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Scouts ' stance on gays causes tension -
Groups interpret new policy differently

Emily Zendt
The Boy Scouts of America's new national membership policy that went into effect Wednesday allows openly gay members in its ranks - a change that has caused tension for several troops sponsored by religious organizations, including Marble Falls Boy Scout Troop 284 and its sponsoring charter organization, the First Baptist Church of Marble Falls.

Due to the policy change, 11 out of nearly 300 different troops in Central Texas lost sponsors according to Jon Yates, scout executive and chief executive officer at the America Capitol Area Council in Austin. He said almost all of those were with churches. All but two were re-chartered through different organizations. But Marble Falls Troop 284 and the Baptist church that sponsors them have reached an agreement after extensive discussion that is satisfactory to the national scouting organization yet upholds the values of the local church by referring those who identify themselves as gay to counseling, troop leader Thom Fairleigh says.

"It's just like if a boy came to me and said he's a thief - in Christian love I would say 'You've got a problem and that we definitely will not approve of it' and we would send him to get pastoral counseling," said Fairleigh.

"These are young developing men - they don't know (about their sexuality). "We are there to help them develop those understandings."

He says the new policy allows the troop to be more accepting because prior to the change, openly gay members had to be turned away.

"Before, we weren't allowed to let him be involved," Fairleigh said of openly gay potential members. He says the change allows the organization to "minister" to the youth, although members or prospective boy scouts who do not see homosexuality as a choice and do not want to be "ministered" to would not fit in with Troop 284.

"I just don't see how that would work out, it's just not a good fit," he said. "We are a ministry of the Baptist church, our moral code is set by the First Baptist Church and the church certifies the scoutmaster they certify the eagle scouts."

Yates said he believes the local group's procedure doesn't conflict with the new national policy, although he said he failed to recall the details regarding the Marble Falls troop. "I don't see how their approach is going against the national policy," he said.

But one gay advocate disagrees.

"A policy like this is making the assumption that there is something wrong with them that they need counseling; being gay doesn't mean they are defective," said Chuck Smith, Executive Director at Equality Texas, a nonprofit organization that advocates and lobbies against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identification.

"I think that's outrageous and not a part of scouting."

He said the counseling requirement adds conditions to the acceptance of gay members and is contrary to the original intent of the policy change.

"The troop may be chartered through a religious organization, but it certainly would be possible for them to conduct the operations of the Boy Scouts without being subject to what their religious beliefs are the youth are there to be Boy Scouts - they're not there to go to Sunday school," he said.

The new resolution to the membership policy reads: "Youth membership in the Boy Scouts of America is open to all youth who meet the specific membership requirements to join the Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Sea Scout, and Venturing programs. Membership in any program of the Boy Scouts of America requires the youth member to (a) subscribe to and abide by the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law, (b) subscribe to and abide by the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle (duty to God), and (c) demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others and is consistent at all times with the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."

Troop 284 consists of about 40 members, between 11 and 17 years old that come from a variety of different faith backgrounds including the Latter Day Saints. Fairleigh is a member of the Marble Falls First Methodist Church. 

Some families in the U.S. are pulling their sons out of the Boy Scouts to switch to a conservative group called Trail Life USA, which formed following announcement of the Scouts' policy change. The group is similar to the Scouts in virtually every way except its policy regarding openly gay members.

The Boy Scouts of America has a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual activity of any kind.

Republican Party primary race ignites

Emily Zendt
Burnet County Republican Party Chair Linda Rogers' Tuesday announcement that she would resign the job to run for county judge ignited a political chain reaction beginning with the election of an interim Republican chairman and concluding with a new candidate to head the GOP who immediately attacked her only declared opponent.

First, Emmet Cole - who is said to be well regarded by opposing factions of the county party and expressed no intention of seeking election to a full-term in the office - was nominated to lead the county party by Bertram precinct chair Steven Williams of Bertram, who many see as an ally of Rogers and her husband, Austin lobbyist Johnnie B. Rogers of Oakalla.

Some supporters of Donna Wilcox, who said in September she would challenge Rogers for the chairmanship and has been critical of her performance, interpreted the move as an effort to deprive Wilcox of any benefit of incumbency and ensure that a candidate more friendly to the Rogers would not be disadvantaged.

