Category Archives: local news

County to honor late Judge Houdashell … yes!

As my dear old dad would say, “I’ll be dipped in sesame seeds.”

I just found out that the late Randall County (Texas) Judge Ernie Houdashell is going to be honored for his work as a devoted public servant for the county he loved with all his heart.

The county commissioners court has decided to put Ernie Houdashell’s name on the county annex building on Western Street in southern Amarillo. It will be called the “Ernie Houdashell Randall County Annex.”

To which I offer a heartfelt cheer and congratulations.

I had written a blog item just the other day lamenting the absence of Houdashell’s name on any structure nearly a year after he died of COVID-19 related complications. It turns out that county commissioners had been working on honoring the county judge’s memory for the past few months.

They are working at this time on completing the signage that will be displayed on the front of the annex.

The annex was a huge accomplishment for Judge Houdashell, who wanted to give county employees working in the annex more room than what they had in their old quarters on South Georgia Street. He wheeled and dealt to acquire an abandoned store on South Western, which the county then renovated and turned into a shiny new office complex which could handle the volume of work required at the annex; indeed, nearly 80 percent of the county’s work occurs at the annex, even though the county seat is in Canyon.

This news makes me happy. It is satisfying in the extreme to know that Ernie Houdashell’s dedication to Randall County will be honored in perpetuity in this fashion.

Well done, Randall County.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

So long, and thanks, Sen. Seliger

Call me not surprised in the least at this bit of political bombshell news.

Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger, an Amarillo Republican, has announced he won’t run for another term from Senate District 31.

I want to get this disclaimer out of the way off the top. Seliger is a friend of mine. I have known him since the week I reported for work in January 1995 at the Amarillo Globe-News. Seliger was mayor of the city and he and I got to know each other well while he served in public office and I worked as editorial page editor of the newspaper.

Our relationship morphed into a friendship when he left the mayor’s office. Then it returned to its former self when he was elected to the state Senate in 2004.

Texas is losing a titan from its legislative leadership. The Texas Panhandle is losing a stellar representative of its interests in Austin.  Seliger will serve until January 2023 when his current term expires.

I won’t pussyfoot around with what I believe to be Seliger’s motive in leaving public office. He has grown weary of being battered by the right-wing nut cases who occupy the GOP leadership. I refer particularly to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, with whom Seliger has clashed frequently since Patrick was first elected to lead the Senate in 2014.

Seliger has opposed some of Patrick’s key socially conservative notions. He once spoke ill of a key Patrick aide; the lieutenant governor punished Seliger by removing him key committee chairmanships.

Seliger has been the target of Empower Texans, a right-wing political action committee that pushes archconservative social issues, which Seliger — given his nature and his salt-of-the-Earth conservatism — has opposed.

Seliger’s statement about his pending retirement contained all the proper platitudes about pride in serving his West Texas district, about how he wants to spend more time with his family and his giving thanks to West Texans for entrusting him with their vote.

The Legislature, though, decided to “reward” Seliger by pulling key Panhandle counties out of District 31 and adding several more from the Permian Basin region, thus diluting Seliger’s base within the sprawling legislative district.

So, it’s no surprise to me that this good man has decided to call it a career.

Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo won’t seek reelection | The Texas Tribune

The Texas Panhandle has been blessed with solid conservative representation in the Texas Senate even pre-dating Seliger’s tenure in that office. What happens now remains anyone’s guess. My hunch is that it won’t be good, necessarily, for the region that sent Kel Seliger to Austin to represent its interests.

This is a big loss for the region I once called home. I’m betting that Kel Seliger is likely to sleep well from this day forward now that he has made this big announcement.

Thanks for your service to the Panhandle and the state, Sen. Seliger.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Roadwork does not end

Every return to Amarillo brings new discoveries for us, such as our most recent venture to the city we called home for more than two decades.

The latest discovery deals with road construction. Suffice to say, the slogan that the late Stanley Marsh 3 was fond of displaying — “Road Does Not End” — needs a slight change … to “roadwork does not end.”

