Tag Archives: KETR-FM

God answered this pastor’s prayer

BLOGGER’S NOTE: This post was published originally on KETR-FM’s website.

Do not ever tell the Rev. Chet Haney that God doesn’t answer prayers.

On June 19 of this year, Haney – senior pastor of Highland Terrace Baptist Church in Greenville – got word of a terrible storm brewing and moving rapidly toward the church he runs. Rev. Haney had to make a decision … in a major hurry!

It was a Wednesday night and the church was preparing for its usual Wednesday night worship service. Haney had to decide whether to cancel the service. He made the call: There would be no Wednesday night worship at Highland Terrace.

“I then put out the word for two prayers,” Rev. Haney said. “One was to pray that everyone stayed home. Do not go out into this weather,” he said.

The second prayer, he said, was to “have God take authority over this storm.” So, just how did The Almighty “take authority”? Haney said the storm hit 15 minutes later and that on its way to pummeling the church, the destructive funnel cloud lifted off the ground twice and missed hitting the Hunt Regional Medical Center hospital as well as a crowded apartment building.

“Then it hit the church,” he said. “We were very fortunate,” he said, given that no one was injured inside the structure when the EF-1 storm plowed into the building. He said there were about 20 people inside when the storm went through.

“Pieces were ripped off the building and they tore through the building like torpedoes,” he said of the fragments that hit the education wing at the height of the storm. “There could have been children in there,” had there been Wednesday night services. “The sanctuary had gaping holes in it,” he said.

By all means, Haney said, God answered their prayers. The city avoided injury or much worse, he said, thanks in part to the various social media platforms that put the word out as the storm approached the community.

“We were told first that it was a case of straight-line wind,” Haney said, “but then they changed it back to calling it a tornado.” Haney said he was initially a bit reluctant to cancel the services, saying that “I didn’t want to cry ‘wolf!’”

Repair work has begun on Highland Terrance Church, but it is a long way from being done, said Haney. The church has been conducting its Sunday service at Greenville High School, which has loaned its auditorium to the church. Highland Terrace’s Wednesday night service has been taking place at the Fletcher Warren Civic Center.

Soon, though, the church campus’s atrium will be completed, and the church will resume worshiping there, beginning Jan. 12. “That will be a big step forward for us,” Haney said.

The final cost of full restoration of the church campus has yet to be determined, Haney said, explaining that the church is waiting on the insurance company to determine how much money the church will receive.

Haney said he hopes to have the work completed no later than the next 18 months.

“Texas Baptist Men dropped off a pallet full of tarps,” Haney said of the help the church received in the immediate storm aftermath. “We got lots of bottled water, brooms, mops” and assorted other cleanup equipment, Haney said.

“The town was hit hard by the storm,” Haney said. “Downtown was hit hard and some in our church family lost power for several days,” he said, adding that he heard that “Lowe’s and Home Depot ran out of tarps.”

Haney does not appear openly dismayed by the destruction brought to the church building. Indeed, he counts – and cherishes – the blessings he and his church family have received as they continue their recovery from the wrath that befell them.

Haney said, “The church survived, even though the building received all that damage.”

Hey, just try to tell Rev. Chet Haney that God wasn’t watching over the community.

Farmersville ISD enlists its own police force

Blogger’s Note: This blog item was published initially on KETR-FM’s website.

As a new resident of Northeast Texas, I am still climbing a fairly steep learning curve concerning local government agencies.

Such as the Farmersville Independent School District, which sits about 8 miles east of where we live in Princeton. I learned something about Farmersville ISD that I want to share here.

The tiny school district has a full-time police department on duty. Yes, the Farmersville Police Department suits up each day to protect the students, faculty and support staff on all four of the FISD campuses, as well as at its other offices.

Farmersville ISD enrolls slightly more than 1,500 students. They attend all 13 grades, including kindergarten. I was struck by the presence of a police officer in full regalia at a recent school board meeting; then I noticed the patch on his left arm – Farmersville ISD Police Department.

