Tag Archives: Randall County

Where does ideology fit in this office?

I get a kick out of looking at political campaign signs … and Lord knows we’ve got a lot of them sprouting up all over Amarillo, Texas, as our state’s primary election is less than a month away.

One such sign caught my eye this morning and it brings to mind a question I’ve pondered for nearly as long as I’ve lived in Texas; that’s nearly 34 years.

Susan Allen is running for Randall County clerk. The current county clerk, Renee Calhoun, isn’t seeking re-election. I don’t know Allen, but I am struck by a message on her sign, which reads “A Conservative Choice.”

Hmmm. So, the long-pondered question is this: Why do we elect some of these statutory offices on partisan ballots?

Moreover, when does political ideology matter when we’re pondering for whom to vote for an office such as county clerk?

I’m not sure how a “conservative” county clerk is more desirable than a “liberal” one. How does one apply the duties of county clerk to fit a political ideology? Now that I think about it, I can come up with only one possible avenue: whether the county clerk would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as required by federal law. It is my fervent hope that I might be reading too much into that explosive issue and how it might determine whether voters will make a “conservative choice” in selecting their next county clerk.

The county clerk is responsible for maintaining records for county courts at law. The clerk also manages voter registration and serves as the chief elections officer for a given county. Where does it really matter whether the county clerk adheres to a conservative or liberal political philosophy?

I’ve wondered before — on the record — about the partisan or ideological requirements for a number of such offices. They include tax assessor-collector, treasurer, district clerk (which administers records for state district courts) and, yes, even for sheriff and district attorney.

Does it really matter if a county’s top cop and top prosecutor belong to a particular political party? For that matter, how does a Republican tax collector-assessor do his or her job any differently from a Democrat? Same for treasurer.

Perhaps you’ve known that I also dislike the idea of electing judges on partisan ballots. I won’t go there — this time!

I’m sure Susan Allen and all the other county clerk candidates are fine people. They all are more than likely technically qualified to do the job required of them under the state laws they take an oath to follow to the letter.

Ideology should be a non-starter. I damn sure hope that’s the case in Randall County.

Voting early … under duress

I’ve stated over the years my distaste for voting early. I prefer the ritual of voting on Election Day. It’s a matter of seeking to protect myself against any of my candidates doing something that would make me regret casting my ballot for them.

Here comes the punch line: I am likely going to have vote prior to the March 6 primary election.

It’s not because I want to do so. It’s because my wife and I plan to be out of town that day. Our granddaughter’s birthday will require us to be away from our polling place on Election Day. Thus, I’ll be voting “absentee,” which is what they used to call it long before states made “early voting” so fashionable.

I remain opposed to voting early when I know I will be home on the day we go to the polls.

My opposition is as strong as ever.

Now the quandary: Which primary do I choose? In Texas we have what’s called an “open primary” system. We don’t walk into a polling place registered to vote in one party’s primary; we make that decision when we get there. The election judge then might stamp our voting card with the name of whichever primary we choose to cast our ballot.

Since my wife and I are registered to vote in Randall County, it’s a foregone conclusion that the local races will feature zero Democrats. In these mid-term elections, I often find myself voting in the GOP primary because that’s where my vote counts for county race and state legislative contests. I am occasionally inclined to look past the national races — U.S. House and Senate — while preferring to decide for whom to vote in the general election in November.

So, this year I likely will get to break with personal tradition.

Still waiting for jury duty

I must be a weirdo.

I’m now 68 years of age and I have a item on my bucket list that I likely won’t ever fulfill.

I want to serve on a trial jury. I want to get the chance to determine whether someone is guilty or innocent of a crime. I even would settle for a civil case that would allow me to rule in favor of a plaintiff or a defendant.

It won’t happen. Not likely ever.

Over many years of living I’ve heard too many friends and acquaintances gripe about serving on a jury. They don’t have the time. They don’t want to be bothered. Public service? Let someone else do it!

Why, I never …

I posted a blog item in February 2009 that called attention to a local sheriff reporting for jury duty. Randall County’s top cop, Joel Richardson, performed his act of public service.

So, what’s your excuse?

I was proud of Sheriff Richardson.

Alas, I won’t be able to do what he did … more than likely.

In Randall County, where I’ve lived for more than two decades, I receive jury summonses about two, maybe three times a year. The county’s automated system allows summons recipients to call the prior evening to see if we have to report. Almost without fail, I call and the recording excuses “all jurors” until the next time we get called.

Then there’s this grand jury matter. I served on a Randall County grand jury some years ago. We met for three months, handing out indictments and no-billing people listed in criminal complaints brought by the district attorney’s office. The DA, James Farren, told us we could kiss any future jury duty goodbye, given our grand jury experience. Why? Defense counsel would strike us as being biased in favor of the prosecution.

