Category Archives: local news

No hardball for a lot of communities

Oh, I do hate exposing myself to being called a Negative Ned, but I believe I am hearing the death knell for the 2020 minor league baseball season all across the nation.

Reuters is reporting that “hundreds” of minor league baseball players have been released by their teams. They’ve been let go. No baseball for these fellows, at least not this year. The coronavirus pandemic has all but shut down minor league ball this season.

Meanwhile, the Major League Baseball gurus/moguls/tycoons are struggling to find a way to launch a dramatically shortened season by the Fourth of July. To do that, they are having to slash costs associated with running a big league franchise. Who pays for that? The folks in the minor leagues.

Now, this is where it cuts a bit close to the quick for yours truly. A team I have been following from some distance now appears to be in some peril. I refer to the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the AA franchise affiliated with the San Diego Padres.

I lived in Amarillo for 23 years. I have a lot of friends there. Many of them have become devoted fans of the Sod Poodles, who in their first season ever won the Texas League championship. They play in a brand new venue in downtown Amarillo. They draw full-house crowds on game day/night.

It appears that Season No. 2 is slipping away. This breaks my heart. It saddens me that the defending champs will have to wait a year to, um, defend their title.

I don’t want this to happen. I want my friends to be able to cheer on the Sod Poodles. Alas, it is looking — at least to me — as if it ain’t gonna happen.

Dang!

May this ‘real-life legend’ rest in peace

I had wanted to meet Sam Johnson, who for a brief period was my congressman. I am sad to say that won’t happen.

The former Republican congressman from Plano has died at the age of 87. He represented the Third Congressional District for 28 years. He was a staunch conservative; he hated pork-barrel politics. He fought for his principles with tenacity and courage.

Johnson did not seek re-election in 2018. My wife and I had just moved to Collin County earlier that year, so for a time he was our man in Congress.

The man who succeeded, Rep. Van Taylor of Plano, said this: Sam Johnson was a legend – a real life legend.

Yes. He most certainly was.

What made him legendary was what happened to him before he ever went to Congress.

Sam Johnson was an Air Force pilot who had the maximum misfortune of being shot down while flying his 25th mission during the Vietnam War. He was held captive for nearly four years, almost all of that time in solitary confinement.

Rep. Taylor is correct. Sam Johnson was a “real-life legend.”

I was hoping to shake his hand. I regret that won’t happen, at least not in this life.

Carpetbagging is in style

We made a quick return this past weekend to the Texas Panhandle to see our son and to, oh, just get away from the house for a bit.

Along the drive both ways along U.S. Highway 287 I noticed campaign signs for a single congressional candidate, a guy named Ronny Jackson, who’s running for the Republican nomination for the 13th Congressional District.

It occurred to me on our drive to Amarillo and then back to the house in Princeton: How did this guy Jackson manage to persuade voters that he knows anything about their needs, their desires, their concerns?

Then it dawned on me: Carpetbagging is in vogue these days.

Jackson has never lived in the 13th CD. He was born in Levelland, which isn’t in the district. He moved away, though, to attend college. He obtained a medical degree. He rose the rank of Navy vice admiral. He served as physician to two presidents: Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Then he got nominated to become Department of Veterans Affairs secretary. Oops! He got into trouble. He had to back out when it became known that Dr. Jackson drank on the job, over-prescribed certain drugs and didn’t have a lick of administrative experience that qualified him to run a monstrous agency such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.

What does he do then? He runs for Congress in a district being vacated by a longtime Republican House member, Mac Thornberry of Clarendon, who isn’t running for re-election this year.

Jackson is a carpetbagger. He is running against an Amarillo resident, Josh Winegarner of Amarillo, who is not a carpetbagger.

Look, being a stranger to a congressional district or a state while running for public office isn’t new. Robert Kennedy sought a U.S. Senate seat in New York in 1964, with only a passing knowledge of the state; so did Hillary Clinton in 2000; this year we have numerous candidates running for Texas congressional seats who have never lived in those districts.

I don’t have a dog in that fight any longer, as I no longer can vote in the 13th Congressional District. My memory is pretty good, though, and I have trouble understanding how this guy, Ronny Jackson, has positioned himself to possibly be elected this year representing a congressional district about which he knows nothing.

Is this how we define “representative government” these days?

What happened to ‘local control is best’?

I am still steamed at the Texas Legislature for wrestling away from cities in the state the ability to enact ordinances aimed at protecting motorists and pedestrians who venture onto our public streets.

