Category Archives: local news

Sexual harassment hits all communities

Sexual harassment is in the air. Maybe it’s in the water.

A one-time major-league Hollywood mogul’s career has been destroyed by allegations of his untoward behavior against women.

A “Me Too” movement has emerged, with women coming forward to reveal their own exposure to sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Now a school district at the very top of the Texas Panhandle is dealing with a potentially burgeoning controversy involving sexual harassment. Two top Perryton Independent School District administrators — Superintendent Robert Hall and Assistant Superintendent Keith Langfitt — have resigned. Both men had been accused of sexual harassment. They both were on paid administrative leave.

I am going to take a leap here and suggest that their resignations likely mean there had to be merit to the allegations that had been leveled against them.

The details of the complaints remain sketchy. I hope the school district will reveal the nature of the allegations leveled against these two men. I am not suggesting that Perryton ISD officials reveal the names of the victims of the activity that’s being alleged.

The community, though, would be well-served if it learns about what was going on in secret in a publicly funded institution that has such a direct impact on the lives of taxpayers — and their children.

Puppy Tales, Part 39

CHOWCHILLA, Calif. — I want to declare Toby the Puppy to be the all-time champeen of travel.

He’s the ultimate road warrior. It matters not where we go, or how we long we sit in our motor vehicle, Toby the Puppy is good to go. He stays ready. I believe he was born ready to go.

I’ve heard of dogs that travel with extreme difficulty. They stress out. They suffer motion sickness in the car. Their phobias restrict their “parents” from travel.

Toby the Puppy is not like that. Not even close. In fact, if he were king of the world — and not just of our world, which he is — he would declare every day to be Travel with Mommy and Daddy Day.

We have ventured to California, where Toby’s never before been. He knows no strange surroundings. He doesn’t always react with total serenity to strange humans; no, he doesn’t bite, although he might growl just a bit, perhaps even bark. We tell him “no!” and he’s just fine.

As for his traveling endurance, he immediately settled into a pattern while riding in our vehicles after he joined our family. Our pickup has a large console between the two front seats. We put his cushy bed on the console, he jumps into it, circles twice and plops down.

It’s lights out almost immediately!

I figure he knows enough to save his energy for when we get out of the truck and start exploring.

Other dog parents know of what I am writing. They likely have similar experiences with their own puppies. My wife and I are still fairly knew at this dog parenthood thing; we’ve been longtime cat parents. Indeed, cats have presented us with their own unique and equally loving charm.

Three years into being dog parents, Toby the Puppy is still making us laugh every single day. Even while we’re all on the road.

Ride on, convoy

NEEDLES, Calif. — As the saying goes about some places on Earth, this place isn’t the end of the world but if you get up on tippy toes, you can see it from here.

But it’s not without its charms. Tall mountains loom in the distance; palm trees dot the landscape. The weather’s pretty nice, too — except during the heat of the summer.

But my wife and I encountered a most interesting group of fellow travelers. They belong to a club that restores military vehicles. We noticed about a dozen of them at an RV park where we parked overnight.

One of them was a Royal Australian Air Force Mercury truck. (See picture with this post.) The gentleman who owns the truck, an Aussie from Queensland who now lives in Abilene, Texas, said the Merc is a 1951 model that was assigned to the Australian occupation force in Japan from 1946 to 1953.

Another fellow traveler, a woman from Truckee, Calif., said the group was traveling along Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. Needles is near the end of their journey. “So, you must have gone through Amarillo,” I said to her. “Oh, yes. Lovely place,” she answered.

Most of the vehicles were half-ton or three-quarter ton trucks.

My thought was twofold: How cool to save these military vehicles and how what a marvelous journey to embark with friends and acquaintances across the country.

Our own journey continues as well. We’ve been more or less winging it as we work our way north from “the end of the world.”

Who knew Lake Meredith could come this far back?

I am astonished at what I am reading about Lake Meredith, the 52-year-old reservoir due north of Amarillo that has had its share of ups and downs over many years.

Ute Lake, which is up the Canadian River from Lake Meredith, is overflowing. Water is pouring over the dam at Ute and is on its way into Lake Meredith. Water planners don’t yet know much water will flow into Meredith, but I’m here to tell you that it’s a big deal no matter how much water Lake Meredith receives.

