Category Archives: local news

Well now … that was some KAG rally in Big D

To my friends and assorted loved ones who expressed concern that I was plunging into the belly of the beast by attending a Donald Trump re-election rally, I have good news.

I survived. Intact. No one laid a hand on me. No one got angry. I stayed for as long as I wanted to stay and left on my terms.

There. Now that we’ve cleared that up, I want to offer a word or two about what I saw at the American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas this afternoon and evening.

I saw a huge crowd Trump fanatics — the vast majority of whom (close to 90 percent, I am guessing) — wearing Donald Trump gear. MAGA hats. Shirts with assorted sayings and slogans; some of them were profane and expressed a good bit of anger.

I met a very nice couple from Rockwall, who drove all the way into Dallas to see their man, the president. I confided in them while we waited outside that “I am not a Trump supporter. I am here as an observer.” OK, I didn’t tell them the whole truth, that I was there as a fervent anti-Trump voter and that I intend to keep skewering Trump whenever possible. They promised to read my blog on the subject and I hope they don’t hate me too much.

There were t-shirts with the message: Trump Supporter, I Won’t Apologize For It.” When have you seen a political supporter offer up that qualifier? Anyone? Oh, and there was this gem: “Fu** Your Feelings.” I didn’t have the courage to ask if those wearing that article of clothing were among Trump’s evangelical base of supporters.

The crowd outside was remarkable in its ethnic/racial makeup. It was not as lily white as I expected. I saw several African-American men wearing “Blacks for Trump” attire.

Then there was the shirt that said “Jesus Is My Savior, Trump Is My President.” Actually, that one made me want to hurl, given that the shirt contained the name of Jesus Christ and arguably the most anti-Christian man ever elected to the presidency. Enough of that.

I stood in a line that stretched more than a mile and a half. We snaked our way around several barriers outside the AAC, then walked up the steps and into the building. The U.S. Secret Service did a remarkably thorough but quick inspection of everyone entering the arena.

I found a seat way up high.

Then out came the president of the United States, applauding along with the cheering crowd. I never can tell why he claps so much when he enters a room. Is he cheering those who are clapping for him … or is he just so damn proud of himself that he cannot resist giving himself an ovation?

Whatever.

He launched into the same tired tirade I’ve been hearing since he took office. Democrats are the enemy. So are the media. Everyone opposed to Trump and the Republican Party want “open borders,” they want to “take away your rights,” they favor “socialism” over capitalism, they hate the United States, and on and on.

Admission time: I didn’t stay for Trump’s entire tirade. I heard all I could stand and left.

My final takeaway from this Trump “Keep America Great” rally is this: The enthusiasm of the 16,000 or so in the arena and in line waiting to get into the AAC is as fervent as anything I have ever seen at events such as this. I will give Trump credit for that much; his base of support is seemingly unshakable.

Which makes me wonder yet again: Are these Trump loyalists so blinded by their fealty to this man that they can overlook the crimes he has committed? Or are they — and there’s no pleasant way to say this — just plain ignorant?

Happy Trails, Part 172: The road takes another surprise turn

The reporter’s notebook you see here is meant to illustrate the surprise turn my retirement journey has taken.

I happened to be in the right place at the right time this week. I now shall explain.

We took out a subscription this past week to the Princeton Herald, a weekly newspaper that covers the community where my wife, myself and Toby the Puppy live. I asked the circulation clerk for the editor’s name. She gave it to me and transferred me to her desk; the voice mail machine picked up the call and I left a message.

I inquired as to whether the newspaper needed any freelance help from a retired journalist who has moved into this community, and made a few contacts here and there.

It turns out the Princeton Herald has such a need.

So, I am now working very part time for a newspaper … again! The editor, who runs the Herald and several other publications in this part of the Metroplex with her husband, is giving me considerable latitude. I will be able to sniff out my own stories whenever I feel like it. I might get be handed an assignment to cover a city council or another governmental entity. No sweat, right?