Wow! The Loop 335 extension along Helium Road is a monstrous project that to my eyes looks to be years from completion. Same for the work that the Texas Department of Transportation is doing along the southwestern quadrant between Soncy Road and Georgia Street.

Oh, and how about Interstates 40 and 27? I’ll say that our return enabled us to haul our fifth wheel safely and without a hint of peril along I-40, as most of the work along its easternmost lanes is largely complete.

We didn’t around too much of the city during our most recent visit. We trekked to Canyon a couple of times and spent a glorious autumn day hiking in Palo Duro Canyon. Getting from our RV park to those locations proved to be, um, a bit of a nerve-tester as we wound our way through the roadwork.

I want to offer a bit of friendly counsel to our many friends who must endure this seeming madness. Be patient. Please. Do not let your frustrations boil over.

I remember when this work was in the discussion stage. The state and the city haggled and dickered over what to do, when to do it and laid out the best-laid plans possible for a massive job.

That job is now underway. May it continue apace. Just remember, that the “roadwork actually does end.” Eventually.

Until next time …

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Mayor pitches for a private business?

I might be the only person on God’s good Earth to feel this way, but I’ll express it anyway.

I was driving around Amarillo in Big Jake, my big ol’ pickup, when I heard a voice on the radio; I am going to paraphrase what I heard. “I’m Ginger Nelson,” the voice intoned, “and if you’re going to receive friends and family here, I recommend that they stay” at a certain hotel.

The ad took me aback. Why? Well, Ginger Nelson is Amarillo’s mayor. She never revealed that she occupies that highly visible public office in the commercial. But … c’mon! Everyone in Amarillo knows she is the mayor. It struck me as a bit odd that a mayor would serve as a pitch person for a private business, particularly a business in the midst of heavy competition with other private businesses providing the same service. In this case, it’s the hospitality industry.

This might not stick in anyone else’s craw, but it sure stuck in mine. It runs afoul of my perception of fair play, that the political leader of a community would play favorites, selecting one private business over all the others that do business within that city.

It’s worth wondering out loud: How would the owner of a competing hotel feel about the head the city’s governing council soliciting business for a competitor? My guess: He or she probably wouldn’t like it one little bit.

Admittedly, I haven’t done any research into the matter. I am merely reacting to something I heard on my vehicle radio.

I mentioned it to my wife and she reminded me that former Mayor (and City Commissioner) Trent Sisemore did some pitch work while he held public office for his own business, which happened to be an RV dealership … which since has been taken over by new owners. That seemed wildly different from what I heard from the current mayor.

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t know Mayor Nelson well. However, I believe she has done a good job as mayor of the city she loves. The economy is thriving and (oh brother!) there is work being done on streets and highways all over the city.

Someone might have to explain to me that this really is OK. To my ears, it just doesn’t sound right — or proper.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Why not honor this good man?

A return to Amarillo — our first since the death of a good friend of mine — brought to mind something that I noticed is missing from a couple of prominent edifices around town.

It is the name of Ernie Houdashell, the late Randall County judge who in my humble view needs to be honored by having his name highly visible to anyone visiting a prominent public place.

What might that include? Two places come immediately to mind.

One of them is the Randall County Annex on Western Street. The other is the Texas Panhandle War Memorial next to where the Annex used to be located.

Why these two sites? For starters, they both have Houdashell’s fingerprints all over them.

Ernie Houdashell recognized the need to relocate the Annex from its cozy little site on South Georgia Street. He worked out a deal for the county to acquire the site that it would renovate and turn into a spacious office complex.

As for the Texas Panhandle War Memorial, I want to point out three attractions that Houdashell worked long and hard to bring to the site: the F-100 jet fighter; the UH-1 Huey helicopter (similar to one that Houdashell served on during the Vietnam War); and the piece of USS Arizona, the battleship sunk at Pearl Harbor.

I’ll admit some bias here. Houdashell was a dear friend. He and I were able to develop our professional relationship into a strong personal friendship after I no longer worked as a journalist for the Amarillo Globe-News. I saw how hard he worked as a passionate advocate for Randall County.

