Category Archives: local news

Teachers: an underappreciated profession

Public school teachers — especially the good ones — need our appreciation and an expression of thanks for all they do to help our children find their way into the world.

One of them today received a high honor, indeed, from her peers. She happens to teach English right here in Amarillo. Many of her students are refugees, whose families have fled repression and deprivation.

Take a bow, Shanna Peeples.

The Council of Chief State School Officers today named Peeples — who teaches at Palo Duro High School — its National Teacher of the Year. She was one of four finalists competing for the job. She’s the first Texan so honored since the late 1950s.

Shanna is a former colleague of mine who’s gone on to enrich many lives along the way. It’s an amazing story, when you consider that becoming an educator was not her first choice of professions. She’s done a lot of things in her life — and working as a journalist was one of them.

She gave up that career several years ago to pursue her real calling, which is to make a serious difference in young people’s lives.

Shanna was asked this morning why she loves teaching and she replied because teaching gives her the chance to “write the last chapter” in young people’s stories.

Public school teachers receive criticism all the time. Too little effort is made to offer high praise to the great work that many teachers do in our communities.

One of them stands as a symbol of educational excellence. She has brought great honor to her state and to her profession.

We’re all proud of Shanna Peeples.

Non-endorsement sends dubious message

Let’s talk about newspaper endorsements and what they intend to accomplish.

Editors and publishers will tell you they aren’t intended to make voters cast ballots in accordance with what the newspaper management wants. The folks who run these media outlets seek to stay on the moral high ground. “We just want to be a voice in the community,” they say. “It’s enough just to make people think. We know we cannot make people vote a certain way and that’s not our intention.”

It’s all high-minded stuff. I used to say such things myself when I was editing editorial pages for two newspapers in Texas — one in Beaumont and one in Amarillo — and at a paper in my home state of Oregon.

But the reality, though, is that newspaper executives — publishers and editors — never would complain if elections turn out the way they recommend.

Is there a dichotomy here? I think so.

Which brings me to the Amarillo Globe-News’s non-endorsement today in the upcoming election for mayor. The paper chose to remain silent. It wouldn’t endorse Paul Harpole’s re-election to a third term as mayor, nor would it recommend voters elect Roy McDowell as mayor.

The paper did express a couple of things about Harpole. It said it is disappointed in the missteps and mistakes that have occurred on Harpole’s watch and it also predicted that Harpole would be re-elected on May 9.

Newspapers fairly routinely encourage community residents to get out and vote. They encourage them to make the tough choices. Pick a candidate, the newspaper might suggest. Hey, none of them might not be statesmen or women, but they’re committing themselves to public service.

Suppose for a moment that Amarillo voters — all of them — took the Globe-News’s non-recommendation to heart. What if no one voted for mayor? What if no voter decided that one of the two men seeking the office deserved their vote? Would the paper declare that a victory? Or would it lament the chaos that would ensue?

This is why I disliked non-endorsements back when I toiled for daily newspapers. I’ve always believed voters expect the newspaper to recommend someone in a race, even if no candidate deserved a ringing endorsement. If nothing else, some voters do rely on newspapers to provide some guidance to voters who might not have sufficient knowledge of all the issues that decide these important elections.

Recommending no one? That’s their call. However, it’s fair to wonder whether a newspaper should ask voters to do something its management wouldn’t do, which is make a choice on whom to support at the ballot box.


Tragedy hands Amarillo PD a PR gem

The Amarillo Police Department has been handed a solid-gold public relations opportunity that has been born out of a tragic incident on a city street.

James Sutton was killed Friday night near Caprock High School, apparently while drag-racing along 34th Avenue. He lost control of his vehicle and flipped it several times. The 24-year-old motorist was pronounced dead on the scene. Police say he was racing two other vehicle when his SUV struck a curb and flipped. APD is looking for the drivers of the other vehicles.

A young man’s family is grieving over this senseless loss.

