Tag Archives: Randall County

Retirement in name only

Let’s call Mike McGee’s departure as head of the Amarillo Animal Control operation what it is: a “retirement” in name only.

McGee didn’t “retire” the way most of us understand the term. He was shoved out, asked to leave, perhaps told to hit the road.

By my way of seeing things, he should have gotten the boot when allegations erupted over mistreatment of animals that were being euthanized at the shelter.

City Manager Jarrett Atkinson put McGee and his chief deputy, Shannon Barlow, on “administrative leave,” meaning they were getting paid while letting someone else do their job — and while a Randall County grand jury investigated whether to indict anyone for criminal wrongdoing.

Well, McGee is gone. His “retirement,” announced Thursday, is effective today. Interesting, eh?

The fact that the city implemented serious changes in the euthanasia methods for unwanted animals carries the implication that the former way was wrong, if not illegal. Who was responsible for that? The guy in charge … McGee. Let’s throw Barlow into that category as well.

And when the guy in charge is running a publicly funded operation in a way that cries out for change, that suggests he isn’t doing his job. Isn’t that correct? Thus, he and his top assistant both should have been canned.

Now he’s “retired.” McGee’s troubles might not be over. The grand jury is supposed to decide perhaps by June 11 whether to indict anyone for crimes involving the Animal Control Department. McGee and Barlow appear to be the individuals on the hot seat.

This story appears to be far from over.

Grand jury has much to ponder in animal abuse case

Randall County grand jurors have met this week.

They won’t meet again for another two weeks. They have a big case on their plate. It involves allegations of abuse of animals kept at the Amarillo Animal Control Shelter and whether they were euthanized properly.

Two senior animal control officials — director Mike McGee and deputy Shannon Barlow — are on “administrative leave.” The city has enacted changes in its euthanasia policy to correct what it acknowledges went wrong at the shelter. My own view is that McGee and Barlow already are deemed culpable in this matter and should be terminated.

Someone — maybe more — might be facing criminal charges if he grand jury decides to issue indictments.

I had thought there might be a decision this week. It won’t happen for at least another two weeks, given that the grand jury meets every other Wednesday.

That’s all right. The panel needs to consider lots of evidence. The district attorney’s office is presenting witnesses, documents and is trotting at least one prosecutor who will talk to the grand jury about the case.

I’m prepared to wait for as long as it takes for the grand jury to make its decision.

Having once served on a Randall County grand jury, I understand fully the stakes. Our grand jury didn’t get a case that has drawn this much attention, but we had our share of heartbreaking cases to ponder.

This one, though, has everyone watching.

Take your time, grand jurors, and be sure you get it done correctly.

This constable earns his pay

DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas — Those who know my views on things know that I have had a long-standing loathing of constable offices.

I consider them to be non-essential functions of law enforcement in counties where their duties could be performed by municipal police officers or county sheriff’s deputies. They cost counties — and the state — money that could be spent in other areas.

However …

While visiting my wife’s brother, I heard a story this morning that proves that in at least one Texas county, constables are able to perform an actual function that justifies their existence.

Here’s how the story goes.

My brother-in-law was visiting friends at a local diner recently in Dripping Springs, a tiny town just west of Austin. A constable burst into the place and told my brother-in-law that he needed a juror to sit in on a trial being held at a justice of the peace court in the county seat of San Marcos.

Michael’s friend said he was too busy, as he had to attend a funeral later that morning. The constable turned to Michael and said, in effect, “OK, pal, you’re it. Come with me.”

My brother-in-law accompanied the constable to the courtroom, took his seat on the six-person jury and listened to a trial involving a fellow who was being evicted from the house where he lived. It was a slam-dunk case for the county, my brother-in-law said, and the jury voted to toss the guy out of his house.

I heard the story and couldn’t stop laughing. The very idea of a uniformed law enforcement officer virtually ordering someone to serve on a jury is something I’ve never witnessed, or frankly, ever even heard of happening. It does, quite obviously, in some rural counties that employ constables.