Drat!

I know this sounds strange. I do wish I could get a jury summons, answer it, report for duty and then get selected to hear a case. Hey, the pay is lousy.

Then again, public service isn’t about personal enrichment … correct?

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.

Now it’s the grand jury system under attack

Grand juries do an important task within the criminal justice system.

They hear evidence from prosecutors and then decide whether a criminal complaint merits an indictment, which is a formal accusation of a crime that needs to be decided by the courts.

Now, though, the grand jury “system” has come under attack as it relates to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the Donald Trump campaigned had an improper relationship with Russian government hackers seeking to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

Who are the attackers? I’ve heard it come from right-wing talking heads on conservative media outlets. For example, Sean Hannity of Fox News said the grand jury that Mueller has impaneled is inherently biased against Trump. Hannity echoes the president’s description of Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt.”

Fascinating, yes? Sure it is. These are the same fools who called for grand jury investigations into Hillary Rodham Clinton’s missing e-mails. This is the “lock her up!” crowd that didn’t give a damn about any presumption of innocence and wanted a grand jury to find a reason to imprison the former U.S. senator, secretary of state and 2016 Democratic Party presidential nominee.

These individuals make me want to puke.

***

I now want to say a few words about the grand jury system.

It’s not perfect, but it works. Indeed, I have some intimate knowledge of the Texas grand jury system. I served on a grand jury for three months here in Randall County. I was asked to serve by a jury commissioner who was picked by 181st District Judge John Board; the jury commissioner, a friend of mine, was tasked with finding qualified individuals to serve on a grand jury.

I eventually was seated on the grand jury and we met in Canyon each week. We heard complaints brought to us by law enforcement. It was an educational process to be sure. Did we indict every criminal suspect named in a complaint? Hardly.

We would hear from prosecutors who would explain the circumstances surrounding the complaint. We would ask questions of them, talk among ourselves and then decide whether to issue an indictment. It was clean, simple and most importantly, it was done honestly and in good faith.

Granted, the stakes involved in our list of hearings fall far, far, far short of what awaits the grand jury that will consider the assorted Donald J. Trump matters that Robert Mueller will bring forward.

It angers me in the extreme, though, to hear partisan, talking-head hacks disparage for political purposes a segment of our criminal justice system that can — and does — bring great value to the delivering of justice.

‘Bosses’ demand answers from ’employees’

Representative democracy is a messy business.

Members of Congress are finding out just how messy it can become. Many of them have gone “home” during the congressional break. Moreover, many of them have had town hall meetings in which they’ve been shouted down by voters angry over any plan to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.

Many others of them have decided against having town hall meetings. They need not hear from their bosses, they say.

I have to express some admiration for congressmen and women who are willing to stand up, take the heat, and then absorb the comments.

Many citizens have been chanting at their employees — these members of Congress — with a simple message: We’re the boss!

Indeed, they are.

And they deserve to be heard. They deserve all they time they desire to make themselves heard. The people whose salary they pay must take it. They must listen.

This recent development brings to mind a local government body that used to operate in a more “employer-friendly” manner.

Randall County, Texas, voters elected a county judge, Ted Wood, who took office in 1995 and restructured the way county Commissioners Court meetings would take place. Wood did so to give county constituents a greater voice; he intended to give them a broad forum to speak their peace.

Wood’s thought was a simple one: We work for the county’s residents and we owe it to them to give them all the time they need to tell us what’s on their mind.

He would open the floor at the end of county commissioners meetings to residents. He would let them speak for as long as they wanted. Wood’s policy drew the ire of some of his fellow county commissioners. His constituency, though, encompassed the entire county, while each commissioner represented only a section of the county, a single county precinct.

Therefore, Wood threw his weight around.

Was he wrong? Did he allow county residents to take control of these meetings? My recollection was that the meetings didn’t go on forever. They did have end points.

However, the county judge had his heart in the right place. He knew who were the bosses in this form of government we call “representative democracy.” Ted Wood understood that he worked for the taxpayers who pay the bills, not the other way around.

Members of Congress who aren’t listening to complaints from their bosses need to understand that truth, too.

Jury duty won’t happen … more than likely

I don’t have a lengthy bucket list.

My final bucket-list destination is Australia. Haven’t been there, but my wife and I intend to make the journey — possibly sooner rather than later.

The to-do bucket list used to include things such as jumping out an airplane or bungee jumping off the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado. They’re off the list now.

I do, though, want to serve on a trial jury. Sadly, I believe that bucket list desire also is fading away. You likely won’t see my backside planted in a seat such as one of those pictured with this blog post.

