Tag Archives: Ernie Houdashell

Eight years on, it’s still pretty — and still empty

Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell can claim many successes during his years presiding over the county’s Commissioners Court.

For instance, the sheriff’s department has built a complex on South Georgia Street; the county just recently opened its new courthouse annex on Western Street in southwest Amarillo.

Oh, and the county was able to spruce up the 1909 Courthouse building on the Square in Canyon.

I found a High Plains Blogger post from March 2009 that commented on the old courthouse. I noted that the outside looks good. The inside, well, is unusable. It was then. It still is today.

Pretty on the outside

Let me be crystal clear: I am glad that the county was able to renovate the exterior of that courthouse. It was able to secure a state grant, and then spent local tax funds — with voters’ approval — to finish the job.

The county vacated the courthouse years ago. It moved some functions across the street into the old jail building. The Justice Center was opened a few blocks away across the street from West Texas A&M University.

The old building? It’s empty. Its interior is a mess.

I wrote a feature story for NewsChannel10.com years after leaving the Amarillo Globe-News about a possible new tenant for the 1909 Courthouse: The City of Canyon considered moving in, according to City Manager Randy Criswell. Then the city backed off when the cost estimates proved prohibitive.

The Square has blossomed since the exterior renovation. Judge Houdashell is proud of what has happened to the Square: Businesses have sprouted up along once-empty storefronts. It’s active, vibrant, busy in downtown Canyon.

Houdashell credits the 1909 Courthouse for luring that activity.

That’s fantastic! Houdashell’s pride is justified. However, there must be a move afoot to complete this mosaic.

I haven’t asked my friend, Judge Houdashell, what he has in mind for landing a new tenant for the structure. My strong hunch is that with the Courthouse Annex project complete, he is likely to turn his significant deal-making skill to finding an organization interested in fixing up a grand-looking old building.

My sense is that the success already brought to Canyon by a renovated exterior will explode even more once they find someone who fix up and occupy its interior.

County set to open a new door to its future

They’ve got some work to do yet on the new Randall County Annex building in Amarillo, Texas. But have no concern at all. They’ll get it done. It will be cleaned up and the county is moving in to conduct business as usual in late February.

County Judge Ernie Houdashell took me on a tour of the place this morning. To say he is mighty proud of it is to say that “it’s been a bit breezy in the Texas Panhandle these days.”

Let me put this another way.

Donald J. Trump calls himself the master of the “art of the deal.” In reality, Trump is a piker compared to the dealmaking skill exhibited by Ernie Houdashell.

The annex will replace a 10,000-square foot structure currently operating at South Georgia and the Canyon E-Way. The county is getting a 63,000-square foot facility. Houdashell said the county will occupy about 38,000 square feet of the new building. The rest of it will be available for use as the county continues to grow.

“We bought this for $38.60 per square foot,” Houdashell said, adding that the per-square-foot price is a seriously good bargain. The county paid $2.5 million total for the building, which it purchased from the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation.

Randall County is unusual in this respect: Its county seat is in Canyon, but the vast bulk of its business is done in south Amarillo, which makes up about 80 percent of the county’s population and provides about 80 percent of the tax revenue. “We haven’t served the people of Amarillo well” with the old annex building, according to Houdashell.

The new structure is going to contain many features missing from the old annex: a district attorney’s office, the county clerk’s office, the district clerk’s office and one of the county’s courts at law all will be located inside the new annex. The county also will have a significantly greater space that it will use as voting center. Whereas the old annex often required voters to stand in crowded spaces waiting to cast ballots — or to wait outside occasionally in inclement weather — the new site will provide a much more customer-friendly environment.

Houdashell explained that state law prohibits state district courts from operating outside the county seat; thus, they will function exclusively in Canyon — with the courts with jurisdiction in Potter County also operating in Amarillo.

My brief tour of the new Randall County Courthouse Annex gave me a glimpse into the future of the county. The courtrooms will be fully secured, as will the main public entrance.

I have to say that I am mighty proud of my friend Ernie Houdashell. He is running for his fourth term as county judge. He is unopposed in the 2018 Republican Party primary and, given that there are zero Democrats running for public office in this heavily GOP county, the judge is assured of another four-year term.

Oh, the old annex building? It will be given to the Texas Panhandle War Memorial foundation, which will use it as a chapel while it raises money to build an education center alongside the garden and the memorial to those Panhandle veterans who have fallen in battle.