Senseless because the young man was doing something that has killed many other drivers over many years — perhaps since the invention of the automobile.

Street-racing is among any American city or town’s dirty little secrets. It’s underreported, yet it goes on virtually every night in cities across the country. Young drivers think they’re invincible to begin with, so they test their invincibility by challenging other young drivers to do something that is quite illegal, which is drive way past the posted speed limit recklessly, putting themselves and others in extreme danger.

Can there be a better tool to use in a campaign to dissuade young drivers from engaging in this kind of fearful behavior?

There now exists at Amarillo City Hall and in the city’s police department an opportunity to send a message throughout this city — and perhaps even far beyond the city — about the dangers of street racing.

Man, oh, man. It kills!


'Home rule' on red-light cameras? Apparently not

You live in a Texas city and your elected officials — the folks who represent you and your neighbors — have decided to install cameras at dangerous intersections to deter motorists from running red lights.

Your city has the authority to do such a thing under Texas law. Not as it relates to red-light cameras.

The Texas Senate has sent to the House a bill that would ban cities from deploying the cameras, as Amarillo and dozens of other cities have done.

Well, there goes home rule.

Sen. Bob Hall has declared the cameras to be a failure across the state.

The bill would allow the cameras on toll roads. Therefore, given that there isn’t a toll road within hundreds of miles of the Panhandle, we won’t have the cameras.

I believe it is a mistake for the Legislature to seek to read the minds of mayors, council members, city managers and traffic engineers on this issue.

Are the cameras popular among Amarillo motorists? No. It’s because they catch them doing something they aren’t supposed to do, which is try to sneak past street signals that have turned red or, in some drastic cases, race through the lights from a dead stop.

Then again, I remain unconvinced that most motorists detest the cameras enough to merit their removal. Some of them do and they have protested loudly.

Their voices have been heard — way down yonder in Austin.

List of won't-do-things keeps growing

The older I get, the more activities I add to the list of things I’ll never do.

I read recently about the California woman who came to Amarillo and choked down three 72-ounce steaks — plus the baked spuds, shrimp cocktail, rolls and salad — at the Big Texan Steak Ranch.

By my calculation, that’s about 15 or so pounds of food.

I will add to the list of never-will-do things.

There once was a time in my life when I considered myself something of a thrill-seeker. There was little I wouldn’t try. Did I do all those things? No. The opportunities haven’t presented themselves over the span of time.

I haven’t jumped out of an airplane, or bungee-jumped off some platform or cliff, hunted big game in Africa.

On my 60th birthday, I did go zip-lining through the forests of St. Lucia with my wife and sons. So there. I’m not a total wimp.

I once, though, actually thought I might try to eat a 72-ounce steak — but only one — in the span of an hour. Twenty years ago, when we moved to Amarillo, I became aware of the Big Texan and its promotional gimmick of giving away the “free steak” if you could eat it within a certain span of time.

I’m a carnivore. I love steak. Just not that much of it. All at once.

Molly Schuyler chowed down three of ’em in about 20 minutes. She beat her own Big Texan record in devouring the first of her steaks in four minutes.

We’ve been to the Big Texan many times over the years and watched many folks try to consume the Big One in less than an hour. We’ve seen folks puke into the waste basket sitting next to them. One evening, we watched them carry a young man out of the eating area, toward the restroom, where I presume he got really sick.

Does that appeal to this old man? Not in the least.

Maybe in an earlier life. Maybe.

You can add this to the growing list of things I’ll never do.


Texting lingo throws me for a loop

I’m going to make an admission.

Texting sends me into orbit. I rarely do it with my fancy-shmancy smart phone. I’ll receive text messages on occasion. I might answer them, but my first rule is this: no more than six words. I don’t send text messages just to chat. They need to fulfill some kind of purpose, such as providing answers to direct questions.

OK, the one exception might be if my son and daughter-in-law send pictures of our granddaughter Emma, which occurs regularly and I love acknowledging them.

