Tag Archives: AGN Media

Amarillo goes smoke-free … without a city ordinance

I feel like revisiting an issue that some years ago got a lot of Amarillo, Texas, residents all fired up.

I am referring to smoking indoors.

Over the years I have discovered something curious — and quite welcome — about the city where my wife and I live. It’s damn near impossible to find an eating establishment that still allows indoor smoking.

I haven’t been to every single such establishment in the city, so this isn’t a declaration of fact. It is a perception that has dawned on me.

City residents twice in recent years rejected municipal referendums calling for a citywide ban on indoor smoking. The calls for a city ordinance came from the medical community that sought to mandate that business owners order customers to keep their smokes unlit while they ate and drank indoors.

I worked during at least one of those elections for the Amarillo Globe-News. Our newspaper’s editorial policy opposed the mandate. We stated our preference for business owners to do the right thing without being forced to do so by the government.

I gritted my teeth while writing editorials taking that position. My personal preference — and it remains so to this day — was that the city should put residents’ health first. Second-hand smoke is dangerous to those who inhale it. What’s more, a former city councilman — a physician — once admitted to me that his personal preference was to enact a smoke-free ordinance, but that he didn’t want to be the sole vote on the five-member governing panel.

But now, years later, my wife and I are still eating out on occasion. We have discovered that none of the establishments we frequent allow indoor smoking. Indeed, some of these businesses — which formerly allowed it — have gone smoke-free on their own. Imagine that! It turns out that the newspaper’s opposition to was on the mark.

A couple of well-known places along Historic Route 66 have gone smoke-free. I interviewed one business owner while working part-time for KFDA NewsChannel 10 and learned that although she opposed the ordinance she was adamantly opposed to smoking inside her restaurant.

This is all my way of paying tribute to those business owners who have stayed true to their conscience while improving the health climate for their customers.

I am pretty certain some readers of this blog are going to remind me that there remain some joints around the city that still allow smoke to billow from stogies and cigarettes.

Fine. I just can’t find them. I prefer it that way.

Build the ballpark, the stores will come

I got a glimpse of a headline on Amarillo.com that reveals how the retail space in the newly built parking garage on Buchanan Street in downtown Amarillo likely will remain empty for the foreseeable future.

I couldn’t read the whole story because the pay wall popped up; since I don’t subscribe to the Amarillo Globe-News, I couldn’t read it.

The retail spots are going to remain empty until the ballpark gets closer to completion, which is about all I could see of the story.

I am reminded of the line from “A Field of Dreams,” where the Kevin Costner character is told, “If you build it, they will come.”

So it well could be when they break ground on the multipurpose event venue, aka The Ballpark. The MPEV is taking shape as a sort of “field of dreams” for city, business and civic leaders who consider the project to be the gateway to a brighter future for Amarillo.

I happen to agree with that view.

Thus, it doesn’t worry me in the least that the garage’s ground floor row of retail space will remain empty for the time being. It makes sense.

Why install an establishment that won’t reap the reward until after the MPEV is open for business and attracting crowds into the downtown business/entertainment district?

If that’s the prevailing theory, then it makes perfect sense to yours truly.

I remain optimistic — and you can remove the “cautiously” qualifier from that description — about the future of the MPEV and its impact on Amarillo.

The Local Government Corp. has negotiated a deal to bring a AA minor-league baseball franchise to the city. They’ll break ground soon on the MPEV. It will open no later than April 2019, just in time for some hardball to be played.

The MPEV will be built. I remain quite confident that the retailers will come.

Happy Trails, Part 58

Here it comes.

My wife and I are about to enter a critical new phase in our post-retirement journey.

This is big, man! Huge! There’s no turning back from this one!

Very soon, movers are coming to our house and are going to haul our possessions off to a storage unit in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

Why is this so huge? Well, it means we have nowhere other than our recreational vehicle to sleep at night. It means we’re officially living in our RV. It becomes officially a full-time gig.

We are parked at an RV park just off of Interstate 40.

Once we clear this next big hurdle, which will be … uh … very soon, then we commence the next big challenge. That will involve getting a real estate agent to the house to give us a candid assessment of what we should ask for the place we used to call “home.”

Retirement came in an unexpected fashion to me. It arrived five years ago in a moment I was only half-expecting. I smelled a rat when my employer announced a “reorganization” effort was underway. When I learned that the “new direction” my employer was going wouldn’t include me, I resigned immediately. Then I worked a few part-time gigs, even as I applied for Social Security retirement income commencing when I turned 66.

