AMA: Why gas prices fluctuate from town to town

gasBy Michael V. Hannigan

AMA stands for “Ask Michael Anything,” and is a chance for readers to ask reporter Michael V. Hannigan questions about Henderson County. Ask questions through our Facebook Page or our website.

QUESTION: Why are gas prices in Athens and Malakoff so much higher than in Brownsboro and Chandler? … it is a question I’ve been asked several times in the past couple of weeks.

SOURCES: I spoke with some city officials, who basically had the same question. The trouble here is that there is really no one to ask. Gas stations are private businesses, so don’t have to answer me to begin with, and prices come mainly from the refineries anyway. But my research did lead me to the phrase: “Zone Pricing.” (BTW: Any gas station owners in Henderson County who want to talk to me, I’m all ears.)

ANSWER: I’m going to go with zone pricing … although I admit that a complete, bedrock answer eludes me just as much as anyone else. Zone pricing basically means that big oil companies set gas prices at least partly on the demographics of a location, going so far as to even change prices within a city.

Before you even ask, I will point out the word “secret” in the description below. I can’t tell you WHY Athens is higher, I can only tell you that wide swings in prices like between Athens and Chandler are not unusual around the country.

Challenges in court and by lawmakers trying to legislate zone pricing away have been unsuccessful.

Below are a couple of descriptions I found:

Zone pricing “is a practice under which refiners sell gasoline to retailers at wholesale prices that differ across geographic areas. Generally, these geographic areas vary in the level of competition and traffic counts. Thus refiners charge more in areas where demand is high and/or competition is low. This practice is viewed by some as price gouging and by others as a natural outcome of competitive markets.” 

Here is a description from an LA Times article:

“On any given day, in any major U.S. city, a single brand of gasoline will sell for a wide range of prices even when the cost to make and deliver the fuel is the same.”

“The primary culprit is zone pricing, a secret and pervasive oil company strategy to boost profits by charging dealers different amounts for fuel based on traffic volume, station amenities, nearby household incomes, the strength of competitors and other factors.”

“It’s a controversial strategy, but the courts have thus far deemed it legal, and the Federal Trade Commission recently said the effect on consumers was ambiguous because some customers got hurt by higher prices while others benefited from lower ones.”

“To be sure, other industries vary prices by area too. Supermarkets, for instance, price the same brand of bread or cheese differently in different neighborhoods. But gasoline price patterns provoke a response that bread can’t match, partly because other commodities don’t fluctuate as wildly as gasoline does and their prices aren’t posted by the side of the road.”

That is the best I can do on answering this particular question. If I get a better answer, I will let you know.

TVCC to present final concert

Shelby Ballenger, shown here at a holiday concert earlier this year, will be one of five music majors featured May 28 during the Trinity Valley Community College Music Department’s final concert of the school year. (JENNIFER HANNIGAN/TVCC)
Shelby Ballenger, shown here at a holiday concert earlier this year, will be one of five music majors featured May 28 during the Trinity Valley Community College Music Department’s final concert of the school year. (JENNIFER HANNIGAN/TVCC)

By Jennifer Hannigan/TVCC Public Information

The Trinity Valley Community College Music Department is giving a few about-to-graduate sophomores a unique sort of sendoff.

When the college’s choir students take to the stage for the final concert of the season on April 28, those students will be standing in the spotlight.

The TVCC Music Department’s last concert of the 2012-13 school year will be at 3 p.m. at Dogwood Church in Athens. The concert is open to the public free of charge. Dogwood Church is located at 6467 Farm-to-Market Road 2494 in Athens.

This year’s final concert is titled, “A Choral Tapestry,” said Music Department Coordinator Dr. Byron McGilvray.

“We have a great group of music majors about to graduate,” said McGilvray. “And we started thinking about we could enhance their marketability as they move on and also how we could reward them. These students have worked amazingly hard for the period of time they have been here.”

And so those five students – David Thrasher, Naomi Jorgensen, Robert Boren, Candace Clayburn and Shelby Ballenger – will be highlighted.

Thrasher, Jorgensen and Boren will be conducting numbers that they have chosen. The voice talents of Clayburn and Ballenger will be featured, again with numbers they have chosen to perform.

“They have selected and are rehearsing their own material. The product is theirs,” said McGilvray. “We wanted to highlight them and also to start a new tradition.”

The concert will feature a wide variety of music from numerous genres. McGilvray said everything from opera to folk music will be covered.

