Category Archives: local news

How must governments define ‘personnel’ matters?

I won’t take credit for this idea. It comes from a reader of this blog and a frequent critic of local government in Amarillo, Texas.

My friend wonders whether the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees should examine carefully its policy of declining to comment on “personnel matters” when the matter involves an elected member of the governing board.

The Parents for Transparency Coalition is seeking answers from the school board on an array of issues. The coalition believes the board and senior administration are too opaque in their conduct of public business.

I need to revisit the resignation of the Amarillo High volleyball coach. Kori Clements resigned her post after asserting that a parent had interfered with her coaching decisions. The parent allegedly was a member of the school board. Renee McCown, the now former trustee, resigned. Still, the board has declined to comment on the matter, citing the “personnel” policy as prohibiting them from making any public comment.

I’ll ask the question: Is a school trustee “employed” by the district? Does the trustee’s reticence and the board’s reluctance to comment fall under that personnel-related policy? I tend to view the elected trustee as someone who is distinctly different from the paid administrators, faculty and staff.

I agree with my friend, who said: Someone needs to mount a legal challenge to determine whether a board member is “personnel” and the state press association needs to lobby for changes in the way public personnel are protected under the sunshine laws.

Therein might lie the Parents for Transparency Coalition’s opening to seek — and hopefully get — more transparency from its local public school district.

That’s a pretty good starting point.

Red-lights cameras can stay … at least for a while

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that I wish he hadn’t signed. It was a bill that disallows cities from deploying red-light cameras to aid in enforcing traffic safety laws.

Ah, but here’s an interesting catch: An amendment to the bill approved by the Legislature allows cities to keep the cameras operating until their current vendor contracts expire. That means that while cities can terminate contracts for cause, they also can keep them operating for the length of the contract.

One city that has the cameras in place is Amarillo. I strongly supported Amarillo’s decision to use the devices to deter motorists from running red lights. I also strongly support the city’s apparent decision to stay the course until its contract with the vendor runs out.

Amarillo’s contract with American Traffic Solutions expires in September 2022. So, for more than three more years the city will be able to rely on the cameras to be on guard against lawbreakers when the police are looking the other way.

Unlike some cities knuckled under to some critics of the devices, Amarillo recently expanded the deployment locations, believing it had identified troublesome intersections; it did remove the cameras at some other intersections as well.

So, it’s a good-news, bad-news sort of thing. Some cities will get to keep the devices on duty for the length of their contracts; that’s the good news.

The bad news is that the contracts will expire eventually.

Then what? Will these Texas communities’ motorists and pedestrians be exposed to those who just don’t bother to follow the instructions to stop when the street signals turn red?

Loop 335 to take center stage yet again

Take a gander at this picture, notably the sign identifying Helium Road. It’s in far west Amarillo, Texas. It runs north-south west of Soncy Road.

Eventually, Helium Road is going to become a very important thoroughfare for the region, just as Soncy Road was supposed to be when it was built so many years ago.

The Texas Department of Transportation recently had one of those ceremonial groundbreaking events signifying the eventual start of construction along Helium Road. TxDOT is going to turn Helium into a newly relocated Loop 335, which circles Amarillo.

Loop 335’s western section now runs along Soncy Road. It has been a serious puzzle to me for years. When TxDOT built Soncy, it did not create a thoroughfare that allows motorists to use the loop as it should have been used: as a way to bypass city traffic.

Soncy Road has become, well, just another busy street. Starting at Interstate 40 and heading south, traffic often slows to a crawl with motorists pulling in and out of strip malls, business malls, a couple of major automobile dealerships, restaurants and a newly developed residential complex.

Loop 335 does not exist as a loop the way, for example, Loop 289 exists in Lubbock. Loop 289 is a raised highway that circles Lubbock; there is limited access on and off the loop. It functions as a bypass highway.

Loop 335 as it has been allowed to develop has turned into something quite different at least along that westernmost quadrant.

Well, Helium Road is about to be torn to pieces. TxDOT will extend the loop past Soncy and run it along Helium. There will be serious disruption along Helium. Indeed, there exists an RV park where my wife and I often stay when we return to Amarillo in our fifth wheel; the RV park sits right on Helium Road, just north of I-40.

So, I’ve got a bit of skin in that particular game.

I don’t know when the work will begin. Nor do I know how long it will take. I am quite certain that Amarillo motorists who have grown weary of the incessant interstate highway construction on I-40 and I-27 will be gnashing their teeth once the work starts on the “new” Loop 335.

My best advice? It’s not much but it’s the best I can do.

Be, um, very patient.

Dallas crime spike prompts needed state response

This is a story that piques my interest a bit more these days, given that I now live at the doorstep of a major American city.

Dallas has seen a huge spike in violent crime. Transgender women in particular have been killed at an alarming rate. The city registered 40 homicides in the past month, the greatest amount since the 1990s.

Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the Department of Public Safety into the fray, sending Texas Rangers — the elite DPS investigative arm — to assist in trying to solve these crimes.

It’s the kind of story we don’t hear too much about, but it’s quite obviously a serious problem that one might say is approaching crisis mode.

