Some of Amarillo’s ‘change’ has been good

ama city council

Change came to Amarillo City Hall this past spring with the election of three new City Council members.

Some of the change wasn’t so great, such as the call from two new members immediately upon taking office for City Manager Jarrett Atkinson’s resignation and the firing of the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation board.

Atkinson, realizing that he couldn’t work constructively with the new council, eventually did quit; the AEDC board is still there. Atkinson’s departure was a definite downer for the city, but the council has hired a capable man, Terry Childers, to serve as interim city manager.

One or two of the new guys got into public spats with Mayor Paul Harpole. That wasn’t good, either.

The council, though, has implemented a new procedure that I find quite appealing. It moved its regular Tuesday meetings to 5:30 p.m., rather than at 3 p.m.

The idea was to enable more residents to attend council meetings after work hours. The 3 p.m. meeting time was inconvenient for a lot of residents. They expressed their displeasure many times over the years.

The council did begin meeting occasionally later in the evening; it took its meetings into neighborhoods, giving council members a chance to hear residents’ concerns while sitting in their constituents’ own back yard.

I like the notion of meeting at 5:30 p.m. I also like the idea that more residents will be able to attend these sessions, to see and hear their elected representatives and to engage them personally during the “public comment” portion of the council meetings.

Perhaps with more people getting engaged in these proceedings we can stop hearing the constant carping — from the vocal minority of gadflies — about the bogus “secrecy” that allegedly shrouds so many of the council’s actions.

Now … let’s get busy.


A harbinger of a harsh winter?

el nino

Dave Oliver, one of Amarillo’s TV meteorologists, predicted the other day that we are in for a long, cold and wet winter.

“Doppler Dave” predicted 44 inches of snow this winter, blaming it on the strength of the El Nino weather current in the Pacific Ocean.

Weather forecasters have called it the “Godzilla” of such events, contending that it’s stronger and more persistent than normal. It’s likely to pelt and pummel the Pacific Coast with much-needed rain, not to mention sending more moisture across the Rocky Mountains and onto the High Plains.

It’s always welcome. But … c’mon!

Whatever the case, I’ll just make this brief plea.

I hope they’re wrong.

Today was not a particularly fun day. We were housebound because the temperature didn’t get above about 25 degrees all day. The ice — and the light coating of snow — that blanketed the city overnight did not melt. Not one bit. There was no drip-drip-drip off the edge of the roof on the south side of the house, which usually occurs in the winter months around here — as the sun’s trajectory dictates.

We didn’t get a lot of snow. I keep hearing some slightly conflicting forecasts for Saturday and Sunday. I do hope, though, to get out of the house at least a little bit over the weekend.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my wife’s company and she tells me she enjoys mine, too.

However, we’re both prone to fits of cabin fever.

When is it not ‘domestic terrorism’?


As I write this brief blog post, a shooter has just been arrested by police in Colorado Springs, Colo.

He had been holed up in a Planned Parenthood clinic where he reportedly fired at clients fleeing the clinic once he opened fire.

The question now is this: Are we witnessing an act of “domestic terrorism”?

How about another query: Suppose this was occurring at a shopping mall, or an automobile lube shop, or at a convenience store. Would that be domestic terrorism as well?

My guess is that all those scenarios would constitute an act of domestic terrorism.

That it is occurring at a Planned Parenthood clinic, though, gives this situation the feel of added scrutiny, given that Planned Parenthood has been in the news of late and has become the object of considerable criticism for many years over its role in providing abortions for women.

I am glad to hear that the cops have arrested this shooter, taken him into custody. He now will be charged with whatever crime is applicable. I had feared it wouldn’t end that way.

Let’s hope for the best, which means the police can get some answers from the individual responsible for this frightening event.

He needs to answer the question: Why do this at a Planned Parenthood clinic?


Former hawk sees hope in Russia


Zbigniew Brzezinski has evolved.

He’s a former Cold War hawk who detested the Soviet Union. And with good reason. He fled his native Poland for a new life in the United States when Poland was controlled by the Evil Empire.

He became a national security expert and joined President Carter’s inner circle as national security adviser. He feuded with doves within the president’s Cabinet, most notably Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who then quit because he’d grown tired of the internal strife.

What is Brzezinski’s take on Russia these days? He’s less wary of the Russians and sees them a possible partners.

There once was time when Zbig would have counseled reprisal against Russia for encroaching on the airspace of a U.S. ally, such as Turkey. The Turks shot down a Russian warplane recently and the Russians have responded with some economic sanctions against the Turks.

Brzezinski doesn’t see that as a deal-breaker with the Russians.

Politico asked the former cold warrior about how worried he is about the shooting down of the plane.

He responded: “These tensions are serious but not fatal. In some ways, if good sense and intelligence prevail, they could even prove to be salutary, not only for dealing with a nasty regional problem but addressing the potentially more generally destructive consequences of a global system dominated by three superpowers. ”

Man, he sounds rational and reasonable.

