Tag Archives: AGN Media

Boone Pickens, maximum polarizing figure, passes from the scene

If the Texas Panhandle ever produced a more polarizing figure than oil and natural gas tycoon T. Boone Pickens, I would be hard-pressed to identify that individual.

Pickens died today at age 91. He had suffered a series of strokes in 2017. His body finally gave out.

Where does one begin to examine the amazing, confounding, controversial life of this extraordinary human being? Be advised that I use the term “extraordinary” to encompass the bad along with the good. Boone Pickens was far from an ordinary business mogul.

He was born in Oklahoma, but gravitated to the Panhandle at an early age. He earned his fortune in Amarillo. Pickens became a towering figure in the region.

Boone Pickens loomed large

To be totally candid, Pickens didn’t always wear his noted standing with grace and dignity. The man could be vicious. He held grudges.

Yes, he had many friends who were loyal to him at all times, even as he declared proverbial war on his adversaries.

I arrived in Amarillo in early 1995 to take up my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I was acutely aware of the feud that Pickens launched against the newspaper. In the late 1980s he launched a boycott of the paper, objecting to the way it covered his business dealings and ostensibly at the way it covered the community.

He formed a group called People Committed to a Better Amarillo Newspaper, or PCBAN. He sought to persuade readers to stop subscribing to the paper; he bullied advertisers to stop buying space in the paper.

Pickens took personal umbrage at the then-publisher of the Globe-News, Jerry Huff, who eventually would be “reassigned” to another property owned by Morris Communications. As Huff exited Amarillo, Pickens displayed his crassness in full view by hanging a “Good bye, Jerry” banner from his office building a few blocks from the Globe-News.

That’s the bad Boone. I had three meetings with him during my time in Amarillo. I never met the man I have just described. Instead, I had the pleasure of meeting the good Boone, who was as charming, funny, erudite as anyone I’ve ever met.

It took a good while to persuade Pickens to come to Amarillo. He continued to harbor hard feelings toward the newspaper. He had departed Amarillo for Dallas years earlier. He kept his sprawling Mesa Vista Ranch in Roberts County and would return there regularly.

Our first meeting went far better than I could have hoped. The second meeting took place at the Civic Center a couple of years later. The third meeting occurred at his opulent ranch while I was on assignment for KFDA NewsChannel 10.

I enjoyed getting to know this individual, who was fond of dropping the names of the rich and powerful.

The last time I saw him, he told me he didn’t get back to Amarillo much, other than to attend funerals of high school classmates and assorted friends. Those visits now are over.

Was he always likable and charming? Oh, no. Someone who earned as many billions of dollars as Boone Pickens did was bound to pummel many adversaries along the way.

However, my limited exposure to this astonishing force of nature remains one of the highlights of my career.

Wishing I could vote in favor of this issue

I am left to endorse a project without having an actual voice in assuring its approval.

The project to which I refer involves an extreme makeover of the Amarillo Civic Center, the renovation of a historic railroad depot across the street from the center and the relocation Amarillo’s City Hall to a suitable existing structure downtown.

But … I cannot vote on it when it comes to a vote. My hope is that the city doesn’t back down from a proposal it will consider.

The bill will be hefty, more than $300 million. The Civic Center needs more convention space and the Cal Farley Coliseum needs a serious upgrade to accommodate more than truck/tractor pulls, hockey and arena football; OK, the coliseum occasionally hosts a concert … but those who’ve been inside understand the need for a serious upgrade.

As for the City Hall relocation, I am a bit torn on this one. One of my social media friends wondered the other day whether the recently vacated Amarillo Globe-News building at Ninth Avenue and Harrison Street might work. I answered him with a “Maybe.” I don’t know how the square footage in the G-N building compares with the current City Hall.

I also remember something that a former Amarillo mayor once said to me about the municipal headquarters. He called it the “ugliest City Hall complex in the United States.” I have to agree that the exterior of the building is pretty damn ugly.

