Tag Archives: KETR-FM

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.

Coach brings checkered past to the field at Mount Vernon HS

Blogger’s Note: This blog item was published originally on KETR-FM’s website. I want to repost it for High Plains Blogger readers as well.

School is about to begin in Texas, which means that football season also is nearly upon us. I don’t know about you, but I might be looking with just a little bit more interest than usual at Mount Vernon High School, waiting to see how the team performs in its first season under the coaching leadership of a guy who – although he is a brilliant coach – shouldn’t have this job.

Art Briles is the new head football coach at Mount Vernon. You remember this guy, right? He once coached at Baylor University. He led the Bears to a lot of victories during his time in Waco.

But then he got into trouble by looking the other way while his players were raping women all over the university campus. Some of the players faced criminal charges; many of them were convicted. Briles, though, claimed to not know what his players were doing.

Well, the story got away from everyone. It swallowed up Baylor University. It consumed Waco. Briles became the face of a scandal of which he lost control.

Baylor University Chancellor Kenneth Starr – whose investigation into sexual misconduct at an entirely different level led to President Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 – was forced to resign. Baylor Athletics Director Ian McCaw also resigned. The Baylor regents then fired Briles.

Briles wandered in the coaching wilderness – in Canada and in Europe – for a time before Mount Vernon High came calling.

The Mount Vernon Independent School District’s decision to hire this guy remains a difficult tonic for many Northeast Texans to swallow. I don’t live in the Mount Vernon district, but I’m not terribly far away, living in Princeton. Yes, Briles’s hiring sticks in my craw, too.

The rationale for hiring Briles seems to track along two lines: He deserves a second chance and, perhaps more importantly to some, he’s a heck of a football coach.

I maintain the notion that Mount Vernon ISD could have found any number of equally competent football coaches who aren’t tainted with the scandal that has stained Briles’s reputation.

I have no personal interest in Mount Vernon Tigers’ football fortunes. I suppose I should cheer for the young athletes who will work hard to compete on the field under Briles’s leadership. However, this coach’s presence on the sideline taints Mount Vernon’s reputation.

Is that fair? Do I intend to punish the young men who play football to the best of their ability? No. I just cannot set aside the hideous circumstance that cost the coach his job at a Division I university in the first place.

If Mount Vernon wins a lot of football games in the years to come, how can we measure the cost – if not the damage – to the school district’s reputation in hiring this guy?

A&M chancellor says Aggies are generous, too

Blogger’s Note: This post appeared originally on KETR-FM’s website. I am reposting on High Plains Blogger because I want readers of this blog to see it, too. 

The media and the University of Texas-Austin might have gotten a bit ahead of themselves in praising the flagship UT System campus officials’ decision to waive college tuition for students who come from families that fall under a certain income level.

That’s the word, at least from Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp.

Hmm. Is he right?

Sharp has penned a letter to the editor that I presume ran in several newspapers around the state to declare that the A&M System has been offering free college tuition for years. So, the UT-Austin initiative isn’t new, says Sharp.

Sharp noted in his letter that “Several of you have asked if Texas A&M University has plans for a tuition-free program for students from low-income families similar to what the University of Texas recently announced. In fact, Texas A&M University implemented virtually the … same program 10 years ago. The Texas A&M program is called Aggie Assurance. And since 2008, the program has allowed 33,447 undergraduate students from families earning less than $60,000 a year to attend college tuition free.”

The UT System recently announced plans to waive tuition for students whose families earn less than $65,000 annually. It drew high praise around the state. I used my own blog, High Plains Blogger, to speak well of the UT System’s efforts to make college more affordable. To be honest, I was unaware of the Aggie Assurance program to which Sharp has alluded in his letter.

Sharp added, “In addition, Texas A&M University System regents set aside $30 million additional dollars in 2018 to provide help for students of families who earn $100,000 or less or who are stricken with financial hardships such as losses during natural disasters, death of a breadwinner or some other calamity.

“This program, dubbed Regents’ Grants, was created after Hurricane Harvey and has helped hundreds of students who lost books, clothes and transportation, among other things.”

The program is available not just to Texas A&M flagship-campus students, but to all students within the A&M System, according to Sharp.

Are you paying attention, Texas A&M-Commerce students?

