It’s all open

Contrary to popular opinion, the Amarillo City Commission doesn’t conduct the meat of its business in a star chamber.

It has a “work session.” It’s also open to the public. The commission, all five of whose members are seeking re-election this year, meets in a small conference room on the other side of the wall from the commission chambers.

OK, so it’s not a spacious room. A conference table gobbles up most of the space in the room. But it does have about 10 chairs lined up along one wall. Residents can attend the open portion of the meeting, where commissioners and the mayor get briefed by senior city staff, led by City Manager Alan Taylor.

The work session, as its title implies, allows commission members to work out the nuts and bolts of topics to be voted on during the business meeting that convenes at 3 p.m. every Tuesday at City Hall. These work sessions convene usually around 2 p.m. on commission meeting days and last until just prior to the start of the regular meeting.

And, yes, they do it in the open — just as if they were in the chambers, with the mayor calling for votes and wielding the gavel.

These work sessions just happen to be a well-kept secret.

Maybe now, though, the secret is out.

Teaching to the test

I’ve struggled for years over how I feel about Texas’ standard for determining whether public school students are performing adequately.

But I am beginning to understand a couple of things about the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. One is that it has a life of its own, given that teachers, parents and certainly students all seem to hate it universally. You can’t kill this thing.

Another is that a statewide standard might not work in a state that is as huge and diverse as Texas. Panhandle students bear no resemblance to their peers in, say, the Valley or the Piney Woods.

State Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo is among a number of lawmakers trying to find a solution to TAKS, which only is the latest name in a string of standardized state tests mandated over many years by the Legislature.

But this attempt at change is falling short. Legislators cannot seem to agree on the best alternative to TAKS or whatever name it might assume in the future.

Here’s a thought: Form a blue-ribbon commission.

Flash back to 1983. A Dallas businessman, H. Ross Perot, popped off about how Texas was more interested in producing blue-chip football players than graduating students with diplomas worth a darn. Then-Democratic Gov. Mark White then said, in effect: OK, Mr. Smarty Pants, if you have all the answers, then why don’t you head a governor’s blue-ribbon commission to reform the way we educate our kids? Perot called White’s bluff and led the Perot Commission, which produced dramatic reforms that led to a special legislative session that crafted House Bill 72. I had the honor of meeting Ross Perot during one of his barn-storming tour stops, in Beaumont, in mid-1984. Take my word for it: For a diminutive guy, he has a way of commanding a room.

Well, this might be time for such a commission. If we’re going to keep nibbling around the margins of improving standardized tests, then we’ll never get the job done.

Paging, Ross Perot.

Always know where you are


U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison may have given her likely chief Republican gubernatorial opponent next year some campaign ammo.

Hutchison came to West Texas A&M University this week to promote a federal grant to help WT pay for redeveloping a former hospital into research and development offices. But, durn it, she referred to the school several times by its former name, West Texas State University.

Oops …

If we fast-forward to, say, January 2010, we can imagine Texas first lady Anita Perry — who graduated with a nursing degree from WT before it joined the A&M System — speaking to a rally at the Courthouse Square while campaigning for her husband, Gov. Rick Perry.

“I’m so happy to be here with you, my people,” Mrs. Perry might say. “And y’all can rest assured, I know the name of West Texas A&M University, unlike my husband’s opponent. Go Buffs!”

Could the campaign get so cheap and cheesy as to lampoon Hutchison’s relatively minor faux pas?

Ummm. Yes it could.

Curse of the Internet

I am about to curse the Internet, even though these words will be read exclusively on it.

Still, here goes.

An e-mail dropped into my in-box the other day from an Amarillo resident. It contained a video of one-time Illinois senatorial candidate, Alan Keyes, who trotted out the right wing’s canard questioning whether President Obama is a real American. Keyes — who lost to Obama in the 2004 U.S. Senate race in Illinois by 43 percentage points — questions whether the president is legally qualified to serve and wonders whether he was born in Kenya, the home country of the president’s late father.

I responded to this acquaintance, calling Keyes a “brilliant lunatic.” I then told this gentleman that Obama’s citizenship isn’t an issue. The Secret Service had done its homework on the man and determined that he was born in Hawaii, in 1961, just as he has said. Obama’s citizenship isn’t an issue, no matter how much his enemies seek to make it one.