I don’t know what lies ahead for the judge once the new annex opens its doors to the public on Feb. 26.

I have this hunch my old pal might have another deal or two to strike before he calls it a career.

WT set to honor vets who gave their full measure

I am proud of West Texas A&M University, even though I never attended the school; nor did either of my sons.

My pride stems from the decision to erect a memorial on the WT campus that honors those grads from the school who have given their full measure of devotion in service to their country.

They broke ground the other day, with several dignitaries on hand to turn some dirt over to symbolize the start of construction.

This project exemplifies in my mind the nation’s continuing redemption toward the way it treats those who have served in the nation’s military. It wasn’t always this way, as those of us old enough can remember.

I was struck to see Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell (second from left in the picture attached to this post) among those breaking ground. Houdashell is a buddy of mine and he — like yours truly — served in Vietnam during the war that tore the nation apart. The national reaction to that war sank the nation to its emotional nadir as it related to its treatment of veterans. I know that Houdashell remembers that time, because he has told me so.

That was then. The here and now brings loads of respect and affection for the men and women who have answered the call.

As for the WT memorial, it will bring additional honor to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in every war this nation has fought since 1917, when we entered World War I.

Times do change. So do attitudes. It’s part of a national maturation. Indeed, the nation hasn’t always acted maturely where its veterans are concerned.

We’re doing so now — and that’s all that really matters.

Randall County office also set for major makeover

I have been commenting from time to time about the extreme makeover under way in downtown Amarillo.

Given that I don’t get out quite as much as I did when I worked for a living, I recently discovered another makeover project for which many Randall County employees — and perhaps residents, too — have been waiting.

We were driving south on Western Street when I shot a glance to the right and noticed a building that used to house an insurance company. Eventually, it’s going to house the Randall County Courthouse Annex.

Work on the building is well under way.

County Judge Ernie Houdashell told me some weeks ago about the purchase of the old Nationwide building and the realization of his longtime effort to relocate the county annex from its cramped quarters at South Georgia Street and Interstate 27.

I give Houdashell a huge dose of credit for bringing this project together. He had dickered and bickered with the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation to sell the Nationwide structure to the county. AEDC apparently had some issues that it was able to resolve with the county.

So now the county owns the structure and is refitting it to meet its needs.

The annex does the vast majority of the county’s tax business, even though the county seat is in Canyon, about 15 miles south of Amarillo, which straddles the Randall-Potter County line. Amarillo contains about 75 percent of Randall County’s population and generates about 80 percent of the tax revenue used to finance county government.

The annex will include the auto registration operation, along with a sheriff’s department presence and Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace court. I cannot recall the precise square footage increase that the county will get in the new structure, but I am aware that it’s going to be substantially more than it has at the Georgia Street site.

What’s going to happen to the current annex building? Houdashell hopes the county can deed it over to the Texas Panhandle War Memorial, which is in the process of raising money for its new interpretive center.

Houdashell, always the dealmaker, already has added an F-100 fighter jet to the War Memorial grounds, along with a Vietnam War-era UH-1 Huey helicopter, the kind of ship on which Houdashell served during the Vietnam War.

Yes, the downtown work is important to Amarillo and will bring tremendous value to the city over time when all the work is done. It’s not the only place, though, that’s undergoing a serious change.

I will look forward to watching the courthouse annex work progress — along with Randall County’s continuing evolution.

Yep, that was some flyover

I was out of town the day Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell introduced the latest exhibit to the Texas Panhandle War Memorial and I regret very much missing the ceremony.

It’s of a U.S. Army UH-1 Huey helicopter that flew many combat missions during the Vietnam War. Houdashell, a former Huey crew member who saw his share of combat during that war, worked hard to bring the Huey to the memorial; it was dedicated this past October. Houdashell is on the far left in the picture at the top of this post.

Every time I drive by the memorial, which is next to the County Courthouse Annex in south Amarillo, I think of another ceremony that my wife and I were able to attend. It sends chills up my spine every time I think of it.

Several years ago, Houdashell presided over a ceremony that dedicated an Air Force F-100 fighter jet at the memorial grounds.

The plane also flew missions in Vietnam.

The story, though, of this blog relates to the opening of the ceremony that preceded the keynote speech delivered by Texas Supreme Court Justice Phil Johnson, the former chief judge of he 7th Court of Appeals in Amarillo — and a former F-100 pilot who flew combat missions in Vietnam.