Johnnie B. Rogers, who did not seek re-election to the Texas Republican Party's executive committee after a plea bargain for assaulting a Burnet Bulletin reporter, has been criticized by some of trying to wield undue influence in county politics during his wife's tenure, especially in last year's Republican primary.

By Thursday morning, Marble Falls Mayor Pro Tem Jane Marie Hurst issued a press statement calling on Wilcox to apologize to Linda Rogers and Republican Precinct Chairs for comments she made when announcing for the party chair in early October. Wilcox was critical of "decisions made in a vacuum" and a disconnect with citizens seeking "information and resources from the party hierarchy" during Linda Rogers' eight years as chair.

"Nothing could be further from the truth and Wilcox would know this if she had been an active Burnet County Republican," Hurst wrote. "As a long-time active Republican myself, I was offended by her baseless remarks. To accuse the Burnet County Republican Chairman and any of the Republican Precinct Chairs of unethical behavior is both repugnant and reprehensible.

By noon, Hurst stood up to tell those at a Burnet County Republican Women's luncheon at Meadowlakes Hidden Valley Country Club that she intends to run against Wilcox to lead the GOP here.

Afterward, she rushed away, declining to explain why she considered criticism of Linda Rogers' administration "unethical repugnant and reprehensible." However, she said she would answer several other questions posed to her about the timing of her announcement once she actually filed for the primary election. Filing closes Dec. 9. Wilcox, a consultant and resident of Meadowlakes, shrugged off the remarks, noting that the county organization's website has been largely inoperative and several precinct chairs have been left vacant under Linda Rogers. 

 "She (Wilcox) has no idea about how the party is run," said Rogers.

In her statement, Hurst also accused Wilcox of "unethical behavior," in business, claiming that she was performing as a realtor without a license. Wilcox said she was taking calls on a piece of property one of her public relations clients was offering for sale - rather than representing herself as a realtor - and immediately resolved the issue when it was brought to her attention by Hurst. She was also nominated as an interim county party chair at the closed-door executive meeting, but lost by an 11-2 vote to Cole, with one precinct representative absent, said party secretary Penny Mills.

Cole was elected to the interim post after Rogers resigned to join two other declared candidates in the Republican primary for county judge - Marble Falls Mayor George Russell and Burnet County Commissioner James Oakley of Spicewood.

"It's an honor to be given that kind of responsibility," said the 62-year-old Hoover Valley area resident. A Navy veteran who ran an emergency room in Guam, and retired as a fire captain and paramedic from Orange County, Calif., Cole holds Bachelor's and Master's degrees in psychology from California State University, Fullerton.

He has been active in Burnet County Republican politics and has held office as an election judge for five years and as a precinct chair for over four years. He said he has no plans to run for the position as party chair when his appointment expires in 2014.

His election to the interim post came after Rogers resigned to join two other declared candidates in the Republican primary for county judge - Marble Falls Mayor George Russell and Burnet County Commissioner James Oakley of Spicewood.

"I am excited about entering," she said Thursday. "I'm excited about the job and the work that Burnet County Sheriff W.T. Smith, District Attorney Sonny McAfee and District Judge Dan Mills are doing in law enforcement," Rogers said Thursday. She said she plans to focus on "policy points" and cited a re-emphasis on law enforcement as a priority.

"Every criminal removed from our area makes Burnet County a safer community," Rogers said in short written statement she emailed to reporters earlier. Although the county judge's duties primarily concern the management of county resources and services, judges may devote some time to hearing minor court cases.

Boy charged with arson in deadly fire

Emily Zendt
A 12-year-old boy is in custody and charged with arson causing bodily injury/death in connection with a mobile home fire in Granite Shoals that killed an 8-year-old boy and hospitalized his grandmother. The mobile home caught fire at about 10 a.m. Wednesday in the 1300 block of Kings Valley Road in Granite Shoals.

The fire claimed the life of 8-year-old James Loftin and hospitalized his grandmother, Connie Loftin, who was transported to Brooks Army Medical Center in San Antonio with burn-related injuries. Officials said the fire also killed five dogs. One Granite Shoals firefighter suffered an ankle injury.

Officials have not yet confirmed whether the boy charged with arson is related to the injured woman or deceased child. Authorities did not release information where the youth was being held.

The Granite Shoals Police Department is working in conjunction with the State Fire Marshal to determine how the blaze started.

