Category Archives: local news

Perception meets reality, Mr. Mayor

Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole is a good man who I believe is motivated by the best intentions.

However, for him to dismiss concerns about whether a new town-hall policy somehow isn’t driven by politics leaves me wondering whether he truly understands how some people can perceive what looks so patently obvious.

The mayor is facing a re-election fight next month. So, on the eve of that balloting, he announces a series of town hall meeting with constituents. He wants to hear their concerns. He wants to act on them, if possible. He is all ears. He’s an open book. He’s receptive to people’s gripes. He wants to let people talk for as long as they want, without the restrictions they face during regular City Council meetings.

Roy McDowell, who’s running against the mayor, isn’t buying it fully. He thinks Harpole is doing this as some sort of political stunt.

Is that how he and some others around the city perceive it? If they do, does that become some form of reality in their mind? Yes and yes.

Which brings me back to my initial point. Is the mayor tone deaf?

Harpole says he’s got meetings scheduled through the rest of the year and that whether he continues with them will depend on how responsive residents are to his outreach.

The mayor and City Manager Jarrett Atkinson conducted the first town hall meeting this week. They answered questions about city issues ranging from downtown improvement plans to street repair. I applaud them both for making themselves available to residents.

However, as the great Boston Red Sox slugger the late Ted Williams used to say about hitting a baseball, “Timing is everything.”

So it is with politics.


Taking the path of least resistance

This clearly is a minority view in this part of Texas, but I’ll offer it anyway.

The Amarillo Independent School District is taking the easy route in selecting its next superintendent. Why? It’s looking only at internal candidates, individuals already employed by the school district. The neighboring Canyon ISD, though, also is searching for a superintendent. CISD’s strategy is more comprehensive; it is looking nationally.

Of the two, CISD is challenging its board of trustees to work harder to look for the right man or woman to lead the school district.

AISD Superintendent Rod Schroder is retiring this summer, as is CISD Superintendent Mike Wartes. Both of them served their respective school districts well before climbing to the top spots.

But why is AISD choosing to look only in-house? I guess the school board believes it has a sufficient pool of potential candidates already on the payroll. I also presume the school board likes the direction the district is taking. It doesn’t particularly welcome new perspective, new outlook, a fresh set of administrative principles.

That’s their call.

I believe it is fair to ask whether a national search could introduce some new ideas to the district. Moreover, why not encourage such an influx of new thoughts and direction?

The best candidate to succeed Schroder well might already be on board at AISD. Why not, then, subject that candidate to a rigorous competition, making that individual work even harder to win the endorsement of the trustees who’ll make the hiring decision?

CISD is taking that route. Good for the Canyon trustees.

As for AISD, choose well.

Red-light cams under the gun in Senate

Did I dream this or is it for real?

Wasn’t there a time when Republicans sang the virtues of local control and said that local government knew better than state or federal officials how to deal issues of local concern?

Apparently, most members of the Texas Senate Transportation Committee think the state knows best as it regards red-light cameras.

I believe the committee is mistaken.

The panel voted to ban cities and towns from deploying the devices to stop people from running red lights. Amarillo is one of those cities.

The author of the bill is state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Canton. “The public has expressed great opposition to the growing practice of unmanned, automatic-controlled traffic cameras,” Hall said.

Great opposition? Have there been massive protests? Have motorists marched on city halls across the state to demand removal of these devices?

Come on. Let’s get real.

Amarillo and a handful of other Texas cities have seen a need to crack down on a practice that puts the public in peril. So why not let cities deal with these issues the best way they can?

The full Texas Senate is going to get this bill. It’s full of Republicans who, I once thought, believed local control was the best control.

I think the words of my favorite Amarillo City Council member, Ellen Robertson Green, sums up the issue succinctly. She once told a protester at City Hall the best way to avoid being hassled by the camera is to “just don’t run the red light.”

Is that so difficult?


Texting ban bill needs to become law

Say it ain’t so, Texas Senate.