Ernie Houdashell loved serving as county judge, just as he loved working for state Rep. John Smithee and former Congressman Beau Boulter.

This is just a suggestion, but my sincere hope is that the county that Ernie Houdashell loved and served with honor can reciprocate by honoring his memory in a tangible fashion.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Neighboring cities take different paths toward same goal

Princeton and Farmersville happen to be two rapidly growing cities in Collin County, Texas.

Officials in both cities want the same thing at the moment. They want voters to approve measures to create home-rule charters in cities that are currently governed  under “general law” established by the Texas Legislature.

Both cities, though, are taking different paths toward the same goal.

Let’s look first at Princeton, where my and I live with our pooch, Toby the Puppy.

Princeton is going to conduct an election in November to establish a citizens committee that will draft a home-rule charter. The city will ask voters for permission to proceed. If voters say “yes,” the city will seat the committee and ask it to deliver a draft charter. The city isn’t waiting, however, for election results. They had a meeting this past week at City Hall to solicit members to join the committee.

If voters reject the committee idea, the plan stops. It’s dead. Gone. There will be no charter election next May.

Princeton’s growth has been staggering. Its 2010 census figure of 6,807 residents grew to more than 17,000 in 2020. State law says cities need a minimum of 5,000 inhabitants to call for an election. Princeton has had four tries already at approving a home-rule charter, but each one has failed.

Farmersville — about seven miles down the highway — has fewer people living there than Princeton. Its population stands at around 5,100. Farmersville already has a draft charter that was cobbled together by a committee. It is ready for public review.

Farmersville will not have an election asking permission from residents to form a committee. It has called for a May 2022 election to decide whether to proceed with a home-rule charter.

Both elections very well could signal the extent to which both cities have changed in recent years as new residents have flocked to their communities. Farmersville has built a remarkable community character already. It has a charming downtown square that is home to lively celebrations annually; most recently, Old Time Saturday revived itself there after being shelved for a year by the COVID pandemic.

Princeton’s community character is still a work in progress. It has no downtown district worth mentioning. However, the city is building a marvelous new municipal government complex just east of Princeton High School on U.S. 380 that city leaders hope will blossom into a thriving center for community activity built around green space and commercial development planned nearby.

Here is to the future of both communities. May the voters in two thriving Collin County cities make the correct decisions on where the want their cities to go.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Time of My Life, Part 61: In it for the duration

I have written about all the good times I had while practicing my craft as a journalist.

Today, I am having more fun than I could have imagined more than nine years ago when my print journalism career came to an abrupt end in the Texas Panhandle.

I have made a commitment to my wife and to my other bosses that I intend to keep writing for a weekly newspaper and for a public radio station for as long as I can string sentences together.

I am having the time of my life once again.

These days I consider myself to be retired. In fact, it’s a sort of semi-retirement. I get up each morning not having to report to work. That part of my life is perfect.

I get to cover city government and school issues for the Farmersville Times, a weekly newspaper that is part of a group of weekly newspapers in Collin County, Texas. The group, C&S Media, is owned by a husband-wife team for whom I work. I have pledged to them that I intend to keep working for as long as I am physically — and mentally — able to do the job.

Then there’s the other job I have. I write for a website published by KETR-FM radio based at Texas A&M University-Commerce. My assignment there recently changed. I had been writing opinion columns for KETR.org, but my boss at the station, news director Mark Haslett, assigned me to cover two water projects in Fannin County exclusively. They are Bois d’Arc Lake and Lake Ralph Hall. Bois d’Arc Lake is filling up with water as I write these words; Ralph Hall remains more of a long-term project.

I made the same commitment to KETR that I did to my bosses at C&S Media: I intend to do this for as long as I am able.

My career took me to many places around the world. It enabled me to cross paths with famous and infamous individuals. I was able to do things that most folks do not get to do … such as flying over an erupting volcano, landing and taking off from a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and visiting the place where I once served during wartime.

That was then. The here and now allows me to learn more about the place my wife and I now call home.

I am living the dream.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Will POTUS stay true?