"The cause of the fire is still under investigation at this time. We do have staff on the ground," said State Fire Marshall Public Information Officer Rachel Moreno. According to Elmus Alexander, a man living across the street who identified himself as the deceased boy's uncle, the big blaze began when a small fire ignited Connie Loftin's medical oxygen.

Granite Shoals Fire Chief Austin Stanphill would not confirm Alexander's statement, but said it was a possibility.

"We had several reports of explosions in there," Stanphill said. "I believe there was oxygen in the house, medical oxygen, that may have been what exploded. It could have been tires, we just don't know at this time."

The 12-year-old boy charged with arson is thought to have fled the scene briefly after the fire began, said Granite Shoals Police Captain Gary Boshears. Alexander said the 12-year-old drove away in the family's vehicle, and that authorities found the boy in Kingsland after he wrecked the vehicle. According to Alexander, the 12-year-old fled after a small fire ignited Connie Loftin's medical oxygen. Neighbors rushed to the blazing home after hearing a deafening noise, they said.

"I just heard a loud boom and my mom told me to get out of the house," said neighbor Evelyn Garcia, who was familiar with her neighbors. "The little boys used to come over and play with my brother."

The injured woman was carried from the home by neighbor Robert Leemaster and removed by emergency medical personnel.

"I saw her come out. She was burned pretty badly," said Garcia. Brooks Army Medical Center Nurses would not disclose Loftin's condition. Although the fire decimated the home, no other home caught fire. Immediate neighbors attempted to quell the flames with garden hoses. "We got reports that somebody was trapped. We did try to go in, but it was too hot," Leemaster said. "We immediately turned our attention to protecting and making sure it didn't spread or get any larger."

The loss of the young boy has devastated the family. "James was a very sweet kid and he was the light of my little brother's eyes. He's in a lot better place right now, he was a very sweet a very fun kid to be around. We're gonna miss him," Alexander said.

A fund for the funeral and household goods has been set up at the Anthem Bank and Trust in Granite Shoals. Donations can be made at the bank at 8110 west FM 1431 or by mail. Checks must to be payable to Patty Watkins F.B.O. Bobby Alexander Family. For more information contact 830.---.----

Hog Invasion - Feral hog problem grows in, around city

Emily Zendt
Don’t try to tell John Kemper feral hogs are no big deal. Kemper, owner of the Blue Bonnet Café in Marble Falls, has been fighting the bristly beasts on his 200 acre ranch edging Lake Marble Falls for three years.

“They’ve done probably $1,000 damage out here,” laments Kemper, who recently killed three hogs on his property during an organized hunt. “They get into the yard and root around. They basically roto-tiller your yard and damage your sprinkler sys- tem. The grass doesn’t want to grow back, because they eat the roots.”

But Kemper’s not the only area resident combating the critters. They’ve begun to venture within the Marble Falls city limits, where water is present, lawns are landscaped and ground- dwelling worms and bugs are in long supply.

Residents, officials feel powerless
They’ve been seen near Mormon Mill and in Gateway Park this year and they’ve been spotted trotting through Horseshoe Bay. Residential neighborhoods – especially those on the city fringe – become more attractive to hogs in the summer time, especially after rainy weather. Experts say they like to eat St. Augustine grass and the grubs that live under lush lawns. “During the summer months, they will move into the cities more because there is less rain — because the area is drier, they don’t have as many food sources,” says Brandon Tilford, inventor of what may be a better hog trap and founder of Feral Hog Eradication Co. of Austin. Tilford said the feral hog population – larger in Texas than any other state – began to soar decades ago when domestic pigs escaped their pens, quickly became feral, and mated wild boar to create a kind of super-hog species that can reproduce up to three times every two years yielding up to 12 offspring. Hogs are large, with many weighing upwards of 250 pounds. They can weigh up to 500 pounds and can pose a threat to animals like dogs, cats and small livestock.

Marble Falls Animal Control Officer Jacey Ferguson said hogs began invading an area near West Scenic Loop off Mormon Mill after an unusual amount of precipitation in last May. But with only one box trap – which Ferguson says must be used in residential developments because the corral traps often placed on ranches are just too big – the city is woefully under-armed to battle the landscape vandals. But not a single hog could be enticed inside.

“They seemed to have moved on by the time we got set up for them,” she said. “What is happening is they live in the surrounding ranch land and they move in ... at night and they do their dam- age, and then they go back to the areas where they sleep.”