The 2019 Legislature decided it had earned enough griping from motorists bitching about a phony notion that they were unable to “face their accuser” and ordered cities to no longer deploy cameras at intersections to catch motorists running through red lights.

You know, of course, that red lights mean “stop.” Too many Texans choose to ignore that command, so they run through the intersections. They have in many cities produced spikes in “t-bone” crashes, resulting in serious injury and death.

An earlier Legislature decided to give cities that right. Many of them did. I lived in a city that deployed red-light cameras. Amarillo, though, was forced to take them down because of legislative edict. I now live in a city, Princeton, that doesn’t govern itself under a home-rule charter, so it must follow state law where it applies; absent a home-rule charter, Princeton couldn’t have activated red-light cameras even if it sought to do so.

My wife and I have just returned from a brief visit to Amarillo. Our visit there reminded me once again of the fight that ensued when the city council showed some serious courage in enacting the ordinance that resulted in red-light cameras. The city traffic engineer and police department had identified intersections where red-light runners had caused undue havoc, mayhem and misery. They deployed the cameras and, lo and behold, they found that the cameras deterred lawbreakers.

One of the chief complaints came from those who said the cameras denied motorists the right to face their accuser. Baloney!

The cameras snapped a picture of the license plate of the offending vehicle; the city then identified the owner of the vehicle and sent him or her a $75 infraction notice. It then fell on the owner of the vehicle to pay the fine, or get whoever was driving the vehicle to pay it or they could protest it to the municipal judge.

Well, that’s all history now. I recall fondly the statement made in public by then-City Councilwoman Ellen Green, who scolded red-light camera opponents by declaring in essence, that all they had to do to was “stop running red lights.”

Shameful.

Whatever happened to the noble principle that “local control is better” than big government?

They’re actually building a loop around Amarillo! Woo hoo!

AMARILLO, Texas — This one got past me, which is no surprise, given that I now live about 375 miles east-southeast of here.

We returned to the city we called home for more than two decades and I discovered that the Texas Department of Transportation has been working on rebuilding Loop 335 around the western edge of the city.

The RV park into which we pulled our fifth wheel sits just a bit north of where the work is ongoing. One of the managers there told me that it’s “going to get crazy around here” for a lot of years into the future as TxDOT seeks to remedy what it should have done years ago when it build Loop 335 … which in reality isn’t a loop at all.

As if the years-long widening of Interstate 40 hasn’t created enough hassle and headache for motorists.

I have lamented before on High Plains Blogger that Amarillo’s loop — such as it is — doesn’t resemble a real loop, such as the one that encircles Lubbock, about 120 miles south of Amarillo. However, as one observer told me years ago, it certainly helped when Loop 289 got the go-ahead to circle Lubbock, the governor at the time, Preston Smith, was, um, a native of Lubbock. Hey, it helps to know people in high places.

Loop 335 has become a bottleneck along Soncy Road from Interstate 40 to Hollywood Road.

TxDOT finally got off the dime and started building an extension of the loop west of Soncy. From what I have understood all along, TxDOT is going to created a limited access loop that allows traffic to flow easily. They’ve nearly completed an improvement to Loop 335 along its route along the southern edge of the city.

What has always struck as odd, weird and frankly beyond rational explanation is why they built the thoroughfare to encircle Amarillo without thinking of it as a “loop” that functions the way roadways of this nature usually do. Loop 289 is designed to allow traffic to bypass Lubbock central areas. The aim is to lessen traffic to the extent it is possible.

I can’t help but wonder if the state had done the right way when it first built Loop 335, it might cost the state a good bit less than what it is spending now all these decades later. Just sayin’, man.

The length of time it takes to finish Loop 335 along Helium Road in Amarillo remains a mystery to me. We’ll be back many times in the months and perhaps even years to come. I suspect we’ll see more progress develop with each visit.

Oh, and highway crews still have that monstrosity along I-40 to complete.

I’ll keep our many friends here in our thoughts and prayers.

Amarillo’s new police chief: a winner!

AMARILLO, Texas — I love arriving somewhere and then getting a dose of good news.

It happened today when my wife and I pulled our recreational vehicle into its parking space on the western edge of Amarillo. My cellphone email server dinged at me; I looked at the message.

Amarillo’s new chief of police is a cop who’s been on the city’s force for decades: Martin Birkenfeld is the new chief. I could not be happier to share this news.