My feelings about the office haven’t changed. I still believe the Texas Legislature needs to give counties the power to get rid of the office if they see fit. Randall County, where my wife and I live, has suffered through constable woes for longer than officials care to admit. They can’t get rid of the office, because the Legislature doesn’t give counties the power to act cleanly.

Hays County, at least, puts their constables to work. More power to them here, just not where I live.

Revisiting Potter County judge contest

Indulge me for a moment, maybe two, as I look back to the March 4 Republican Party primary race for Potter County judge.

I ran into a long-time acquaintance the other morning. We talked about the contest and we asked each other whether we were happy with the outcome. I was, given that Nancy Tanner won the election outright in a five-candidate field; she’ll take office in January, given that there are no Democrats on the ballot this fall.

My pal wasn’t so sure about it. We both live in Randall County, so neither of us had a vote to cast in that contest. We both know all the contestants, some better than others.

He said something curious. He didn’t think Tanner was necessarily the right pick, even though she worked for 20 years as County Judge Arthur Ware’s administrative assistant and for a couple of years assumed many of the actual duties of judge as Ware has tried to recover from a devastating stroke.

Ware fired Tanner from her job this past year for reasons he hasn’t yet explained.

I asked my friend: Why not support Tanner’s election?

It would be like asking the city secretary to take over as mayor of Amarillo, he said. I responded, “Huh?”

The city secretary is a capable individual — who succeeded another highly capable person at that City Hall post. The secretary, my pal said, is capable of doing all the administrative functions, but she isn’t necessarily a leader.

Thus, he contends, Tanner is succeeding to a post where she hasn’t demonstrated any leadership qualities.

Well, I differed with my friend — as I do on most political matters. I consider him a contrarian; he likely thinks the same of me.

I’ll just go on believing that Potter County Republicans chose wisely when they elected Tanner with a 50.5 percent majority. She’s done the job already. She knows the players. She understands county government. She’s experienced, highly qualified, understands the intricacies of probate law and mental health commitments.

The leadership part? I am confident Nancy Tanner will show her mettle.

Potter-Randall merger: Is it remotely possible?

Nancy Tanner is running for Potter County judge.

I’m seeing an increasing number of her lawn signs cropping up on yards — in Randall County.

The appearance of these signs begs a question I’ve been kicking around in my noggin for the nearly two decades I’ve lived in Amarillo: Why don’t the counties merge?

Here’s a bit of background for readers of this blog who live far away.

* Amarillo straddles the line dividing Potter and Randall counties. It serves as the Potter County seat; the Randall County seat is about 12 miles south on Interstate 27 in Canyon. The city’s population is now very close to 200,000 residents. Roughly 60 percent of whom live in Potter County, the rest in Randall County.

* Randall County’s main courthouse complex is in Canyon, but the bulk of its business is done at its annex in south Amarillo, which collects about 80 percent of all the revenue for the county and adjudicates a similar percentage of all the small-claims crimes decided by the justice of the peace.

* Amarillo, indeed, comprises about 85 percent of Randall County’s population and generates about 80 percent of the county’s property tax revenue.

* The Randall County jail sits on the southern edge of Amarillo, next to the Youth Center of the High Plains.

All that said, the Potter County judge race featuring five candidates running for the Republican nomination is of interest to Randall County residents because many of them work in Potter County. As for Tanner’s yard signs showing up in a county where residents cannot vote for her, that’s just good politics on her party. They put her name out there and give her more of a ubiquitous presence. I’m quite sure the other candidates — those with the money to spend — will do the same thing eventually.

Back to the question of a merger. It’s always made sense to me to meld the counties into one, given their common interests and the fact that Amarillo sits atop the line dividing them.

