Tag Archives: Dallas Morning News

It pays — bigly! — to be an elected official in this county

I stumbled upon an item in the Dallas Morning News online edition that, to be honest, made my jaw drop damn near into my lap.

Dave Lieber writes a feature for the DMN called “The Watchdog” and he reports that the Rockwall County Commissioners Court voted themselves a 23 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. Moreover, the county judge — who presides over the entire Commissioners Court — received a 24 percent increase.

That, my friends, is one hell of a nice increase in pay.

Did the commissioners deserve it? Hah! I’d be willing to wager they didn’t deserve that kind of pay raise. But they granted themselves the huge increase anyhow.

What in the name of fiscal responsibility gives in Rockwall County?

The raises were steep across the board as they relate to other elected officials. All of them got gigantic raises. I am left to wonder: Did the sheriff’s deputy, or the county road maintenance employee, or the custodian get that kind of pay raise? Ohhhh, probably not!

Here’s some more news: Elected officials in neighboring counties received raises totaling a fraction of the amount of what was handed out in Rockwall County.

Oh, by the way, there is one elected official who emerges as a hero, according to The Watchdog. Commissioner Cliff Sevier voted against the pay increase.

If only there were more of them serving the people of Rockwall County.

Were the officials in Rockwall County underpaid? Did commissioners seek only to bring their salaries more competitive? Leiber writes: I hate to bring this up, but according to a salary survey by the Texas Association of Counties, when you compare Rockwall to counties of a similar size, your county was already in the top tier of salaries.

Well, at least Rockwall County residents who likely didn’t get raises that come close to what commissioners granted themselves, have an option they can pursue. They can vote these commissioners out of office.

Retirement journey takes me farther than I thought

I want to acknowledge something I realized during a recent foray across the western portion of North America.

It is that my retirement from a craft I pursued with great joy has taken me farther away from it than I could have imagined.

I worked in print journalism for nearly 37 years. My career ended in August 2012. I dabbled a bit here and there part time writing for other media outlets: public TV, commercial TV and editing a weekly newspaper. I kept my head in the game and my hand on the mechanics of the craft.

Then I entered full retirement mode.

In the old days, travels with my wife usually meant picking up newspapers in every community we would visit or pass through. I would bring home an armload of newspapers from which I might glean ideas about layout, or presentation.

This time, after spending more than a month on the road through the western United States and Canada? Nothin’. I didn’t bring home a single newspaper. Indeed, I read only one newspaper during our time on the road … and it was a freebie distributed to all the visitors of a Eugene, Ore., RV park. The newspaper was the Register-Guard of Eugene, which in the old days was considered one of the better newspapers in the Pacific Northwest. It was family owned and was considered a leader in graphic design and presentation of news and commentary.

The Baker family sold the R-G not long ago to GateHouse Media, the outfit that has purchased dozens of newspapers around the country, becoming a media titan in an age of dwindling newspaper influence and importance.

My wife and I spent several nights up the highway from Eugene in Portland, my hometown and where I first fell in love with newspapers. I never laid eyes on The Oregonian newspaper during our visit there.

Oh, the end of an era for me personally!

We visited many cities that used to boast solid newspaper tradition: Colorado Springs; Bend, Ore.; Wenatchee, Wash.; Calgary, Alberta; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Grand Forks, N.D.; Topeka, Kan.; Tulsa, Okla.

I didn’t read a single word printed in newspapers distributed in those communities.

What does this mean? Hmm. I’ll have to ponder it. I still cherish my memories of toiling at newspapers in Oregon and Texas. I continue to harbor many fond memories of those years. I recall them with glee. However, I no longer am wedded to newspapers as my primary information source … or so it has become obvious, given what I have just reported about our recent journey.

Gosh, am I now dependent on “The Internet” for all my information? To some extent, yes. Although I want to rely solely on “legitimate news sources” that are spread throughout cyberspace.

There remains a glimmer of hope that I haven’t gone totally to the dark side. I do subscribe to the Dallas Morning News. I restarted my subscription upon our return home. It arrived this Sunday morning. I will consume its contents with great gusto.

Here is the ‘enemy of the people’

Take a look at this picture. What you see in this image is the enemy of the people. This is an example of the actual enemy of decent Americans who fear for their lives when faced with monsters such as this.

However, in the mind of Donald Trump, the fellow who snapped this picture — a Dallas Morning News photojournalist named Tom Fox — is the “enemy” he detests.

I won’t identify the shooter. He is dead, killed by federal security officers who answered the call when shots rang out Monday morning at the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse in downtown Dallas.

Fox was there, too. He hid behind a wall while this madman was pouring bullets into the courthouse. He managed to poke himself and his camera out long enough to snap this memorable image of the gunman.

I just feel compelled to point out that Tom Fox is a hero. He did his job of chronicling the news of the moment with cool professionalism; his picture now will be logged into the nation’s historical archive.

As for the shooter, he represented the worst in our society. He is the enemy we should fear. The fellow who snapped the image should be hailed as a hero.

