Category Archives: local news

Taking time away from the ‘news’

Even news junkies need a break from the news, I have learned. So, with that I am prepared to announce that I am weaning myself from the daily barrage of news and commentary that used to fill my days to nearly overflowing.

Granted, it has taken an intense personal struggle to make this happen. My wife’s medical challenge has lured me away from the TV set and (more or less) from the Internet, where I have spent many of my wide-awake hours these days.

Not lately, though. My days have been filled with worry and concern about my bride and with the everlasting hope for a miracle that could free her of the cancer that we discovered in her the day after Christmas 2022.

That challenge has been enough to fill my days possibly forever.

Now … it is true that I have weighed in on political and policy matters on occasion. Many of my recent blog posts have concerned local matters. We have a school district here in Princeton, Texas, that is (a) going to ask voters to approve a significant bond issue in May and (b) is wrestling with whether to ban outside groups from using public property for events because of some school trustees’ dislike of those who want to declare their “pride” in their sexual orientation.

Critics of this blog no doubt will challenge my assertion that I have sought to stay mostly away from national affairs. They lie in wait for me to comment on those matters, then pounce on me when I do.

That’s fine. I can take it. After all, I have much greater matters of concern to me right now than what anyone thinks of what I have to say about politics.

All in all, I have been free of the hustle and bustle, the humdrum, the toil and tempest of the political world. Believe this or not, it’s frankly been about the only bright spot I have I have seen as we wage this struggle to help my bride defeat the challenge she is facing.

Public works teams excel

I have made this point before — many times, I think — but it always is worth repeating as we struggle against Mother Nature’s wrath.

The point is that public works teams answer a potentially dangerous call when frigid weather arrives. And boy, howdy … Mother Nature brought it again to North Texas this week.

I hear reports of power outages. Of streets that remain slick on which to drive safely. Of busted pipes. Who’s there to turn the lights on, to restore water service, to treat our streets? The public works crews, be they public or private employees.

They do jobs I could only imagine doing. Even at that, my imagination has its limits.

I commented on the public works crews and the private utility company teams that fought through the bitter cold of the February 2021 deep freeze in North Texas. We lost our power in Princeton during that crisis and, for a time, we were without water in our house.

I am knocking on my noggin while saying that so far, our power and water have stayed on. Let’s hope for the best, shall we?

Back to my point, which is that it takes a special breed of human being to do the things we demand and expect from our public works staff. Who among us could sit high above the ground in a “cherry picker” basket working on power lines while the frigid wind blows and the sky drops freezing rain and sleet? Not me!

These men and women are brave souls who toil under stressful and potentially dangerous conditions. I salute them all and thank them for risking their own health and well-being on my behalf.

Princeton is growing up

I want to share a bit of intel on the city my wife and I now call home: Princeton, Texas, is beginning to show some signs of municipal maturity.

It is growing up before our eyes.

How do I know that? I am seeing “Open” signs on windows of newly built businesses along U.S. Highway 380. A donut shop chain store is opening. So is a pizza joint a bit west on the highway. The city recently welcomed a new coffee shop. A major chain motor fuel station/store is under construction at the U.S. 380-Monte Carlo Boulevard intersection. Strip malls are being completed.

Roadwork is proceeding along several thoroughfares, with more work planned along U.S. 380.

Is this the beginning of the final phase of Princeton’s upbringing? Hardly. I hear talk of a new major grocery store on the way. We still need a movie theater and more eateries, allowing us to stay closer to home.

The maturation will take time. I can wait.

Partisanship rules in Texas Senate

My old buddy Kel Seliger’s departure from the Texas Senate is now becoming even more clear than it was when he announced his intention to forgo another term in the legislative body.

Seliger, an Amarillo Republican, had crossed swords with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick many times since 2015 when Patrick took over as the Senate’s presiding officer.

Now we see that Patrick has tossed aside a longstanding Texas Senate tradition by appointing just one Democrat to a committee chairmanship. That would be John Whitmire, a moderate from Houston who now serves as the Senate’s most senior member; Whitmire will chair the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Seliger has returned to private life in the Texas Panhandle, no longer having to tolerate Patrick’s petulance and his hyper-partisan approach to governance, neither of which is Seliger’s style.

Compare the Patrick method to that being practiced down hall the Texas Capitol hall in the House, where Speaker Dade Phelan — yes, another Republican — has resisted far-right-wing pressure to appoint only GOP House members to committee chairs. One of those right-wingers, state Rep. Bryan Slaton of Royse City, told me that Phelan is rewarding House Democrats unjustly because they do not hold a majority in the Texas House.