We returned this weekend from a trip to South Texas and I had a jury summons from Randall County, Texas, waiting for me. I was to report this morning, except that when I called Tuesday night the recorded voice told me they didn’t need any jurors and that we were excused until we got summoned the next time.

Drat!

This has been the story of my jury-duty life for decades now. I get the summons and then am told to forget about it. Once, not long after we moved to Amarillo in 1995, I did get a summons and was told to report. I did. We sat around for most of the morning and then the judge came out and told us the cases had all been settled. He thanked us for our time and then we left.

I might have cooked my own bucket-list goose, though, by accepting an appointment more than a decade ago to serve on a Randall County grand jury. These are the folks who are appointed by a state district judge and then told to report one day each week for three months. That’s where we heard criminal complaints and decided whether to indict or “no-bill” a suspect in a criminal case.

It was one of the most fascinating public service duties imaginable. I learned a great deal about my community. The most glaring thing I learned is that Randall County is chock full of people who do terrible things to other people, namely children. Many of the complaints we heard — and the detail supplied by assistant district attorneys — sickened us to our core.

However, I remember quite vividly something that District Attorney James Farren told us after we had taken the oath to serve. It was that if we had any thought of ever getting picked for a trial jury that we’d might as well forget it. No criminal defense counsel would allow us to serve on a trial jury knowing that we had served on a grand jury. Such service, I was led to believe, marked us as “biased” against a defendant.

Heck, knowing that I’d settle just for making the first cut and then getting struck during juror selection.

Alas, it’s possible that won’t happen, either.

I am not seeking the big bucks. Texas doesn’t pay its trial jurors a lot of money; for that matter, we didn’t get paid much for our service on the grand jury, either.

Whatever the case, I’ll keep answering the summonses when they arrive. My hope, while fading, isn’t yet dead.

 

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.

Early vote record produces a mixed result

voting

Let’s crunch some numbers from the presidential election.

I want to examine briefly the record-setting early-vote totals in one Texas county — the one where I live — and try to determine if it meant a greater overall turnout.

Randall County voted 80 percent in favor of the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump. That’s the least surprising result, given the county’s strong GOP tradition. You can’t find a Democratic candidate running for anything in this county. Indeed, the loneliest job in America — next, perhaps, to the Maytag repairman — might be Randall County’s Democratic chair.

The county registered more than 43,000 early votes prior to the Nov. 8 election. In 2012, a total of about 49,600 voters cast ballots in the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney; captured the Randall County vote by an even greater percentage than Trump did.

This year, the unofficial vote total for Randall County sits at 54,185. That’s an increase of about 5,000 votes from four years ago.

The county had about 85,000 registered voters this year, which puts the percentage turnout at about 63 percent.

To that I would say, “Not bad at all.” Of course, the number goes down when you factor in the total number of eligible voters, which includes those who aren’t registered to vote.

What does all this mean?

http://uselectionatlas.org/2016.php

I guess it means that the record number of early voters did translate into a ginned-up interest in this election — much to my own surprise. I had thought the election would produce a dismally low turnout, even in this GOP-friendly region.

Still, the percentage of turnout across the state remains far short of anything to boast about. The national turnout appears headed for a 20-year low.

I am delighted that Texas makes it so easy for residents to vote early. I remain dedicated, though, to the idea of waiting until Election Day to cast my ballot.

For those who did vote early — and to those who perhaps voted for the first time — congratulations and well done.

 

Humans tinker with ballots, not machines

vote1

Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner has put the kibosh on a social media rumor about ballot integrity.

“There is nothing wrong with any of the machines we use for voting,” Tanner said in a statement. “They do not flip your vote. They do not flip parties. Humans do that.”

At issue is a complaint filed by a voter in Randall County who said that after voting for a straight Republican ticket her ballot showed a vote for the Hillary Clinton-Tim Kaine Democratic ticket for president and vice president.

Tanner said it didn’t happen, apparently consulting with her colleagues in Randall County.

The maddening aspect of this episode is that it comes in the wake of repeated allegations by GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump about “rigged elections” at the precinct polling level. Quite naturally — and this is of zero surprise — Trump hasn’t provided a single snippet of evidence to back up his specious contention.

That hasn’t stopped — in my mind, at least — the Internet trolls from promoting such nonsense in the GOP-friendly Texas Panhandle.

I’m glad to hear Judge Tanner weighing in with her assertion that her county’s election system is working as promised.

Indeed, about the only way to suspect actual voter fraud would be if the Clinton-Kaine ticket actually won in Randall County.

http://amarillo.com/news/local-news/2016-10-25/potter-county-judge-nothing-wrong-voting-machines