During a brief break while school trustees met in executive session, I introduced myself to the young man in uniform. He is Brian Alford, the chief of police for Farmersville ISD’s police department.

We chatted about school lockdown policy. I asked him about his police background. Alford told me he served previously with the Farmersville Police Department, with the Collin County Sheriff’s Office and was a military police officer for five years in the U.S. Army. The man brings a solid law enforcement record to his post as FISD police chief.

I still am struck by the existence of a full-time police department, paid for with FISD money. Chief Alford said he has four officers working full time for the department. He also wonders why other school districts, such as Princeton ISD, doesn’t employ a full-time police department. Princeton ISD, Alford told me, uses municipal police officers to provide campus security.

Is there a rash of crime on Farmersville ISD’s campuses? I don’t believe that’s the case. Heck, perhaps it’s the existence of a full-time police department that deters troublesome students from acting out in a potentially violent manner.

I mentioned to the chief that I came to North Texas from Amarillo, which also does not have a full-time police force on its school district payroll. Amarillo educates about 33,000 students each year. It, too, uses municipal police officers and Potter County sheriff’s deputies to maintain safety and order on its campuses.

So … I am learning new aspects of our new community all the time. I believe the Farmersville ISD police chief is a conscientious fellow. He is dedicated to protecting and serving his constituents. I will accept the notion that perhaps the presence of the police force deters possible problems on campus. Is it the right formula for every independent school district? That’s up to each of them to decide for themselves.

This retirement journey keeps taking strange twists and turns

Retirement is so much cooler than I thought it was when I entered this world just a few years ago.

I have been able to devote more time to this blog. I have been able as well to sleep in if I choose. My wife and I have taken our fifth wheel recreational vehicle on lengthy and not-so-lengthy trips to hither and yon. We have been able to spend more time with our precious granddaughter.

I also have just begun a gig as a freelance reporter for a couple of Collin County weekly newspapers.

What’s more, today I got to participate in a live radio broadcast. Yes, a live event. It went on the air as we spoke the words. Did it make me nervous going in? Uhh … yes. It did!

However, it worked out far better than I expected it would.

I’ll now set the stage.

Mark Haslett is a friend of mine who works as news director for KETR-FM, the public radio station affiliated with Texas A&M University-Commerce. He plays host to a weekly radio show called “North by Northeast.” It airs each Friday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Did I mention it’s a live show? Oh, yeah. I forgot.

Well, I also write for KETR-FM’s website. Haslett asked me to be a guest on his show. I agreed, knowing it’s a live event and also knowing it would give me the heebie-jeebies.

I have spoken on the radio before. It was in 2008 in Amarillo, at High Plains Public Radio. Haslett worked at HPPR then. National Public Radio wanted to talk to journalists who worked in vastly different political environments during an election year; NPR sought out someone who worked in a Republican-leaning “red” area and a Democratic-leaning “blue” region. I got the call to talk to NPR about the Texas Panhandle’s outlook for the upcoming presidential election. NPR did a great job of editing the audio we produced, making me sound cogent and coherent.

This live gig was a different animal. There would be no editing.

Haslett and I talked about Texas politics, the curious recent controversy involving the lame-duck Texas House speaker, the state of journalism in today’s changing media climate and I even got to share a couple of extraordinary experiences I enjoyed during my 37 years working as a print journalist.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this wonderful new experience was that it went by like lightning. They told me at KETR this morning that it would fly by rapidly. Oh, man … they were so right.

Before I could barely catch my breath, the hour was done. Haslett signed off. I leaned back in my chair and heaved a sigh of relief that I didn’t mess up.

Could I do this again? Yes. Probably. Just not right away. I have great admiration for those who talk for a living. I prefer simply to write.

UT hazing case brings disgraceful behavior front and center

Blogger’s Note: This blog post appeared originally on KETR-FM’s website.

I guess I missed out on a lot of “fun” while attending college back in the day.

