Category Archives: local news

Regents chose well with Lowery-Hart

OK, so I’m a little late commenting on this one, but I’ll weigh in nonetheless.

Amarillo College’s Board of Regents made a sterling choice in naming Russell Lowery-Hart as the college’s next president.

Having said that, I still wish Lowery-Hart would have been put to a stronger test than he got before regents named him their sole finalist for the post, succeeding Paul Matney, who retired after a 40-plus-year affiliation with the college.

Lowery-Hart was second in command at AC. So he doesn’t climb many rungs on the ladder to take the top administrative job.

I get that regents know him well, that he knows the college political and academic infrastructure inside and out, and that he has virtually no learning curve to negotiate as he takes command of the staff.

Over the past few weeks I’ve visited with friends associated with Amarillo College. They all sang Lower-Hart’s praises as a man, an administrator, educator and someone who loves AC. They like his vision and the way he expresses it. They like that he’s “one of us.”

My only wish would have been that regents invited in candidates from other regions, interviewed them along with Lowery-Hart and then considered their visions, outlooks, approaches and credentials.

Something tells me Lower-Hart would have stacked up well against any set of applicants with whom he would compete.

A thorough vetting and comparison with other candidates would have strengthened the local guy tremendously and — were he to still get the job — strengthened the school he was chosen to lead.

Still, I extend my best wishes to the new Amarillo College president.



Puppy tales, Part 5

Toby went to the doctor today.

We got a surprise when the doc looked him over.

I went there with some questions, the first of which was: How old is this dog?

The veterinarian opened his mouth, peered at his teeth and said he doesn’t yet have his incisors. “He’s 5 months old,” she said without a hint of doubt.

I let out something akin to a gasp-howl. I couldn’t believe he is that young.

“Are you sure about that?” I asked … stupidly.

“Oh, yes,” said the doctor.

OK, I’ll take her word for it.

“Has he had any shots?” the doctor asked.

“I don’t know the first thing about this dog,” I responded. Well, actually, I had just found out the first thing — which is his age. I explained to her the quick version of how we acquired little Toby only a few days ago: Niece found him in the alley, he followed her home, she returned him to owners the next day, who then said they didn’t want him, she went out again the day after that, found him and his owners, told the owners, “My aunt and uncle want him,” took him back. Now he’s ours.

Toby’s now been vaccinated maybe for the second time. The doctor said it wouldn’t hurt him to get another round of vaccinations.

It’s the age thing that surprised me the most.

He’s a young’n.

Looks as though we’re in this one for the long haul.



Media landscape changing all around us

No matter how you slice it, dice it, puree it — whatever — the media landscape is a-changin’.

Even here in the relatively staid Texas Panhandle, where the announcement came out today that the one-time newspaper of record for the region, the Amarillo Globe-News, no longer will print its editions here. It will outsource that task to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, another property owned by the parent company that owns both newspapers.

None of this is unique to the Panhandle. The question of the day is: What’s coming next?

I remain concerned about the deadlines for late-breaking news. The printed newspaper won’t contain news that breaks shortly after suppertime. But, hey, readers can catch up with the news on the paper’s online edition — if they subscribe to the printed newspaper.

Print journalism is trying to make the transition from its old form to something new. The Digital Age has arrived. Some papers are doing a better job of making that switch from one form of delivery to another. Others are struggling with it.

The biggest hang-up is making money on the digital edition. I’m not privy to ad sales techniques, so I cannot comment intelligently on how newspapers in general — and the Globe-News in particular — sell the online edition to advertisers.

I’ve heard some anecdotal evidence, though, that suggests the printed newspaper continues to outpace the digital version by a huge margin in terms of revenue generated.

So, good luck with the transition.

I don’t have any particular loyalty any longer to the people who run my local newspaper. I left daily print journalism under unhappy circumstances. My loyalty remains, though, with my friends who continue to work there.

I hope they’re strong and they can persevere through this trauma. Take my word for it, many of them are being traumatized by what they cannot predict will happen in the near or distant future.


