Meanwhile, City Hall asks for some tough decisions, too


So, perhaps you thought your tough decisions begin and end with the vote for president of the United States.

Hmm. Wrong!

Amarillo City Hall has put forward a package of seven ballot propositions. They total nearly $340 million. If we approve them all, our municipal property tax rate will increase a few cents per $100 assessed valuation on our property.

What we’ve got here is a comprehensive list of projects covering a multitude of areas involving the service that our city provides.

Here’s the link that summarizes them:

The package of measures represents a significant change in the process of governing at City Hall. The list is almost mind-numbing.

The list includes projects set for streets, public safety, municipal facilities, parks, the Civic Center, athletic facilities and the vehicle fleet.

My guess would be that every single one of Amarillo’s 200,000 residents partakes in at least one of those municipal services. Thus, we have a vested and tangible interest in ensuring we get the most of them.

This is a fascinating method of securing public support for these services. If voters approve all of them, they all get done — over time.

Voters, though, have the chance to decide which of these projects are the most important. If they don’t want to improve the city’s park network, they can vote no on that proposition. If voters think they’re safe enough and do not want to improve police and fire protection, well, you can say “no” to that one, too. Hey, if you like the condition of the streets, you can reject that one, too.

Here are the proposals as presented by the City Council:

The total price tag, I should add, was winnowed down from an original wish list of nearly a billion bucks.

Amarillo’s elected and senior administrative leadership have boasted for as long as I can remember — and I’ve been observing City Hall for more than 21 years — about the city’s famously low municipal tax rate.

The city also carries relatively little debt, unlike other cities of comparable size around the state.

City Hall has done a thorough job of examining areas that need improvement. It has asked us — the taxpayers — to dig a little deeper to pay for them. It’s reasonable to ask those of us who partake of the services offered to pay for them.

Those agents of change who took office in the spring of 2015 promised to do things differently than what has happened before. I’ve been critical of some of the changes brought by the City Council.

This one, though, represents a positive — and proactive — new direction.


In the weeks ahead, I’ll be looking at some of these individual propositions and offering a comment or two on them. Until then, study up.

Here comes the Lower Expectation Game


Nice try, Brian Fallon.

Some of us — maybe many of us — can see right through Hillary Clinton’s press secretary.

Fallon is talking up Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump’s debating skills in advance of the joint appearance set between Trump and Democratic nominee Clinton.

What’s the press flack up to?

I’m pretty sure Fallon is trying to lower expectations as Clinton and Trump prepare for their appearance.

The street talk has it that Trump will explode into a tantrum the minute Clinton goes negative. Fallon sees it differently … or so he says.

Trump, he reminded us in a written statement, “thrashed” his GOP rivals when they gathered on the same stage next to him. He notes that Trump is a former reality TV celebrity who’s comfortable in front of a TV camera.

I guess I need to remind readers of this blog that Hillary’s no slouch, either, when the TV lights go on. She testified for 11 hours before a congressional committee on the Benghazi matter and, to my way of thinking, showed herself to be a pretty cool customer.

The two of them are going to meet Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

Here, though, is what we ought to look for in the run-up to this event: Will the Trump campaign downplay their candidate’s debating skill the way this Clinton spokesman has done?

I do not believe for a second that the Trumpkins would dare say their guy isn’t up to the task at hand.

Minds can change in heated political climate

I’m hearing a lot of pundits saying things about how locked in Americans are on the presidential election.

Voters’ minds are made up.

They’re going to vote for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton or Republican Donald J. Trump. Perhaps they’ll vote for a minor-party candidate; we’ve got a few of them on the ballot this year.

Nothing either of the major-party nominees can say is going to sway voters on the other side.

I’m not so sure.

I witnessed the changing of a mind nearly a year ago. It involved an Amarillo municipal referendum. I wrote about it. Take a look.

A mind has changed on the MPEV

The above blog post, published in October 2015, also notes how one former Texas legislator, the late Teel Bivins, told me how another legislator, Carl Parker, could change minds during Texas Senate floor debate.

Are our minds locked in on this election?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Compassion? Sympathy? Not when there’s politics in the air


Dwyane Wade’s family is grieving today.

A cousin of the pro basketball superstar was shot and killed in Chicago last night while she was walking her baby.

Now, how does an American politician respond to such news? Does he or she offer a word of condolence? A statement of horror at the event?

That depends. If that politician is Donald J. Trump, Republican nominee for president, he sends out a tweet that says in effect, “I told you so!”

That was how Trump reacted overnight to the death of Dwyane Wade’s cousin.