The “fun,” had I joined a fraternity at Portland (Ore.) State University, would have included hazing. You know, things that involve sleep deprivation and assorted other forms of what would qualify as “torture” if it was being done to soldiers captured by the enemy on the battlefield.

Nicholas Cumberland died Oct. 30, 2018 after being hazed at the University of Texas by the Texas Cowboys, a fraternal group that UT-Austin has suspended for six years. Cumberland died in an automobile accident. He had been subjected to the kind of activity that clearly should be considered torture. The university has just released a report detailing the incident and the punishment it has leveled against the organization linked to the tragedy.

I find this kind of activity to be reprehensible. I’m an old man these days, long removed from my own college days. I was a young married student when I enrolled at Portland State. I lived with my bride and would go home each day after class. Thus, I avoided being sucked into the kind of activity that fraternities do to their members.

As KTRK-TV reported: “Cumberland was paddled so hard, he had ‘significant bruising on his buttocks nearly a month after the Retreat and car accident,’ records allege.”

Yes, the young man was on a “Retreat” when the vehicle he was in rolled over.

We hear about this kind of thing all the time. It’s certainly not unique to UT-Austin, or even to any public college or university in Texas. My hope would be that university educators and administrators everywhere in this nation would be alarmed enough to examine how their own fraternities conduct themselves.

A report by the UT-Austin Dean of Students Office notes that the Sept. 29, 2018 retreat included students bringing, among other things, “copious amounts of alcohol.” They also brought a live chicken and a live hamster, presumably to arrange for the frat pledges to kill the animals in bizarre fashion.

I get that I didn’t get to experience the full breadth of college life back when I was trying to get an education. I had seen enough already, having served a couple of years in the U.S. Army, including a tour of duty in Vietnam. So, I wasn’t a totally green homebody when I enrolled in college upon my return home.

I still cannot grasp the “benefit” accrued by hazing students to the point of killing them.

Perhaps the death of Nicholas Cumberland could prompt university officials to take a sober look at certain aspects of campus life and whether some elements of it result in campus death.

M-60 tank found a good home

While working on a blog post for KETR-FM radio on a county courthouse restoration project in Fannin County, my memory drifted back to an earlier project in Potter County that involved the disposition of a piece of military hardware.

The hardware was an M-60 battle tank that saw duty during Operation Desert Storm, the Persian Gulf War, in 1991. It sat in front of the Potter County Courthouse in Amarillo for a number of years. It was painted in “desert camo” colors and was quite the draw.

Then the county applied for a grant from the Texas Historical Preservation Board to restore the courthouse to his original condition. One problem cropped up: the board couldn’t allow the tank to remain on the courthouse grounds, given that it wasn’t “historically accurate.” The tank had to go.

The tank was moved in 2011 to the Freedom Museum in Pampa, about 60 miles northeast of Amarillo.

According to County Judge Nancy Tanner, they moved the tank “very cautiously and tenderly” to the museum. The move was orchestrated by a former Marine, Paul Chaney, who is a good friend of Tanner and former Potter County Judge Arthur Ware, another Marine who saw combat duty during the Gulf War.

Ware bristled initially at the Historical Preservation Board restriction on the tank. He relented finally, allowing the tank to move to the Freedom Museum, which houses assorted military memorabilia.

I recalled the tiff that Ware got into with the historical preservation folks.

I thought it would be worth remembering this episode, given that we have just honored our veterans for their service to the country. I also am gratified to know the M-60 tank that once greeted visitors to the Potter County Courthouse in Amarillo has found a good home just up the road a piece.

Happy 40th birthday, NPR’s ‘Morning Edition’

I am a giant fan of National Public Radio. My staple most mornings is to listen to NPR’s “Morning Edition” broadcast while traveling in my car while running errands.

I learn more from that broadcast than I ever learn from the morning drive-time idiocy I hear on commercial radio channels. For instance, I learned this week that “Morning Edition” has turned 40 years of age.