While this is the last concert the choir will feature for the school year, it is not the last time those sophomores will perform with their fellow students. The choir will be traveling with the Dixieland Band and the TVCC Brass Ensemble for a week in May. The group will be in Washington, D.C., and will be performing at the Jefferson Memorial and the Library of Congress, among other venues.

Malakoff’s Bartlett House to be opened for tour

Photo by Craig D. Blackmon, FAIA
Photo by Craig D. Blackmon, FAIA

Malakoff Garden Club press release

For approximately a quarter of a century, the “Sunken Gardens” of the Bartlett House, a historic “ruin” in Malakoff, have been overgrown and covered in debris, much like the Bartlett House itself.

For the first time, the renovated “Sunken Gardens” will be unveiled to the public at as free open house April 27-28, as part of the East Texas Art and Sculpture Gardens’ Tour in Malakoff. Wear comfortable shoes. The properties are not handicapped accessible.

The other two sculpture gardens on the tour, The James Surls Sculpture Garden and the James & Barbara Stewart’s Sculpture Gardens require a ticket for admission. Tickets can be acquired online at or at the Malakoff Community Center.

As part of the celebration of the resurrection of the Sunken Gardens well-known in the 1930s and 40s for their beauty, several of the best East Texas artists who were selected to be in the book published for the tour will be showing in the heritage gardens surrounding the Bartlett House.

Bill Williamson, a fast sketch artist, will be available to draw pictures of visitors for donations to the Historic Bartlett House and Heritage Gardens. Williamson is a sculptor who spent his professional career working with and in zoos creating the backdrops, scenery and sculpted elements that comprise the animal exhibits.

Two outstanding artists who will be showing in the Bartlett House gardens – open to the public at no cost – will be Jan G. Blackmon, FAIA, and Craig D. Blackmon, FAIA. They are abstract sculptors and photographers who recently won two consecutive Best in Show awards in the Main Street Gallery in downtown Tyler. Craig is an extraordinary photographer whose architectural photographs have been published in magazines and books nationally.

Robert English, from Tool, also plans to be showing his realistic sculptures in which he thematically focuses on country and ballet subjects, both in appreciation of the expression in the human face and body.

Four artists from Athens plan to show, including Christie Barrett, Cheryl Hicks, Celene Terry, and Deborah Wood.

Margo Stamp and Lou Albright from Ben Wheeler also plan to show in the Bartlett House gardens.

On the ticketed portion of the tour will be two other sculpture gardens. The James Surls Sculpture Garden: A Memorial to Joe Surls, will have four of the five nationally renowned sculptors present to meet with visitors: James Surls, George Tobolowsky, Bill Wiener, and Polly Smart. The James Surls’ gardens are gaining national attention because it is the largest concentration of James Surls’ early art, with over 40 pieces on the property, and, also this year and next, will feature major new sculptures by Surls, Tobolowsky, Wiener and Charmaine Locke.

A dinner/talk Saturday night featuring the Surls’ nationally prominent artists will be discussing their work with dinner guests in the Malakoff Community Center. Reservations are required ( Seating is limited.

James and Barbara Stewart’s private Sculpture Gardens located on Cedar Creek Lake will also be open in Malakoff. Winner of the “Best Texas Residential Landscape,” their gardens feature sculptures by numerous nationally prominent sculptors Glenna Goodacre, W. Stanley Proctor, Gary Lee Price, David Pearson, Walt Horton, Terry Jones, and Jo Saylors.

Ticket and book sales receipts go to the Greater Malakoff Area Garden Club, which owns the Historic Bartlett House and Heritage Gardens to restore the property.

Photo by Craig D. Blackmon, FAIA
Photo by Craig D. Blackmon, FAIA


Photo by Craig D. Blackmon, FAIA
Photo by Craig D. Blackmon, FAIA


TVCC Sports Notes: Lady Cardinals qualify for regional tournament

By Benny Rogers/TVCC Sports Information

The Lady Cardinals had a down-and-up weekend.

Saturday, they dropped a road doubleheader to Navarro, falling 5-3 and 3-2.

Sunday, Navarro and Kilgore split a doubleheader, meaning the Lady Cardinals qualified for the regional tournament for a third straight year. The regional tournament is scheduled May 2-5 in Corsicana.

The Lady Cardinals are scheduled to close the regular season at home Wednesday against Northeast Texas Community College. Action begins at 1 p.m.