Here’s another potential hiccup: The stone Earth on the municipal complex. How would the city relocate that, if it needed to be relocated? It was a gift to the city from the Globe-News as part of its Celebrate 2000 commemoration back at the turn of the 21st century.

Well, the city is considering a bond issue that I believe it should present to voters in a single package. All or nothing, man! It’s worth doing, in my humble view.

The city might schedule the bond election in May 2020. That would work, too. At least one chronic sorehead has pitched the idea of having it on Presidential Election Day, in November of next year. It shouldn’t matter.

If the city is going to bring maximum public attention to this needed project, residents ought to respond with a hefty vote total.

My only regret is that I cannot cast a vote in favor of this project.

Amarillo would be poised to reap the benefit of a shiny new Civic Center. Let the debate commence.

Hey, Amarillo ISD trustees … you’ve got another issue to ponder

I just read a story about the full complement of Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees getting ready for the upcoming school year.

They’re talking about cohesion, educational excellence and boosting teacher morale. That’s all great. Good luck. I wish you well, even from afar, as I no longer live in Amarillo.

However, the newspaper story I read didn’t mention this little matter that continues to hang over the board of trustees. Let’s call it “administrative transparency.”

The former school board accepted the resignation of a high school volleyball coach from the district’s vaunted Amarillo High School Sandies volleyball program after just a single season. Kori Clements resigned — or, more to the point, was not granted a contract renewal. In her letter of resignation, she said the school board and administration didn’t give her support as sought to fend off the harassment of a meddlesome parent who objected to the way Clements was granting playing to her daughters.

Oh, and then there’s this: The parent in question was herself a school trustee. Oops! Not good! School trustees always should keep their mitts off of educators’ performance of their duties. This one didn’t. The trustee then quit the school board. The episode raised a lot of hackles throughout the AISD athletic community.

However, the board and the administration has remained stone-cold silent on the issues surrounding Clements’ forced resignation.

I mention this because transparency is vital to the running of a public school system. The board and the administration’s silence on this matter has continued to hang over the system. A coalition of parents has formed to demand greater transparency. I happen to believe they have a point.

So … with that, trustees, my suggestion to you as you commence this new academic year is to ensure that all of you allow your district’s educators to do their jobs without meddling, especially from within your ranks.

I am glad you have been made whole with the appointments of two new trustees. Get to work, folks, but do it the right way.

Canyon ISD does the (seemingly) impossible

My jaw dropped when I saw this story on Amarillo.com — the online version of the Amarillo Globe-News: The Canyon Independent School District Board of Trustees has approved a budget that will decrease the tax rate for CISD constituents for the upcoming fiscal year.

What? Huh? How in the world?

I lived in the Canyon ISD for more than two decades. Most of that time I owned a home in southwest Amarillo. The Canyon district reaches into the southernmost portions of Amarillo. I don’t recall ever benefitting from a tax decrease from the governmental entity that comprises the largest portion of property owners’ tax bill.

This is a good deal.

I want to cheer the Canyon public school system that I used to support with my property tax money. It’s not every day when government can make such an announcement.

It’s not that dislike paying taxes. I know they are an essential part of financing the myriad duties we demand of our government. I don’t mind paying federal taxes, or college taxes, or city and county taxes … or public school district taxes.

The good news for my wife and me is that we’re old enough to quality for a Texas homestead exemption that freezes our tax burden.

Still, the news out of Canyon ISD puts a smile on my mug. CISD managed to give its teachers a raise, build a new school, maintain and hopefully improve existing campuses … and decrease the tax burden on the residents who foot the bill.

CISD board president Bruce Cobb called the decrease a “momentous” occasion. That might be a bit of an overstatement … but not by much.

Canadian teen’s loved ones get punched in the gut?

I will have to step aside for any detailed analysis of what the Texas Attorney General’s Office has concluded about the mysterious and heartbreaking death of a Canadian High School senior, Thomas Kelly Brown.