“Dwayne Wade’s cousin was just shot and killed walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!”

Trump’s been seeking to “appeal” to black voters by saying that they live in crime-ridden hell holes that aren’t as safe as some war zones where we’ve deployed troops to fight terrorists.

This tragedy, he said, proves the point he has sought to make.

Nothing at all, not even a family’s profound personal grief, can be off limits for this guy — Trump.

Many of the rest of us are left to shake our heads in utter disbelief.


Voter ID law: an overreach … perhaps?


Texas legislators were so convinced that voter fraud had reached epidemic proportions in the state that they enacted a law requiring everyone to show photo identification when they registered to vote … and then voted.

Is it the problem, the crisis, the scourge that lawmakers feared?

Apparently not.

According to the Texas Tribune, the state prosecuted a total of 15 cases of voter fraud from 2012 until the 2016 state primary.

Fifteen! That’s it.

Most of the cases actually prosecuted involved something called “illegal assistance” of voters, which would be banned by the voter ID approved by the 2011 Texas Legislature.

It’s been said of some legislative remedies that they are “solutions in search of a problem.” This one seems to fit that description.

The Tribune reports: “Texas’ contested law, passed in 2011, requires voters to present one of seven approved forms of government-issued ID at the polls. In July, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled the law violates parts of the Voting Rights Act. For the November election, people without ID will be allowed to vote if they sign a sworn statement. A spokesman for the Texas attorney general said ‘this case is not over’ and the agency is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

I am not vehemently opposed to requiring individuals to prove they are who they say they are. We ask people to produce ID when they cash a check, check in for flights at airports or make withdrawals from bank accounts.

Yes, voting is important. It’s crucial that we protect the integrity of this fundamental right.

But the study reported by the Tribune suggests to me that the rush to approve voter ID requirements was an overheated response to an equally overblown problem in Texas.

Now … about that doctor’s note

donald health

As long as we’re talking about records — or the lack thereof — let’s visit briefly about that strange doctor’s note Donald J. Trump produced that proclaimed him the most physically fit presidential candidate in world history.

OK, so I exaggerated that description.

Trump pulled this note out in late 2015 to tell us that he is fit as a fiddle. Dr. Harold Bornstein has been the Republican presidential nominee’s physician since 1980. Now we hear that the doc wrote it in five minutes while sitting in a limo that Trump had sent for him.

Some of the language that Dr. Bornstein used to describe Trump’s physical fitness for the presidency seemed, well, a bit unusual and not written in the kind of tone one expects from a medical doctor. It doesn’t read like a clinical analysis.

Trump’s blood pressure is “astonishingly excellent.” His stamina is “extraordinary.”

And get a load of this. According to Politico: “It begins ‘To Whom My Concerns,’ and says that Bornstein’s most recent medical examination of Trump ‘showed only positive results’ — medical terminology that usually indicates confirmation of a certain condition.”

Trump said he would produce a “full medical report.” He showed us the letter instead. Here it is:

It’s worth mentioning here because Trump and his surrogates keep suggesting that Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health isn’t up to par. A spokeswoman who lacks any medical training has diagnosed dysphasia in Clinton. Former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani has said repeatedly that something is physically wrong with Clinton.

So, here’s what we ought to do.

Let’s all insist that both candidates produce detailed medical reports on their physical condition that do not contain such hysterical and flowery descriptions of the candidates’ well-being.

Trump and his surrogates have started this idiotic questioning of Clinton’s health. Trump also has insisted that Barack Obama isn’t a real American and has questioned the president’s academic record.

It’s time now for Donald Trump to deliver the real goods on his own physical condition.

Oh, and those tax returns, too!

Panhandle has reason to celebrate national parks

lake meredith

The Texas Panhandle’s two significant federal park attractions aren’t likely to attract the attention garnered by actual national parks.

But as the National Park Service marks its 100th birthday, I thought it would be good to hold up the Panhandle’s parks for your attention.

Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, all 44,000 acres of it, is going through some serious change. The park is being improved, developed and made more attractive to visitors coming to the region.

Do you remember the drought that ravaged the area in 2011-12? Sure you do. Lake Meredith park officials began repurposing some of its features to become a more land-based attraction. The lake itself was diminishing rapidly, falling to a low of 26 feet.

Then something quite unexpected happened in the spring and summer of 2015. The rain started to fall. It kept falling upriver. The Canadian River poured into the lake. The level rose to more than 60 feet. Boaters returned to the lake.

The lake — in this centennial year of the National Park Service — is in far better shape than it was just two years ago.