He had served as assistant chief under the tenure of former Chief Ed Drain. Birkenfeld has performed practically every duty a police officer can perform during his 30 years with the Amarillo PD. The Amarillo native now gets to command a police force that has been through some significant change, dating back to the time the late Jerry Neal took over a department in disarray and disorganization in the early 1980s.

Neal retired after lifting the department up by its boots and instituting a series of progressive reforms.

The city hired Robert Taylor to succeed him. Then Taylor retired  after a less-stellar time at the helm. Then came Ed Drain, who was hired initially as interim chief while he was on the payroll at the Plano Police Department. Then he became the permanent chief. Drain did a good job while he was on the job, but “permanent” chief took on a different meaning when the Plano chief’s job opened up and Drain got hired to become his former PD’s new chief.

Now it’s Martin Birkenfeld’s turn to lead the department. Perhaps it could be understood that Drain would be a short-timer, given his apparent loyalty to another department. I don’t begrudge him for leaving Amarillo.

My hope for the city is that Birkenfeld, who I got to know well while serving in the Rotary Club of Amarillo with him, will stay on for the duration of his stellar law enforcement career.

I refer to Birkenfeld as “Officer Friendly.” He smiles when he hears it. He is much more than that now. He’s the top cop and I am supremely confident he will be up to the big job he is about to assume.

Hoping for a good outcome for Amarillo’s baseball future

The start of the Major League Baseball season remains a moving target.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown it all into a cocked hat. MLB hasn’t yet played a game that counts. The National Basketball Association suspended its season, along with the National Hockey League. The National Football League is supposed to start blocking and tackling, but there might not be fans in the stands.

As for baseball, there appears to be some serious tension building between the big-league clubs and their minor-league affiliates.

Pay attention, dear friends in Amarillo, Texas. I am about to talk about the beloved Sod Poodles.

There is some discussion about MLB shedding 42 minor league franchises. What in the world does that mean for the Sod Poodles, which are affiliated with the National League San Diego Padres?

Here is a small part of what Sports Illustrated is reporting:

Even as taxpayers help to keep teams afloat, several minor league affiliates reported that their MLB teams seem unconcerned about their plight during the COVID-19 crisis. Though MLB clubs are not allowed, by rule, to directly pump funds into their affiliates, several minor league executives chafed at not having received so much as a check-in phone call.

The frostiness comes amid months of tense back-and-forth between MLB and the minors over the Professional Baseball Agreement, which governs their relationship. Last extended in 2011, the deal expires this September and, as part of the negotiations, MLB is seeking to save costs by eliminating more than a quarter of affiliated teams by next season while pushing for other significant changes to its minor league partnership.

The SI article is titled “Minor League Baseball is in crisis.” So I’ll leave it to you to decide just how much of minor league ball is hurting.

As for the Sod Poodles, the franchise does not have a lengthy history. It has competed in just a single season. Granted, it was a highly successful season in 2019, with the Sod Poodles winning the Texas League championship.

Please do not accuse me of heightened negativity here. I want nothing more than for my friends and former neighbors in Amarillo to cheer the Sod Poodles on again and again.

We are faced, though, with Major League Baseball in the midst of a financial crisis created by a worldwide medical crisis. I don’t expect the baseball players union to give up the substantial sums of money that go the players. MLB, therefore, might have to face the harshest of realities if it cuts the enough affiliated franchises to save enough money to stay in business.

I am crossing my fingers. Please, let those savings not involve the Amarillo Sod Poodles.

She’s no hero; she is a lawbreaker

Shelley Luther is being hailed as a heroic figure, someone who is standing up to what many contend is a form of governmental tyranny.

I consider her to be a lawbreaker, someone who flouted a legally mandated directive to keep her business closed to save lives against a killer virus that has swept across the world in the coronavirus pandemic.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered salons closed. Luther’s business, Salon La Mode in Dallas, remained opened. She was doing customers’ nails and performing other cosmetic procedures even though she was putting herself and, more importantly, her customers at risk of catching COVID-19.

As the Texas Tribune reported: Luther knew she was operating in blatant defiance of emergency orders from the state and county. She had already torn up a cease-and-desist letter from local authorities, winning loud cheers onstage at an Open Texas rally in Frisco.

Ridiculous.

Here’s my favorite part. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Houston decided to get his hair cut at Luther’s salon … in Dallas. The Cruz Missile, who backs Donald Trump’s rush to return reopen the economy that has collapsed in the wake of the pandemic, thought he’d score some cheap political points by standing with Shelley Luther.

