Category Archives: local news

Now come the questions: Who did this . . . and why?

A community’s heart is shattered with this news.

Remains found near Canadian, Texas have been confirmed to be those of a teenager who disappeared on Nov. 23, 2016.

They belong to Thomas Brown.

Thomas’s mother said simply, “We just need prayers.” Done. You’ll have them from a grieving Texas Panhandle that had hoped for all it could that Thomas would be found alive.

Now comes the arduous task for Hemphill County law enforcement officials, hopefully with help from the Texas Rangers and neighboring agencies. They need to find out who did this and for what purpose.

In the meantime, a shaken community will somehow seek to regain its strength.

Perhaps a region’s collective love will help it recover.

Puppy Tales, Part 64: Still laughing daily

Toby the Puppy joined our family in early September 2014. He quite literally just showed up. It was love at first sight — for him and for us.

I am happy to report something that you might already suspect. It is that after more than four years of life with this 12-pound ball of energy, my wife and I are still laughing every single day as our puppy continues to entertain us.

It doesn’t take much to make us giggle.

We watch him walk ahead of us, his rear end swiveling with each quick-step he takes; we laugh. We ask him a question in complete sentences; he cocks his head as if to understand every word we’ve just uttered and then he looks at each of us for a response. We ask him if he wants to go for a ride in the car or take a walk; he grabs his favorite ball from wherever he placed it last and wants to take it with him.

Every walk we take with Toby is as if he’s never done it before. He whirls in circles waiting for his leash.

We leave him at home for, oh, 10 minutes. We return and he acts as if we’ve gone for 10 days. He jumps into our arms, licking our faces.

Toby the Puppy is a font of laughter.

I am quite certain that we have giggled or guffawed every day since the moment we laid eyes on him while he sat on our back patio. He looked at us as if to say, “Is this my new home?”

Gladly, it was.

Keep the curfew, Dallas City Council

I’ve heard it said that “nothing good ever happens after midnight.”

To that end, Dallas city officials are wrestling with whether to retain a 26-year-old curfew the city imposed against juveniles.

They ought to do what they can to retain the curfew, which is set to expire Friday if the council doesn’t act.

I’m not a particularly harsh old geezer on this. I just believe that cities have an inherent duty to enact measures that maintain safety. Dallas’s curfew isn’t perfect, but it is a reasonable approach to seeking and keep the community safe.

The ordinance requires youth younger than 17 years of age to be off the streets between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from midnight to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday. They may be out in the wee hours if they are accompanied by an adult. Violating the ordinance could result in a $500 fine.

I’ve heard the criticism from some who believe the curfew “unfairly” targets children who live in low-income neighborhoods. That’s a bit of a head-scratcher. Are these folks saying that children who live in low-income neighborhoods more inclined to be out past curfew than those who live in swankier ‘hoods? That doesn’t quite compute with me.

The issue for retaining the ordinance seems to revolve on whether to lessen the penalties for violators. Some residents and activists want to “decriminalize” the act of violating curfew. Hmm. How does that work? If you are breaking the law, aren’t then, by definition, a criminal?

Cities enact curfew with one intention, to protect children from late-night mischief that too often produces tragic results.

Dallas is no different. Keep the curfew.

Here is a Dallas Morning News editorial supporting the curfew. I stand with the newspaper editorial board on this one.

Happy Trails, Part 136: Planning our destinations

I have decided that perhaps the coolest aspect of retirement is thinking of places to see and then just deciding when we’ll get there.

We have so many places we still want to see on this continent of ours. We are planning an April excursion that will end up in New Orleans. We’ll hitch up our RV in Amarillo and then haul it to the Hill Country, to the Golden Triangle and then through the Atchafalaya Swamp en route to the Big Easy.

But then the thought came to me tonight: I want to see Monument Valley, Ariz. I told my wife and she agreed, just as I agree with her travel-destination ideas.

I don’t know when we’ll get over there. I am betting it will be soon after we return from New Orleans.

But my point is that retirement has given us the freedom to just think of these places we want to see. All that is left for us to do is decide when to shove off.

Do we have a “bucket list” trip we want to take? You bet we do.

The Big Journey will take place across Canada. Our plans call for us to haul our fifth wheel to Vancouver, British Columbia, from where we will trek east. We intend to haul our RV across Canada, perhaps as far as Nova Scotia. Then we’ll come south along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, visiting friends and family in Virginia and in Washington, D.C.

Yes, retirement for us has opened up so many opportunities. In a strange way all the travel destinations we have laid out before us remind me of how busy my work as an editorial page editor had become, especially after 9/11.

That was the date when all hell broke loose. There was so much on which to comment, my task each morning was to decide which issue we would tackle for the next day’s newspaper edition — and which issues we could set aside for another day.

The United States and Canada comprise between them more than 7.5 million square miles. Surely that means we have enough destinations awaiting us to last for the rest of our lives.

Happy Trails, Part 135: Staying ‘flexible’

Time for an acknowledgment: Retirement hasn’t swallowed so much of my time that I am unable to relax . . . at least not yet.