Phelan’s response. That’s just too damn bad … just live with it.

Patrick has tossed aside bipartisanship in running the Senate. As the Dallas Morning News stated in an editorial: Texas has serious business to get done to keep us moving forward as a state. Chances are the Senate will be hog-tied with business it shouldn’t be worrying about. That’s bad for Texans.

So it goes in the Texas Senate, which will be run by a lieutenant governor more interested in sticking it to Democrats than in welcoming them to cooperate in legislating matters that will benefit the whole state.

What a shame.

Ernie would be proud

Dang! I regret not snapping a picture of a building in Amarillo that is the subject of this blog. That would be the Ernie Houdashell Randall County Annex.

You see, it is Houdashell’s name that gives me reason to comment. I am delighted to have seen the building with the late Randall County judge’s name on it. My bride and I made a quick trip to the Panhandle and we took a moment to gaze at Ernie’s name on the annex.

Houdashell died recently of complications brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. His passing saddens me to this day. He and I became acquainted shortly after my arrival in the Texas Panhandle in early 1995 when he was district director for state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo. Houdashell gravitated to the county judgeship not long afterward.

He worked hard to acquire the site of a former store on Western Street and build a county annex in south Amarillo. The county seat is in Canyon, but the bulk of the business in the county occurs at its annex, which formerly was stuffed into a tiny structure on Georgia Street.

Houdashell wanted county employees to operate in a modern and spacious venue and wanted the public they served to avail themselves of all the services the county offers.

He fought, cajoled and negotiated a deal for the county to build the annex. Then he died. The county then rewarded Houdashell’s memory by putting his name on the shiny new courthouse annex.

Oh, one more thing. The old annex structure has been repurposed into the Texas Panhandle War Memorial Center, next to the memorial honoring all the individuals from the Panhandle who gave their lives in conflicts dating back to the Spanish-American War. Houdashell worked to acquire an Air Force F-100 fighter jet, an Army UH-1 Huey helicopter (similar to one on which Houdashell served while deployed during the Vietnam War) and a piece of the battleship USS Arizona that was sunk in the Pearl Harbor attack.

Again, he did that all of that because of his eternal love of the county he served with distinction and honor.

I will miss my friend forever and then some. Randall County has done well by inscribing Ernie Houdashell’s name on the county annex.

Post-journalism ‘career’ did hit a bump

I have regaled readers of this blog with occasional tales of the triumphs I have scored since my daily journalism career came to an end more than a decade ago.

However, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. I signed on to a job that didn’t go well, and I want to share that experience with you here.

The Randall County Youth Center of the High Plains hired me as a juvenile supervision officer in 2013. I lasted six months in that job.

The center is what we used to call “detention” or “reform school” in the old days. It’s for children who run afoul of the law. Some of them are in there because of dumbass mistakes. Others are in there because they’re, well, deeply troubled youngsters.

It’s a tension-filled job.

The JSOs are trained to do many things and they have many specific procedures they must follow. If a kid gets sick, you must administer medicine by the book … or else. JSOs must fill out reams of paperwork to chronicle every single incident that occurs on their watch.

I worked with some fine officers. Most of them treated me with respect, given that I was by far the oldest among them.

One guy, though, the second in command at the youth center, apparently opposed my hiring. He would bristle visibly when I entered a room. He didn’t like me. It might have been that I am a “media guy” and many in law enforcement distrust those who pursue my craft.

One night, a teenager was acting up; he was one of the older kids, around 17 years of age. I started to discipline him, by sending him to “time out.” The kid decided he wanted to fight me. He untucked his shirt and called me a series of obscenities.

I froze. I didn’t respond the way I was supposed to respond. I called for assistance. Other JSOs rushed in. One of them wrestled with the kid, seeking to restrain him. I stood over the kid and tried to talk him down. He yelled, “F*** you, old man!”

The kid was restrained. He was sent to isolation to cool off. My shift ended and I went home, but after being lectured by my supervisor.

Two days later, I got called into the No. 2 guy’s office. He read me the riot act … and then fired me. All I said was, “Well, so it’s one strike and I’m out, right?” Then I left. I figure the guy who didn’t want me there was looking for a reason to fire me — and I gave it to him.

As I look back on that gig, I am grateful that he canned me. Every aspect of life teaches us lessons. I learned from that experience that am not cut out for the task for which I had been hired. It takes a special person to do that kind of work; I am not one of ’em. For one thing, I was too old to be fighting a strapping teenager; hey, I didn’t want to get my butt kicked … you know?