Of course, all of this hinges on availability, given that as retired folks, my wife and I might be unavailable, as we would be on the road to hither and yon pulling our RV across the continent.

But … that’s OK with my new boss.

Meanwhile, this retirement journey goes on. Life is so very good.

Discovering a curious city council policy

I have just attended my first City Council meeting in Princeton, Texas, where I noticed a curious quirk in the council’s makeup and voting policy.

The Princeton City Council comprises five council members and the mayor. That means there are six individuals on the governing board.

However, as the council was marching through its agenda, Mayor John-Mark Caldwell would call for a vote, asking council members to raise their hands if they approved a measure. Five hands went up; the mayor didn’t vote.

Hmm. I believe that is the first such governing body I’ve seen up close that (a) comprises an even number of officials and (b) doesn’t require the presiding officer, the mayor, to cast a vote.

Governing bodies usually are made up of odd-numbered officials, whether it’s five, seven or nine. The Amarillo City Council comprises five members, including the mayor. The Collin County Commissioners Court comprises an odd number of county commissioners. Why is the odd number the norm? Simple: it prevents tie votes when all members are present.

I used to cover a county commission in Oregon that was made up of just three commissioners. The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners functioned pretty well — most of the time — with just the bare minimum of commissioners needed to enact county policy.

In Princeton, where the mayor doesn’t vote on matters, policy decisions are made by an odd number of council members. The mayor is the ringmaster, who isn’t required to enter his vote into the public record.

I’m going to talk to city officials in the morning about an issue the council considered this evening. I need to find out more about this curious policy.

I’ll let you know what I learn.

Expect the Sod Poodles’ fan base to hold up during off season

Teams that take cities by storm, which is what happened with the Amarillo Sod Poodles’ minor-league baseball franchise, can be expected to develop a loyal fan base during the season of play.

Now the season is over. The Sod Poodles won the Texas League pennant with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the league’s defending champs. The team dispersed; the players, manager, coaches and team staffers all went home.

The fans who flocked to Hodgetown by the thousands for every home game have remained in Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. My hunch is that they’re still feeling all warm and fuzzy over the championship their team won in their first season in existence.

I get the sense, seeing some of the fans’ social media posts, that they’re going to remain ardent supporters of the team as they await the start of the 2020 Texas League season.

They’re talking about meeting on occasion at a local eatery in southwest Amarillo. The Home Plate Diner — where I had a meal or three during my years in Amarillo — serves meals in an establishment with a baseball theme. There happens to be a fantastic portrait of Mickey Mantle on the wall … but I digress. The restaurant management plans to cater to the Sod Poodles fans who gather to talk about this or that about the season just passed and the future seasons that await them.

I am thrilled at the response the community delivered to the Sod Poodles. I am impressed with the venue built on Buchanan Street in downtown Amarillo. I am delighted at the new life being breathed into the city’s downtown district largely as a result of the enthusiasm generated by the baseball team.

Season No. 1 has come to a highly successful conclusion. We cannot know what Season No. 2 will bring, whether there’s a repeat in store or whether the team will rebuild as the Soddies’ parent club, the National League San Diego Padres, looks to place AA athletes with AAA ballclubs … or even with the major league club.

I get the sense the offseason enthusiasm will hold up. I mean, social media do have a way of helping keep the embers hot. The Sod Poodles’ fans are using social to something that looks to be close to maximum advantage.

FW cop’s resignation shouldn’t signal end of search for truth

It turns out the Fort Worth police officer who shot a woman to death in her own home realized he messed up in a huge fashion.

Former officer Aaron Dean has resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department. Had he not quit, he would have been fired, said Police Chief Ed Kraus.

Oh, brother. This is a nasty, heartbreaking story that needs a lot of answers to assuage the concerns of a shocked community.