Rodeo offers hope for kids

Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch and Girls Town is a legendary institution in the Texas Panhandle.

I’ve concluded that one of the things that contributes to that legend is a two-day rodeo held each year at the ranch, which is about 34 miles northwest of Amarillo in one of the prettiest regions of the Texas Panhandle.

My wife and I took our great niece there this past weekend to watch some kids ride bucking horses, try to ride sheep, rassle some steers and — in one of the more charming events — take part in a hobby horse race.

The late Cal Farley founded the ranch in 1939. It is celebrating its 75th year helping kids who, as the ranch motto says, find a “shirttail to hang on to.” The rodeo was the 70th. The link attached to this brief post was from the 2010 rodeo.

It looks essentially the same today.

Perhaps the most interesting element of this rodeo is that the children — all student/residents at Boys Ranch — have gotten quite proficient on the back of a horse. It’s a very good bet that many of the kids, who come from troubled lives and who enroll at the ranch to get straightened out, never have seen a horse up close, let alone ridden one at a full gallop.

Yet they’re out there competing and from what we were able to witness from our seats in the nearly full arena are having a great time.

There’s something else that deserves high praise. It’s the cost of the concessions.

The rodeo’s mission is to raise money for the ranch. I’ve been to enough fundraising events to know how these things work: You go to support a worthy effort and then pay through the nose for concessions, given that you’re already there and the folks who are putting the event on know you’ll pay for overpriced food and drink.

Boys Ranch’s prices for concessions are dirt cheap, which heightens the enjoyment for those who attend.

All the concessions are donated, so every nickel spent on them goes directly to Boys Ranch and Girls Town coffers.

It is a wonderful event that is worth seeing time and again.

Good job, kids.


This news was no surprise, but it still hurts

Have you ever heard of a development you more or less knew was coming but were still unnerved by it when it arrived?

It happened to me today with word that the Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked for 17 years and 8 months before quitting under duress, is shutting down its presses and will be printed at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 120 miles south.

The A-J is a sister publication of the Globe-News, both of which are owned by Morris Communications out of Augusta, Ga.

Where do I begin in trying to assess what this means to what’s left of the Globe-News’s readership base?

A lengthy essay in today’s G-N by the publisher, Lester Simpson, seeks to cast this news in highly positive tones.

It’s positive, all right, if the intent is to make the G-N even more profitable than it already is. It will do so by cutting production staff, tearing out its presses and perhaps selling the material as scrap or to someone who can use the antiquated equipment. There will be cost-sharing with the A-J in trucking the papers from Lubbock to Amarillo for distribution.

What are the negatives?

Let’s start with deadlines. Simpson said the paper will continue to guarantee home delivery by 6 a.m. That means the deadlines will be set earlier in the evening, given that it will take two hours to transport the papers north on Interstate 27 for delivery. What happens, then, if news breaks at, say, 10 p.m.? It won’t be reported in the next day’s paper, given that the paper likely will have been “put to bed,” to borrow a time-honored term.

The Globe-News used to pride itself on delivering the latest news possible to its readers. That promise, it seems to me, no longer will be kept.

And what does that do to the readership base that still depends on the paper? Well, by my way of thinking, it gives those readers one less reason to subscribe. That will be revenue lost. Advertisers who buy into the paper do so with the hope of reaching more  readers, not fewer of them.

Simpson writes that the company remains committed to print journalism. It’s also seeking to enter the digital age, right along with other media companies. And what are those companies doing to compete with each other — and with other media? They’re reducing the number of days they deliver the paper to home subscribers.

Therein, I believe, lies the next step in the Globe-News’s evolution from a once-good newspaper to a still-undefined entity.

The publisher doesn’t address the next step, of course, in his essay. I wouldn’t expect him to do so.

However, that’s the trend. In my time as a Morris employee, I didn’t see much evidence of a company willing or able to resist the national media tide.

Many folks knew this day was coming. It still is a punch in the gut.

Speed trap needs to be probed


That was a bit startling.