The expert on this tragedy is my friend and former colleague Jon Mark Beilue, who wonders aloud whether how in the world the AG’s office could find that “there is no evidence that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that foul play led to the death of Thomas Kelly Brown.”

He disappeared on Thanksgiving Day 2018. His body was discovered near Lake Marvin. His laptop and other personal belongings were found miles away from where police found Brown’s body.

So … the AG’s office says that Brown did not die as a result of someone doing him harm. No evidence? Good … grief!

As Jon Mark Beilue said in his social media post: These findings go “beyond the pale.”

The powers that be — the AG’s office, the Texas Rangers, the Hemphill County Sheriff’s Office — all need to come up with some plausible explanation for what happened to this young man.

Here is Beilue’s rant. It’s worth your time to read it:

“…There is no evidence that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that foul play led to the death of Thomas Kelly Brown…”

You mean except for the fact that his body was found near Lake Marvin and his vehicle was found miles away with video evidence of it being driven that night, or that his backpack and laptop computer were found several more miles away?

Who wrote this, the Attorney General’s office of Texas or Deputy Barney Fife? Unfortunately, it was the former in an announcement on Wednesday.

As someone while with the Globe-News who wrote multiple stories on Thomas Brown, the Canadian senior who suddenly went missing in the early hours of Thanksgiving 2016, this is beyond the pale.

It is absolutely unconscionable that a reasonable person would not conclude that foul play was involved. This whole case has all but screamed of foul play since the very murky outset. Investigators said time and again they knew it to be foul play, but could not bring sufficient evidence.

Suppose the powers that be go ahead and tell the public exactly why a reasonable person should not conclude foul play was involved? Or is this just a way of throwing up your hands and saying we can’t solve it.

I feel for those closest to Brown in all of this. I can’t imagine what this latest bit of news brings. I could go on and on, but just leave it at this. To paraphrase the AG report: “Any reasonable person can conclude that someone got away with murder in Hemphill County in the death of Thomas Kelly Brown.”

Thomas Brown’s family and all of those who loved him have been kicked squarely in the gut.

Bush library and museum produces a delightful surprise

I made a trip into Dallas today with my brother-in-law to show him the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. But when we walked in I received a peculiar surprise from one of the docents who greeted us.

She asked where we lived. I told her I live in Princeton and said my bro-in-law lives in Dripping Springs. Then I said, apparently with a joking tone in my voice, that I go back a ways with President Bush. “Oh, really?” she answered. “Tell me about that.”

I told her about the time in the spring of 1995, while I was working at the Amarillo Globe-News, I had the chance to interview the then-Texas governor in his State Capitol Building office in Austin. I mentioned that we chatted for more than an hour and that I came away impressed with the governor’s grasp of Texas government policy; he had been elected only a few months earlier and took office that January, the same month I started work as editorial page editor of the Globe-News.

She then told me to fill out a special card and give it to one of the receptionists at the welcome desk. They would forward it to the president’s staff and perhaps, maybe, possibly the former president himself might see it and respond in some personal manner to what I had written on the card.

The card asked for my name, address, phone number, e-mail address and then asked me to tell my “story” on the space provided at the bottom of the card. I mentioned that I interviewed the president, that we chatted for a good while and that it was “one of the highlights of my career.”

I mentioned to the docent that I doubted the president would remember my name, but that he might remember it he were provided some context associated with my name. She agreed, assuring me that President Bush is “very good with names.”

My wife and I visited the exhibit during the Christmas holiday to see a special display provided there. I did not fill out the card that I filled out today. Hence, the surprise at visiting the George W. Bush library and museum.

We shall see if he responds. As I told the docent, “If the president still drank, he is the kind of guy I would love to have a beer with.”

I won’t hold my breath. Still, it was nice to relive that true story.

Amarillo College, city score a winner with free bus rides

When I heard of this news item from up yonder in Amarillo, I’ll admit to a reaction that might seem a bit unflattering.