Its first broadcast occurred the morning after the Iranian militants captured those 53 Americans at the embassy in Tehran.

But during the discussion of “Morning Edition’s” 40th birthday, I heard a fascinating discussion of how politics has changed since NPR first went on the air with its morning talk show.

It came from Ron Elving, a contributor to NPR, who noted that in 1979, Congress was full of “liberal Republicans” and “conservative Democrats” who liked each other’s company. These days, according to Elving, both major political parties have been hijacked by ideologues on both ends of the spectrum: liberals are now called “progressives” and occupy much of the Democrats’ congressional caucus; conservatives have done the same thing to the Republican’s congressional caucus.

What’s more, neither side wants to commune with the other. Members of Congress, particularly those on the right, bunk in their offices at night. They choose to make some sort of goofy political statement, rather than becoming involved socially with their colleagues in their own party, let alone those in the other party.

Politics has become a contact sport, the NPR talkers said to each other, lamenting the demise of a kinder, gentler time in D.C.’s political life.

So it has gone over the past four decades.

NPR itself has become a whipping child for those on the right, who accuse the network of harboring a sort of “liberal bias,” in my view is a creation of those who want the media to present the news with their own fiery bias. NPR takes great pain to ensure that it presents the news straight down the middle lane.

As I listened to the “Morning Edition” talkers this week reminisce about how much politics has changed over the past 40 years, I found myself longing — yet again! — for a return to the way it used to be inside the halls of power.

It well might return if Americans awaken on Election Day 2020 to the damage that the politics of resentment and anger is doing to our public institutions.

Farmersville council improves outreach to residents

Blogger’s Note: This item was posted initially on KETR-FM’s website. I want to share it with High Plains Blogger readers.

Farmersville City Council gets an earful on occasion from residents who contend they don’t always know all there is to know about what the council is doing on residents’ behalf.

The council, though, has taken measures to repair that alleged shortcoming in its transparency.

It is now “streaming” its proceedings online, live, in real time on its website.

The city usually has a resident who’s been streaming council proceedings to her Facebook page. Her name is Donna Williams. She owns an antique shop on the downtown square. She believes the council needs to do a better job of letting residents know what is going on. She records the meetings and then streams them onto her Facebook page.

Williams has been streaming council meetings for a couple of years. She believes she is performing a valuable public service for her fellow Farmersville residents.

I covered many city councils and other governing bodies over nearly four decades as a print journalist. I don’t yet know precisely how the Farmersville City Council’s transparency matches up to other jurisdictions I’ve covered. Thus, I will reserve some judgment on the particulars of the community’s relationship with its council.

My experience has taught me over time that cities often never do enough to please every resident they serve. Amarillo was my last stop on my full-time journalism career, and I found the complaints there about city government almost laughable. The city council there meets in “work sessions” prior to the formal council meetings. The work sessions are as open to the public as the formal meetings. Yet some residents would complain that the council was meeting in secret, that it sought to hide public business from the public.

The only serious concern I have noted about the Amarillo council work sessions is that the room where the council meets have few seats available for the public to attend.

Farmersville’s website home page has a tab that readers can click to open the live streaming as it is occurring. You click on the tab beginning at 6 p.m. while the City Council is meeting and you can watch the council conduct business that is open to the public.

Donna Williams told me that many Farmersville residents work in other communities. They cannot always be at home in time for 6 p.m. council meetings when they get off work at, say, 5 p.m. Which brings up an interesting question: How does live streaming solve that concern for those who might be en route from work to home by the time the council has convened its regular meeting at City Hall?

I want to give the council credit, though, for listening to the concerns expressed by some residents, such as Williams. The city has gone through its share of community controversy that has spawned concern among residents that they weren’t kept adequately informed of council deliberations and decisions.

The city approved, for example, a Muslim cemetery that caused a good bit of community concern. What those concerns centered on make me scratch my head, given the fact that the individuals buried in that cemetery are, shall we say, already dead and they are certain to remain that way forever.