Houdashell took the podium at about 10:55 a.m. to alert the audience that the ceremony was to begin at precisely 11 o’clock. Houdashell made quite a point that the event was to occur at the top of the hour and he implored us all to take our seats to await the opening.

And what an opening it turned out to be!

At 11 a.m. sharp we heard the sound of jets coming from the south. We looked up toward the roof of the annex building and then saw three F-16 Fighting Falcons fly overhead, no more than 1,000 feet or so above us.

Just as the jets flew over, they kicked in their afterburners — the sound of which was literally deafening. They blasted northward over Amarillo — and in the process set off car  and house alarms for miles around, not to mention started dogs barking throughout the southern half of the city.

Houdashell informed me earlier that he has gotten permission for USAF Col. Scott Neibergall, an Amarillo High School graduate, to lead the formation from its base in South Texas.

I have to tell you, it was an opening ceremonial gambit the likes of which I’d never seen — or heard!

I give all the credit in the world to my pal Ernie Houdashell for working this deal to its fruition  –and for bringing the Huey to Amarillo, too, to honor the veterans who have served our nation.

War Memorial to add another icon


Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell is a man on many missions.

In addition to running a county Commissioners Court and helping set policy for a county of about 130,000 residents, he wants to ensure that we honor our veterans the right way.

On Oct. 29, the Texas Panhandle War Memorial is going to dedicate another iconic symbol from one of our nation’s past conflicts. It will be yet another addition to an increasingly impressive memorial that honors the sacrifice of those who fought — and died — in defense of the nation.

The memorial is going to dedicate a Huey UH-1 helicopter. It will be mounted and put on display, just as the county dedicated an F-100 fighter — a Vietnam War relic — jet just a few years ago.

The Huey chopper is another relic of the Vietnam War, where Houdashell served two tours back in the day. He served on a crew of a Huey — and as a door gunner when his ship was sent into harm’s way.

Houdashell has worked hard to bring the restored Huey to the war memorial.

The memorial honors those from the Texas Panhandle who fell in every conflict dating back to the Spanish-American War of 1898. All the names are inscribed on stone tablets: World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, the Balkan campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Iraq and Afghan wars. A handful of veterans received the Medal of Honor and they are noted with stars next to their names.

The tablets also contain descriptions of each conflict. Allow me this bit of disclosure: I was asked years ago to write some of those inscriptions. Believe me when I tell you how proud I am have to my words carved in stone.

Houdashell is a friend of mine and I enjoy my relationship with him. I applaud his tenacity in adding this important artifact from the Vietnam War.

Think about how this country treated many of the returning veterans from that terrible conflict and then think about the atonement for that shameful treatment that’s been going on since, oh, the Persian Gulf War.

The dedication set for late this month marks another step in that on-going journey.

The ceremony will occur at 11 a.m. on Oct. 29, at the Randall County Veterans Park, right next to the county’s courthouse annex at the corner of Georgia Street and Interstate 27.

Well done, Judge Houdashell.

Huey to ‘land’ at Panhandle War Memorial


Ernie Houdashell is the master of the deal.

The Randall County judge was chief of staff to state Rep. John Smithee and before that worked for U.S. Rep. Beau Boulter. His job description in both of his prior lives was to make things happen for the seasoned politicians.

He also is a proud veteran of the Vietnam War.

Houdashell has just scored another coup to honor those who served as he did during two tours in ‘Nam. A Vietnam War-vintage Huey helicopter has been towed from Arizona to the Texas Panhandle.

Eventually, the old bird is going to get gussied up, painted, detailed out and put on display at the Texas Panhandle War Memorial. Houdashell has worked for years to bring a Huey here, to show it off and to have it serve as part of an eternal display to honor those who served in Vietnam.

I’m proud of Houdashell for showing the persistence needed to bring another display to the War Memorial, which is slated to grow into a truly spectacular exhibit for visitors and those who live here.

Fundraising has begun on a 12,500-square foot education center that will be built at the War Memorial, next to the Randall County Annex at the corner of South Georgia Street and Interstate 27. The center will serve as an interactive exhibit to educate visitors on all the nation’s conflicts.

The memorial already contains stone tablets describing the conflicts dating back to the Spanish-American War; the tablets also contain the names of those Panhandle residents who died in service during those conflicts.

Houdashell developed his interest in aviation the hard way. He served in the Army and on his second tour in Vietnam served on a flight crew aboard a Huey. He remains a licensed pilot. Indeed, a few years ago, he negotiated for the delivery of an F-100 Super Sabre fighter jet that had seen service during the Vietnam War; the F-100 is not on display at a corner of the War Memorial property.

