Category Archives: local news

Memo to manager: Next chief should endorse community policing

Amarillo City Manager Jared Miller has a huge hiring decision to make soon. He needs to find someone to succeed Ed Drain as chief of the city’s police department.

Miller isn’t going to ask me for my advice, but I am going to give him just a bit of it here in brief form.

Mr. Manager, be sure the next top cop endorses community policing as a way to maintain the city’s relationship with the neighborhoods its officers swear to protect and defend.

Drain has been named the police chief of Plano, Texas, a burgeoning Dallas suburb. He went to Amarillo after serving for more than two decades with the Plano Police Department; he rose to the level of assistant chief.

Drain’s hiring in Amarillo was arguably the sole shining moment of former interim City Manager Terry Childers’ stormy tenure at City Hall. Childers took a hike and the city hired Miller from his city manager’s post in San Marcos.

Drain, meanwhile, reinstituted the community policing program that former Police Chief Robert Taylor let grow fallow during his years as the city’s top cop. I believe that was a regrettable policy decision on Taylor’s part, given the many miles the department had come under the leadership of his immediate predecessor, the late Police Chief Jerry Neal.

Community policing puts officers’ boots on the ground in the neighborhoods they patrol. They develop interpersonal relationships with residents. The policy is designed to build trust between law enforcement officers and the community … thus, the term “community policing.”

Drain has vowed to maintain the policy in Plano. As for Amarillo, I believe it is vital that it remain in force in that city.

I don’t know how Miller is going to conduct a search for a new police chief. He has some fine senior officers on staff already in the Amarillo PD. I actually have a favorite, if he’s willing to be considered for the post.

If Miller goes outside the department and looks far and wide, it would be my hope — no matter what he decides to do — that he insist that the next Amarillo police chief be as dedicated to community policing as Ed Drain was during his brief tenure there.

The policy works.

This top cop seeks to downplay the history he is making

There seemed to be a certain inevitability to the course that Ed Drain’s professional journey would take him.

He served as assistant chief of police in Plano, Texas, working in the Dallas suburban community for 22 years. Then he got a call about three years ago from Amarillo’s interim city manager, who asked him to come to the Panhandle to serve as the city’s interim police chief; Drain accepted the post.

Then he got hired as the Amarillo’s permanent chief of police.

Only that the term “permanent” is a relative term. Drain is coming back to Plano, this time as the city’s top law enforcement officer. Plano hired him as its first African-American police chief, a designation that doesn’t seem to phase Ed Drain one little bit.

This man’s skin color means nothing to the way he will approach his job, yet Dallas-Fort Worth media have been making a bit of hay over Plano’s decision to bring Ed Drain back to where he spent a lot of time protecting and serving the community. Indeed, I don’t recall the Amarillo media making quite as much noise about Drain’s racial background when he took over as police chief there.

I don’t know Drain well. He and I have spoken over the years. He arrived in Amarillo after I had left my post with the newspaper there. We belonged to the same Rotary Club. We would chat on occasion and I would thank him for the job he was doing as Amarillo chief of police.

He brought back community policing, elevating officers’ profile in the neighborhoods they served. Drain said upon his hiring as Plano’s police chief that he intends to follow that policy at his new job as well. Good call, chief.

Ed Drain is a good man and I am confident he will serve his new constituents in Plano well.

I know this is cliché, but Amarillo’s loss clearly is Plano’s gain.

A bus ride spurred this call for transparency

I have told you on this blog about how Farmersville, a small city in Collin County, works to avoid the appearance of secret meetings among its City Council. It posts a “notice of potential quorum” when council members plan to gather in the same room … even for a social event!

The notice seeks to forestall any question among residents whether the council is acting in the public interest, or talking about public matters in, um, “secret.”

I happen to think it’s a capital idea that perhaps ought to be written into the Texas Open Meetings Act.

I haven’t told you, until now, how City Attorney Alan Lathrom came up with the idea.

It was in 1995. Lathrom served on the legal staff in Arlington, Texas, in Tarrant County. The Arlington City Council planned to attend the inaugural of newly elected Gov. George W. Bush. So, the council rented a bus, on which all the members would ride from Arlington to Austin to attend Gov. Bush’s inauguration.

Lathrom then had this notion: What if someone questions whether the council is conducting public business on the lengthy bus ride from here to there, and then back again? He told me recently there had been some rumbling and grumbling in Arlington about the council being in the same vehicle for such a lengthy period of time.

He came up with the idea of posting the bus ride as a notice of a “potential quorum” by the City Council. He decided to post it in accordance with the statute that requires a 72-hour notice prior to the “quorum” forming inside the bus.

The trip occurred. The council went to Austin to clap for the new governor. They shook many hands, slapped many backs, had a great time and returned home to Arlington. My guess is that it didn’t pass any ordinances either while traveling to Austin and back.

With that, an idea was born and it lives on today in little ol’ Farmersville, Texas.

Well played, Mr. City Attorney.

Dallas police chief might need to accelerate crime-reduction goals

If I were a betting man, and I’m not, I might be willing to wager some dough that Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall could be in some trouble with one of her bosses, Mayor Eric Johnson.