Cruz should be ashamed of himself, except that he isn’t.

As for Luther, she had been sent to jail for violating the stay-closed order. Top Texas Republicans sought to work for her release. So she got sprung from the hoosegow. She came out to a hero’s welcome.

Now this business owner is being hailed as a sort of cultural icon because she’s standing her ground against what she believes is government overreach.

She is standing instead for the fruitcakes who have stormed the Michigan state capitol building brandishing assault rifles and waving swastikas and Confederate battle flags; she is standing for other protesters around the nation who flock to beaches and ignore social distancing recommendations.

It’s people like Shelley Luther who make enforcing mandates aimed at protecting our health — and even our lives — more difficult than they need be.

City does the right thing for its cops, firefighters

Farmersville Police Chief Michael Sullivan has been protecting and serving the public for 34 years while working for various police agencies throughout North Texas.

He told the City Council this week that he — along with all of his police colleagues — knew when they became cops that they were going to do “dangerous” work. “We didn’t sign on to handle a pandemic,” Sullivan said.

So it was this week when the Farmersville City Council extended its hazardous pay ordinance for the city’s police officers and its two paid firefighting staffers; the Farmersville Fire Department is an all-volunteer force led by Fire Chief Kim Morris and Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Lisman.

The City Council took what I have been led to believe is an unusual step in providing extra pay for police and firefighters during this coronavirus pandemic. The city was able to obtain a portion of grant funds obtained by Collin County, which then distributed about $168,000 to Farmersville that the city will use to pay the cops and firefighters the hazardous duty pay.

The city has stepped up and is standing behind the personnel it asks to stand in harm’s way, which they do no matter whether they are battling the pandemic.

Farmersville, on the far eastern edge of Collin County, has set an interesting example that other cities ought to emulate.

Police officers and firefighters are exposing themselves to potentially deadly infection when they answer calls for help in the community. Sullivan said the police department has plenty of personal protection equipment on hand. He said the cops take each other’s temperatures at the beginning and end of every shift. They seek to protect themselves to the max against the viral infection.

Still, the increased danger exists … even as police and firefighters face potentially imminent danger with every call they answer.

Other communities ought to follow suit.

GOP looking for another Trump toadie

BLOGGER’S NOTE: This blog was published originally on KETR.org, the website for KETR-FM public radio based at Texas A&M/Commerce.

John Ratcliffe is likely to be confirmed as the nation’s next director of national intelligence.

How and why that will happen is a mystery to me, given that he was nominated to the post in 2019 but then pulled out when questions arose about his resume, his background and intelligence-gathering credentials. I don’t believe Ratcliffe is any more qualified now to become DNI than he was a year ago … but that’s out of my control.

Meanwhile, the Fourth Congressional District of Northeast Texas that Ratcliffe represents needs to find a successor to Donald Trump’s fiery defender.

Republican activists have set an Aug. 8 election to select a successor. They have their favorites in mind.

The Fourth Congressional District is a reliably Republican stronghold. I am fascinated by that factoid, given that the district once was represented by the late, great House Speaker Sam Rayburn, the legendary Texas Democrat who mentored many members of Congress from this state, including one of them who later became president of the United States … a guy named Lyndon Baines Johnson.

That was then. The here and now suggests that the next member of Congress from this district will be a Donald Trump loyalist. The three favorites to succeed Ratcliffe, according to the Texas Tribune, are:

Jason Ross, Ratcliffe’s former district chief of staff who is campaigning on continuing in Ratcliffe’s footsteps, promising to “stay the course with a principled conservative and proven leader.”

Floyd McLendon, the runner-up in the March primary for the Dallas-based 32nd Congressional District. McLendon, a former Navy SEAL, finished behind Genevieve Collins, who narrowly won outright in the five-way primary, capturing the nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, a national GOP target.

A third candidate is TC Manning, a Navy veteran who unsuccessfully ran in the March primary for the Houston-based 18th Congressional District.

Here is my major takeaway, though, from the Tribune’s reporting on these candidates. Two of the three top individuals are, dare I say it, “carpetbaggers.” McLendon and Manning ran in districts a good distance from the Fourth Congressional District. So they have decided that with an opening about to occur in Northeast Texas, they must figure it’s time to jump into the fray in a district where they might – or might not – have any knowledge of its specific needs.

Unless, of course, the prevailing “qualification” for service in this GOP bastion is a candidate’s commitment to Donald John Trump.