The county judge isn’t certain when the Huey will be ready for display. It was simply enough for him to negotiate for its delivery to the Panhandle.

As a fellow Vietnam veteran, I will await eagerly the day when the Huey is delivered to the Panhandle War Memorial, where it can enhance what has become a wonderful tribute to those who have defended our nation.

Thank you, judge, for your hard work.

City may become latest to join discordant chorus

Amarillo’s governing council long has prided itself on speaking with one voice, moving in unison toward common goals.

It’s been rather, um, boring at times to watch the city endorse this program or that with nary a negative voice being heard. Oh, I’ve heard some dissent, from the likes of the late commissioners Dianne Bosch and Jim Simms. But generally when the city voted, it marched off in unison.

That era may have ended, if only temporarily, with the election in May of three newcomers. They have vowed to enact serious change in the way things get done. How that change manifests itself fully remains a bit of a mystery.

It all reminds a bit of how Randall and Potter counties’ commissioners courts have run at times over the years.

Randall County elected Ted Wood as its county judge in 1994 and he proceeded to open the floor up to residents who could gripe until they went hoarse. Wood’s philosophy was that the county was there to serve them, and the Commissioners Court was obligated to listen to every word that residents had to say.

This incessant complaining from residents led to frayed tempers at times as commissioners occasionally lost patience with residents’ long-winded tirades.

After Wood left office, the new county judge, Ernie Houdashell, restored some order in the court and it’s been relatively smooth sailing ever since.

Across the 29th Avenue county line, in Potter County, there was another dynamic taking place. The late Commissioner Manny Perez was fond of gumming things up with occasionally intemperate remarks about individuals or projects. Then came fellow Commissioner Joe Kirkwood, who’d chime in with dissent that at times didn’t make much sense.

Then-County Judge Arthur Ware tried his best to keep the peace. He had limited success.

The Potter County Commissioners Court has a new county judge. It’s running smoothly these days … so far.

What’s in store for the Amarillo City Council as it moves forward?

I’ve never been shy about dissent. I prefer healthy debate and discussion over one-note sambas being played out.

My main concern as the new City Council starts to get its legs under it is the seeming headlong rush to make critical changes at the top of the administrative chain of command. It began with that startling announcement from newly minted Councilman Mark Nair’s request that City Manager Jarrett Atkinson resign; Nair’s comment came on the very same day he took the oath of office.

Does the young man really and truly want to toss out the city’s top administrator now, just as the city is beginning to implement a remarkably creative and forward-thinking strategy for reshaping its downtown business district? And the other two new councilmen — Elisha Demerson and Randy Burkett — are on the hunt as well for the city manager’s resignation?

Dissent and constructive criticism are good things to embrace.

Bulldozing a well-established government infrastructure right off the top? Let’s take a breath and talk this through.


Courthouse building: opportunity or eyesore?

I ventured recently to Canyon, Texas to interview a West Texas A&M University professor on a project for Panhandle PBS.

And as I usually do when I venture to the Randall County seat, I drove briefly around the Courthouse Square.

There it was. The old 1909 Courthouse building. All dolled up. The yard was manicured. The clock tower was keeping time. The building was nice and shiny. The windows were clean.

Then I looked closely at the windows from my car and noticed the interior was dark. Still. Not a thing going on in there — that I could see.

I keep wondering: What is going to happen to that building?

Randall County vacated that structure years ago. Commissioners Court has moved across the street into what used to be the old county jail. Virtually the rest of the government structure has moved a few blocks east to the Justice Center, which once was home to a Wal-Mart.

County Judge Ernie Houdashell told me a few years ago he was trying to swing a deal. With whom, he didn’t say. He just would tell me that some folks are interested in moving into the building.

It’s also interesting that the Randall County website features the old courthouse structure on his home page.


Houdashell is a wheeler and dealer par excellence. I wish him well in his search for a worthy tenant. I have a few guesses on who or what might move in there. The Canyon Economic Development Corp. comes to mind. So does Canyon City Hall. I once thought the Canyon Independent School District might be interested, then CISD built that new office complex at the north end of town.

It’s just a shame to see a building with a renovated exterior paid for with historical preservation grant funds and local tax money just sitting there. Empty. Waiting for someone to turn on the lights.

It’s too pretty a structure to remain vacant.