It’s an immensely complicated process politically. How would one merge the county governments? Who gets to keep their job? Who would lose theirs? How do you settle the obvious turf fights? How do you accomplish this thing legally? Would Canyon residents want to lose their status as the county seat? Lastly, what would you call this new county and how do we settle on a name?

It would require at minimum a constitutional amendment election, meaning that all Texans would have to vote to allow the counties to merge in a statewide referendum. We’ve amended the Texas Constitution for far less consequential things than this, so this is a natural.

I know this topic has been nibbled at for many years. Nothing ever happens for obvious reasons. Merging the counties would step on too many political toes and there would be too many battles to fight. No one seems to have the stomach for fighting them.

I get all that.

Lawn signs, though, for candidates running for office in a neighboring county seem to make as much sense as having two counties of nearly identical size sharing a single significant city.

Which is to say it makes little or no sense at all.

When did state impose property tax?

State Sen. Dan Patrick is making some grand promises as he runs for Texas lieutenant governor.

One of them involves his vow to cut property taxes for homeowners if he gets elected next year. Thanks for making the promise, senator. How are you going to deliver on it?

http://www.texastribune.org/2013/10/23/in-new-tv-spot-patrick-says-hellcut-property-taxes/

His new TV ad doesn’t spell out how the lieutenant governor — who presides over the Texas Senate — can cut property taxes.

I watched the ad and pulled out my latest property tax statement from the Randall County Tax Collector-Assessor’s Office. Here’s what I noticed:

I pay taxes to the City of Amarillo, Amarillo College, Randall County, the Canyon Independent School District and the Randall High Plains Water District. Locally elected boards and commissions set every one of those rates. State law allows me to exempt $15,000 of my home value from CISD taxes, for which I am grateful. I’ll be able to freeze my property taxes when I turn 65, which is just around the corner. I thank the state for that, too.

Patrick, one of four major Republicans seeking the lieutenant governor’s job, offers a tantalizing sound bite in his latest ad. I’m waiting, though, to hear just how he intends to usurp local governing authorities’ power to reduce my property taxes.

Maybe he believes the lieutenant governor’s is even more powerful than everyone thought.

Disappointed once more in jury system

Call me weird. I got word last night that I won’t be called for jury duty after all. Drat! Let down … once again.

I get these jury summonses from Randall County District Clerk Jo Carter’s office on occasion. They tell me to be ready to report on a certain date. Potential jurors are given the chance to phone in ahead of time to see if they’ll be called. I made the call Saturday night and, sure enough, the recorded voice said “all jurors are excused.”

I’ve never served on a trial jury. It’s one of those thing in life that always has intrigued me. Even when the “job” paid $6 daily for jury service, I didn’t mind working basically for free. Texas trial jurors have gotten a pay raise since then. Don’t think I’m holding myself up as some paragon of public service virtue, but I’ve always considered it my duty to serve.

I want to serve on a trial jury, but I fear it won’t happen.

I received a single jury summons when I lived in Oregon, but I got excused because my wife, sons and I were set to leave on a two-week-long trip to southern California on the day I was to report. They let me off the hook.

Then we moved to Jefferson County, Texas. I think I got summoned twice there. Nothing came of either call. My wife once got picked for a jury and actually went through the process of lawyers “striking” jurors. She got struck at the last minute because the defense lawyer recognized her last time, associated it with mine — as I was editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise newspaper — and excused her from duty.

We moved years later to Amarillo. Not long after moving here, I received a summons to report in Randall County. I called ahead of time. Bingo! I got the word I had to show up the next day. I did. I sat in the jury waiting room for most of the morning. Then, shortly before noon, the judge came out and informed us that the parties had settled and we could all go home.

It’s been downhill ever since.

Every time I get the summons, I make the call and am told the same thing: Don’t bother reporting.

Maybe I should be happy that the parties settle, or that the criminal defendants have plea-bargained their way out of having to stand trial. It saves the county and the state money that comes out of my pocket.

However, I’m always ready to serve as a juror. If only they’ll give me the chance.