I hope my former colleagues are well and have retained their sanity. As for the kid who wanted to fight me that night … I hope he’s still among us and has grown into a productive adult.

Love abounds from … strangers!

Our English language lacks the words to describe adequately the feeling that fills my heart at this moment.

My bride is ready to do battle with the cancer the team at Medical City/McKinney found inside her brain. Her resolve is remarkable, indeed.

What has been astonishing has been the love that has poured in from people we know quite well but, more to the point of this brief blog post, from those who barely know either of us or do not know us at all.

It is coming from individuals who are friends of friends of ours, or those who know our sons and our daughter-in-law. They are Facebook “friends” who read this blog.

Their support, prayers, good thoughts and karma coming toward us fill us both with gratitude beyond all humanly measure. It has been astonishing and in this challenging time it has helped sustain us as we seek to make sense of the changes in our life.

So … I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to those who have taken a few seconds or minutes to express their love and support for my heroic bride as she prepares to bulldog this latest of life’s challenges.

She is a champion of the first order. Her stellar and steady outlook is buttressed by the “thoughts and prayers” that come her way.

Thank you.

A small pleasure, but still …

Having my wife home after a three-week hospital stint has taught me to appreciate the little things I often take for granted.

One of them is not having to run around in heavy traffic to and from our house in Princeton and the hospital in McKinney.

If you know a thing about traffic in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, you’ll understand that it can be frustrating (to say the very least), especially if you need to be somewhere quickly.

I did discover a couple of alternate routes between the house and the hospital. They are relatively traffic free, but I still needed to navigate my way through rural areas with which I was unfamiliar … until now!

That particular daily routine is a thing of the past. I am pleased to declare that I intend to stick around the house as much as I humanly can while tending to my bride’s needs.

The little things … there’s nothing like ’em.

Mayors want ‘local control’

A cadre of big-city Texas mayors has delivered a critical message to state legislators who have gathered in Austin for the 88th Texas Legislative Assembly.

The mayors want to retain control of their cities’ destiny.

Man, what a concept!

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, president of the Texas Big City Mayors Coalition said the group’s battle to keep control at city hall will be central to their observance of the Legislature.

Too often, it seems that legislators purport to know how cities should govern themselves. From my standpoint in little ol’ Princeton, the most egregious example of that stemmed from the debate over whether cities should have the authority to install cameras at signaled intersections to combat those who disobey stop lights.

The Legislature grudgingly allowed the cities to enact such ordinances, then took that authority away. said at a conference Friday along with eight other members of the Texas’ Big City Mayors coalition.

“As mayors with the responsibility of managing services and operations that largely impact the daily lives of our residents, we believe we are best positioned to determine local policies,” Nirenberg said. Well, there you go. End of argument, right? Not even close!

As the Texas Tribune reports:

Texas mayors want to keep control of local issues | The Texas Tribune

“Boots on the ground.” There you go. Mayors don’t want — or certainly don’t need — politicians from faraway places telling them how to run their cities.

The message I gleaned from the Big City Mayors outfit?

Butt the hell out!

Not very hospitable … governor

Greg Abbott has delivered a gut punch to the notion that Texas is a hospitable place to visit, even for those who might have political disagreements with the individual who serves as its governor.

Gov. Abbott greeted President Biden the other day in West Texas as the president came to take a look at the immigrant crisis along our border with Mexico.

What did Abbott do upon shaking Biden’s hand? He handed him a shi**y note in which he blamed the Biden administration for the crisis, demanding that he do something to end it and suggesting that the president wasn’t doing the job to which he was elected.

Well …

I get that Abbott is angry that it took Biden so long to see the state’s border with Mexico. The president has earned much of the criticism he is getting for his perceived apathy toward the matter.

But, c’mon, man! Abbott is showing his partisan stripes when he chastises the president so openly and in full public view.

He could have written something, like: Thank you for coming, Mr. President. We know you care about the border crisis we are facing here. Accordingly, I am willing to work with you — hand in glove, shoulder to shoulder — to repair the problems that are causing so much grief here. We just need more involvement from the federal government.

Abbott didn’t do that. Instead, he wrote: “All of this is happening because you have violated your constitutional obligation to defend the States against invasion through faithful execution of federal laws.”

Many of us believe that Abbott is playing hardball politics when cooperation and the search for common ground would be in order.

Someone would do well to whisper in Abbott’s ear this truth: The federal government needs a signal that you are on the same team as the president of all 50 United States of America.