Please tell me you are going to follow the Texas House’s lead and send a bill banning texting while driving to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott. And please, governor, tell me you’re going to sign this bill into law.

Why am I asking these things?

I ran into a Texas House member Sunday and he told me he thinks there’s a chance the Senate won’t approve a bill that the House approved by overwhelming numbers about three weeks ago.

The state needs to enact a law that all but five other states already have enacted.

It would write into state law a prohibition against sending text messages while operating a motor vehicle. Is there a more stupid act than that?

Granted, motorists shouldn’t have to be told not to engage in such stupidity, but they do.

That’s where the state ought to come in, not to babysit the nimrods who cannot stop texting while driving — but to protect the rest of us traveling on our public streets and highways who are put in imminent danger by the dipsticks who cannot put their texting devices down.

Several cities across the state have enacted ordinances against this kind of (mis)behavior; Amarillo is one of them. Out-of-state motorists driving through Texas don’t know which cities have bans and which do not. A statewide ban that is promoted aggressively across the nation would make it clear that such idiocy won’t be tolerated in Texas.

The 2011 Legislature sent a texting ban bill to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk. But the governor vetoed it, issuing one of the most ridiculous veto messages imaginable, saying the bill was too intrusive, that it micromanaged Texans’ behavior on the road.

The Texas House has done its job. Now it’s the Texas Senate’s turn.


Will there be enough time for retirement?

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on impending retirement.

My sister and brother-in-law are visiting us for a few days.

They are retired. As in fully retired and they keep telling us how busy they’ve been doing this and that — on their own time and at their own pace.

I remain anxious for the day when my wife and I, too, can join the Corps of Retired Citizens. I’m not there yet.

You see, I’ve got these three part-time jobs that keep me busy enough as it is. Two of them are writing gigs: one is for Panhandle PBS and the other is for Amarillo’s CBS affiliate, NewsChannel 10. The third one takes me out of the house for a few hours weekly at Street Toyota.

We went to church this morning and sis I introduced sis to a friend of mine. She asked him what he did for a living. He said he’s retired and then noted how much fun it has been. Why? He’s so busy these days. Sis and my friend, Stan, traded quips about wondering how they had time to work back when they were drawing regular paychecks.

My wife and I are biding our time. We remain in quite a good place at the moment. I learned quickly more than two years ago, when my career came to an end, that life really does produce new beginnings. I’ve found them and my wife and I are reaping their reward. It comes in the form of a life relieved of much of the stress associated with full time employment obligations.

The prospect of full-time retirement keeps inching closer. I don’t know yet when it will arrive.

I understand completely that I’ll recognize the moment when it arrives.

Armored car joins sheriff's force

Randall County, Texas, is where I live. It is a nice place, full of nice folks. It has its share of soreheads and criminals, but it’s not a place thought to be a haven for violence.

And yet …

The county sheriff’s department has just purchased — are you ready? — an armored car.

It’s one of those beastly vehicles associated, say, with battlefields. You know, places where enemy soldiers fire big-time ordnance at each other.

Sheriff Joel Richardson, a good guy and one of the top cops in Texas, has purchased a Lenco BearCat. The armored car is designed for ultimate protection and defense.

I’ll hand it to Richardson, though, for recognizing the public relations hurdle his department must clear.

According to NewsChannel 10: “Richardson’s biggest concern is making sure the public realizes the department is not trying to militarize law enforcement.”

“This is a vehicle not intended for aggression, this is a vehicle that is intended to make our community safer and to save lives,” said the sheriff.

Interesting, don’t you think?

The police in Ferguson, Mo., deployed some pretty heavy equipment when citizens there rioted after a young black man was shot to death by a white police officer. Critics then called Ferguson’s response a bit overheated.

Indeed, little ol’ Randall County’s crime issues seem tepid compared to what the cops in Ferguson faced.