Just over a week ago, the Lady Cardinals swept NE Texas 2-1 and 8-3.

Against Navarro, Chyna Phipps went 2-for-4 in Game 1. She drove in a run. Celeste Montoya went 1-for-2.

In the second game, Chantelle Whitehead was 2-for-3 with a RBI. Montoya also went 2-for-3. Candise Wise was 2-for-4 with a RBI and stolen base.

The Lady Cardnals are 29-22 on the year and 9-9 in conference. They are one win away from the first 30-win season in school history.


The third annual sports banquet is scheduled Tuesday at Athens Country Club. It will begin at 6 p.m.
Tickets are $15 and will be available at the door.

The public is invited.


The annual spring football game is scheduled Saturday at Bruce Field. Action will begin at 10 a.m.

The public is invited.

My Five Cents: Business tax and more doctors

State Sen. Robert Nichols
State Sen. Robert Nichols

Press release from Sen. Nichols’ Office

This Sunday, April 21, is the 175th Anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, the deciding battle in Texas’ War for Independence. In a sneak attack on Santa Anna’s army, Gen. Sam Houston lead the Texas forces to victory in a battle that lasted less than 20 minutes. While not as heroic, passing bills can work the same way. It takes months or even years of preparation to craft good legislation, but the actual process of passing it usually just takes a few minutes. As we near the end of session, more bills are facing decisive battles to become law.

Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:

Business Tax Cuts

On Monday, April 15, Governor Perry announced his support for $1.6 billion in business tax cuts. This tax relief would affect 109,000 Texas businesses over the next two years, and would include a 5 percent cut of the state franchise tax, a $1 million exemption for businesses that make less than $20 million and a deduction for moving costs for companies relocating to Texas.

The Governor noted that the state is “the epicenter of job creation” in the U.S. and said he hopes these measures will help keep Texas “the most competitive place in the country” to do business.

More doctors for Texas

This week the Senate took a step to address the state’s doctor shortage. At least 100 of the state’s 254 counties have been “diagnosed” as having shortages of primary health physicians, the majority of which are in rural areas.

Part of this problem came about because, currently, there are not enough medical residencies for the number of graduates Texas medical schools are producing.

Consequently, many medical graduates are going out-of-state for their residencies, and then staying in those states to open practices.

On Wednesday I was proud to be able to vote for SB 143 by Senator Jane Nelson to create additional medical residency slots and keep more young doctors in Texas. It does this by creating a grant program to create new residency positions, including incentivizing the development of residency programs in hospitals that have never had such a program. It is a step forward for health access for all Texans, including the many medically underserved areas within Senate District 3.

Property tax ceiling

On Tuesday the Senate passed out an important measure dealing with property taxes.

The Texas Constitution currently allows for a freeze on the ad valorem taxes on a residential homestead for the disabled or those who are over 65 within a school district, county, city, or junior college district. However, there are many special purpose districts that levy property taxes, but are not constitutionally required to offer a property tax freeze.

SJR 32 by Senator Ken Paxton would create a constitutional amendment to authorize a political subdivision other than a school district to establish a limitation on the amount of ad valorem taxes that the political subdivision may impose on the residence homesteads of persons who are disabled or elderly and their surviving spouses.

This measure closes a loophole in property tax law and ensures a level playing field for all our disabled and over-65 citizens. I was proud to vote in favor of it.

House passes anti-texting bill

On Wednesday the House passed a controversial bill to ban texting while driving statewide. Specifically, HB 63 by Representative Tom Craddick would outlaw texting, emailing, reading or instant-messaging. Drivers could face a fine of up to $100 and repeat offenders up to $200. All but 11 states have passed similar measures, and supporters of the bill argue Texas should follow suit in the interest of public safety and saving lives.

The bill passed out of the House 98-47 and will soon go to the Senate. However, even if
it makes it through the Senate, it could very likely be vetoed by Governor Rick Perry who
vetoed the same measure last session. Only time will tell, and I will keep you updated.

Ladies in Red

On Thursday the famous “Ladies in Red” returned to the Capitol once again. These ladies are all members of the Texas Federation of Republican Women, one of the largest women’s political groups in the country. They storm the Capitol every legislative session as grassroots lobbyists to advocate for their conservative beliefs, and are most definitely a force with which to be reckoned! Their passion and energy for their cause is admirable, and their legislative day is always one I look forward to.