As I look back on that moment in my life, I realize now how simple it was to transition from full-time to part-time work. There were plenty of opportunities for me to pursue elements of the career I had enjoyed for nearly four decades.

None of it matched the challenge that is about to come our way as we prepare to vacate permanently the house where we lived for 21 years.

Here, though, is the really good news: I am ready for it.

‘Living the dream,’ really and truly

We’ve all either said it or heard it said by someone else.

“How’s it going for you?”

“I’m living the dream, man.”

We know that the “living the dream” quip is meant usually as a bit of self-deprecation. When I say it, though, I mean it. I am not making fun of myself. I truly am living the dream.

The dream includes coming and going (more or less) as I please; my wife of 46-plus years has a bit to say about that, but she’s not terribly demanding of my time.

Today I got a chance to speak to an Amarillo, Texas service organization. Someone from that group was familiar with this blog; he said he reads it “fairly regularly” and likes a lot of what I write. He admitted he’s not too keen on the political stuff that spews from High Plains Blogger. I get that. I live in the middle of Republican-Red Trump Country and this blog is decidedly not cast from that mold.

He likes to read the retirement posts, entries about my precious granddaughter, about Toby the Puppy and the other “life experience” matters that grab my attention from time to time.

So he asked me to speak to his service club. I did so. I got to boast — if you want to call it that — about the indisputable fact that there truly is life after journalism.

I pursued print journalism singularly for nearly 37 years, I told these good folks. I gave them the extremely short version of how that fruitful and moderately successful career came to an end at the Amarillo Globe-News on Aug. 31, 2012. I told them about how Mom and Dad suggested journalism to me at the dinner table one night in 1970 shortly after I returned home from the Army and was getting ready to go back to college.

I then told them a bit about my career and how I enjoyed it so greatly for almost its entire length of time.

But that was then. The here and now allows me to write this blog and to express myself beholden only to my own conscience. I no longer work for The Man.

Thus, I am living the dream. It’s no put-down, either.

‘W’ takes off the muzzle

I don’t know Amarillo resident James Whitaker, the author of a brief letter to the editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

The letter included this passage:

What disturbs me is that during eight years of President Barack Obama’s administration, and the reversal of many of President Bush’s actions, Bush said nothing. But now he comes out and attacks this current president?

I think I might have an answer for this gentleman.

President Bush was quiet because President Obama conducted himself with grace and dignity during his two terms in office. Yes, he was critical of Bush administration policies and, yes, he sought to reverse some of his immediate predecessor’s policies.

Obama also was quite gracious toward Bush as the men conducted a relatively seamless transition from one administration to another. He thanked Bush publicly on multiple occasions for the cooperation he delivered during that transition after the 2008 election.

President Obama also made a point of telling the world that the first phone call he made after U.S. special ops forces were out of harm’s way after the mission that killed Osama bin Laden was to President Bush.

George W. Bush’s recent criticism of Donald J. Trump was aimed at the sheer coarseness of the political debate that has been generated ever since Trump entered the political arena back in June 2015.

President Bush was the first leading politician to declare after 9/11 that “we are not at war against Islam.” Donald Trump has all but turned aside that notion with his continual attacks on Islam and those who practice it.

What’s more, Trump’s insults against the former president’s brother, one-time GOP primary campaign opponent Jeb Bush, surely has weighed on W’s mind.

I am one who found the former president’s remarks recently about the current president to be on the mark. They were cogent and they accurately portrayed the divisive nature of Donald Trump’s effort to govern the United States.

Here’s the former president’s recent remarks that provide a barely veiled reference to the current president.

I believe President Bush makes his case with precision.

DQs to close? How will these communities cope?

Diary Queen is a staple of the first order in towns all across the Texas Panhandle.

The fast-food drive-in serves as a community gathering place. Its standing rivals that of local high schools on Friday night during fall football season … if you get my drift.

The company has announced, though, plans to close a large number of its restaurants. I heard today that nine possible closures include those that are scattered in small towns across the Panhandle.

I’m actually wondering if the corporate moguls who run the DQ chain understand what they’re about to do to many of these communities. They’re going to cut the heart and guts out of many of them.