If the armored car is intended to “make our community safer,” as Sheriff Richardson insists, then he’d be wise to keep it under wraps until all hell breaks loose. I’ve lived here slightly more than 20 years and have yet to see anything close to that happening.


Grading smart phone proficiency

One of my three part-time jobs enables me to do a lot of people-watching.

So I do.

What I have discovered watching customers at the car dealership where I work — as well as my colleagues in all departments — is the ubiquitous nature of smart phones. Everyone seems to have one. Heck, I even have one.

Just yesterday, one of my colleagues said, “Hey, look over there. Two customers are on their smart phones, and so is their salesman. No one’s talking to each other.”

Yep, that’s the way it is these days.

I see sales representatives racing through the showroom chatting on their phone, or sending text messages to someone. Service department personnel? Same thing. Parts guys? Them, too. Our business department? Yes.

Years ago I once proclaimed my goal in life to be the last person on Earth with a cell phone. After some time resisting the temptation, I finally decided to declare victory — and then I bought my first cellular telephone. I made a bit of noise about it publicly at the time. Some friends tried to say they’d never owned a cell phone; a family member said the same thing. My response? You cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. So my victory declaration stands.

Here we are in 2015. I’ve upgraded to a smart phone. It’s got a lot of those gizmos one uses to do all kinds of things.

As I watch people through the day using their smart phones, I am struck by the degree of proficiency they exhibit.

I’ll call the experts the “one-handers.” These are the individuals who can send text messages with one hand, while holding the hand of a child in the other. They’re adept at using these devices. My fear is that they do so while driving a motor vehicle — but I won’t go there.

Me? I’m a two-handed guy. I haven’t yet mastered the dexterity it takes to do all these functions with just a single hand. I’ll speak for my wife and say that neither is she.

I prefer my relative clumsiness with these devices. I don’t want anyone to think I am so smug that I can manipulate a smart phone with just a single hand.

I’ll prefer to remember what a young friend, who at the time was working as a barista in an Amarillo coffee shop, told me when I informed him I had just purchased my first cell phone. He said I reminded him of his grandfather, who would hold his cell phone up close to his face so he could read the numbers whenever he made a call.

Yes, that’s me.

I’ve already declared victory in my quest to be the last man on Earth with a cell phone. Will I ever ascend to “expert status” using my smart gadget?


Blog streak looks like it's about to end

This blog post is going to be — and I’ll be fairly brief — about my blog.

High Plains Blogger has been on a roll of late.

It has set seven consecutive records for monthly page views and unique visitors. I’m quite proud of that streak, and I’ve been none too bashful about sharing the good news with my social media friends.

April isn’t looking so good. Just six days into the month and I’m sensing a trend that suggests my streak is going to stop at seven. That’s all right. I’ve enjoyed a good run and I’m hopeful it will resume soon.

This blogging adventure has pretty much consumed my life for the past, oh, couple of years.

I don’t have a full-time job. I’ve three part-time jobs — and I enjoy them all immensely. Two of them involve writing: One of them is for Panhandle PBS, based at Amarillo College; the other one, which I just started in early February, is for KFDA-NewsChannel 10, the CBS-TV affiliate in Amarillo. They’re both blogs. The PBS blog discusses public affairs programming; the NewsChannel 10 blog looks at on-going news stories in our region and the station is good enough to broadcast an on-air report based on the blog I’ve posted on the station’s website.

The third job is as a customer service concierge with a Toyota dealership here in Amarillo.

But writing is what I love to do. I was blessed to pursue a fulfilling career in print journalism. It was a 37-year run that ended in late August 2012. My work with public and commercial TV stations allows me to continue to working on my craft.

My first post-newspaper-career passion, though, is my own blog. I truly enjoy venting, ranting, raving, commenting, critiquing public affairs on my blog. Occasionally I veer into what my wife and I call “life experience.”

I guess the purpose here is to ask you to keep reading High Plains Blogger. If you think you want to share it with your friends, well, have at it. I’m anxious to reach more people and to have them comment on my musings.

