2015: What were the top local stories of the year? The Sealy News ranks them from 10 to 1

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If the year 2015 was anything, it was impactful.

It was a year of gains and losses, hellos and goodbyes and more than one surprise. As we look back at the year that was, The Sealy News has ranked our top news stories from 10 to one.

The criteria were simple: It had to be big news and it had to impact the lives and livelihoods of those who call Sealy home.

These are the top news makers of 2015:

10: New businesses

Several new businesses came to the Sealy area in 2015. It would be difficult to name all of them, but a few were widely anticipated and have improved the quality of life here. Among them are Sealy ER, Kathy’s Korner, Oasis Travel Center, Hibbett Sports and Saddleback Saloon.

Sealy ER brought a vital 24-hour emergency care service to the community. Kathy’s Korner and Oasis Travel Center bookend Sealy on Interstate 10 and provide good food and gas for locals and travelers alike.

Hibbett Sports arrived with a lot of fanfare and provide an outlet for sporting goods. Saddleback Saloon fills in a gap downtown and taught the city a lesson in how to convert historic buildings to modern use.

9: SISD buys motels, other properties

The Sealy Independent School District began and ended the year by buying old motels, completing its purchase of property along Hwy. 90 between the football stadium and Allens Creek. The district immediately tore down the Best Budget Inn, which was largely considered an eyesore next door to the stadium. The Pueblo Motel was just recently purchased and will also make way for progress.

8: Police chief indicted

San Felipe Police Chief Frank Serrato was indicted twice by a Harris County Grand Jury on charges allegedly from the same incident. According to Heyward Carter, assistant Harris County district attorney with the civil rights division, Serrato was indicted on Sept. 16 for carrying a weapon on a liquor-licensed premise – guilt as party. It is a third degree felony.

This was is the second count for an incident that allegedly occurred June 20, 2014. Serrato was indicted in March on a misdemeanor charge of a private security act violation. Serrato continues to actively serve at the police chief while he awaits trial.

7: Police chief hired

Sealy Police Chief John Tollett retired in December 2014 and passed away after a brief illness on July 19. He was replaced on an interim bases by Capt. Jay Reeves and then Bruce Mills of Marble Falls. On June 30, Chris Noble, a 29-year veteran of the Austin Police Department, was sworn in as the city’s new police chief.

6: Elections

It was not a good year for political incumbents in 2015. The year began with a four-way race to replace Lois Kolkhorst in the House District 13 seat after she won a special election to the Senate. A run-off election between former Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski and political newcomer Leighton Schubert was held in February with Schubert winning handily. The election was marked with a lot of online campaigning against Bilski from some officials and employees inside the Austin County Courthouse.

In May, Sealy City Councilman Everett Bubak lost his seat to former councilman Larry Koy. Janice Whitehead and Jennifer Sullivan also joined the council in races without incumbents. In the race for the Sealy ISD Board of Trustees, incumbent Joe Mike Young retained his seat but Beverly Beckendorff was narrowly defeated by newcomer Creed Roberts.

5: Greater Church of Lucifer

Although there was little local impact, news that the Greater Church of Lucifer had filed two assumed name/DBA (doing business as) certificates at the Austin County Courthouse on Jan. 8 created quite a stir. The certificates were for a religious organization called The Greater Church of Lucifer and the other a retail business called BlackMass Incubus. The Houston-based owners listed an address in Sealy/San Felipe but never opened for business in the area and said they have no current plans to do so.

4: Coffman resigns, gets and loses contract

Sealy City Manager Chris Coffman resigned from his position in April to take a similar position in Granbury. The city council offered him a six-month “continuity of service” contract for $50,000 so city staff and interim city manager Krisha Langton could continue to consult him on city projects he was involved with.

The council initially discussed paying him over $100,000 up front but reduced it to $50,000 paid out over six months. Three months into the project, however, the council voted unanimously to end his contact three months early for a total of $45,500, saving the city a whopping $500. Mayor Mark Stolarski and Councilman Larry Koy led the charge to end the contract without stating a reason why.

In September, local businessman and former Sealy City Manager Larry Kuciemba was hired as the new city manager.

3: T.J Mills

Former Sealy High School football coach T.J. Mills passed away April 7 following a heart attack. He was 60. Mills coached the Tigers to four consecutive state championships in the 1990s and had been working with the local YMCA at the time of his death. The Sealy ISD Board of Trustees voted to rename Tiger Stadium after Mills. A special ceremony was held during a football game in September.

2: Floods

The perfect storm of several days of heavy rains followed by a wallop from Tropical Storm Bill in June resulted in the Brazos River overflowing its banks and local tributaries and ditches swelling beyond capacity. The area was inundated with water most of the month of June. Several county roads and bridges were washed out and many crops ruined. The flooding even caused a train to derail near Sealy.

1: Frontage Road fight

It was a long and bumpy road filled with many twists, forks and roadblocks but ultimately the way was paved for construction to begin on the Interstate 10 Frontage Road between Highway 36 and Rexville Road. For several years there has been an agreement between the City of Sealy, the Sealy Economic Development Corporation, the Texas Department of Transportation and the Town Park Center developers to build the frontage road on the north side of I-10.

The project lingered for years, more than doubling in its estimated cost. This year the council and the developer agreed to move forward, splitting the increased cost but then the city backed out saying the price was too high. The developers sued, saying they have a contract with the city and that other development contracts hinge on the road being built.

In the meantime, TxDOT announced it would build the road as part of an overall widening of I-10, but it would be delayed by a couple years. The developers were unwilling to wait that long and pushed for the city to honor its contract, which eventually it did. TxDOT has indicated it will reimburse the money paid up front, but will move ahead with development of the frontage road. No start time for construction has been set although it is anticipated in the coming year.

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