My acquaintance wrote back and said his wife had sent the e-mail to me by mistake. But …

Then he told me about an Internet video purporting to show the president’s paternal grandmother — “not the white one,” as he called her — saying how she was present at baby Barack’s birth in Kenya. My acquaintance said he is unsure about the video’s veracity and wouldn’t claim it to be totally true, yet it’s out there for all the world to see, he said. I should judge for myself, he added.

No thank you.

I do not need to troll the ‘Net looking to validate these rumors. Their sources’ sole intent is to destroy the presidency of a man they detest. We’ve been down this road already many times throughout history.

I will rely on what what I believe is a solid position: The Secret Service no doubt has heard these claptrap rumors about Barack Obama and has checked them out. I am convinced beyond any doubt that the crack security arm of the Treasury Department would have blown the whistle on Obama had it discovered any truth to the rumor that the president is unqualified to serve based on his citizenship at birth.

But that won’t stop the goofball bloggers and the ‘Net surfers who believe only those things that suit their philosophy.

They, just like our Amarillo resident, will send them through cyberspace hoping against hope that someone will prove that the Obama rumors are all true. Me? I’ll stick with the findings of the spooks who comprise the nation’s vast intelligence network who confirm the actual truth, which is that President Obama is being pilloried by liars — who are enabled by the Internet.

It goes with the territory

It only took 70-some days for the following complaint to come in.

The newspaper’s editorial cartoons are too harsh, too tough, unfair and demeaning to President Obama — or so says a reader. Is this Groundhog Day or what? Didn’t I just go through an eight-year running battle with readers who said the same thing about the cartoons we ran that lampooned President Bush?

The reader took serious exception to the cartoon that ran in today’s paper. As you can see, it shows Michelle and Barack Obama offering a “fist bump” to Queen Elizabeth. “At best it is in very poor taste; at worst it is a mean-spirited racial slur against the president of the United States and his wife,” my letter-writing acquaintance stated. “I have instructed my secretary to call today and cancel my subscription to what I have lately referred to as the ‘Redneck Rag,'” he said.


It seems that Democratic and Republican partisans have something in common after all: They hate it when “their guy” becomes the object of cartoonists’ humor.

These cartoons go with the high office they occupy. I do not believe for a single second that President Obama is upset with this cartoon, any more than I thought that President Bush got hot and bothered over the cartoons that lampooned him. These folks run for office expecting to be blistered by cartoonists.

The problem, though, lies with their devotees who haven’t yet developed the kind of rhino hide required to view these illustrated commentaries for what they are: attempts by the artists, in the age-old journalistic tradition, to “comfort the afflicted the afflict the comfortable.”

And so, the argument with hyper-sensitive readers goes on.

Let all ideas roam freely

West Texas A&M University might find itself being criticized unjustly.

Then again, it might not.

WT has invited former Bush administration political guru Karl Rove to be its featured speaker next month just ahead of the university’s commencement. Rove, known as the mastermind of President Bush’s two victories in 2000 and 2004 is either a shining light or the Prince of Darkness, depending on your point of view. He is a controversial figure. His allies revere him. His enemies loathe him.

It’s the enemies who will might make their feelings known more vociferously.

I have this word of advice: Let the man speak.

Whether one agrees with Rove’s politics, he is of enormous consequence. WT is right to bring someone of Rove’s political heft to the Panhandle, where it would figure that he would have many more fans than foes. His candidate, after all, did win more than 75 percent of the Panhandle’s vote in two presidential elections. A source at WT told me this morning that she’s heard no expressions of support, only the faint rumblings of discontent.

So …

Karl Rove is set to speak to some newly minted college grads. He deserves to be heard. If he says something outrageous, then he’ll be taken to task for it. If he imparts wisdom worth taking out into the world, then the students will owe him a debt of thanks — and WT officials will have done their job.

Government efficiency

The late comic George Carlin made famous a number of oxymorons. “Jumbo shrimp” and “military intelligence” come to mind.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D- El Paso, has given new meaning to a yet another mutually exclusive term: government efficiency.