So …

Having said all that, I had a strange encounter the other day at work. Two salesmen at the car dealership where I worked asked me this question: “What does ‘NVM’ mean in a text message?” My two friends, both middle-aged but younger than I am, were trying to figure out what it meant. One of them reckoned it meant “not very mature.” Hmmm. That seemed to make sense, given that a lot of text messages are, well, very mature.

We chuckled among ourselves and then I left them to their wondering what the initials meant.

Then it dawned on me: I have a text messaging expert in my family. It’s my daughter-in-law, Stephanie. She’d know.

I called her. “Steph,” I said, “what do the letters ‘NVM’ mean when you send them in a text message?”

She answered immediately: never mind … although for an instant I wasn’t sure if that was the answer of if she was telling to, um, never mind.

That was the answer.

I found my friends and told them, “It means ‘never mind.'” They got it.

We all shared our limited knowledge of text-message lingo/abbreviations. OMG? Got it. LOL? Sure thing. LMAO? I got that one, too.

The rest of them don’t come quite so easily. NVM is now part of my text-message glossary.

However, do not expect me ever to use it, let alone any time soon.

Still, it’s good to have someone in the family who’s fluent in textspeak, to whom I can turn for quick translations.

No lawn signs or bumper stickers … just yet

I had thought that when my daily print journalism came to an end in August 2012 I’d be able to wear my political preference openly.

It’s not going to happen any time soon, or at least that’s my hope.

The last lawn sign I put in my yard — I think — was in 1976. I put a sign out front for U.S. Sen. Frank Church of Idaho, who was a candidate for president in the Democratic primary. That was in Oregon, before my journalism career got started.

I went to work on the copy desk of the Oregon Journal in Portland and then took a job as a sports writer for the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier, a suburban afternoon daily just south of Portland. I toiled in the business for the next 36 years, moving eventually to Texas in 1984.

I’ve had a keen interest in politics for many decades, going back to my college days and even farther back, to a time when I was just a year out of high school.

That was when I had a chance meeting late one night in May 1968 with another U.S. senator, Robert F. Kennedy. I shook his hand as he got out of his car on the eve of the Oregon primary, got his autograph, we exchanged a few words and he disappeared inside the restaurant he was visiting.

RFK was murdered a week later in Los Angeles.

My print career ended more than two years ago, but now I’m back in the journalism game once again, in a new format.

So, I’ve decided I still cannot display lawn signs or paste bumper stickers on my vehicles. Since February, I’ve been writing for NewsChannel 10’s website,, as the station’s “special projects reporter.” Moreover, I’ve been blogging for Panhandle PBS for more than two years, writing about public affairs programming. Thus, I’m back in journalism.

Am I having fun? Does the bear do his business … well, you know.

Does that disqualify me from writing this blog? I don’t see that it does. I just won’t make the leap and endorse candidates for local office, as much as I want to do so, while I’m writing about local political and civic affairs for a local TV news station.

That means my lawn will be sign-free and my vehicle will be bumper-sticker-free for the foreseeable future.

Texans will have a say in 2016 contest

It’s nice to be loved, isn’t it, Texas voters?

Bet on it. The large and likely cantankerous Republican presidential field is going to cozy up to Texans about a year from now when the state casts its primary vote for president of the United States.

It’ll be just like the old day. Hey, even the not-so-old days. Harken back to 2008, when Democratic U.S. Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton were slugging it out for their party’s presidential nomination.

By the time the Texas primary rolled around, the Democratic nomination was far from sewn up. So, what happened? Voters turned out in record numbers.

There’s more. Even in heavily Republican Texas Panhandle counties — such as Randall County — the Democratic Party polling places were far busier than the GOP stations. A lot of Republicans crossed over to vote in the Democratic primary and it likely enabled Sen. Clinton to win most of the state’s Democratic delegates.