Dairy Queen has made such a huge imprint in these towns that the Amarillo Globe-News sports department — when compiling information for its seasonal football supplement — would conduct what it called its annual “DQ Tour” across the Panhandle. Reporters and photographers would fan out across the region to interview coaches and student-athletes for the publication.

I’ll concede that I actually never lived in communities such as Clarendon, Perryton, Dumas or Dalhart — towns that are included on the potential DQ hit list. However, 22 years living in the Panhandle has given me a pretty good understanding of life outside of Amarillo.

In many towns across our sprawling landscape, that life includes gathering at Dairy Queen.

***

I now want to share a brief anecdote I heard from a former Amarillo resident; it involves the DQ in Tulia. I don’t think the person who told this story to me will mind my sharing it here.

George and Judy Sell used to reside in Amarillo; they moved away some years ago. George Sell once told me that he and his wife were married on the same day as their good friends, Pete and the late Nelda Laney of Hale Center; Pete Laney, you might recall is the former speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

The Sells and the Laneys, George Sell told me, would meet annually on their shared wedding anniversary at the Dairy Queen in Tulia, which is roughly equidistant between Amarillo and Hale Center.

Right there is how you measure DQ’s importance to a community.

I saw the list of potential Panhandle sites to close. I didn’t see Tulia on it. Still, I see potential emotional crises on the horizon in many other Texas Panhandle communities.

Be strong, y’all.

Judge to step aside … and avoid a donnybrook

Texans love electing officials to public office. Even judges.

We elect them on partisan labels, which I’ve long hated. But in more than 30 years watching judicial races unfold in Texas, it’s rare to find an incumbent judge who’s doing a good job on the bench receive three challengers in a partisan primary contest.

Accordingly, the news that Randall County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Ronnie Walker will forgo a re-election campaign next year shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

He had three challengers awaiting him next spring. The very idea that Judge Walker would attract such an aggressive primary opposition made me wonder immediately: What has he done to incur this challenge?

We won’t have to answer that question directly as the Republican Party primary campaign for Court at Law No. 2 develops. The challengers won’t have Judge Ronnie Walker to kick around.

If I were still in the daily print journalism game, I would be inclined to ask all the challengers precisely why they chose to run against an incumbent judge. Randall and Potter County political history has revealed to me an extreme reluctance among the local bar association to challenge incumbents who are doing a good — if not great — job in administering justice.

An incumbent generally is doing a bad job on the bench to draw the number of challengers that Ronnie Walker attracted. That’s at least what I’ve noted over many years watching Texas judicial campaigns.

As the Amarillo Globe-News reported: Walker said he would “continue to maintain the high standards and quality of my court” through his term, which ends Dec. 31, 2018.

“I will always appreciate the support and confidence of the people of Randall County who voted me in office beginning Jan. 2, 2007, as the first and only judge of the newly created Randall County Court at Law No. 2,” he wrote in his statement. “Randall County jurors are the greatest, possessing an ideal blend of attentiveness, logic, reasonableness and fairness.”

Still, the question lingers: What — if anything — did this guy do to attract such a vigorous primary challenge?

Let’s get real: mend, not end, 2nd Amendment

I’m hearing a lot of chatter throughout my social media network about how the United States should end the carnage of gun violence.

Las Vegas’s tragedy has awakened us yet again to this horrifying aspect of modern American society. Fifty-eight victims, all attending a music festival, were shot to death in an act of insanity by a monster perched on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. Five hundred-plus more were injured; some of them are in critical condition.

The debate has been joined throughout many social and other media.

I am hearing significant chatter about how Australia managed to clamped down on firearm ownership in the wake of a 1996 mass shooting. The Aussies have been massacre-free ever since. Other countries prohibit the purchase of firearms. Let’s model our firearm policy after those countries, the argument goes.

I happen to believe in the Second Amendment, awkward phrasing and all. I believe it says that Americans have the constitutional right to “keep and bear arms.” I get that.

However, I also believe there must be a solution to improving the Second Amendment. How can we preserve its principle while legislating within its framework stricter laws that make it illegal for civilians to own fully automatic assault weapons like the one used in Las Vegas by that madman? Isn’t there a solution to be found somewhere, somehow, by someone smart enough to draft a law that maintains the Second Amendment principle of keeping and bearing arms?