I saw the headline about a speed trap town being investigated and the thought came immediately to mind: Estelline, as in the small town just west of Childress, Texas.

I opened the link and saw that the town under investigation happens to be in Florida.

An allegation has been made that Waldo, Fla., is using speeding tickets to fatten its coffers. The city allegedly is trying to turn a profit on the backs of unsuspecting motorists.

Is this news? Really?

Maybe it is if Waldo’s city fathers and mothers can be convicted of doing what’s been alleged. Other towns all across the country have carried this reputation. I’ve always thought that nabbing motorists who don’t obey speed laws was one way the towns paid the bill. It’s a “revenue stream,” yes?

Let’s turn back to the other town, the one in Texas, that has a bit of reputation as a speed trap.

Flash back to early January 1995. I had just left Beaumont in my 1987 Honda Civic that was packed to the max with my possessions. I was driving northwest toward Amarillo to start my job at the Amarillo Globe-News. I spent the night in Fort Worth with friends — a lovely couple my wife and I have known for many years — before heading toward the High Plains.

I’ll never forget the words of advice from my friend, Tommy. “Be careful as you drive up toward Amarillo,” he said, “and be especially careful when you drive through Estelline. It’s a speed trap, man. They’ll get ya.” Tommy had spent some of his growing-up years in Amarillo, so he knows a bit about driving along U.S. 287 through the Panhandle.

He warned me. Message received.

But Estelline’s reputation remains intact.

As for Waldo, AAA — the motoring public’s watchdog organization — declares that the town is enough of a speed trap that it’s warning motorists with billboards. “AAA named the tiny town between Jacksonville and Gainesville one of only two ‘traffic traps’ nationwide and even placed an attention-getting billboard outside the limits of the town to warn drivers to slow down before entering,” according to The Associated Press.

Estelline “boasted” a similar billboard until about a year ago. Some disgruntled motorist apparently got popped by the city’s police officer — hey, the town has fewer than 200 residents — so the individual posted a billboard proclaiming the town to be a speed trap.

I’m not actually buying into the speed trap label that’s hung on Estelline all these years. I’m merely reporting what I’ve been told and what I’ve heard countless people in the Panhandle say to others when giving driving instructions between Amarillo and the Metroplex.

“Be sure to obey the speed limit signs as you approach these small towns,” the message goes, “and be really careful when you drive through Estelline.”

It’s tough having to live down an unflattering reputation.



Puppy tales, Part 3

Message received. I’ve decided to take the high road regarding our new dog’s former owners.

I’d sent out a request for advice on how to handle this situation. We took possession of a small mixed-breed dog over the weekend. His name is Toby. He’s about as sweet as sweet gets. Our great-niece informed us his former owners didn’t want him and so they had decided to let him run loose in our southwest Amarillo neighborhood hoping someone would claim him.

That’s her story and she’s sticking to it.

It angered my wife and me so much we felt compelled to tell our dog’s former owners off.

I’ve thought better of it.

Why? Perhaps the major reason is that I don’t know with whom we would be dealing.

Suppose our niece is correct and the pooch’s former owners are dimwitted enough to turn their dog loose with no regard to his safety. Would they be equally dimwitted to shoot someone who confronts them in front of their house? I decided I didn’t want to take the chance. This is Texas, the place where people supposedly love their guns and are unafraid to use them … correct?

As some of my friends and family members advised me, we have emerged as the good guys in this little tale. Our dog is happy and safe. He’ll make a wonderful addition to the family.

Who knows? Perhaps while we’re walking him through the neighborhood we’ll encounter his former owners who might feel either a little bit of shame over doing what they did or they might feel a touch of gratitude that someone is taking good care of a dog that deserved better than to be cast aside.

Whatever. This matter is resolved happily. Toby has a new home.




Water level on the rise at Meredith

Steve Kersh, the chief meteorologist for ProNews 7 in Amarillo, sent out this interesting tweet this morning: “Despite resumed pumping of the lake, Meredith continues rising! Others, unfortunately dropping.”

Who knew?

Lake Meredith’s levels have been rising fairly steadily over the past several months.