It was: What took ’em so long to enact this one?

Amarillo City Transit, the public bus transportation system, is soon to offer free transportation for Amarillo College students. The idea is so brilliant yet so simple, I was struck by the length of time it took for someone to pitch it to the City Council.

Who might be the biggest beneficiaries of this initiative? I figure it’s got to be the students who attend classes at AC’s main campus on Washington Street, just south of Interstate 40. You see, parking at that campus has been a serious problem for as long as I can remember.

I have known several AC presidents over many years, starting with Bud Joyner; then along came Fred Williams, Steve Jones, Paul Matney and now Russell Lowery-Hart. They all grappled with the parking nightmare at the main campus, as did the AC Board of Regents. College enrollment grew, but the parking capacity didn’t keep pace.

The way I figure it, if the college and the city promote this new benefit aggressively and effectively, it will fill the buses with students coming into town to attend classes. It also well could alleviate the parking problem with fewer motor vehicles being crammed onto the parking lots and along the city streets surrounding the campus.

I also must admit to a failing of my own. You see, I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News for nearly 18 years and I don’t once recall ever having a discussion with my boss, or the editorial board, or with college administrators and city officials about enacting such a plan for students.

So I’m left to ask while kicking myself in the backside: Why didn’t I think of this idea long ago?

I am hoping this idea works well for the students … as well as for the college.

Perilous times get even more so for newspapers

You’ve known for a time about the state of print journalism around the United States and the world. It’s in peril, man.

The news this week about a mega-merger between two gigantic newspaper chains (they prefer to refer to themselves as “groups,” by the way) tells a grim tale about the state of print journalism.

Gatehouse Media has purchased Gannett Corp. They are merging into a the largest print media company in the country, owning roughly 250 daily newspapers from coast to coast. That’s about one-fifth of all the daily newspapers still functioning in the United States of America.

Gatehouse already has purchased the newspaper where I worked at my last stop, the Amarillo Globe-News way up yonder in the Texas Panhandle. Gatehouse also purchased the rest of Morris Communications’ newspapers as well, including the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. The result of that purchase seems to bode poorly for West Texas readers of both papers, as they appear to be morphing into a sort of regional publication.

If I understand this correctly, the combined media conglomerate will retain the Gannett name, even though the Gatehouse hierarchy will run it. That means the Globe-News and other Gatehouse properties will be known as Gannett papers … I suppose.

Just as in a democratic society, more voters at election time usually bodes well for the state of representative government. With more people casting ballots means elected officials can govern with a stronger mandate. The more the merrier in journalism, too.

There once was a time in this country when the landscape was populated by mom/pop newspaper shops, independent voices that were tied directly to the communities they served. The family-owned organizations were the heart and soul of journalism.

Sure, we had the titans of print journalism industry. The Hearst Corporation (for whom I also worked) was one of them; the New York Times had a group of newspapers, as did the Washington Post, Tribune Media, McClatchy, Cox, Knight-Ridder and Newhouse.

I always put my strongest faith in the community-based newspapers. They told the truth, even when the newspapers’ owners had to attend church, PTA meetings and athletic events with the same folks they might anger with their newspaper coverage. They stood their ground, for the most part, and reported the news truthfully, fairly and without outward bias.

Those organizations are vanishing before our eyes. They are being replaced by even bigger newspaper chains, such as Gannett and Gatehouse. Sure, the big chains purport to be dedicated to their communities … but are they really?

Gatehouse has decimated the staffs at both the Globe-News and the Avalanche-Journal. I understand the same thing has happened in other communities. They are centralizing many of their newsroom functions, such as copy editing and page design.

Does all of that serve each community well? Are they getting the TLC they believe they deserve? Nope!

The new day keeps dawning all over again in print media. The Gatehouse-Gannett merger is likely to take a once-proud industry down yet another road toward an uncertain destination.