Hall’s department is in some serious trouble. The city she is in charge of protecting and serving has been in the midst of a violent crime wave. The city suffered through more than 200 homicides in 2019. Chief Hall has pledged to reduce violent crime by 5 percent this year.

Mayor Johnson has said that isn’t good enough. The chief’s goals aren’t aggressive enough. He didn’t say so the other day, but he seemed to my ears to imply that his patience is pretty thin as it is and he wants the chief to re-do her strategy for reducing violent crime in the Texas’s third-largest city.

My wife and I — along with our son, daughter-in-law and our grandkids — live in the greater Dallas area. We all venture on occasion into the belly of the beast. While we aren’t in imminent danger all the time, it does give me pause whenever I travel into the city.

I understand fully the difficulty of the job that U. Renee Hall took on when she became Dallas’s top cop. I am not a police expert. I cannot offer any counsel on how the city’s police department can stem the crime wave that is plaguing the community. Gov. Greg Abbott recently stepped in by ordering the Department of Public Safety to dispatch state troopers into Dallas to assist the city police department, freeing up Dallas PD officers to concentrate more on the violent crime incidents.

If my ol’ bones are accurate, though, and Mayor Johnson is as alarmed at the crime crisis as he suggests he is, then the police chief will need to get real busy … real fast.

Governor honors White Settlement hero

I’ll stipulate up front that I am not a fan of allowing guns in church sanctuaries.

With that out of the way, I want to offer a word of gratitude for a gentleman who was providing security at a White Settlement, Texas, church a couple of Sundays ago.

A gunman walked into the sanctuary and opened fire, killing two parishioners at West Freeway Church of Christ. He had six seconds to live.

That’s when Jack Wilson dropped the shooter with a single shot from his pistol. The crisis was over.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott today presented Wilson with the Governor’s Medal of Courage. According to CBS/DFW: “This church had its own security team. They were well-trained,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said on the day of the shooting. “The heroism today was unparalleled. The team responded quickly … ”

Wilson has said he doesn’t consider himself to be a hero.

Well, actually he is. His response in the moment of terror was quintessentially heroic, as is the humility he has exhibited in the days since the violence erupted at West Freeway Church of Christ.

Waiting for baseball season to begin … already?

I am likely not offering a big-time scoop but I am getting some buzz from up yonder in Amarillo that Texas Panhandle baseball fans are counting down the days for Season No. 2 of the Amarillo Sod Poodles.

Hey, why not?

The Dallas Cowboys didn’t make it to the pro football playoffs; the Houston Texans blew a big lead against the Kansas City Chiefs over the weekend, so they’re out. The Dallas Mavericks are off to a good pro basketball start. The Dallas Stars? Beats me.

Baseball is on the minds of a lot of sports fans in the Panhandle. The Sod Poodles whet their appetites by doing something quite remarkable in their initial season. They won the Texas League championship in a five-game thriller against the defending league champs, the Tulsa Drillers.

Hodgetown, where the Sod Poodles play their home games, is mostly dark these days. That’s my guess anyway.

We’re halfway through January already. The season starts in April. The Sod Poodles will have some sort of ceremony on opening day to celebrate their Texas League title. They’ll hear speeches from the mayor, maybe a county judge or two. The fans will cheer.

Someone will toss out the ceremonial first pitch.

They’ll start playing hardball at Hodgetown, which more than likely will be chock full of fans.

So the next season is right around the corner. Isn’t that correct?

That’s what winning does. It makes fans anxious for the next season to begin.

City’s transparency a result of an ‘abundance of caution’

You want transparency in local government? You want to see how a certain city in North Texas handles any potential questions about whether its elected governing body is meeting in “secret,” or conducting public business “illegally”?

Farmersville, a Collin County community of roughly 3,500 residents, exercises what City Attorney Alan Lathrom describes as an “abundance of caution” in alerting residents of a “potential quorum” of elected City Council members.

The city posts a “notice of potential quorum” in advance of any event that might draw more than a majority of City Council members into the same room. That includes, as it did in November and December, an announcement of planned Thanksgiving and Christmas parties.

The city’s website contained under its “Council Meetings” tab announcements of those events. The city is not required under state law to post such events, Lathrom. “We just do it out of an abundance of caution,” he said, citing the possibility that inquiring minds might want to know if council members were discussing public business in a setting other than a called public meeting.

Lathrom said the Texas Open Meetings Act makes specific exemptions for social events. Council members are allowed to gather at holiday parties, for example, without it being posted in advance by City Hall, he said.

Lathrom said the city simply is trying to be as transparent as possible by posting these notices of potential quorum.

I stumbled upon the Christmas party notice recently while perusing the Farmersville website in search of some contact information. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised at my discovery. I told Lathrom of my surprise in a phone conversation.

He doesn’t ascribe much in the way of a need to cover the city’s backside. Lathrom simply employs this strategy because, well, it’s the right thing to do.

I have covered many local government bodies over many years as a print journalist. This is the first example I’ve ever seen of a governing entity taking such a proactive posture toward transparency.