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.

Once more about hiring Briles at Mount Vernon HS

I got raked over the coals for an earlier blog post critical of a hiring decision at Mount Vernon High School in East Texas.

A fellow who criticized my blog post stood behind the hiring of former Baylor University head football coach Art Briles as the head coach at Mount Vernon HS.

He said this: You are talking about one of the best coaches our state has ever seen. He deserves a second chance. Yes he made mistakes but a college coach cannot babysit all of their players.

I feel the need to respond briefly with — yep! — another blog post.

Briles was fired in 2016 as Baylor’s head coach after he covered up allegations of sexual assault by his players on women at Baylor. The scandal swallowed the campus damn near whole. It also swept away the university’s chancellor, Kenneth Starr, who resigned.

Here is what I cannot accept about the idea that Mount Vernon Independent School District was looking for a first-rate football coach before hiring Art Briles: Texas is a gigantic state chock full of fine football coaches who aren’t tainted by the indelible stain of a sex scandal!

Football is a big deal in this state. Isn’t that what we all recognize? Sure it is!

Therefore, I am baffled, puzzled and utterly astonished that Mount Vernon ISD would turn to a guy with the baggage that Art Briles brings to this job. The Dallas Morning News noted today in an editorial that while Briles is likely to coach his team to a lot of wins on the field, the football program well could be sullied by the history Briles brings to his new job.

I just believe that Mount Vernon ISD could have done so much better than to hire a guy who got fired from his college coaching job because the young men he was assigned to lead toward adulthood became involved in a case of serial sexual assault!

This is the best that a public school system could do?

Hardly.

Low turnout: It’s infectious and it needs to end

I guess Dallas municipal and school board voters are infected with the same disease that has plagued those in many other communities throughout the state. They don’t turn out to vote.

In today’s Dallas Morning News, columnist Robert Wilonsky notes the disinterest in the 2019 municipal election in south Dallas. “Despair is a hell of a disease,” he quotes a south Dallas resident in a column about the growth explosion that is underway in north Dallas regions. “It’s prevailing here. It doesn’t have to be. It shouldn’t be. It’s just here. And it’s in the way.”

Indeed. It’s in the way of progress.

I now will cast my gaze northwest from Dallas to Amarillo, another community about which I’ve commented frequently relating to its usually dismal municipal and school board election turnout.

Hey, guess what. That might change this weekend. What is the driver? It might be the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees election, where two incumbents from an embattled school board are standing for re-election.

AISD has gone through a tumultuous time starting with the resignation of Kori Clements as head coach of the Amarillo High School Sandies girls volleyball team. The school board has gotten an earful from constituents — and from this blog — about how it conducted itself prior to and in the wake of Clements’ resignation.

Clements said the school board and the administration didn’t back her while she fended off alleged interference from a parent who was upset over the playing time being given to her daughters.

Two incumbents are running for re-election. This election has the potential of producing a judgment from voters about how the board has handed this matter. When there’s controversy, I’ve noted over many years, there’s bound to be ramped-up voter interest.

I hope that’s the case in Amarillo.

Will it spill over to the City Council election that also occurs on Saturday? One can hope that the city and the school system will decided its local leadership with far more than a single-digit turnout, which too often is the case.

I long have noted that local elections are most meaningful for voters. They mean more in terms of decisions that affect voters directly than any other electoral level.

I am sorry to read about Dallas enduring the moribund turnouts that affect communities in Texas. I will continue to argue for greater turnout at this level of government.

Moreover, I will hold out some hope that Amarillo might shake itself loose from this desultory trend in just a few days.

Hey, if it takes some voter anger to awaken the “bosses,” the folks who pay the bills, then so be it.

Still hoping to serve on a trial jury

I am mildly envious of Jennifer Emily, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News.

Why? Not because she’s working and I am not. I enjoy my retired life and I trust she enjoys her gig at the DMN covering crime and the courts.

My envy is the result of Emily being selected to serve on a trial jury. She sat on a trial involving a murder case. Wow! That’s fascinating in the extreme, given that — as she wrote in today’s newspaper — she has covered more criminal trials than she can remember.

But she got the call anyway. She earned $6 for her first day in the jury box and $40 for every successive day.

Why the envy? I’ve never served on a trial jury. I want to do so in the worst way. Every time I get a summons, I call the office the day before I’m supposed to “report,” but then I’m told all jurors have been dismissed.

Damn! I have lived in five counties in two states since becoming an adult: Multnomah and Clackamas counties in Oregon; Jefferson, Randall and Collin counties in Texas. None of those jurisdictions has seen fit to seat me on a trial jury.

Emily’s story today notes that she believes her job excluded her from serving on a jury. She knows too much about the court system, she noted. I long believed I had the same cloud following me around during my years as a journalist in Oregon and Texas.

I know that my exclusion is mostly just blind, dumb luck.

Emily does note, though, that too many Texans are finding excuses not to serve. They seek excuses from the state to avoid service. She believes it’s their duty as citizens to sit in judgment of their “peers” when the call comes.