Atatania Jefferson died from a gunshot wound inflicted by Aaron Dean, who was responding ostensibly on a “wellness” check in the wee hours in Jefferson’s Fort Worth neighborhood. Jefferson was black; Dean is white. To think as well that this incident happened so soon after the Dallas conviction and sentencing of a white former Dallas officer who shot a black man to death after she mistakenly thought the man was breaking into her apartment; she walked up t the man’s apartment.

Do you think the Fort Worth incident has folks riled up? Yep. It does … and with ample reason.

Jefferson was reportedly playing video games with her nephew when Dean shot at her through a window.

So it is that Dean has quit. Chief Kraus has tacitly acknowledged the officer did something terribly wrong.

There needs to be a grand jury investigation into what went down immediately prior to the former police officer pulling the trigger and killing a woman sitting in her own home.

Let the grand jury hear the evidence and then decide whether to indict the officer. If he gets indicted, then the police department needs to have the handcuffs ready.

It pays — bigly! — to be an elected official in this county

I stumbled upon an item in the Dallas Morning News online edition that, to be honest, made my jaw drop damn near into my lap.

Dave Lieber writes a feature for the DMN called “The Watchdog” and he reports that the Rockwall County Commissioners Court voted themselves a 23 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. Moreover, the county judge — who presides over the entire Commissioners Court — received a 24 percent increase.

That, my friends, is one hell of a nice increase in pay.

Did the commissioners deserve it? Hah! I’d be willing to wager they didn’t deserve that kind of pay raise. But they granted themselves the huge increase anyhow.

What in the name of fiscal responsibility gives in Rockwall County?

The raises were steep across the board as they relate to other elected officials. All of them got gigantic raises. I am left to wonder: Did the sheriff’s deputy, or the county road maintenance employee, or the custodian get that kind of pay raise? Ohhhh, probably not!

Here’s some more news: Elected officials in neighboring counties received raises totaling a fraction of the amount of what was handed out in Rockwall County.

Oh, by the way, there is one elected official who emerges as a hero, according to The Watchdog. Commissioner Cliff Sevier voted against the pay increase.

If only there were more of them serving the people of Rockwall County.

Were the officials in Rockwall County underpaid? Did commissioners seek only to bring their salaries more competitive? Leiber writes: I hate to bring this up, but according to a salary survey by the Texas Association of Counties, when you compare Rockwall to counties of a similar size, your county was already in the top tier of salaries.

Well, at least Rockwall County residents who likely didn’t get raises that come close to what commissioners granted themselves, have an option they can pursue. They can vote these commissioners out of office.

MAGA rally could round out life experience, just as Klan rallies did

I am not going draw any ideological parallels between Donald Trump’s political rallies to Ku Klux Klan rallies, however, it strikes me that I ought to explain why I am drawn to the notion of attending one of those Trump events.

We have one coming up next Thursday at the American Airlines Center. The president will be there to whip his followers up and get ’em energized as he ramps up his re-election effort in the face of probable impeachment by the House of Representatives.

I want to attend this rally because I am drawn by the pull of seeing of these spectacles up close, from a ringside seat.

I had similar pulls years ago. I attended two Ku Klux Klan rallies. The first one occurred in the early 1990s in Orange County, Texas. The second rally was in 2006 in Amarillo, Texas.

Why did I go? I was working for daily newspapers at the time. No one assigned me to either of these events. I just felt compelled to go because I needed to get a sense of what drove Klansmen to say the things they do about African-Americans and what drove their supporters to cheer the verbal sewage that spilled out of the Klansmen’s mouths.

I got an earful at both events. In their way, both KKK rallies helped round out my professional experience in a fashion that I cannot to this day describe.

Perhaps the Trump rally in Dallas next week will fill out another blank in my journalism upbringing, even though I no longer work full time for any publication. I write this blog for myself. It is full of my own bias, which I do not hide from anyone.