The Lake Meredith NRA is enjoying a return of visitors. People are enjoying the water, along with the hiking trails and the campgrounds being developed throughout the area.

We have a national monument, too. Alibates Flint Quarries isn’t far from Lake Meredith. It features exhibits where the park rangers show tourists how Native Americans dug out stones to use for tools and weapons. That park, too, is being improved for better use by those coming to the region to understand its history.

Texas does not set aside much of its land for public use. Statewide, the percentage of public land remains minuscule. In the Panhandle, we place great emphasis on private land ownership.

But these two federal sites are worth saluting as the nation marks the centennial year of the National Park Service.

We also ought to thank the Almighty for restoring that big lake’s water level.

‘Have a nice weekend’? Sure … whatever you say


This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

I spoke earlier today with someone over the phone about an interview I am trying to arrange for a story I plan to write for KFDA NewsChannel 10.

It’s a part-time gig. I don’t work full time any longer. I’m semi-retired — with the emphasis increasing on the “retired” part and decreasing on the “semi” part.

When the conversation ended, the individual on the other end of the call invited me to “have a nice weekend.”

The thought occurred to me at that very moment: Uh, sure thing … except that my “weekends” are bleeding more and more into the rest of the week.

There are moments when I forget the day. It’s not that I’m suffering from some kind of short-term memory loss. It’s because my schedule is no longer wedded to responsibilities at the workplace.

To be truthful, one of my sisters told me about this phenomenon after she had retired some years ago. My other sister still has a full-time day job, so she still has those obligations.

Me? Or my wife? We have none of that.

My wife has been retired as well for a couple of years. I’m in the process of transitioning toward that status myself.

But I do understand fully the idea that “weekends” arrive at various times during the week. Their arrival isn’t necessarily at end of the Friday workday. It could arrive on Thursday, Tuesday … any day!

I will do my best, though, to keep a civil tongue in my mouth whenever someone wishes me a “nice weekend.” They mean well.

Hey, maybe they think I’m a young dude.

Highland Park goes homework-free


Four hundred students at Highland Park Elementary School here in Amarillo have received an early-in-the-school-year gift from their principal.

They won’t have homework this year, according to a letter sent to parents from Principal Vanette Barrett.

The letter mirrors an letter also sent out by a Fort Worth teacher, which I noted in an earlier blog post.

This is an interesting trend — perhaps you can call it that — in education.

It fascinates me greatly. I hope that this yearlong experiment that Barrett is conducting at her school works well for the students and teachers.

Barrett told the Amarillo Globe-News that studies have revealed that homework doesn’t necessarily improve students’ academic performance. She also told the newspaper she considered implementing the no-homework policy since the spring.

The letter that Barrett sent had gone viral earlier and it encourages parents to spend more time with their children and to make sure they get to bed early.

“It sounds so simple,” Barrett told the G-N, “but those things truly help the child more than sitting at home and doing a worksheet.”

Do you think?

Good luck with your experiment, Principal Barrett.


Trump ‘endorses’ possible Perry bid against Cruz


Is there any alliance more fragile than one built out of political necessity?

I think not.

Donald J. Trump came to Texas this week for a rally in Austin. Someone asked him about reports that former Texas Gov. Rick Pery is considering a challenge in 2018 against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

The Republican presidential nominee said, according to the Texas Tribune: I’ve been hearing a lot about that and I don’t know if he wants to do it, but boy, will he do well,” Trump said of Perry. “People love him in Texas, and he was one great governor.”

Talk about a clumsy political dance.

* Gov. Perry once was a GOP candidate for president; he dropped out.

* Then he endorsed his fellow Texan, Sen. Cruz, who fought Trump nearly all the way to the convention before he, too, dropped out.

* Perry then endorsed Trump.

* Cruz, meanwhile, declined to endorse Trump when he spoke at the Republican convention, drawing a huge chorus of boos from the delegates who heard Cruz encourage Republicans to “vote your conscience” this fall in the race against Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Now we have Trump visiting Texas’s capital city and all but enticing Perry to make a run for the Senate if he’s so inclined.

It’s becoming something of a parlor game these days to try to understand Trump’s thinking on, oh, just about anything and everything.

Would the party’s 2016 presidential nominee actually endorse Perry over Cruz? Would it matter if he did?

What’s more, is Rick Perry seriously thinking about a campaign against the guy he endorsed for president first?

Or is Gov. Perry among the Republicans who are angry at Sen. Cruz for failing to endorse the party’s presidential nominee?

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