I am unaware of any extra precautions my community, Princeton, is taking in the wake of this major uptick in criminal activity. Then, of course, we have our granddaughter living even closer to Big D, with her parents and older brother. Yes, we worry about them, too — which quite obviously goes without saying.

Now, though, stories such as major-city crime spikes such as what is occurring in Dallas make us pay just a little more attention.

By all means, Gov. Abbott, send in the DPS to help the local cops.

N.Y. bans de-clawing of cats . . . really?

As a longtime cat parent and lover of felines, I must object vociferously to a new law that might go into the books in New York.

The law would ban the de-clawing of cats. Yes. That is correct. In New York, you could face a fine of as much as $1,000 if you remove your kitty’s claws because you fear the cat would destroy your furniture or, worse, scratch your children or grandchildren.

New York would be the first state to ban this procedure.

I’ll stipulate that my wife and I are not parents to cats at the moment. We have a pooch, Toby the Puppy, about whom you’ve read plenty on this blog. However, we’ve long loved cats and have welcomed many of them into our home over many years.

Our most recent pair of cats, Socks and Mittens, were siblings who lived with us for more than 12 years. They were the first two kitties we had de-clawed. Why? They were climbing up our curtains. I admit we had resisted de-clawing previous cats because, well, we had this fear that it would do them harm. Socks and Mittens, though, pushed us past our limit. We had it done.

OK, did the procedure — which involved just their front paws — inhibit them in any way? Hah! Hardly!

They were able to climb trees. They were able to climb our six-foot cedar fence in our backyard. They were able to defend themselves against marauding cats and even the occasional pooch that ventured onto our property. They hunted squirrels and birds. They were excellent mouse catchers as well.

Every veterinarian I’ve ever talked to about this has said the same thing: De-clawing cats doesn’t do them harm. They are able to adjust to life without front claws. They are able to fight using their rear claws. They dig in with their rear paws to climb trees, jump fences and scamper about the way cats are born to do.

I understand that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is going to “review the bill” before deciding whether to sign it. I hope Gov. Cuomo vetoes it.

A change coming to Amarillo ISD board? One can hope

I am going to rely on my friend and former colleague Jon Mark Beilue’s assessment on this one, as he is much closer physically to the matter than I am.

He posted a note on Facebook today that wonders whether there’s a sea change coming up on the Amarillo Independent School District board with the upcoming resignation of yet another trustee.

Renee McCown is expected to leave the board soon. She becomes the second trustee to resign in recent weeks. Two other board members were elected in early May. Yet another trustee did not seek re-election.

McCown, as I’ve noted already, is at the center of the current tumult that is roiling the district. Here is Beilue’s post, which lays out the situation nicely:

https://www.facebook.com/jon.beilue/posts/10214030339253125

In short, Beilue fears that the AISD board will remain shrouded in secrecy. It needed to clear the air over the accusation leveled against the board and senior school system administrators in the resignation letter submitted by former Amarillo High girls volleyball coach Kori Clements. It did not. The board, in my view, disserved the district and the people it serves.

A significant new majority is about to comprise the AISD board of trustees. Five of the seven members on the board have been replaced by a districtwide election and by two resignations tendered since that election.

As for Renee McCown, her apparent departure from the board will give her the opportunity to speak for herself about whether she was the parent who hassled the former Amarillo High coach to the point of forcing her out of what should have been the job of her dreams.

There needs to be a reckoning.

I am hoping for the best, but fearing that my friend who’s closer to the epicenter than I am has a better feel for how this drama is going to play out.

It’s now law: Cities cannot use technology to deter lawbreakers

Texas has taken a step back to where it was until the Legislature decided to allow cities to use technology to assist police in deterring those who break the law.

Count me as one Texan who’s disappointed in this decision.

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed legislation that now prohibits cities from deploying red-light cameras to catch those who disobey signals’ directions to stop. Abbott listened to the complainers who said the cameras are — and this just kills me — unconstitutional, that they disallow motorists busted by the devices to “confront their accuser.”

The owners of the vehicles that are busted can appeal the fines levied by municipal courts, which gives them the chance to confront the government.

Princeton, where I live, does not use the devices. Neither do neighboring cities Allen and McKinney. Denton, which is about 30 miles west on U.S. 380, uses the devices.

The Legislature did allow for cities to keep the cameras operating for the length of their existing contract with the vendors that supply them. After that, they come down!

Cities and towns long have been thought to be the best judge of their own needs. Many cities in Texas have deemed that they need help from these devices to help police in enforcing traffic laws. Why not let the cities make that call? Why not cede “local control” to the cities?

The Legislature doesn’t see it that way. Neither does Gov. Abbott.

I believe they have made a mistake.

This conservative stands on principle … how about that?

Jeff Leach calls himself a true-blue political conservative, an avid pro-life politician who opposes abortion fervently.

The Plano, Texas, state representative, though, does see the wall that separates conviction from political fanaticism.