I wish my former colleagues well.

Happy Trails, Part 163: Not missing work … in the least

This ain’t exactly a flash, but I’ll offer this note nonetheless.

Retirement has proven to be everything it is cracked up to be — and then some!

I say this as someone who for 37 or so years relished my craft as few others have done. It’s not that I was a brilliant print journalist; I didn’t win a lot of prizes or receive tons of professional acclaim. I did enjoy modest success and I am proud of whatever contributions I was able to make in pursuit of the career I chose.

To that end, I half-expected to suffer some form of separation anxiety from work when my career ended in late August 2012. It wasn’t an entirely unexpected end, but it came a bit earlier than my wife and I had anticipated.

Still, when it happened I went on down the proverbial road and have looked back with decreasing frequency as time has marched on.

Why tell you the obvious? Why say it here?

It’s just that I keep hearing news reports about the state of print media and how vastly different a form it is taking than what I encountered when I walked into my first newsroom in the early 1970s.

A friend told me recently that the last newspaper on my journey through print journalism is suffering plummeting circulation numbers. The Amarillo Globe-News is printing about 20 percent of the total daily copies it was printing when I joined the staff in early 1995. For dinosaurs such as me, that is, um, hard to swallow.

However, I no longer have to worry about my professional future. I am done working for a living. I am free of the hassles, the deadlines, the whims and preferences of my bosses (except, of course, for my wife). I still write, but I write for myself. I can say whatever I feel like saying, within reason, quite obviously.

I don’t know when this event might occur, but if the opportunity ever presents itself, I might decide — if our paths ever cross — to thank the fellow who reorganized me out of a job in 2012. He spared me the misery he and his corporate partners inflicted on so many of the colleagues I left behind.

I know it’s a form of damnation with faint praise. However, it is sincere. Retirement has made me a happier man.

Having trouble letting go

I must admit to a peculiar circumstance that I will not define as a “problem.”

It is an unwillingness to let go of affairs occurring in the city where my wife and I used to live. I refer to Amarillo, Texas, way up yonder in the Texas Panhandle, on the Caprock … in a place I used to “affectionately” refer to as the Texas Tundra.

We moved away a little more than a year ago, yet I am continuing to devote a bit of High Plains Blogger’s posts to events that occur in the Texas Panhandle’s unofficial “capital” city.

You know what? I am going to keep both eyes and both ears attuned to what’s happening there. Why? The city is undergoing a significant change of personality, if not character. I want to watchdog it. I want to keep my channels of communication open to the community my wife and I called home for 23 years.

The truth is my wife and I lived in Amarillo longer than have lived in any community during our nearly 48 years of married life together. We were married in Portland, Ore., but moved to Beaumont 13 years later; we stayed on the Gulf Coast for not quite 11 years before heading northwest to the other end of this vast state.

I enjoyed some modest success during all those years as a working man. Retirement arrived in 2012. We stayed in our home until late 2017. We moved into our recreational vehicle, then sold our house in March 2018. Our granddaughter’s birth in 2013 and our desire to be near her as she grows up lured us to the Metroplex … but you know about that already.

But Amarillo retains a peculiar hold on my interests.

I am delighted with the progress of the city’s downtown redevelopment. The city’s baseball fans are turning out in droves to watch the Sod Poodles play AA minor-league hardball. Texas Tech University is marching full speed toward opening a school of veterinary medicine at Tech’s Health Sciences Center campus at the western edge of Amarillo. The Texas highway department is going to begin work soon on an extension of Loop 335 along Helium Road. Interstates 40 and 27 are under extensive construction.

I want to keep up with the progress that’s occurring in Amarillo.

I also intend to stay alert to problems that might arise along the way.

So, I intend to declare my intention to devote a good bit of this blog for the foreseeable future on matters affecting a fascinating — albeit at times infuriating — community.

Although we no longer call Amarillo our “home,” the community is not far from my heart.