As Ross Ramsey noted in a Texas Tribune analysis: “The mix of candidates could make a difference, too. Candidates with Texas ties, like Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry and Rand Paul, could draw their own home crowds if their candidacies are still alive early next year. And candidates from different factions could attract different herds of support.

“This sort of turnout boom does not happen often in Texas. The parties tend to settle their presidential nomination battles in places like New Hampshire, South Carolina and Iowa. By the time they get to Texas, they’ve already all but chosen their nominees.

“Voters like a fight, and you can see the evidence of that in turnout. When there’s a big race, more people vote.”

They’re going to get one, more than likely, on the Republican side in 2016.

And what about the Democrats? Barring some huge surprise — which is entirely possible — the Dems’ nomination looks like it already belongs to Hillary Clinton.

The Republican field looks as though it’s going to be huge and it’s going to take some time to cull the losers from the field. Thus, when Texas gets its turn to vote, we’ll be in the mix.

Can you feel the love?


Pets can prove their intuitive qualities

Pet owners know this.

It is that your pet — dog or cat — know when you’re hurting.

My wife and I are the proud “parents” of a 13-year-old cat, Mittens, and a year-old pooch, Toby. But until this past November, we owned two cats. Mittens had a brother we adopted along with her from the ASPCA in the summer of 2002. His name was Socks.

One early evening, without warning, Socks went to one of his favorite sleeping places, curled up — and died. Just like that, he was gone. It devastated my wife and me.

We loved Socks very much and those of our friends and family who met this big brute of a cat understand why. He was absolutely the most lovable kitty I’ve ever seen, let alone taken into our family.

I miss him every day.

What’s the point here?

Well, I think his sister, Mittens, misses him, too. In fact, I believe Mittens has been demonstrating in recent months a keen intuition about us and the grief we’re still feeling.

She’s gone through a bit of a personality change since her brother died.

Of the two cats, Mittens was by far the shy one. She wasn’t nearly as demonstrative in her affection toward my wife and me as Socks. Sure, she’d like to be around us, but she was far more reserved.

To this day, she still doesn’t come out when company is in the house. She hides. When the coast is clear, then she shows herself, nibbles on her food, answers nature’s call … all the things cats do.

Of late, though, she’s becoming far more affectionate toward her “mother” and me. She nuzzles constantly. She demands attention from us. She is more vocal than before. When I climb into bed, usually to read a little before nodding off, Mittens jumps up, nudges my hands, snuggles against my cheek and neck and seems to say “I love you” as she purrs loudly in my ear.

I am no animal psychologist, obviously. My wife and I have owned cats almost throughout our 43-plus years of marriage. Toby the pooch is a new experience for us, but we’re getting along quite well with our Chihuahua mix. He’s adorable, smart and quite well-behaved. Does he miss Socks? Hardly.

However, Mittens is showing signs of recognition of the loss we have suffered and I believe she wants us to know that she loves us, too.

Now I know why pets can be so therapeutic.


Constitution trumps jail security

Score one for the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

A district judge has ruled that the Roosevelt County, N.M., policy restricting jail inmates’ visitation with their attorneys is unconstitutional.

The policy was enacted after some inmate escapes at the Portales lockup. Sheriff’s department officials restricted the days and times attorneys could visit their clients. State District Judge Donna Mowrer said the restrictions violated constitutional guarantees that inmates were entitled to meet with their attorneys whenever they wished.

The county said the restrictions were enacted out of security and staffing concerns.

I’m with the judge on this one.

Inmates mustn’t be denied access to their lawyers, who in some cases are the only people in their lives.

A lawyer, Eric Dixon, protested the restrictions, citing an occasional inability to visit clients incarcerated because his weekday work schedule prevented him from getting to the jail until after hours.

Constitutional protections should be honored whenever possible. It seems to be the Roosevelt County jail administration is in a position to follow the tenets set forth in our nation’s founding document.