As my friend Jon Mark Beilue has noted in a wonderful column published today in the Amarillo Globe-News, other amendments in the Bill of Rights have limitations. He cites the First, Fifth and Sixth amendments. The Second Amendment, though, remains untouchable mostly because of entrenched political interests groups — I’m talking about you, National Rifle Association, among others — who bully and pressure members of Congress to keep their hands off that amendment.

Check out Beliue’s essay here.

Can we get past the overheated rhetoric that flares up when these tragedies strike? If we can, then perhaps we can find a solution to mend the Second Amendment. Don’t tell me that such a reach is beyond our collective grasp.

Huge municipal resource calls it a career

They came on a rainy evening to honor a man who’s given four decades of his life to public service.

I was one of the hundreds of Amarillo residents who flocked tonight to a brand new hotel downtown to honor Gary Pitner. I didn’t get too much face time with my friend, as he was pretty busy schmoozing with a lot of others in the reception room.

But I do want to write a few good words about this fellow I’ve known almost from Day One upon my arrival around the corner from his office. In January 1995 I came to work as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. Almost immediately I came to know the executive director of the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission. That would be Pitner.

The PRPC is a bit of a mystery to a lot of folks. Its duties include coordinating a whole array of issues involving communities throughout the 26 counties that comprise the Texas Panhandle. Pitner has worked as head of PRPC for 32 of his 40 years in local government.

So, why the big outpouring of affection, respect and admiration for this fellow who’s retiring from his lengthy career that sought to make our communities better? It’s because he was so good at it. Moreover, he became the go-to guy years ago when it came to Amarillo’s future growth issues.

There was some discussion this evening at the Embassy Suites hotel, where the retirement reception took place, that Pitner’s presence at PRPC positioned him to become a huge player in the downtown Amarillo planning. He became a voice of wisdom and knowledge; some have suggested he became the voice of all that.

Pitner never would presume to know all there is to know. I’ll say what he won’t say about himself: He knows a lot about this city’s history and how it arrived in the present day. He also is able to offer knowledgeable analysis about where he believes the city is heading and how it ought to get to the finish line.

I’m happy for my friend that he’s entering this next phase of his life. He’s still a young man and has much to offer anyone who’s looking for knowledge about local government.

He stood up to his armpits in downtown planning, in water conservation, in urban growth planning, in reasonable land use. He became a valuable resource for municipal, county and state officials who were looking for a strong base of knowledge about Amarillo and the Panhandle.

Pitner possesses all of that.

I am proud to have known him professionally and am proud to call him a friend. I did manage to speak a fundamental truth to Pitner this evening during my too-brief visit with him.

“There are damn few people I would drive all the way downtown in this hideous weather to pay respects to at an event like this,” I told him. Pitner laughed.

Go ahead and laugh, Gary. But here’s the deal: I wasn’t kidding.

About the Constitution’s ‘simplicity’

The Amarillo Globe-News published a brief editorial this morning. Two elements contained within it compel me to respond. Here’s the editorial:

Sunday was Constitution Day — the day set aside for celebrating the anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.

Allow us to present a few facts about the U.S. Constitution, which more than likely are not in history books.

The phrase “separation of church and state” is not in the U.S. Constitution.

The concept of marriage is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, much less the authority of government to require marriage licenses.

The U.S. Constitution is the oldest and shortest of written, national constitutions. There is probably a reason for this — simplicity. The document was written in clear and concise language.

It is too bad these facts about the U.S. Constitution are forgotten — or ignored — today.

I love the U.S. Constitution as much as the next guy. Maybe more so. Allow me this brief rejoinder.

The Constitution doesn’t need to use the phrase “separation of church and state” to make this point abundantly clear. The First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” Is that clear enough? I believe the intent in that clause is to separate church from the state.

Nor does the Constitution need to insert the term “marriage,” either. I am guessing the G-N is suggesting that same-sex marriage, which the U.S. Supreme Court has sanctioned, isn’t covered by the nation’s founding governing document; the G-N opposes the court’s decision. You see, the 14th Amendment provides “equal protection under the law” for all Americans. That includes marriage, by golly.

If we’re going to parse the Constitution’s language, let’s also note that it doesn’t mention the words “murder,” or “extortion” “bank robbery,” let alone does it say specifically that those activities should be deemed illegal.

I do agree that the founders wrote a fairly simple and declarative document when they created the United States of America. They didn’t need to clutter it up with a lot of do’s and don’ts to make clear what’s allowed.