I’ve heard fellow retirees say, “I’m busier now that I am retired than I ever was when I was working for a living.” Hmm. Well, that’s still a foreign concept to me.

Don’t misunderstand. I like the flexibility that retirement builds into my daily life.

We met friends for dinner last night. One of them asked what plans we had for the following day. Our short answer? None; we’re retired!

So it goes for my wife and me these days.

It’s a marvelous feeling in so many ways.

For instance, we had a house-shopping appointment scheduled for Monday. We had to postpone because something had come up. “Is that OK with you?” came the question. Sure it is. I didn’t say at the time, but retirement gives all the flexibility in the world.

The day might arrive — maybe soon — when I will find things to occupy most of my waking hours. There could be volunteer opportunities that appeal to me. That day could be just around the corner. Or it might be a long way off.

It doesn’t matter to me when, or if, that day arrives. For the moment and maybe forever I am enjoying not having to answer to anyone — other than my bride.

Time of My Life, Part 12: Whom or whether to ‘endorse’

We have entered an era of enhanced distrust or mistrust of the media. That wasn’t always the case and I was proud to practice a craft that the public held in much higher regard than it does now.

We weren’t universally adored and admired, but come election time we had politicians lining up — quite literally — waiting for a chance to be interviewed by those of us who comprised an “editorial board.” They sought our “endorsement” for the campaign they were waging for whatever public office was on the line.

It’s a bit different these days. Politicians are forgoing those meetings with editorial boards. The most memorable “snub” occurred in 2010 when Texas Gov. Rick Perry decided he wouldn’t speak to any editorial boards in the state. He said he preferred to take his re-election message “directly to the people.” We got the message. What did we do? The Amarillo Globe-News decided to invite his Democratic Party challenger, former Houston Mayor Bill White, to talk to us. White accepted. He came to Amarillo and sat down for an hour or so talking about issues affecting his campaign and the state.

The paper then recommended White for election as governor. We were far from alone. However, judging from the response we got from our readers, you would have thought we had just endorsed Satan himself. The anger was palpable based on the mail we got from our heavily Republican-leaning readership.

It didn’t matter. Gov. Perry was re-elected in a breeze. And he established a trend for others to follow:

Ernst follows Perry model: Who needs editorial boards?

One of the more fascinating after effects of these editorial endorsement interviews — particularly with candidates running for local offices — was that every election cycle proved to be a learning experience for me. I always learned something at some level about the community where I lived that I didn’t know. Whether it was in Oregon City, Ore., or Beaumont or Amarillo in Texas, I learned something new about the community.

I was able to interview candidates who were invested deeply in their communities and they would share their often heartfelt experiences growing up there. I tried to take something new away from those encounters. Did I learn all there was to know about Clackamas County, Ore., or the Golden Triangle or the High Plains region? No. However, I did know a lot more about all those areas when I left them than I knew going in.

I was privileged to meet a future president of the United States, U.S. senators, members of the U.S. House, movers and shakers of all stripes, men and women who wanted to serve on city councils, or county commissions, they sought legislative office, various statewide public offices, school boards . . . you name it, we met ’em.

It always was a privilege to get to know these individuals, even those who weren’t serious in their quest. Believe me, we encountered our share of those as well.

They were willing to subject themselves to the grilling we provided them. They withstood our sometimes-difficult questions. There is something good to be said about them, too — and the process in which we all took part.

Lt. Gov. Patrick in line for a job with Trump? Oh, let’s hope so

What little I know about Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune — and it’s really not all that much — I am inclined to believe he doesn’t toss rumors out there just to make a spectacle of himself.

So, when he wrote this in an analysis published by the Tribune, I kind of sat up a little straighter in my chair:

“(Lt. Gov. Dan) Patrick’s visit to Washington sparked a rumor that he might be in line for a post in the Trump administration — a rumor that prompted speculation about how the legislative session would go with senators choosing his replacement from among their own ranks. That hasn’t happened since George W. Bush became president and then-Lt. Gov. Rick Perry succeeded him as governor. Senators made Bill Ratliff the lieutenant governor until the next election.”

Then Ramsey offered this: “Scratch all that.”

Read Ramsey’s analysis here.

Patrick met the president in McAllen earlier this week and offered to help him build The Wall along our border with Mexico. He said Texas could pony some of the $5.7 billion that Trump wants to spend.

So, what would that mean if Patrick gets whisked off to D.C. to serve in the Trump administration? That would allow senators to select a new lieutenant governor. I know one of those 31 senators pretty well: Republican Kel Seliger of Amarillo, who I believe would make an outstanding lieutenant governor.

He calls himself a “conservative,” but he sounds more, shall we say, moderate than some of the righties who populate the Texas Senate. That is fine with me. For instance, I cannot imagine a Lt. Gov. Seliger pushing a “Bathroom Bill” through the Senate to make some sort of statement to appease cultural conservatives within the Texas GOP Senate caucus.

I’ve known Seliger for nearly 25 years. He and I have developed a good relationship. I was editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News and he was Amarillo mayor when we first met in early 1995. He then left City Hall and was elected to the Senate in 2004 after the late Teel Bivins received an ambassadorial post from President Bush.