These programs are worth mentioning in the context of the 2020 presidential campaign that is becoming to obtain momentum. Several of the horde of Democrats running for their party’s presidential nomination have talked openly about offering free college tuition for all public university students. The UT System as well as the A&M System are dipping into their substantial endowments to fund the assistance programs they are offering their students.

So, I suppose you could suggest that two of Texas’s major public university systems are ahead of the proverbial curve on that one.

I know what many critics have said about Texas’s commitment to public education, that it isn’t nearly as robust, progressive and proactive as it should be. I won’t debate all of that here.

However, I do want to commend the Texas A&M and the University of Texas systems for their efforts to provide quality public university education opportunities for students and their families who otherwise might be unable to shoulder the financial burden that such an education often brings with it.

It’s all about politics

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

Whether the president of the United States is impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives is going to rely solely on a grim political calculation.

Democrats run the House these days. They seem hell bent on impeaching Donald Trump. The numbers of House members calling for an immediate impeachment “inquiry” is growing. Almost all the pro-impeachment voices come from the Democratic caucus; one Republican House member, Justin Amash of Michigan, has joined that chorus.

Do you want further evidence of the political aspect of impeachment? I offer you a survey done by the Texas Tribune, which has sought answers from the entire 38-member Texas congressional delegation.

How do you think it shakes out?

Read the Texas Tribune survey on this link:


The Tribune asked all the state’s House members and its two senators, Republicans Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, two key questions: “Have you read the Mueller Report in its entirety?” and “Do you think the report warrants any legislative action?”

I’ll give you three guesses how the answers shook out … and the first two guesses don’t count.

Yes, the state’s Democratic House members – those who responded to the Tribune – said they had read the report and said that Congress should begin at the very least an inquiry into whether to launch a full impeachment hearing against the president.

The Texas GOP delegation sounded, um, a good bit differently. Not all of them responded, either; indeed, Sen. Cruz didn’t respond, which – to be honest – kind of surprised me.

But those who did read the report came to vastly different conclusions about what it said and what Congress should do in response.

One Republican House member, Will Hurd of the 23rd Congressional District, came close to breaking ranks with his caucus. He told the Tribune: “I have read the Mueller Report and I hope that I get the chance to ask Robert Mueller some questions as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.”

To be honest, my favorite response came from freshman GOP U.S. Rep. Van Taylor of the Third Congressional District, who happens to be my congressman, and from GOP Rep. Roger Williams of the 25th Congressional District. Did he read the report? Taylor and Williams said “Yes.” Should Congress take any legislative action? Taylor and Williams said, “No.” Hey, no need to explain themselves, correct? Well, I believe they should lay out some detail on why Congress need not pursue any legislative action.

My point here is that despite the flowery rhetoric we hear from many Democrats and other political progressives about their concern for the U.S. Constitution and why the nation’s governing document is their reason to seek impeachment, I am inclined to believe even more strongly that the issue revolves solely around politics.

The response from the Texas congressional delegation – comprising a healthy Republican majority – makes the point abundantly clear.

Legislators don’t need a full-time salary

Blogger’s Note: This post was published originally on KETR-FM’s website — www.ketr.org. Your blogger wanted to share it here as well.

I actually have wrestled with this issue on occasion, but I cannot shake my belief in my original thought about it.

What is the issue? Whether to pay Texas legislators a working salary to serve in the state Senate and the House of Representatives. I kind of get the argument in favor of paying them a salary on which they could live.

I keep coming back to the idea that I really like the idea of a “citizen Legislature.”

So, let’s leave the salary issue alone.

The 86th Legislative Assembly has adjourned sine die. It completed its 140-day cycle and, near as I can tell, Gov. Greg Abbott won’t summon them back for a special session this summer.

That’s fine with me. Our legislators can get back to work on their day jobs.

Texans pay their legislators a whopping $600 per month, who also get an expense allotment of $190 per day when the Legislature is in session. That amounts to around $33,900 when the Legislature is in session, and about $41,000 for a two-year term for a member of the Texas House of Representatives.

Is that enough for someone to live on? Of course not! But that isn’t the point.

The Texas Constitution ostensibly allows for regular folks to take a break every odd-numbered year for about five months to write laws, to argue among themselves and to persuade each other to support their legislation.