I agree with her wholeheartedly. “They want someone else to make the tough calls and take responsibility for punishing that person,” Emily writes in describing those who shirk their civic duty.

The way I look at it, good citizenship requires more of us to participate, not fewer of us. It’s much like voting. We don’t take part in elections for any number of reasons, leaving these decisions to people we don’t know . . . and those who might not share our view of where government should take us.

Jury duty is a big deal. Except that it doesn’t require too much of us.

I’m glad to see that Jennifer Emily got the call to serve. I am delighted to see that she answered that call.

I’m still waiting for my chance.

Customer service must be Priority No. 1

It’s no secret that American newspapers are in trouble. They are struggling to remain competitive in the ever-changing mass media market.

They need advertisers to spend money to keep the newspapers afloat. Ad representatives work hard — or at least they should be doing so — to keep their clients happy.

Newspapers also need subscribers to buy their publications. How do they gain subscribers to read their content and then keep them well into the future? Customer service, man. They need to put customer service at the very top of their standard operating procedure.

The Internet is inflicting serious damage on newspapers. Cable TV is now full of commentators, pundits, news anchors, “contributors” and experts on every field imaginable telling viewers about the news as well as what all those individuals believe about the news that is occurring.

Newspaper circulation is dropping. So is advertising revenue.

Thus, newspapers are in trouble.

OK, now that I’ve laid all that out, I want to share how one major American newspaper is squandering its standing in one American household . . . mine!

My wife and I recently moved from one Dallas suburb to another one — from Fairview to Princeton.

Before we made the move, we took out a subscription to the Dallas Morning News; our subscription was for the Wednesday and Sunday editions only. It arrived at our Fairview residence just fine.

Then we moved. I called the Morning News circulation line and provided a change of address. The DMN delivers to Princeton, so we didn’t figure that would be a problem.

Wrong! I guess it is a problem. We have lived in our new home for two weeks and we haven’t seen a newspaper yet. It’s not in our front porch, or on the front lawn, or the driveway or even in the street next to the curb. Nothing!

We have called every day since we missed our first DMN. Nothing has happened. I get excuses about the paper’s inability to hire competent delivery personnel as well as promises that it would come in the next day . . . or two. Again, nothing.

I offer this as an example of how one major publication is pis**** away a chance to lure and keep a subscriber. That would be me.

Hey, I am a newspaper reader of long standing. If only the newspaper I want to read could make good on its pledge to deliver it to my home.

There’s a lesson here. Newspapers are floundering. Many of them are failing. I want the Dallas Morning News to heed the warning sirens that are blaring all across the nation.

Still steamed over Sen. Seliger getting stiffed

I should be moving on, looking forward . . . but I cannot stop gnashing my teeth over the way Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick treated a man I respect and for whom I also have a fair amount of personal affection.

I refer to state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, who belongs to the same Republican Party as Patrick, except they’re both Republicans in name only.

Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, decided to remove Seliger from a key committee chairmanship, Higher Education. He also took him off the Education Committee, and put him in charge of the newly formed Senate Agriculture Committee. Then he yanked him out of the Ag Committee chairmanship after Seliger made an impolite remark about a key Patrick aide.

Why did Patrick seek to punish West Texas — which Seliger has represented since 2004? I keep rolling around some theories. I’ve come up with one that I think makes sense.

Seliger has too many Senate friends who happen to be Democrats. Patrick doesn’t enjoy that kind of bipartisan camaraderie.

I remember not long after Seliger was first elected to the Senate in 2004 when he began talking about the friendships he had forged with Democrats. He would mention Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a South Texas Democrat, as a colleague with whom he would work on legislation.

A Dallas Morning News article published a few weeks ago noted that Democratic senators think highly of Seliger. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, is considered one of Seliger’s best friends in the Senate. Another Democratic senator, Royce West of Dallas, also spoke highly of Seliger in the Dallas Morning News feature.

Does the lieutenant governor — a fiery TEA Party conservative — get that kind of love from across the aisle? I have the strong feeling he does not.

I don’t know if Lt. Gov. Patrick is prone to petty jealousy. However, I cannot rule it out, as I don’t know the man; I only know of him and know of the highly partisan legislation he likes to push through the Senate.

Sen. Seliger isn’t wired that way. He calls himself a proud conservative. He pushes for local control and doesn’t like the state meddling in matters that are best decided by local governing bodies.

Seliger also is a champion of public education; Patrick favors vouchers funded by tax money to send students to private schools.

Sen. Seliger also stood as a bulwark in favor of the Texas Tech University school of veterinary medicine planned for Amarillo. I am not at all sure what Patrick feels about that, but his removal of Seliger from the Higher Ed Committee chair has the potential of putting the vet school in some jeopardy.

I hope for the best for West Texas. I also hope Seliger rises to the occasion and is able to have his voice heard despite being stripped of political power.

Indeed, Sen. Seliger might need to reach across the aisle now more than ever.

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.