Not yet a ‘heck of a job’

I’m not a bettor, but I’ll wager this: We aren’t going to have a “heck of a job, Brownie” moment as President Obama looks for a way to stop that huge oil spill off the Louisiana coast.

Brownie, of course, is the former Federal Emergency Management Agency head, Michael Brown, who drew high praise from President Bush — while he was making a mess of the recovery in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s savage attack in August 2005 on the Gulf Coast.

The president’s comments have drawn widespread scorn ever since he uttered them. Brown quit his FEMA job and New Orleans — which suffered the brunt of Katrina’s fury — hasn’t recovered fully yet.

Now a new president is facing a mammoth manmade disaster off the Louisiana coast. Barack Obama generally is more careful with his language than his immediate predecessor. He’ll need to be more than just circumspect, however. He’ll need to pull together all the forces he can, along with the neighboring states and the oil company (British Petroleum) that owns the rig that exploded and collapsed, to stop this ecological catastrophe.

Events such as this make me absolutely certain that the 400 grand we pay the president each year isn’t nearly enough.

Judicial litmus test

Picking the next 47th District judge well might be a pro forma procedure for three political leaders, the Republican chairmen of Randall, Potter and Armstrong counties.

It was explained to me this afternoon by one of them:

The party chairmen are going to interview all the candidates for the judge’s seat. They are seeking to replace the late Hal Miner, who died in March. The chairmen will choose one of the candidates, or they might recommend two or more of them. They’ll send the name or names to Gov. Rick Perry’s office. The governor then will have the final say on who gets picked.

OK, suppose the best candidate of all time also happens to have been a supporter of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who lost to Perry in the bitter GOP primary for governor. Well, that candidate — who could be the second coming of John Marshall — would be passed over. Why? This person did not support Perry in the primary.

So, the appointment of next 47th District judge will fall on the governor’s shoulders. The party chairmen have been hamstrung in their search for the best candidate possible for this critical job. They’re limiting their search only to Perry supporters, rather than being able to find the best possible candidate for the job.

I asked this chairman if the political realities create a litmus test for judicial candidates — you know, the kind of thing that politicians say they never apply. He didn’t deny it.

He also then said that a Hutchison supporter who doesn’t stand a chance of getting the appointment can run for the office in four years.

But until then, political loyalty matters more than judicial qualifications or philosophy in selecting someone for this critical state district judgeship.

What a shame.

Why wait to fill spot?

Mark Benton says he’s ready. Gene Parker is leaving his office at the end of the week.

Yet the Randall County Commissioners Court seems to be in no hurry to fill Parker’s Precinct 2 seat.

Why wait?

Benton won the Republican primary runoff earlier this month. He has no Democratic opponent in the fall. Thus, he is the commissioner in waiting. After Parker tendered his resignation on Tuesday, Benton was asked if he is ready to go. His answer was “yes,” and that his employer, Western Builders, has agreed to allow him to spend every other Tuesday in Canyon hanging out with commissioners and County Judge Ernie Houdashell.

For his part, Houdashell says he wants to ask commissioners their feelings about a selection and that this is the first time he’s had to replace a commissioner since becoming county judge. So, ask ’em, judge. If they say seat Benton, then do it.

The county needs a full complement of commissioners on board as quickly as possible. If the commissioner-to-be is good to go, swear him in.

A force of nature, for sure

Dusty McGuire is a force of nature.

And that description is intended precisely because of what is going to happen on Arbor Day, which falls on Friday. We note Arbor Day often by planting a tree. But this year we’ll honor it by dedicating a section of Ellwood Park for neighborhood residents to use for their recreation.

McGuire is a driving force behind the walking and jogging and exercise area near the retirement homes on the east end of Ellwood Park. The area also will include an Amarillo Police Department substation, which will be staffed by officers on the lookout for potential trouble.

Ellwood Senior Park will be dedicated at 10 a.m. Friday. It will include a welcome from Mayor Debra McCartt, who also will present an Arbor Day proclamation. State forester Brian Scott will present the city with a Tree City USA Award. The event will feature tours and demonstrations of the exercise equipment that’s been installed at the park.