Horseshoe Bay Police Chief Bill Lane says most of the hogs’ “coming and going” has been on the west side of his community. “We’ve had no damage reported to us,” he added. “There’s no doubt in my mind that there are some out in the west area and adjoining ranch land, but they have not been problematic so far.”

One homeowner in the Escondido area on the south shore of Lake Marble Falls east of US 281 said more needs to be done before the problem becomes worse. “People need to realize that wild hogs are not just a problem for ranchers and farmers anymore,” she said. “We’ve been out here for seven years and we’ve never had problems with pigs until this year. But they’re breeding like 400-pound rabbits and they’re soon going to be a bigger and bigger problem in town." Residents are disturbed because they don’t think much is really being done in this county to help,” she continued, saying she didn’t want to give her name. “The average homeowner can’t do anything about it unless they want to sit up all night and then only if they’re outside the city limits and can fire a gun safely.”

Although she said total damage to her front yard required less than $100 worth of top soil and seed, she considered herself lucky that the hogs they didn’t destroy thousands of dollars in landscape trees and plants in two visits to her home.

“You’re working on your garden all the time, and it’s 100 degrees out,” said the resident. “People complain about the deer taking the leaves off trees, but this is way worse.”

They’re not going away
Backbone Valley Nursery owner and biologist Jessica Robertson has heard several complaints about feral hogs,and has even had her own brush with them. “We have had more and more reports of them, and unless there are drastic measures, I think they are going to quickly become a problem that is not going to go away,” said biologist and owner of Backbone Valley Nursery Jessica Robertson. “They do lots of damage to landscaping and to fence lines...Back behind us several have been hit on the road and I can imagine what kind of damage that can do to a car–I imagine a lot more than a deer.”

“They are starting to come in to the area behind the nursery, back toward Burnet — the Backbone Ridge area,” she said.

Technology comes into play
Since feral hogs have no natural predators, population control is up to hunters and trappers, Ferguson said. “The only thing that we can do right now as a city is get our ranch land owners to allow hunting and trapping on their land,” she said. “We can’t really do anything inside the city limits.”

Tilford’s company has brought high tech to the hog trapping business. With the help of his wife who works in the security industry, he’s developed a trap that uses video surveillance and cell phone technology to capture around 30 hogs at once with the touch of a button, day or night.

“It’s basically a very large corral. When anything goes in the trap I get an email, and I can watch live video on my iPhone, push a button and drop a gate on the trap,” he explained.

One advantage is that the trap can then be emptied quickly and animals like raccoons, deer and ringtails — animals he’s seen enter the trap – won’t be swept up with the hogs. Once a hog has found food in the trap, Tilford sometimes waits for days until the whole sounder (a group of hogs) is lured into the corral before springing the trap.

He says his method of enticing the hogs is a more efficient method of ensnaring feral hogs than others. “The biggest problem using box traps or other traps is your pigs are going to get trap smart,” Tilford says, explaining that it only takes about three encounters for a hog to figure out how to retrieve the food and avoid capture. Kemper says that though he’s brought dogs, guns and traps into the wild pig fray, he’s been outsmarted by swine on a few occasions. “I’ve seen (via surveillance camera) the piglets get into the traps, get the corn, and get out,” he noted. “I’ve seen the same set of piglets twice. They say the hog is supposedly the smartest animal in the forest.”

The county’s response
Burnet County doesn’t currently pay a bounty on feral hogs, but that could soon change. Last September, Burnet County participated in the Hog Out County Grant Program, a competition with other counties that provides grants for the highest number of killed hogs.

“We might be able to do that again, people should look for the announcement,” said Burnet County Grant Administrator Debbie Carter. In the meantime – as long as you don’t live in the city – you can load your guns and join the hog fight.

“Kill as many as you can,” said Burnet County Extension Agent Wade Hibler. “It’s very good meat, especially in sausage, if it’s prepared properly – you’ve got to cook it all the way through. You don’t want to take chances with pig meat.”

Although cases involving farm raised port are extremely rate, undercooked pork can cause a variety of serious or fatal illnesses. That’s why hog meat can- not be distributed commercially unless inspected and approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Robert Lang, owner of Hill Country Meats in Marble Falls.

After Tilford catches hogs, he sends them to a holding facility where they are eventually processed for consumption and are often shipped to Europe and China, where government inspection isn’t required.