You see, the lake that provides water for several West Texas cities — including Amarillo and Lubbock — is in far better shape today than it was about six years ago.

The lake was down to around 23 feet. It was rated as being at virtually zero capacity. Today? The lake level is approaching 70 feet, which is down from the 100-plus-foot historic high in the 1970s, but it’s still a damn sight better than it was when we were crippled by that regional drought.

Let it flow

You can count me as a doubter who believed the lake was doomed to remain down. You also can consider me astounded that Lake Meredith is rebounding to the extent it has been able to do.

The recent rain has helped, as it has fallen directly onto the Lake Meredith watershed. Now comes news that the deluge that soaked Ute Lake, N.M., also is bringing relief to Lake Meredith.

Yes, most of the Meredith water goes toward irrigation of cropland. Some of it pumped into municipal drinking-water systems.

It’s good news to be sure. I do hope, though, that High Plains residents do not grow complacent about the need to conserve this precious resource. Our water supply is going up … today. Tomorrow could tell us a different story.

Such as been the history of Lake Meredith.

Texting and driving? It’s illegal in Texas, man!

I want to present a portion of an editorial that appeared in today’s Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise, where I used to work before I gravitated in early 1995 way up yonder to the Texas Panhandle.

It comes from a regular Saturday feature called “Bouquets and Brickbats.” The Enterprise tossed a Brickbat thusly at: Southeast Texans who continue to text and drive even though that has been illegal since Sept. 1. Most local police and sheriff’s deputies have not been writing tickets for this offense because of Harvey duties and to give residents time to become familiar with the new law, but they say that will change soon. Statewide, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers issued four citations and 46 warnings for texting in the first 12 days. Texas Department of Transportation officials blame texting while driving for more than 3,000 vehicle crashes in Texas last year. The new law prohibits drivers from using their phones to “read, write, or send an electronic messages while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped.” Violations can lead to a fine up to $99 for a first offense, with costs rising for subsequent offense.

I want to call your attention to this pearl of wisdom because it could apply at this end of Texas as well. Motorists seem to be ignoring the state law that took effect at the beginning of September.

I cannot stress enough the importance of this statewide ban. It took some guts for the Legislature to approve it, given that a previous Texas governor, Rick Perry, vetoed a nearly identical bill in 2011. Gov. Greg Abbott saw the wisdom of signing this bill into law.

Are Texas Panhandle drivers any more obedient than our fellow Texans way downstate? Hardly. A day doesn’t go by without my being able to spot someone yapping on a handheld device while driving a motor vehicle. Just the other day I watched a young man doing that very thing while driving past Windsor Elementary School in Amarillo; I should note that Amarillo enacted an ordinance years ago banning such activity in school zones.

I want to make a request of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which does a good job stopping drug traffickers moving along Interstate 40.

How about turning your sights with equal intensity on the yahoos and morons who ignore state law by texting and gabbing on handheld cell phones while exceeding the posted speed limit on I-40?

Happy Trails, Part 45

I want to talk about the seasons of the year for a brief moment.

What that has to do with retirement and the happy trail on which my wife and I are embarking will become apparent quite soon.

I’m normally a Spring Man. Spring historically has been my favorite season of the year. It’s the season of renewal after long, cold and occasionally damp winters on the High Plains of Texas, where we have lived for the past 22 years.

The grass miraculously starts turning green. The trees regain their foliage. The rain comes — often in torrents. The playas fill with water. And, yes, the wind blows hard.

This year might bring a different appreciation for another season.

Autumn arrived just a few days ago throughout the northern hemisphere of Planet Earth. We’ve had a good summer on the High Plains. We’ve had unseasonably heavy moisture, which has cut down on our water usage.

This autumn, though, is a season of immense transition for my wife and me. We’re preparing to relocate to points southeast of here. You see, we’ve been telling family members, friends and even people we barely know that we are being pulled in that direction by a 4-year-old girl who just happens to be our granddaughter, Emma. You’ve read about her on this blog.

But first things first. This time of transition is occurring as autumn moves forward. The transition requires considerable preparation for the move that’s pending.