All in all, this is a wonderful addition to Ellwood Park. And Dusty McGuire, who’s been working tirelessly for many years to Keep Amarillo Beautiful, deserves high praise for her effort.

Look this way, Mr. President

President Obama is facing a huge decision soon. He’ll get to select another justice for the U.S. Supreme Court. Sure, he’s getting lots of advice, most of it unsolicited. Here’s some more, Mr. President.

Don’t pick yet another Ivy Leaguer for the court. Look beyond — way beyond — that axis for the next court appointment. He’s already been getting advice from Texas to look, ahem, at the Lone Star State’s myriad law schools and courts for the next justice.

The current court lineup contains justices with Harvard and Yale pedigrees. They’re great schools, right? But the University of Texas has a great law school, too. Same for Texas Tech, Southern Methodist University and St. Mary’s University.

The decision confronting the president is somewhat similar to those facing governors, such as Rick Perry, who have to pick Supreme Court justices from time to time. Perry a few years ago broke through the Interstate 35/45 “cabal” on the Supreme Court when he reached out to Amarillo to select Phil Johnson, chief justice of the 7th Court of Appeals, for a spot on the high court. That decision illustrated Perry’s understanding that not all legal knowledge resides in that swath of real estate between those two major north-south interstate highways.

President Obama needs to look all across this vast country to find the next justice, replacing John Paul Stevens, who is retiring this summer. We’re rich in intellectual firepower, Mr. President.

Go get ’em, Las Cruces

I don’t condone cities breaking state law, but there’s something appealing — to me, mind you — about Las Cruces, N.M. officials continuing to operate red-light cameras at intersections controlled by the state of New Mexico.

The New Mexico Transportation Commission voted recently to give cities two months to remove the cameras. Las Cruces isn’t budging, apparently. Good for the folks there!

Texas transportation regulators haven’t yet done such a thing here, which gives Amarillo the authority to operate the red-light cams if the city deems that running red lights poses a safety hazard for motorists.

I concur with the city’s assessment that, yes indeed, red-light runners are a menace. Therefore, the city has acted in an effort to deter the motorists from running the lights. Traffic engineers have placed the cams at six intersections around the city.

I’ll admit to one close call at the corner of I-40 West and Coulter. I was making a left turn once onto Coulter and got stopped in the middle of the intersection by traffic that had stalled in front of me. I made the turn while the light was turning from amber to red. I saw the camera light flash behind me, but the city must have caught the guy in back of me sneaking through the intersection. Good for me; bad for him.

It’s troubling that the state deems it necessary to govern how cities seek to control local traffic problems. If Amarillo City Hall determines it has a traffic safety issue to resolve — and it installs red-light cams to correct the problem within its corporate boundaries — then the city has the right to act on its own.

Therefore, I applaud Las Cruces City Hall.

R.I.P., Bruce Beck

Bruce Beck had a standard greeting for those he would meet.

“Whatcha know?” he would ask. I reckon he wanted an answer of some kind. My rote response usually was something like, “I don’t know it.”

But this I know today: I am profoundly sad at the loss of my colleague and friend, with whom I worked for the past 15 years at the Globe-News. Bruce died last night after a valiant battle against cancer.

Bruce’s friends all across the Panhandle and beyond are processing their loss today. This one will take some time to work its way through.

I want to share this tidbit about Bruce. He used to describe himself as “perky.” He would say it out loud and actually once wrote that description into one of his columns. I hit the ceiling when I read it. “Marines aren’t ‘perky,'” I scolded Bruce. He smiled and put on a fake stern jarhead look and said, “You’re right. But what’s it to ya?” He would cut me some slack, even though I had served in the Army — which he didn’t hold against me.

Many hearts are broken today. They’ll heal over time.

This good man was a treasure. I will miss him.

Godspeed, Alan Taylor

Alan Taylor seems like a mere interloper compared to the two men who preceded him as Amarillo city manager.

Of course he is anything but such a thing. Taylor announced his retirement Wednesday after “only” six years on the job. The two men who came before him — John Stiff and John Ward — both served two decades each in the hot seat at City Hall. Thus, Taylor’s relatively brief time at the helm seems like a eye’s blink.