There’s more. He was asked to define “salutary.” He said: “I don’t think anyone thinks that escalating this dispute is worth a major conflict with truly destructive consequences. In early October, in a piece I wrote for the Financial Times, I urged an effort to engage Russia in serious negotiations about the future of the region. I think perhaps we may now be doing what needs to be done [in talks in Vienna], given the common threat inherent in the delicacy of the relations between the nuclear powers.”

Advancing years — and profound change in the world alignment of power — does produce wisdom.

Allies tighten ties against Islamic State


France and Russia are allies with a common enemy.

It’s the Islamic State.

The two nations’ presidents — Francois Hollande and Vladimir Putin — have agreed to tighten their alliance in the shared fight against the monstrous terrorist cabal.

Wait, though, for critics of President Obama to weigh in. They’ll wonder aloud: Why isn’t Barack Obama in the lead?

What difference does it really make?

France and Russia have skin in this game. The Russians lost more than 200 of their citizens when a bomb exploded on a jetliner; ISIS took responsibility for the deed. Then came the Paris attacks that killed 130 victims; ISIS took responsibility for that deed, too.

Hollande and Putin agreed to share intelligence and to intensify their air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria. As the Associated Press reports: “We agreed on a very important issue: To strike the terrorists only, Daesh and the jihadi groups only, and not to strike the forces and the groups that are fighting against the terrorists,” Hollande said after the meeting, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym. “And we are going to exchange some information about that: what can be struck, and what must not be struck.”

Both countries employ significant military assets. Let us welcome them more fully into this fight.

As for the United States, there’s plenty of pressure being applied for our president to kick our own immense military establishment into an even more active role in the war against ISIS.

My bigger hope, though, is that President Obama is continuing to seek out more allied help — from the rest of the European Union and friendly Middle East countries that more than any other ought to want to destroy ISIS.

For now, I see nothing at all wrong with France and Russia locking arms in this mortal combat.


Potter County ballpark: not worth any more effort


So … I’m visiting with a health care professional and the discussion about the topic at hand comes to an end.

The conversation then turns to the city’s effort to build a multipurpose event venue downtown — which includes the ballpark that would be the home field for a minor-league baseball team.

My acquaintance — who favors the downtown MPEV — then mentions the Potter County Memorial Stadium next to the Tri-State Fairgrounds. “I’ve heard the argument that we should pump more money into that ballpark,” he says. I shake my head and tell him, “But it’s a dump!”

He agrees, adding that the Potter County already has pumped too much money into the ballpark as it is and then he broaches a subject that few individuals seem willing to address: It’s in a depressed neighborhood that is unlikely to see any kind of revival any time soon.

What’s the point, he asks, of putting more money into that ballpark when the city hopes to build a new venue downtown?

Bingo! Presto! Enough said! Those are the thoughts that banged around my noggin at that very moment.

The Potter County-owned ballpark, in the words of retired Amarillo College President Paul Matney, “at the end of its life.” The clock should be ticking on that venue. Its best days are long gone. It is held together with the proverbial equivalent of rubber bands, wire, duct tape and perhaps a staple or two.

Matney made the case all over Amarillo as he campaigned successfully on behalf of the non-binding citywide referendum that voters approved on Nov. 3. The MPEV, with its current price tag of around $32 million, will be built eventually — at least that’s my hope.

Let’s no longer discuss the Potter County Memorial Stadium as having any kind of meaningful future for the county, or the city, or any other entity.

The county has put enough money into it already.

It’s time to look to the future.


Perez gets fitting honor


Manny Perez was a fighter.

He fought political battles. Indeed, he actually did put on the gloves and fight with his dukes. The former Golden Gloves boxer was pretty good at inflicting punishment in the ring.

He couldn’t live forever, though. Perez died in 2011 from surgical complications. He left behind a legacy of working for the folks who elected him multiple times from his Potter County Commissioners Court precinct.

Well, this week, Perez’s name was unveiled on a bridge at Grand Street in Amarillo. He wanted that bridge built and argued for it for many years.

It’s a fitting tribute to this dedicated public servant.

That’s just Manny. That often would be the response one would get when discussing one of Perez’s tirades against this or that individual, organization or cause. Perez didn’t speak with much delicacy or precision. He spoke from deep within his gut.

He and I had our share of disagreements during our professional relationship over many years. I edited the opinion pages of the Amarillo Globe-News and we took Perez to task on occasion over policy disputes. He didn’t like being challenged.

He’d call and bitch at me about what we had said. During the course of his angry response he’d usually say something like, “I don’t need your support. I don’t want it. All I care about is the people.”

I would respond with something like, “Fine, Manny. But we aren’t going to change our mind and you won’t change yours.” Then he might say he wouldn’t speak to me “ever again.” He’d call later and we’d talk as if the previous conversation never happened.

We were on good terms when Perez died. I’m grateful for that.

I also am glad to see his name on the Grand Street bridge.


Secession talk resurfaces in Texas


We moved from one corner of Texas to another corner more than 20 years ago.

It turns out our former home, in the Golden Triangle, is home to as much political wackiness as our new home in the Panhandle.