We have lived in our house for nearly 21 years. It’s the longest span of time either of us has ever called a single place “home.” Our 46 years of marriage, moreover, have enabled us — if that’s the right verb — to acquire a lot of possessions. We’ve stuffed them into this house we’ve occupied for more than two decades. We have jettisoned a lot of it already. There’s more to go as we prepare to “downsize” to a more livable arrangement befitting a retired couple looking to spend more time with their granddaughter.

Given that retirement has given us ample time to do all these things, the task at hand now requires us to buckle down and commit to getting it all done before too much more time passes. I consider it a mix between a blessing and a curse in this post-working aspect of one’s life.

I get asked all the time, “Are you now fully retired? Or are you still doing this and that?” I am fully retired. Period. Next question.

That doesn’t mean I have nothing to do. I have plenty of tasks ahead of me. I merely await my marching orders from my much better — and more organized — half.

This transition awaits. Depending on how it all goes in short order, I might find myself a year from now forsaking spring as my favorite season and falling madly in love with autumn.

It’s ve-wwwy quiet around here

I’m going through a touch of withdrawal.

You see, I am addicted to cable TV news shows. I cannot watch them in my house. Why? We’ve pulled the plug on our cable TV. And our land line. Soon, the Internet will be disconnected.

Our retirement journey is taking us into uncharted territory. Our fifth wheel RV is nearby. We were able to watch a couple of our favorite prime-time broadcast TV shows in our vehicle. But soon, we’ll be locking it up, starting the ignition in our pickup and heading to points north and west.

We’ll return eventually to our house, even though our RV is going to be our “home” for the next bit of time. The house will be as quiet as it is at this moment.

Our 4,000-mile journey — and that’s an approximation — will include stops that may or may not have cable TV. Those stops that do will enable me to get my cable TV news fix; those that don’t, well, I’ll have to settle for antenna reception.

I’ll be honest about something. I’m actually enjoying the peace and quiet around here. Yes, the withdrawal is real, although I’m not breaking out into a cold sweat; my hands aren’t trembling; my throat isn’t dry; I’m not snapping at my wife or at Toby the Puppy. It’s all good.

We’re preparing for the next big adventure, which includes a bit more work on the house and some decisions on how we intend to handle the moving of our worldly possessions from the house to somewhere to store all this stuff.

Then we finish touching up this and that, we put the house on the market, we live in our RV, wait for the house to sell and then …

The next — and final — adventure begins as we plot our relocation to a destination south and east of the Texas Panhandle.

As Elmer Fudd would say in the meantime: It’s ve-wwwy, ve-wwwy quiet around here — which is not an altogether bad thing.

The plug is pulled; goodbye, land line

It is done. My wife and I have taken a huge step deeper into the 21st century.

Our land line is all but disabled. I removed the modem that powers the land line and will return it to our service provider Friday, along with the cable TV boxes.

But this land line termination is a big deal for my wife and me.

It’s all we’ve known for our entire lives. Speaking only for myself, a telephone hooked up to an outlet that comes from the wall has been a sort of life preserver. It’s kept me grounded. It has reminded me that I have this way to communicate immediately with whomever.

That era has passed. A new era has begun. We now rely solely on our cellular telephones to talk to folks. Oh, and we have the Internet. Social media communications devices are at our disposal, too. However, I am not going to use “text messaging” as a conversational tool.

This land line termination hasn’t quite hit me the way I expected it to do.

I once declared my intention to be the last person on Earth to own a cell phone. I declared victory some years ago and purchased one. I’ve become much more comfortable with the device on my person as I go through each day of my life. I don’t break into a cold sweat, though if I leave it at home while I go about my usual errand-running.

Retirement has brought a new way of living each day for my wife and me. I’ve gotten used to waking up each morning when I damn well feel like it. I have grown quite accustomed to not reporting for work every morning. I am quite comfortable shopping for groceries in, say, 10 a.m. on a Wednesday.

Our grand relocation strategy, moreover, is beginning to take some form. The to-do list of things we need to finish at our current home is shrinking. We’re better able now to identify the tasks that remain ahead of us.