My colleague Karen Welch posted a blog on this topic already this week, but it’s too good to pass up yet another shot at Sen. Shapleigh.

Shapleigh felt compelled to send out 15 heavy packets to reporters and editors at the Globe-News, including eight folks who no longer work here. I was not among the recipients, by the way — durn it!

They contained a report titled “Texas Borderlands: Frontier of the Future.” They comprised 486 pages. They cost the state, meaning taxpayers, a lot of money to mail out.

In 25 years of observing Texas government — from the Gulf Coast to the High Plains — I’ve never before seen such a saturation bombing of material from a lawmaker to a media outlet so far from his home district — although I’m sure someone has done it somewhere. Shapleigh said he wanted to provide “good information” across the state. Fair enough.

But here’s how Shapleigh can save the rest of us some money: Update his mailing list. A simple phone call, or e-mail, could have helped Shapleigh’s staff determine who still works here and who’s moved on. He could have sent, oh, maybe two of those packets instead of 15.

Government efficiency? It was missing in action at Sen. Shapleigh’s office.

George Carlin would have had a field day.

We’re all connected

Texas House Insurance Committee Chairman John Smithee has made many of his fellow Texans along the Gulf Coast angry.

They have a point.

Smithee, R-Amarillo, has told coastal residents that windstorm insurance costs should be borne by them alone. Panhandle residents don’t have a dog in that hunt, he has suggested with legislation that observers say will make it virtually impossible for coastal homeowners to insure their homes and businesses.

As a former Gulf Coast resident, I feel their pain.

Nick Jiminez, editorial page editor of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, noted in a column that the Texas economy is intertwined tightly, that the entire state relies on the coast. The petrochemical complex stretching from Beaumont and Port Arthur to Corpus Christi, he writes while referring to a Perryman Group study, provides 87 percent of Texas’ refined petroleum products. “Every Panhandle farmer with a tractor that runs on diesel or an Amarillo business that depends on goods moved through Texas ports has a stake in reasonable insurance rates for the coast,” Jiminez writes.

Touche, my opinion-writing brother.

We’re all Texans, right? Right?

Popularity contest

Although folks today are talking mostly about the weather, I prefer to focus on Amarillo College.

AC’s regents appear to be heading toward a popular choice for the next college president. They’ve elected to look only inside — within the AC ranks — for someone to succeed the late Steven Jones. And to date, they have just one applicant, Paul Matney, who’s been serving as acting president for several months, while Jones battled valiantly against cancer.

The college — not to mention Matney — would have been served better by looking far and wide for a president. But AC has committed to the in-house search, which is the regents’ call.

But just how popular would Matney’s ascension be? Consider this little tidbit.

The AC president’s job is a non-political post, yet Matney wears his politics on his sleeve. He’s a Democrat and proud of it, which doesn’t bother those who know him in the heavily Republican Panhandle.

I attended a luncheon recently. I sat at a table hosted by a longtime Potter County Republican activist. He’s a conservative — and just as proud of his political philosophy as Matney is of his.

Matney passed by our table, said “hello” to everyone there and walked on. My Republican friend then said to his tablemates, “That man needs to be the next Amarillo College president.”

Given that politics so often these days gets in the way of personal relationships and professional respect, that comment looked for all the world like the highest praise imaginable.

Pretty on the outside

Randall County’s Courthouse — which hasn’t functioned as one in decades — is getting a facelift.

Hooray! Except for this little complication: It’ll be on the outside. The inside will remain unusable.

Historic preservationists are giddy at the prospect of the courthouse, which was built in 1909, is going to look pretty. The county had obtained a $1.9 million grant from the state. Pro-courthouse forces then persuaded a majority of county voters — in the election this past November — to authorize spending local money to cover the rest of the estimated $3.2 million job with their tax dollars. What no one said out loud during that campaign, though, was that the money would cover only the cost of the outside of the building.

It still won’t function as a courthouse once its exterior is fixed up. So, the county eventually will have a gussied-up shell of a building. Then what? The county has moved most of its government offices off the square in Canyon.

County residents — and I’m one of them — would hate to see the courthouse knocked down. I’m having trouble understanding the county’s next step once the outside of the building is cleaned up and made presentable.

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