A group based in Nederland wants a non-binding referendum placed on the state ballot next year that supports the idea of Texas seceding from the United States of America.

This is wrong on more levels than I can count, but in a strange way I almost hope that the Texas Nationalist Movement gets enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

It won’t pass. Indeed, if voters get a chance to decide this issue at the ballot box, then perhaps this nutty talk can cease forever.

Texas cannot secede legally, despite what the nutty notion’s proponents say.

The movement wants to put the ballot on the Republican Party primary ballot next spring. State GOP leaders aren’t too happy with the idea, but mostly it appears because the party dislikes the idea of an independent group trying to muscle its way onto the GOP ballot.

Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Mechler, who hails from the Panhandle, ought to go ahead and bless this kooky idea. I know Mechler — but I do not know whether he actually supports secession; he and I have never had that discussion.

Let’s settle this nonsense once and for all. Go ahead and vote on secession.

My hunch is that it’ll go down on flames.


Sad Monkey RR to smile again

sad monkey

One of my four part-time jobs enables me to write news stories for KFDA-NewsChannel 10 TV here in Amarillo.

We call it “Whatever Happened To …” and it explores issues that might have dropped off people’s radar. The Sad Monkey Railroad once ran through Palo Duro Canyon. Then it shut down when the owner couldn’t comply with demands being made to make the train accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities, under federal law.

Guess what? The train is coming back to life … sort of.

Canyon City Manager Randy Criswell informed the station that the train “has recently been purchased, and will be refurbished and loaned to the City of Canyon for display at one of our parks … the train is actually being moved as we speak to the Randall County Sheriff’s Office, where it will be restored by the inmates there.”

The train had been sitting on some property near the entrance to Palo Duro Canyon State Park. It had ceased operating on the canyon floor in 1996. The former owner, who’s now deceased, decided just to park the locomotive and several cars next to the park entrance road.

The coolest aspect of this is that the sheriff’s office will allow inmates — I presume they’ll be jail trusties who get assigned to these work details — to refurbish the ol’ Sad Monkey train. Sheriff Joel Richardson agreed to the deal that will save taxpayers a whole lot of public money. Think about it: The train’s been sitting idle for nearly two decades, through scorching heat and bitter cold all that time. The cost of repairing and dressing up the cars would be immense if the city had to hire, say, a contractor to do the job.

Sad Monkey won’t be running on tracks through the park where it will be put on display. It will serve as a sort of kids’ playground.

It doesn’t matter. The Sad Monkey train has been given new life.

I believe I’ll give thanks today to Sheriff Richardson for providing the manpower to fix it up — and to the new owner, Barbara Logan, for her generosity in rescuing the old train from further decay.


Thanksgiving brings back a special memory

hotel majestic

Most of my Thanksgiving celebrations have been of a fairly standard variety.

Turkey and all the sides. Fellowship with family. Lots of laughs. Sometimes even some pro football watching on TV.

But I’ve got a special Thanksgiving memory I’d like to share here.

It occurred in 1989. Twenty-six years ago I had the honor of attending — along with about 20 other journalists from all over the country — a three-week journey through Southeast Asia. Our trip took us — in order — Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and back to Vietnam. Our delegation represented the National Conference of Editorial Writers, which has been renamed and reorganized into the Association of Opinion Journalists.

It was a marvelous experience at many levels. Just going so far from home in itself was a treat. For several of us on that trip, it gave us a chance to return to Vietnam, where we had served during that terrible war and to see a country no longer shrouded by that conflict.

But along the way, we ventured to Cambodia. In 1989, the country was just beginning to recover from decades of war. Phnom Penh, the capital city, was in shambles. Vietnamese forces had just evacuated the country after liberating Cambodia from the heinous rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The city’s infrastructure was decimated.

We spent several days in Cambodia, laying eyes on a notorious killing field and seeing up close a former prison where the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed their countrymen.

But then the Cambodia portion of the trip ended. It happened to be Thanksgiving Day when we boarded our vans and headed east, back to Ho Chi Minh City (which the locals still refer to as Saigon).

We traveled all day along a terrible road. We crossed the rapidly flowing Mekong River aboard a “ferry” that in reality was little more than a glorified raft.

After a grueling day of travel back to Saigon, we settled into our hotel, the Majestic. Then we were informed by the hotel staff that they had prepared a special meal for us.

They wanted to make us feel a bit more “at home” by serving us a Thanksgiving-style meal in the hotel’s main dining room.

We all sat down to dinner that evening and enjoyed a serving of what one of my dear friends refers to this day as “road kill duck”; we also enjoyed some fresh peas and mashed potatoes.

The meal was just OK.

What made it so very special, though, was the hospitality displayed by our Vietnamese hosts, who were delighted to treat us to a meal that enabled their American visitors commemorate a uniquely American holiday.

A day that began with some trepidation as we looked forward to a long, tiring and potentially harrowing trip back from a nation still bleeding from the wounds of war ended with warmth and good wishes — in a place so far from home.


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