It had dropped to around 26 feet, down almost 75 percent from its historic high of 103 feet back in the early 1970s. It’s now at nearly 44 feet.

The rise in the lake levels has prompted the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority to resume pumping water from the lake for the 11 communities served by the water-control agency. That includes Amarillo and Lubbock.

The other lakes mentioned by Kersh are lakes Ute, Greenbelt and Mackenzie. Their levels are falling.

OK, so what’s in store?

CRMWA says it wants to protect the Ogallala Aquifer groundwater levels. Pumping surface water from Lake Meredith helps conserve aquifer supplies, says CRMWA.

I get all that. Still, it’s a Catch-22 situation. Saving one water level and the expense of the other — and you can flip that strategy on its ear — still means we’re depleting water from one important source. It matters little which one gets drained first.

Since I’m not the water expert, I am reluctant to second-guess those who know more about this subject than I do.

It well might be that preserving the aquifer is in the better long-term interests of the region, given that when the Ogallala runs dry, then it’s dry for a very long time — as in forever.

OK, folks. In the meantime, let’s keep praying for more rain.


They're moving the Texas political 'center' line


I concur totally with Paul Burka’s assessment of the Texas political landscape.

There ain’t any Texas Republican politicians who can be described as “left of center” by any stretch of the imagination.

Burka’s comment comes on the heels of a Forbes magazine piece that describes Texas House Speaker Joe Straus as a lefty.

As Burka writes: “This commentary has all the earmarks of a Michael Quinn Sullivan put-up job.”

And who is Michael Quinn Sullivan? He’s an ultra-right wing political strategist who’s earned the scorn of many mainstream politicians, namely Republicans. One of them is state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, who barely defeated a Sullivan-backed stalking horse — ex-Midland Mayor Mike Canon — in this spring’s GOP primary for Seliger’s Senate seat.

Suffice to say that Seliger cannot stand Sullivan.

Back to the article in question and the description of Straus as a “left-of-center speaker.”

It ain’t so.

I’m inclined to go along with one of the comments attached at the bottom of Burka’s blog post for Texas Monthly. “I guess it all depends on how you define ‘center,'” the comment starts out.

Indeed, the Texas GOP has been moving the center line farther to the right with each election cycle. I’m not at all sure where the center really is these days. It’s not the center that I used to define it, which is that a Republican could be a strict conservative on social issues but more moderate on fiscal matters … or vice versa.

These days, the “perfect Texas Republican” appears to be a fiery conservative on every single issue under the sun.

As Burka notes: “Straus actually wants to move the state forward economically by building roads and badly needed water projects.”

If that makes Straus a flaming lefty, well, you go for it, Mr. Speaker.




Good bye and good riddance to old eatery

There’s a certain symbolic value in watching what’s taking place at the site of a restaurant that used to do business on the north side of Interstate 40 just east of Western Street in Amarillo.

The building is being torn down. As of this morning it was sitting in a pile of rubble. I reckon the heap will be hauled off soon.

It used to be home to a place called Sava. It was an Italian joint. I never ate there. The owner closed the place this past year.

His closing of it, though, drew a lot of attention.

You see, he posted this snarky-in-the-extreme note on the door. I cannot recall the details of the note, but I do recall that he denigrated Amarillo’s eating habits while saying good bye to the community. He made some smart-alecky comments about how the folks in Lubbock likely know better about the fine cuisine that had been served at the place.

Then he threw in a crude sexual quip that, for the life of me, I couldn’t recall why he even said such a thing — other than to get his jollies off with what he thought was a clever joke.

Well, it wasn’t.

Sava is history. A chain restaurant is going to be built there. McAlester’s is a barbecue joint. Imagine that: BBQ in Amarillo, Texas. Whatever, the company has an eatery already in Amarillo, so this will be its second restaurant here.

I normally wouldn’t even bother to comment on the demolition of the old site, except that the owner of the former eatery had the terribly bad taste to say good bye to Amarillo in such a crude manner.

See you in the next life, Sava owner — whoever you are.