the construction crew and officials for making sure the project included an emergency management facility. She went on to say to the citizens of LOC, “This project is a great commitment and you stepped forward and we are proud of you for that.”
Huff next introduced Sen. Zaffirini. She began by thanking Huff and addressed the crowd by saying, “Isn’t he doing a great job? In South Texas we call that ‘compadre’ because his son Weston is my godson. We can work together and also be friends.” Zaffirini smiled at the crowd and said, “I was happy to see when the VFW was raising the flag it was made from 100% cotton and made in America.” The crowd applauded as she continued, “There is just something not right about an American flag made in China.”
Zaffirini continued, “I love coming to Live Oak County because the people are so well informed and so thorough in their work. I took a tour of the facility earlier and I have to tell you, I was impressed. If you haven’t seen it yet, please take the time to tour the facility thoroughly because you will not only be impressed, you will also be proud.”
Zaffirini urged the gathering to focus on keeping our children from going to jail by supporting our schools and teachers and focusing on family and raising our children correctly. “The more we help the teachers in the classroom the less we will have to spend on criminal justice. The average education of prisoners in Texas today is on the 7th-grade level. Reach out to the little ones in the community. Let them see that jail and tell them you don’t want to go there,” said Zaffirini.
“I hope everyone that works here will understand the fabulous opportunity they have to change lives and improve the community. The only way to truly succeed is to temper justice with mercy and to ensure that lives are truly transformed. Remember always the words of Martin Luther King, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Thank you for inviting me here today. My prayer is that the Lord will inspire you and everyone who works here and enters this facility to excel and be better persons because of their experiences here,” Zaffirini said in closing.
Following, Huff asked Busby to approach the podium and say a few words. Busby welcomed the gathering and thanked the commissioners for their hard work and the people of the community for their support. “I haven’t heard a negative thing about this project,” said Busby. He went on to thank Commissioner Bassett and said, “Whenever he [Bassett] agreed to help with this project, I am sure he learned a whole new definition of the word ‘help’. For every hour I put in, he put in 5 or 10. We couldn’t have done this without his help.”
Busby next introduced the sheriffs from surrounding counties, including Tommy Williams of Atascosa County, Leroy Moody of San Patricio County, Carlos Carrizales of Bee County and Bruce Thomas of McMullen County. Busby continued by introducing the Texas Rangers from the area, including Andy Lopez and Oscar Rivera. He introduced Ray Garcia, the GW chief of police, DPS officers and the area constables. He thanked everyone for their cooperation and said, “It was much more than I expected and it turned out great. However, one thing that I required when they built this facility is that there was nothing above my office, especially sewer lines that could leak.”
Busby closed by introducing Adan Munoz, the executive director of the Jail Commission. Huff made brief closing remarks and invited the gathering to go inside and tour the facilities.