We hear occasional gripes from residents that government seeks to do too much of the public’s business improperly or even illegally. Do notices such as this generate a lot of public interest? That’s not likely. At least Farmersville City Hall can declare that it warned residents of a “potential quorum” of City Council members.

I consider that a fairly see-through approach to local government.

Group doesn’t need this expression of support, but it gets it anyway

A group of high-powered, relatively high-profile individuals formed to help guide a city’s future doesn’t need a word of support from bloggers like me, but it’s going to get it anyway.

Here it comes.

Amarillo Matters came into being in 2016 with a fairly straightforward agenda. It wants to elect highly qualified individuals to local government positions. It wants to promote Amarillo’s economic well-being. It wants to help craft a “positive” agenda for the city.

I keep wondering: What is so wrong with that?

Amarillo Matters recently unveiled a new website. It has included a roster of its board of directors, which up to now had been kept more or less under wraps. Now the community knows who comprises the Amarillo Matters board, who is setting the agenda for the political action committee.

I’ve moved away from Amarillo. However, I remain intently interested in the future of the city where I lived for more than 20 years. I hear occasional grumbling from some in the community who continue to question the motives of Amarillo Matters. I cannot say the grumbling is widespread, or even that it comes from a significant minority of the city’s residents. The complainers are able to have their voices heard far beyond their numbers.

I am not a Pollyanna. I am not looking back at my former city of residence with a sense of naivete. However, I am unable to find a legitimate reason to question whether a group of successful individuals has the community’s best interests at heart.

What I do question are those who criticize individuals simply on the basis of the success they have enjoyed in their professional lives. Isn’t their success part of what we hail as “the American way”?

I wish Amarillo Matters well as it heads on down its road. The future of their city, to my eyes, is looking brighter. There can be nothing wrong with that.

Amarillo Matters has come clean; good deal!

A political action organization formed in 2016 to promote Amarillo’s economic and political future has made a positive change in the way it presents itself.

Amarillo Matters has developed a new website. It continues to speak to its mission, its goals and its strategy. The site also has the name of the principals who are involved in the decisions that Amarillo Matters makes.

It’s the disclosure of the names that I find worthy of commendation.

I wrote on this blog more than a year ago that Amarillo Matters needed to reveal its individual and collective identities to the public. There had been some reluctance to doing so, according to one source close to the group, because of a fear of backlash by those in the community who opposed the agenda that Amarillo Matters is promoting.

Well, I guess those fears have been put aside.

Amarillo Matters has an “About Us” page on its site. It states the “focus” of the organization.

Amarillo Matters will primarily focus on elected positions in which the elected official has a direct governance responsibility to the citizens of Amarillo and the surrounding area. We will also focus on issues that have a positive benefit on Amarillo and the surrounding area. We believe the word benefit has many definitions. They include economic development projects, major investments in our local workforce and students, along with quality of life projects.

That all sounds benign. It’s a positive outlook. A positive outreach. There’s nothing nefarious. The board of directors contains the names of several individuals I know personally; I know a couple of them quite well. I know of the rest of them. They are all successful. Those I know are fine individuals who I believe have the community’s best interests at heart.

Check out the group’s mission statement here.

It is important that Amarillo Matters reveal its identity to the community it seeks to lead. Granted, this is not an elected body. It comprises individuals who seek to exert some influence in what the electorate decides. There’s nothing wrong in any group wanting to do what Amarillo Matters has pledged to do.

Amarillo, though, is no different from any community in the midst of change. Some residents endorse the direction where the community is heading; others oppose it. Everyone has a right to know who is seeking to call the shots.

Amarillo Matters now has revealed who is doing so within its board room. To which I say: Well played.

Amarillo PD chief about to come back home?

This must be said about a man whose name otherwise will live in infamy in the annals of Amarillo municipal government.

The one hire that former interim City Manager Terry Childers made that qualifies as a home run was when he brought Ed Drain in to become chief of police in Amarillo, Texas. Childers eventually resigned in disgrace after popping off publicly about a constituent and making an a** of himself over a misplaced briefcase at a local hotel and a run-in he had with a 9-1-1 dispatcher.

As for Drain, he returned the concept of “community policing” to the city. He instituted progressive police policies. Drain became a presence in the community.

Well, now he’s coming back home to Plano, or so it’s being reported. The Plano Police Department announced today that Drain is its sole finalist for the chief’s job; he had served as deputy police chief when Childers lured him to the Panhandle. Drain says his hiring isn’t a done deal. Well, OK, chief. Whatever you say.

Drain said he has to undergo the requisite background check and the Plano City Council must sign off on a hiring decision.

I’ll just offer an opinion that when a city as substantial as Plano names a lone finalist for a key administrative position, then it looks like a done deal to me.

Whoever becomes the next Amarillo police chief, whenever that occurs, must continue the community policing program that Chief Drain brought back after he succeeded former Chief Robert Taylor.

As for Drain’s apparently pending return to the Metroplex, I am certain he will do a stellar job for a department with which he is intimately familiar.