Such is the case when he withdrew his support for a piece of legislation that was considered in the 2017 Texas Legislature. Leach co-authored a bill two years ago that would have made abortion a crime, it would have made women who obtained them criminals and would have subjected them potentially to the death penalty for terminating a pregnancy.

He pulled his support for the bill in the just-concluded 2019 Legislature. As he told the Dallas Morning News:

“Very candidly, when I signed onto that bill … I did not understand the criminal implications on the woman and the possibility of that woman being convicted of homicide and subjecting her to the death penalty … I think it’s the wrong direction for the pro-life movement in Texas to be criminalizing women and I decided very strongly not to support it this session. And I’m pro-life through and through and will not apologize for that, but this is the wrong direction for the pro-life movement.”

Well. How about that?

The Morning News asked Leach this question: What would you say to purists or idealists who might call that kind of flexibility cowardice instead of compromise?

“It’s not cowardice or compromise, it’s conviction. I am a conservative through and through … My values are deeply rooted. It’s who I am and political strategy and legislation changes, but my core convictions, my core values do not.”

Read the DMN interview here.

I believe Rep. Leach represents one of the struggles occurring within the Republican Party and the conservative movement over this abortion matter.

Several states have enacted strict laws banning abortion. Some of them have criminalized the act, subjecting women who have to make the most difficult decision imaginable to prosecution. And, yes, the death penalty is in play in some of those instances.

Does a politician who proclaims himself to be fervently pro-life then stand by while a woman who — for whatever reason — cannot carry a pregnancy to full term? Does that politician then want to punish that woman by killing her in the name of the state where she ended the pregnancy?

This kind of legislation has drawn considerable reluctance among some GOP politicians who, like Leach, say they are reaching too far.

State Rep. Leach tilts too far to the right to suit my political tastes. On this matter, though, he is demonstrating a commitment to reason and to a higher principle than legislating punishment for women who face decisions that not a single male human being can ever imagine having to face.

AEDC scores big with Bell Helicopter project

The Texas Legislature took a moment before adjourning this week to offer a well-deserved salute to a company that took a gamble that has paid off in a major way.

The company was Bell/Textron, which once used to assemble aircraft in the Fort Worth area. Then in the late 1990s, the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation dangled a significant financial incentive package to lure Bell/Textron away from the Metroplex to the Texas Panhandle.

That was 20 years ago. The Legislature approved a resolution saluting AEDC and Bell/Textron for the decision to relocate to Amarillo. Man, this investment has paid off handsomely.

AEDC lured Bell/Textron to Amarillo with an incentive totaling around $45 million. It included tax abatements and free land next to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. Bell/Textron took the bait and built a plant where it assembles V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, which at the time — and it still is! — was considered a state-of-the-art airplane that can take off like a helicopter and fly like a fixed-wing airplane.

The V-22 has endured some controversy and some tragedy. Planes have crashed, killing service personnel who were aboard. Bell grounded the aircraft while it worked on the issues that caused a particular crash that killed 19 Marines. It fixed the issue.

The plane has been deployed to battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq, where it ferries troops and supplies to and away from the field of combat. It has worked well.

The AEDC incentive that lured Bell to Amarillo drew plenty of criticism, particularly from the Fort Worth area that lost the corporate neighbor. Metroplex media bitched about how Amarillo was essentially bribing companies to relocate to the region.

Well, I believe they were suffering from sour-grape indigestion.

AEDC collects a half-cent on every dollar in sales tax revenue in Amarillo. It banks that money and then uses it for purposes such as the one that brought Bell/Textron to the Panhandle. AEDC sees the money as an investment on job creation. So it has worked. Some projects have paid off better than others. AEDC has had some misfires along the way, to be sure.

However, the Bell/Textron investment has paid off well for the company, as well as for Amarillo and the rest of the Texas Panhandle.

The Marines are still flying the V-22; the Air Force and Army have signed on as well.

There are time when you need to take a gamble in search of a big return. Amarillo’s economic development planners saw the potential of such a gamble . . . and have reaped the reward.

Puppy Tales, Part 70: Learning curve gets a bit steep

You know already how smart Toby the Puppy is, so I won’t belabor that point.

However, our brainy pooch is presenting a bit of a challenge for us.

You see, we just purchased a couple of doors for our home in Princeton, Texas. The front of the house now has a storm door; the rear of our new digs has a combination glass-and-screen door — with a pet entrance!

It’s the pet entrance that is presenting our challenge.

Toby hasn’t yet grasped the concept of how it works. All he has to do is push on it with his nose, or nudge it with one of his front feet for him to walk through it.

He hasn’t gotten it. At least not yet.

It’s been less than a week since we had the doors installed. The way I figured it, though, he was going to get it quickly. As in immediately! Oops, silly me. Toby is making some progress, but he hasn’t yet figured out how this pet door works.

His first attempt was fraught with flinching and resistance. He isn’t resisting it now. He barely blinks as we push him through the pet door. The puppy, though, just isn’t ready to take the initiative.

I consider it to be a sort of canine leap of faith.

I am far from discouraged over Toby the Puppy’s ability to get it.

He will. As I have noted many times already, I consider him to be one of the smartest pooches in history.