When they’re done, they go home and resume whatever it is they do when they aren’t in Austin.

The Legislature also appropriates money for staff, some of whom serve between legislative sessions. When the Legislature is in session, House members and senators hire additional staff to handle the deluge of business that occurs from January to May every odd-numbered year.

I like the principle of a citizen Legislature. It gives at least the appearance that our elected lawmakers have an understanding, a kinship, with the people they represent. They are bound to return home and under the strictures of the laws they enact.

I am acutely aware, too, that often the chintzy salaries we pay our legislators might shut out actual working men and women from serving. It costs a lot of money to give up one’s day job to head to Austin for five months every other year. That means those elected to the House and Senate might be, oh, lawyers or physicians who have the financial means to serve in the Legislature.

What’s more, the lieutenant governor who presides over the Senate and the speaker who presides over the House also receive essentially the same salary as the legislators they manage in either legislative chamber. Plus, the lieutenant governor and House speaker essentially hold down full-time legislative jobs.

My version of reality tells me the state system of paying legislators a chump-change salary works well for the state.

As the saying goes, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Besides, even if it is broke, paying legislators more money isn’t likely to be sufficient to repair what needs fixing.

Time-change bill dies … but is it really dead?

Blogger’s Note: This item was published originally on KETR-FM’s website. High Plains Blogger wanted to share it here. Enjoy.

This isn’t the biggest bill ever to die a quiet death in the Texas Legislature, but it might be one of the more talked-about once lawmakers decide to pack it in for this session and head home to their respective districts.

It’s the bill that would have allowed Texans to vote later this year on whether to ditch the twice-yearly time change – from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time … and back again.

The Texas Senate, apparently because of “inaction” by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has allowed the bill to wither away and die. Texans won’t be voting on this measure in the fall.

Too bad? Well, that depends, I suppose, on your point of view.

For me, it makes no never mind.

Every year – first in the spring and then in the autumn – we gripe and moan about the time change. We holler in the spring when we move the clocks ahead and lose that hour of sleep; some of us are late for worship services that Sunday (because the time change occurs officially at 2 a.m. those days). Then we yap in the fall when we set the clocks back an hour, regaining that hour of sleep we lost in the spring; I don’t know this with any certainty, but perhaps some of us even get to our house of worship an hour early.

None of this ever has bothered me.

I understand the reason for enacting Daylight Saving Time. It was done initially to conserve energy. We get more daylight later in the day and don’t have to turn on the lights quite so early. Thus, we conserve valuable electricity, which is powered by, oh, the finite supply of fossil fuel. Oh, sure, we rely more in Texas these days on wind power, the sun and maybe some bio-fuels produced from corn and other crops.

But the clamor to switch to the same time all year long is a bit overheated to suit my taste.

The bill’s author, state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said Texans supposedly have passionate views on the issue. I presume he means “all Texans.” Count me out, Rep. Larson. I ain’t one of ‘em.

For the record, if I had the chance to vote on which time to use, I’d stick with Daylight Saving Time. Why? I like the extra sunshine in the evening. Yes, it also saves energy.

But it’s all for naught, right?

Maybe not. There might be a special session in our immediate future this summer if Rep. Larson and his House allies feel strongly enough about it and can persuade Gov. Greg Abbott to call one and then put the time-change issue on the agenda.

But I hope not.

TxDOT takes very long view of highway ‘realignment’

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

If you had any thought that the Texas Department of Transportation was going to knock out a planned realignment of U.S. 380 through Collin and Hunt counties just like that, well, you can set that thought aside.

It’s going to take some time. And quite a long time at that, according to TxDOT officials who are concluding a series of public presentations along the route of the proposed realignment.

I attended the presentation at Princeton High School this week. TxDOT’s Ceason Clemens delivered a 24-minute summary of the grand plan. It’s a doozy, I’ll tell you.

Here’s the time line, as explained to me by Michelle Raglon, TxDOT public affairs manager: They won’t start “throwing dirt around” for six to nine years and over time, it’s going to take TxDOT roughly 20 years to finish the job; it might go longer than that, Raglon said.

The bottom line? North Texans are in for a long haul.

Clemens made a couple of points I want to highlight before discussing some of the guts of the proposed realignment.