Still, I find the idea of attending a presidential re-election rally to be an irresistible urge, even if it has anything to do with a president named Donald John Trump.

Puppy Tales, Part 78: Now he’s reading my mind … sheesh!

It’s getting weird around our house.

I have boasted about Toby the Puppy’s increasing vocabulary. He knows many words and response appropriately when he hears them. I have bragged about how he learned to use the doggie door leading out to our back yard.

Now there’s this …

I was going to ask my wife, in Toby the Puppy’s presence, whether we “should take … “ him for a stroll in the neighborhood.

When I said the words “should take,” Toby jumped straight up, ran to grab one of his toys, began wagging his tail vigorously and acted very much like he does when he hears the word “walk.”

Do you get my drift? He now is reading my mind. He is anticipating — correctly, I need to add — what I am about to say.

This pooch is continuing to amaze me. Yes, he makes us laugh every single day. He is continuing as well to astound me with his growing command of the English language.

That’s why they’re called ‘exploratory committees’

What do you know about this? Texas state Sen. Pat Fallon, a Republican from Prosper, has decided against running for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

He had formed an exploratory committee to, um, explore the possibilities of challenging U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the GOP primary.

He’s decided to stay in the Texas Senate and not expose his wife and young sons to the rigors of trying to pull Sen. Cornyn even farther to the right.

It’s a smart move, Sen. Fallon.

For starters, Sen. Cornyn is pretty far right already. He is a reliable opponent of gun control measures, of abortion rights, of the Affordable Care Act. That’s just three issues.

Trust me on this: Pat Fallon didn’t need to seek to make Texas’s senior U.S. senator even more conservative. So he’ll forgo a race against Cornyn.

It just goes to show that these efforts occasionally produce the kind of result that Pat Fallon has found. It’s why they’re called “exploratory committees.”

Might the Herring have a future, too?

The Barfield Building renovation is proceeding toward a spring opening of the one-time rotting hulk of a structure. It will be reborn as a “boutique” hotel.

By all means, downtown Amarillo, Texas, has much more work ahead of it. I am going to wonder aloud whether there might be something in the wind regarding the Herring Hotel Plaza, which sits a few blocks north of the Barfield.

This isn’t an original thought. I heard it from a little birdie/Amarillo snitch the other day, but I want to share it with y’all.

Amarillo city officials are looking around for someplace to relocate City Hall. They say they want to find an existing structure where they could move what’s left of the city administration still operating at the current City Hall into another location. Much of the administrative work is being done at the Jim Simms building, leaving City Hall with essentially a skeleton crew.

So, here’s a thought: Might there be any interest in relocating City Hall into the Herring Hotel site, along with a mixed-use development that could occupy the rest of the once-grand structure?

City officials are maintaining a code of silence on what they’re thinking, or so I have been advised. They are pondering whether to present a bond issue proposal to voters next spring that would total more than $300 million. They want to renovate the Civic Center, dress up the Santa Fe Railroad Depot and, oh yeah, relocate City Hall.

The Herring Hotel has been dark for a very long time. Its owner, a retired academician named Bob Goodrich, has sought to find a suitable developer; he has come up empty. Goodrich pays the taxes annually on the building and tries to keep it secure against trespassers and transients who seek shelter from the elements.

The Herring used to be the place to go, to see and to be seen. It played host to lavish parties and once was a first-class hotel.

Downtown Amarillo does not lack suitable locations for City Hall. I understand there’s some interest in some bank structures scattered around the downtown district.

However, would it not be a masterful public relations stroke of genius to identify a way to convert the Herring into a usable office building, combined with housing and perhaps a smattering of retail business?

I believe there remains a significant bit of nostalgia for the Herring around Amarillo. Heck, I even have changed my mind about the building. I used to believe it needed a wrecking ball; I no longer hold that belief. Surely there can be some use for the structure.

If City Hall is committed to relocating into an existing downtown structure, officials have a grand building looming a few blocks away.