But he did a great job running a $200 million a year “company,” the city of Amarillo. He has put up with the grief that comes with the job. He has persevered through difficult economic times. But all the while, the city achieved unprecedented financial standing a year ago when it received the highest bond rating in the city’s history. How did that happen? Through sound fiscal management — which makes Taylor proud, and justifably so.

The city has made huge strides in preserving its water. Its police and fire departments work well. The streets are relatively well cared for. Our park system has grown. Downtown redevelopment is under way. The city has cracked down on those who don’t do what they should to maintain neighborhood cleanliness.

So, I want to wish Alan Taylor well as he embarks on the next phase of his life, which will take him to the Central Texas community of Georgetown.

Well done, Mr. Manager.

Severe weather annoyance

This came in overnight from a reader and (apparently) an avid TV viewer.

“I am getting sick and tired of a couple of the local weathermen trying to prove which is the smarter and better one at forecasting bad weather. Because of their competition we get inundated with way too much detail about the weather possibilities. For the past year I have observed a disturbing trend in weather forecast interruptions.

“Because of new technology we get inundated with interruptions about potential weather related disasters that don’t happen. Last year it even caused an unneccessary tornado siren warning. The new technology allows weather television personnel to go ON AND ON ad infinitum about details of potential weather and just missed bad things and those to come MAYBE. What we really need to know is simply where is it headed, what might it do, what we should do, and then shut up and let us go hide. Quit going on and on making us think we can wait until the last minute and know seconds before disaster strikes how to protect ourselves. Most people don’t care about the new technology’s every detail.

“What happened when the little boy cried wolf too often?”

My first reaction was, “Yes!”

The storms Tuesday evening that swept through the Amarillo area — and produced tornadoes near Bushland and Umbarger — could have been far worse than they turned out to be, so I suppose the writer/viewer’s gripes are based on what didn’t happen on his or her particular street or neighborhood. But what if an F-5 twister blew down the writer’s street, tore all the houses off their slabs, killed dozens of people — and no one knew about it in advance? I’m guessing our correspondent would have something quite different to complain about.

But I have to admit to some frustration, too, with the TV weather folks, especially when they break into TV programming to tell us that the storms are winding down, or that the “threat” is diminishing, or that there’s really nothing to worry about. Yes, I’ve actually heard words to that effect coming from the forecasters when they interrupt my favorite TV shows.

But let’s cut them just a bit of slack here. The unpredictable storms that march across the Panhandle require intense vigilance. I just wish the commentary that comes with the “Severe Weather Bulletin” wasn’t so repetitive.

I also might add that at times the Amarillo TV weather forecasters get a bit too technical in their detailed explanation of what’s happening out there. Hook echo? Who cares what it’s called? And spare me all the meteorological jargon.

All that concerns me is if the weather outside is going to kill my loved ones or me.

Welcome home, Discovery

Some months ago, I posted a blog item that talked about the launch of the space shuttle and how I freeze when I hear the words “Go at throttle up,” at which point the Challenger blew up in January 1986. Those words still make me stop what I’m doing during launch.

Today, the shuttle Discovery came home. It streaked across the United States en route to a safe landing in Florida. The shuttle program only has three more missions before it comes to an end in September.

These landings do much the same for me as the launches. I now stop what I’m doing when the shuttle is coming home, recalling what happened that terrible day in February 2003 when the Columbia broke apart over Texas on its way home after a 16-day earth orbit mission. The mission commander was Amarillo’s own Rick Husband.

Both events, the destruction of Challenger and Columbia, remind us of how dangerous these missions always have been. They’ve never been “routine,” yet we’ve become bored by these missions. How sad.

I truly wish we could rediscover the excitement of those early Mercury and Gemini missions and the first half of the Apollo program; you’ll recall that NASA canceled the moon missions after Apollo 17 because the nation no longer was interested enough in space travel to justify the expense of sending crews to the moon and back.

This morning, I felt the excitement — as I always do — when a space ship came hurtling out of orbit toward a feather landing in Florida.