But the city has moved on from that debate. It is now offering a live streaming service to Internet-connected residents who want to stay abreast of City Council business.

From where I sit, I consider that progress. The city’s effort at live streaming council meetings likely won’t end the gripes from a few soreheads … but it’s a start.

Courthouses need not remain empty … period!

I visited this week with a Northeast Texas county judge who is overseeing the restoration of a courthouse structure that he intends to reopen in its original splendor.

The work is being done in Bonham, the Fannin County seat. I am preparing a story for KETR-FM public radio on the project, so I won’t scoop myself with detail about that restoration effort.

I reminded the county judge, Randy Moore, about what happened to Randall County’s renovation of its historic courthouse. He knew all about it.

What happened in Canyon? The county obtained a historical preservation grant and used the money to restore the exterior of its 1909 courthouse. It finished that work, but along the way relocated all its government functions off-site.

The interior of that building remains empty. The outside looks great! It’s gorgeous. The county courthouse square is well-groomed. The area surrounding the square is full of businesses bustling with activity. There are antique shops, coffee shops, restaurants … you name it.

Despite all that success and the economic benefit that Canyon and Randall County have accrued from the project, I continue to wish that the county can find a feasible tenant who can occupy the courthouse structure.

Randy Criswell, the former Canyon city manager, told me once about a study the city did to determine whether it could relocate its City Hall in the historic courthouse. The city decided it could not. It was too costly.

My visit with the Fannin County judge, though, does restore my faith in a county’s commitment to retaining its courthouse functionality. To that end, I applaud Judge Moore’s strongly stated desire to ensure that Fannin County’s courthouse will be restored and reoccupied eventually, serving the county as its center of government.

I consider Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell to be a friend and I long have admired the work he has done to shore up the county’s economic health.

I also have admired his deal-making skill, as exhibited — for example — in what he has brought to the Texas Panhandle Veterans Memorial in south Amarillo next to where the county annex used to sit.

My hope for Randall County is that Judge Houdashell can work his magic again to get to the old courthouse structure in the square in Canyon occupied. It deserves the same quality of life that has come to the area surrounding the square.

RIP, Cokie Roberts

Blogger’s Note: This item was posted originally on KETR-FM’s website.

Cokie Roberts was born to do what she did.

She hailed from New Orleans, La. Her dad was a legendary congressman. Hale Boggs, though, disappeared somewhere near the North Pole in 1972 when his plane vanished; his body never was found. Hale Boggs’s wife, Lindy, succeeded him in the House of Representatives and she, too, forged a successful career in public service.

And then there was Cokie, a child of Washington who became a legendary journalist whose voice became well-known to listeners of National Public Radio and then – along with her face – to viewers of ABC News.

Cokie Roberts died this week at age 75, reportedly of complications from breast cancer, the disease that struck her many years ago.

Many of us, me included, had no idea she had relapsed. Or that she had suffered from any “complications.” I thought she was in remission.

Now she is gone. Her voice is stilled.

At the risk of sounding like some kind of chump frontrunner, I want to share a brief Cokie Roberts story that I hope distills just a bit of the type of individual she was.

I attended the 1992 Republican National presidential nomination convention in Houston. The Astrodome, where the RNC held its convention, was crawling with journalists. There were titans like Roberts and, well, not so titanic figures such as myself. I was working for the Beaumont Enterprise at the time and given that Beaumont sits only about 85 miles east of Houston, my bosses sent me down the highway to cover it.

I happened one afternoon to be waiting to enter the Astrodome when the convention staff shut the doors. As I recall it, Vice President Dan Quayle was entering the building and staff shut down entry to allow the VP free and easy access to his seat in the giant hall.

I looked to my right and there was Cokie Roberts standing next to me. She didn’t grumble. She did complain. We exchanged shrugs and we had some small-talk chat while we waited for the doors to reopen.