  • One is that there has been no shortage of public meetings about the plans to reconfigure the U.S. 380 corridor from the Denton-Collin County line to Hunt County, she said. TxDOT has received more than 15,000 public comments over the course of about five years.
  • Another is that this project is not subject to any kind of public vote. TxDOT has received authorization from the Texas Legislature to study the feasibility as well as the environmental impact of the work to be done and it is proceeding with that mandate from state lawmakers.

So, what’s in store for Princeton, where I live and where my wife and plan to live for, shall we say . . . the duration?

TxDOT is planning to spend about $353 million to build a loop north of the existing U.S. 380 thoroughfare. It will displace 19 business, compared to 122 that would have been displaced with another option it considered before settling on the recommended route. The affected area lies between Farm to Market Road 1827 to County Road 559. TxDOT believes this route offers “greater support for future economic growth opportunities.”

The highway department is planning average right-of-way depths of 330 to 350 feet, but there will be “exceptions” made around “major interchanges where more is needed for ramps.”

The renderings presented after revealing TxDOT’s recommendations suggest a major widening of the highway to accommodate what is expected to be tremendous growth over the next several decades. Indeed, I recently spoke with Princeton City Manager Derek Borg, who told me the city’s population – which he estimates today to be around 13,000 residents – will top out at around 110,000 residents in the next, oh, 40 or 50 years.

Thus, the pressure on the highway infrastructure is going to be immense. You know?

There’s much more, of course, to this proposal. TxDOT, for instance, is looking at yet another loop south of the existing U.S. 380 corridor through Farmersville. It will displace far fewer businesses and residences than another alternative considered. The TxDOT recommendation offered for the segment from County Road 559 to the Hunt County line will cost around $404 million.

The Princeton High School meeting drew a substantial crowd of about 250 residence. TxDOT brought a full complement of staffers, engineers, spokespeople – you name ‘em – to the public presentation.

My sense is that the size and scope of what TxDOT is pitching – in conjunction with the North Central Texas Council of Governments – hasn’t sunk in completely with those who will be affected.

It all will, over time, which TxDOT seems – at the moment – to have plenty at the moment as it seeks to explain fully what it intends to do with this highway corridor that courses through North Texas.

POWs helped build this N. Texas community

Note: I wrote this item for KETR-FM based at Texas A&M-Commerce. I want to share it on High Plains Blogger.

Who knew that German soldiers who fought against our guys during World War II would play a part in building a North Texas community?

Not me, certainly. At least until recently.

I followed some signs the other day in Princeton pointing me toward a World War II POW camp. About three left turns later, I found myself pulling into a city park that is still under development, with an estimated completion date of July 2019.

All I found was a Texas Historical Commission marker noting the existence of the POW camp that actually functioned as such from February 1945 until the end of World War II in August 1945.

Prior to taking prisoners of war from European battlefields, the site is described as a “migrant” camp established in 1941 with the help of the great Sam Rayburn, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives who hailed from nearby Bonham in Fannin County.

It fascinates me to realize that German prisoners of war – men who had been captured trying to kill Americans – actually were put to work on North Texas farms and in Princeton itself. According to the historical marker inscription: “While here, the German soldiers worked on Princeton area farms, providing valuable labor assistance. For many years following the prisoners’ release in 1946, the site again served as a camp for migrant workers.”

There’s a certain poetic irony in the work the Nazi soldiers did on our area farms. Why? The North Texas agriculture community’s ranks of able-bodied men had been depleted because those sons of farming and ranching families answered the call to fight in defense of their way of life against, oh, Germans, Italians and Japanese.

That’s not where the poet aspect of this historic episode ends, however.

Again, according to the Historical Commission plaque: “Not only did the prisoners work in the field, but they also did stonemasonry work in downtown Princeton. Others helped construct a park in Princeton built in memory of the men who served in the armed forces during WWII and a shrine to perpetuate the memory of those who lost their lives in the war.”

Ponder that for a moment. I do not know whether the German POWs knew in the moment that they were would build a park memorializing Americans who were sent to Europe to save the world from the tyrants who sent them to war against us.

I am going to presume that they had to know something was afoot when they went to work in Princeton.

Can it possibly get any more poetic than that?