Do not worry about hurting my feelings if you disagree with my particular political slant. Most of my neighbors and most of the people I encounter daily disagree with me. That’s the nature of living in this part of the world.

Let me know what you think.


Ode to spring: I'm glad it's arrived … finally

People I meet as I go through life occasionally comment on their favorite season of the year on the Texas Tundra.

Surprisingly — to me, at least — most of them seem to prefer the fall. Leaves changing colors. Our landscape brightens just a bit. The cooler days. All that stuff seems to appeal to many people.

Me, too.

But this is my favorite season of the year. Bring on the spring, man.

The terrain out there can get pretty bleak in the winter. We’ve had a good bit of snow in these parts during the winter of 2014-15. For all I know, more might be on the way. Hey, it’s only early April.

It’s the renewal aspect of the season that I find so joyous.

Those bare trees are beginning to blossom. Some of them go from naked to “fully clothed” in green seemingly overnight. That’s all right. The greenery is a sign of that spring has sprung.

It also has a good bit to do with my faith. We’re going to celebrate Easter tomorrow along with billions of other Christians around the world. We’ll go to church, listen to the pastor praise the new life that Jesus promises us. We’ll sing joyful hymns celebrating The Resurrection. We’ll have a nice dinner later in the day with family and friends.

Indeed, Easter is all about renewal and rebirth.

It’s all around us.

The signs of spring are unmistakable. They’re quite welcome in our home. Very soon, summer will arrive. Temperatures will rise and, oh yes, we’ll commence the gripes about the triple-digit heat and wish dearly for the return of autumn.

My friends and acquaintances will cherish autumn’s arrival and say, once again, how it’s their favorite season of the year.

Me? I’ll just wait for next spring.

First things first. I plan to enjoy the current spring to the max.


Candidates go on the air

Panhandle PBS general manager Chris Hays sent this email out to media representatives, so I want to share it here.

I’m excited to inform you about a special edition of “Live Here,” as individuals running for office in the upcoming City of Amarillo elections join us for a Candidates Forum. The special airs tomorrow at 7. 

The 16 mayoral and city council candidates will participate in this exclusive forum with members of Amarillo media-television, radio, print and online-asking the questions. 

Viewers have the opportunity to see the candidates respond, listen to their answers and decide for themselves which ones deserve to represent them. Share your thoughts on each candidate’s answers on Twitter using the hashtag #LiveHerePBS. 

Here’s Panhandle PBS blogger John Kanelis’ preview of the forum. 

That’s public television truly serving the public. Be an informed voter before you head for the booth (and you will head to the booth, right?). Tune in Thursday, April 2 at 7 p.m. for this special edition of Live Here…”City Elections 2015: A Candidate’s Forum.”

OK, I just left in the part about the blog I had written about that Panhandle PBS posted earlier.

But the crux of this post is to drive home an important point that I’ve sought to make on High Plains Blogger as well as the blog I write for Panhandle PBS. It is that the local elections matter more than elections at any level.

Sixteen residents of Amarillo have offered themselves as candidates for Amarillo City Council and for mayor of our fine city. Their commitment to doing something positive for the city is demonstrated merely in their declaring their intention to run for public office. The offices of council member and mayor are essentially volunteer positions; we pay these folks $10 per weekly meeting, plus whatever expenses they might incur doing business on behalf of the city.

Why not, then, demonstrate our own commitment to the city simply by listening to what they have to say at the televised candidate forum and then voting on the candidates of our choice when the time comes?

Once more, for the record, I’ll simply point out that the message of turning out for local elections should resonate far beyond Amarillo’s corporate border. Wherever you live, in whatever city, you need to pay attention to what your fellow neighbors have to say when they seek public office.

Do not let your next-door neighbor, or the folks across town, decide this election for you.

Citizenship works better when more people — not fewer of them — get involved in the government process.

It starts with voting.