This is worth mentioning, I believe, because Cokie Roberts didn’t seem outwardly to think of herself as better than anyone else. She was caught in the crush of journalists and waited just as patiently as the rest of us.

Her commentary and analysis were always incisive and insightful. She knew her way around Washington, having grown up there and being exposed to the movers and shakers of public policy.

Cokie Roberts shoved her way into a world populated almost exclusively by men. She made her mark. Her voice became an important one. Her NPR listeners could depend on her insight on Monday mornings when she would offer her look at the week ahead in politics and public policy.

As NPR reported: In a 2017 interview with Kentucky Educational Television, Roberts reflected on her long career. “It is such a privilege – you have a front seat to history,” she said. “You do get used to it and you shouldn’t, because it is a very special thing to be able to be in the room … when all kinds of special things are happening.”

I am going to miss her wisdom and her honest reporting.

Princeton grapples with rapid growth

Blogger’s Note: This blog item was published originally on KETR-FM’s website.

Princeton City Hall is a non-descript structure on U.S. 380. The City Council meets there. The city administrative offices are located inside the structure the city leases from the building owner.

It comprises about 6,000 square feet. The Princeton Police Department works out of another structure, as does the Princeton Fire Department.

Well, if City Manager Derek Borg and the City Council have their way, they intend to break ground in about a year on a shiny new municipal complex about a mile east of the current site.

First, though, the city needs a “concept” of what the new complex will look like.

Borg is awaiting the concept from the architectural firm the city has hired, GFF Architects, based in Dallas. He’ll present it to the council, which then would approve it. Then the city hopes to break ground on a massive new public/private endeavor on the north side of U.S. 380.

There will be restaurants and other commercial enterprises, plenty of greenspace, two lakes, natural vegetation, wetlands, a bridge that goes over the wetlands to protect their integrity.

“We’re in the very early stages of the concept,” Borg said. “The next thing will be to look at the cost and how it can be funded.”

OK, so what’s the city’s role here?

Borg said Princeton has outgrown its tiny City Hall. It needs a lot more space. The city intends to bring police and fire administrations under one roof along with other departments. How much space would the new City Hall complex entail? Borg estimates 40,000 to 45,000 square feet, or about eight times the size utilized now, admittedly for only part of the city government’s administration.

Princeton Crossroads is the name of the developer, which Borg said the city is trying to enlist to get “some level of developer participation” in completing the project. “We certainly don’t want to drag this on forever. We want to deliver this project,” he said.

It’s critical to bring police and fire administrations under the same roof as the rest of the city, Borg said, joking that the fire department “is working right now out of its trucks.” Borg, though, has some credibility cracking jokes about the fire department, given that he served as fire chief before becoming city manager.

“It’s going to take a year to build this complex,” Borg said. “We want to break ground in late 2020,” he said.

The cost is still to be determined, he said. Borg did note that the city has a few funding options to consider. One is the obvious option: a bond issue that would go to a vote of the city’s residents. The bond issue would pay only for the bricks and mortar of the public complex. Another option would be to issue certificates of obligation, which the City Council can do without voter approval. Borg did not offer a preference for which funding option would work best for the city.

Princeton clearly is on a fast-track growth trajectory. It’s 2010 census stood at 6,708 residents. Borg believes the population will at least double that amount when they count the residents for the 2020 census. U.S. 380 is under heavy construction along virtually its entire length through the city. Texas Department of Transportation crews are finishing up the median improvements now, but then will begin work on adding one additional lane in each direction through Princeton, turning the four-lane thoroughfare into a six-lane highway to accommodate the expected increase in traffic.

Thus, with the growth that’s occurring, it becomes imperative for the city to build a municipal complex that delivers services to its expanding population.

And what about the City Council’s level of support? Borg said the council is all in and that council members – led by Mayor John-Mark Caldwell – want to proceed as soon as possible.

All this growth does have a way of presenting “headaches” most public officials would wish to confront.