Joe Biden made what I thought at the time — and I still do — was an earnest pledge to be “president for all Americans, even those who didn’t vote for me.”

Well, President Biden’s pledge could — and I hope it doesn’t — face a stern test down the line if something truly tragic happens in a congressional district represented by one of his more, um, ardent critics.

I refer to Rep. Ronny Jackson of Amarillo, the Republican elected from the 13th Congressional District of Texas, where my wife and I lived before we moved to the D/FW Metroplex in 2019.

Jackson has been on a relentless Twitter tirade against the president. He calls him unfit for office; he questions Biden’s mental acuity; he suggests that the president needs to take a cognitive test to prove his fitness. He has been openly skeptical about the legitimacy of Biden’s election; he has bought into The Big Lie. Dude’s been incessant.

So, what might happen? I don’t wish this on anyone in the 13th district, but just suppose …

A killer tornado rips through Amarillo. An EF-5 monster. Something that destroys huge swaths of the city. What is Rep. Jackson going to do then? Will he throw himself, on behalf of his constituents, at the mercy of the federal government, of which President Biden is the chief executive? Sure he will.

The president, though, will be duty- and honor-bound to make good on his pledge to serve all Americans. I have full faith that President Biden would make good on his pledge.

If only the congressman from my former place of residents would cease with the moronic Twitter taunts … you know?

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Abbott panders to ex-POTUS

“This is a weak Governor openly and shamelessly taking his orders from a disgraced former President. Governor (Greg) Abbott is wasting taxpayer funds to trample on Texans’ freedom to vote, all in order to appease his puppeteer.”

So said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat, in response to the governor ordering an audit of votes cast in Dallas County in the 2020 presidential election.

All told, four of Texas’s most populous counties, are going to have their votes audited in a fashion that seeks to find evidence of vote fraud.

Spoiler alert: They won’t find any such vote fraud.

The other counties are Tarrant, Harris and Collin. County judges in Tarrant and Harris counties have blasted the governor’s decision to knuckle under to the demand of the twice-impeached former POTUS, who lost his re-election effort to President Biden. All three of those counties cast most of their votes for Biden in 2020.

Oh, but what about the judge who presides over Collin County, where my wife, along with our son and daughter-in-law, also reside? He has been silent. Judge Chris Hill, another Republican, has yet to speak out about this nonsensical demand. I also should point out that Collin County voted narrowly for the former POTUS in 2020.

We are witnessing in real time a shameful exercise in intimidation by the former president of the U.S. of A., who continues to promote The Big Lie about widespread voter fraud … that does not exist!

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Ex-POTUS turns his phony fraud case to Texas

The Donald Trump phony vote fraud fishing expedition has cast its line into our neighborhood.

What a … joke!

The Texas secretary of state’s office, kowtowing to demands from the former Liar in Chief’s team, has announced an audit of 2020 presidential election returns in four of the state’s largest counties: Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Collin. Three of the four counties have something in common: Voters in Dallas, Harris and Tarrant counties cast most of their votes for Joe Biden; Collin County, where my wife and I live, voted narrowly for Biden’s opponent, the 45th POTUS.

Not surprisingly, officials in the three pro-Biden counties have proclaimed it a political ploy. Collin County Judge Chris Hill — a Republican and a supporter of the 45th POTUS — so far is silent. Imagine that, eh?

This is an exercise in grotesque stupidity.

Texas 2020 election audits called political ploy by county officials | The Texas Tribune

The former POTUS carried Texas by about 5 percentage points. He now is demanding that Gov. Greg Abbott add a “forensic audit” of the state’s returns to the Texas Legislature’s special session agenda.

What the former Numbskull in Chief continues to do is denigrate the hard work of county elections officials in those counties — along with those who worked in all the rest of the state — who produced a patently safe, fraud-free, legal and fair election.

How many times must we all say this: There was no “widespread voter fraud” in Texas! However, the Big Lie lives on in what passes for the minds of the cultists who swill the poison being served by the former POTUS.

This is a disgrace to our democratic form of government.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com