One of them has just passed. We have pulled the plug on our land line. I am feeling strangely free. I’m no longer tethered to a telephone.

I’m still processing it all. Is there any sign of initial anxiety?

Nope. None.

***

I wrote about this event four years ago. I was full of angst and anxiety then. It seems to have gone away … mostly. However, it’s still a big deal.

Why is the land line so hard to cut?

Randall County GOP puts Speaker Straus on notice

So, just how Republican-red is Randall County, Texas?

It believes that the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Joe Straus of San Antonio, isn’t conservative enough. It believes he has stalled legislation near and dear to the far right wing of the GOP. Why, he is just too bipartisan, too willing to work with those dreaded Democrats in the Texas House.

So, the Randall County Republican Party has joined some other county GOP operations in pulling its support of Straus should the Republican seek another term as speaker of the House.

Good bleeping grief!

Straus appears to have drawn the ire of the Randall County GOP because he heeds public opinion on certain controversial measures. Off the top of my noggin, the Bathroom Bill comes immediately to mind.

Texas senators approved the Bathroom Bill, which was pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and sent it to the House. Straus opposed the bill that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms in accordance to the sexual identity stated on their birth certificate. Straus saw the bill for what it was: an unenforceable act of discrimination against some Texans. He joined chiefs of police, business executives and medical professionals who also opposed the Bathroom Bill.

But because he didn’t push this monstrosity of a bill through the House — among other legislation — he no longer deserves to be speaker. The Randall County GOP’s resolution seeks to get state Reps. John Smithee and Four Price, both Amarillo Republicans, to vote against Straus if he seeks another speaker term.

It’s interesting to me that Price, whose district includes Potter County, declined to comment to the media about the Randall County resolution. Why do you suppose he did that? Oh, maybe it’s because he might applaud the job Straus has done while serving as the Man of the House.

I don’t want the Randall County Republican Party to have its way. The Texas House has managed to stall some overheated legislative remedies, the Bathroom Bill being one of them.

As for the bipartisanship that Straus has shown, I welcome that, too. It is in keeping with a longstanding Texas legislative tradition with governors, lieutenant governors and Texas House speakers routinely reaching across the aisle to get things done for the good of the entire state.

APD returns to community policing

Terry Childers didn’t exactly distinguish himself during the year or so he served as Amarillo’s interim city manager.

Childers did, however, make one stellar personnel decision in 2016: hiring Ed Drain — an assistant police chief in Plano — as the interim chief of police when Robert Taylor retired as Amarillo’s top cop. Then he took the next step when he named Drain as the city’s permanent police chief. Not long after that, Childers quit and returned to Oklahoma City.

Drain, meanwhile, has distinguished himself in his few months on the job in Amarillo. Mayor Ginger Nelson brought out some key points regarding Drain’s tenure in her State of the City speech, noting some improvements that I want to look at briefly in this blog post.

One of them involves the return of community policing.

Former Police Chief Jerry Neal introduced to the city the notion of police officers making themselves more visible in the neighborhoods they patrol. He deployed bicycle patrols and instructed officers to engage in greater outreach to the communities they serve.

Then Neal retired. Taylor assumed command. Community policing disappeared. Then Taylor retired. In came Drain. Community policing has made a return.

As Nelson said Tuesday morning, the police department has instituted community policing programs in five neighborhoods. The program includes police substations where officers are able to do paperwork and perform other duties required of them.

The city has transformed the old North Heights YMCA into a community center now called the Charles Warford Center. It will include a police presence and will, according to Nelson, “provide a safe place for neighborhood children.”

It’s interesting to me that all this has occurred during Chief Drain’s time as head of the Amarillo Police Department.

I happen to be a big fan of community policing. It has worked in cities all across the nation. It puts police officers in more direct contact with the neighborhoods they serve. It helps remove the Us vs. The Man stigma that occasionally infects police relationships with the communities they serve.

Crime statistics suggest the city has work to do, according to Nelson, who said Tuesday that she intends to remove Amarillo from the list of “most dangerous cities in Texas.” She intends to make Amarillo known as one of the state’s “safest cities.”

I believe the mayor has a tremendous resource at her disposal in the form of Police Chief Ed Drain.