I have long supported Seliger’s work as a state senator.

Would he make a good lieutenant governor? Of course he would! I realize I am getting way ahead of myself. Lt. Gov. Patrick likely isn’t going anywhere.

Then again . . . my hope springs eternal.

Decency, reason prevail at Tarrant County GOP

Shahid Shafi still has his volunteer job, thanks to the reason and decency that prevailed at the Tarrant County Republican Party’s special meeting.

Shafi survived a vote tonight that sought to remove him from his post as county GOP vice chairman. Did he do anything wrong? Was there malfeasance? A hint of corruption? Did he steal money from the coffer? Is he guilty of any moral misbehavior?

Oh, no. He was targeted because of his Muslim faith by a group of malcontents, bigots, xenophobes and cretins who comprise a small, but vocal minority of the Tarrant County GOP.

Decency wins the day

The 133-49 vote to retain Dr. Shafi as Republican Party vice chair came after many local and state Republican leaders denounced the effort to have him removed. Among them were Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

One of the ringleaders of this idiotic effort was Dorrie O’Brien, a local precinct chairwoman who sought to make the case that Shafi, a trauma surgeon and Southlake City Council member, was unfit because of supposed support for Islamic terrorist organizations. She said it had nothing to do with his Islamic faith. What utter crap!

Gov. Abbott took pains to note that the Texas Constitution mirrors the U.S. Constitution by declaring that there should be “no religious test” for anyone seeking or holding public office.

The bigoted cabal that sought Dr. Shafi’s ouster should take heed. If they fail to grasp what both governing documents say, they have no basis for their own service.

They, not Dr. Shafi, should be shown the door.

A glimmer of good news from the government shutdown

I have to share this bit of good news involving the partial government shutdown.

It comes in the form of a mortgage payment from a former pro football player who once fell on hard times himself.

Ryan Leaf was the No. 2 pick in the NFL in the late 1980s out of Washington State University. He didn’t do well as a pro, playing just 25 games before being released. He knocked around here and there.

One of his jobs was as an assistant coach at West Texas A&M University in Canyon. Then he got into trouble with drugs. He was forced to resign as quarterbacks coach at WT.  Leaf was sentenced to 10 years of probation and fined heavily. He is clean now.

Well, he heard about the plight of a Tennessee family caught in the government shutdown. Taylor Futch sent out a tweet explaining that her husband, a park ranger with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, was being furloughed. The couple couldn’t pay their January mortgage installment.

Leaf heard about it. He stepped up to pay the couple’s January mortgage. Leaf sent the Futches a tweet of his own, saying that his father was a game warden in Montana. He offered to make the payment and then wished the family a “Merry Xmas.”

Futch said she wasn’t soliciting for help. She sent the Twitter message out merely to explain how the shutdown is having an impact on her family.

However, she got an unexpected — but welcome — hand from a one-time football star.

Well done, Ryan Leaf.

Panhandle-Plains museum in peril?

Reports emanating from the Texas Panhandle have alarmed me greatly.

The Texas Observer, a progressive publication based in Austin, reports that the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum is in trouble. It might close its doors. The PPHM needs money, lots of it. The Texas Legislature has cut back on its funding levels for what is considered to be the state’s finest historical museum.

Please, I do not want this jewel to close. I want it to survive. I have no clue as to how this can be done, other than to implore the Texas Panhandle community to step up, dig deeply and find it within its means to keep the doors open.

I no longer live in the Panhandle but my interest in this marvelous exhibit remains strong.

The PPHM sits on the West Texas A&M University campus in Canyon, about 15 miles south of Amarillo. My wife and I have been through it many times over many years. Everyone who visited us when we lived in Amarillo got a tour of the PPHM, and every one of our visitors came away greatly impressed by its quality.

The Texas Standard, affiliated with National Public Radio, reports:

Rose Cahalan is managing editor of the Observer and the author of that story, and she says Panhandle-Plains is the largest history museum in Texas by size and by number of artifacts.

“They’ve got about 3 million [artifacts],” Cahalan says. “Even if you’ve never visited, you’ve likely seen their artifacts. … Other museums draw on them all the time.”

She says several museum professionals she spoke to for the story consider it to be a world-class museum.

This is probably small comfort for the PPHM, but the Texas Standard reports that other university-affiliated museums are experiencing cuts in legislative financing: Panhandle-Plains isn’t the only university-affiliated museum dealing with funding woes.

According to the Texas Standard:  The Texas Memorial Museum on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin is struggling, too. Cahalan says that museum lost all of its funding from UT in 2013, and its director told her that he’s merely trying “to keep the doors open” these days. But she says the situation at Panhandle-Plains isn’t quite as dire, at least not yet.

The PPHM issued a statement via Facebook saying it is not closing, but acknowledged that funding levels have declined. The museum is preparing a new budget, the statement said.

I do hope the museum survives. The Texas Panhandle needs this exhibit to show off its rich history — under one roof.