Tag Archives: Arthur Ware

M-60 tank found a good home

While working on a blog post for KETR-FM radio on a county courthouse restoration project in Fannin County, my memory drifted back to an earlier project in Potter County that involved the disposition of a piece of military hardware.

The hardware was an M-60 battle tank that saw duty during Operation Desert Storm, the Persian Gulf War, in 1991. It sat in front of the Potter County Courthouse in Amarillo for a number of years. It was painted in “desert camo” colors and was quite the draw.

Then the county applied for a grant from the Texas Historical Preservation Board to restore the courthouse to his original condition. One problem cropped up: the board couldn’t allow the tank to remain on the courthouse grounds, given that it wasn’t “historically accurate.” The tank had to go.

The tank was moved in 2011 to the Freedom Museum in Pampa, about 60 miles northeast of Amarillo.

According to County Judge Nancy Tanner, they moved the tank “very cautiously and tenderly” to the museum. The move was orchestrated by a former Marine, Paul Chaney, who is a good friend of Tanner and former Potter County Judge Arthur Ware, another Marine who saw combat duty during the Gulf War.

Ware bristled initially at the Historical Preservation Board restriction on the tank. He relented finally, allowing the tank to move to the Freedom Museum, which houses assorted military memorabilia.

I recalled the tiff that Ware got into with the historical preservation folks.

I thought it would be worth remembering this episode, given that we have just honored our veterans for their service to the country. I also am gratified to know the M-60 tank that once greeted visitors to the Potter County Courthouse in Amarillo has found a good home just up the road a piece.

Go for it, Potter County!

Arthur Ware, the former Potter County judge, has a great name for the building shown here. He once told me he has referred to it as “The Grain Elevator.”

Ware hates the building, which serves as the district courts structure for Potter County. Indeed, the structure erected in the early 1980s is a dog, a dump, a heap. The picture shown here doesn’t do it justice.

Walk through the front door and you see poor workmanship. The interior of the structure is not nearly as functional as it should be.

All that said, the Potter County Commissioners Court has voted 4-1 to authorize $54 million in certificates of obligation to build a new courts structure. Commissioner Mercy Murguia was the lone “no” vote; she doesn’t like the cost of the structure and the debt the county will incur by issuing COs.

I don’t have a dog in that fight, but I do believe the county is correct to march forward toward erecting a new structure to house the district courts, the district clerk, the district attorney and the 7th Texas Court of Appeals. Sure, the county could have called for a bond issue election, but it might fail. County Judge Nancy Tanner believes the county is in dire straits with a building that is so poorly constructed.

Judge Tanner has all but invited the public to walk through the building to see for itself why the county needs to replace The Grain Elevator.

I concur with Judge Tanner. Take a look. It’s a dump. The building needs to go.

A new Courts Building on the horizon? Maybe?

Potter County (Texas) Judge Nancy Tanner is a woman of her word.

She told me a couple of years ago that she intended eventually to move toward the possible construction of a new Criminal Courts Building to replace the monstrosity across the street from the old courthouse in downtown Amarillo.

It appears that the initiative is taking a baby step toward that direction.

The Commissioners Court has approved a $45,000 measure to come up with a conceptual design for a new court building.

Tanner wants to take the county’s move forward one step at a time. It recently completed the relocation of the sheriff’s office, vacating a long-standing structure downtown.

Next up? It might be the Courts Building.

I don’t want to be too harsh, but that structure is a piece of crap. I haven’t seen it in quite some time, but the last time I walked inside, I was struck by the damage to the front of the building. It is terribly crafted. The workmanship on it is abominable.

Whenever I see that building I think of how Tanner’s predecessor as county judge, Arthur Ware, has described it.

Ware calls it “The Grain Elevator.” He hates the Courts Building, which was erected about a decade before Ware took office as county judge.

I concur with the old Marine.

The county needs to vacate the Grain Elevator.

Nice surprise in Texas travel magazine

I have subscribed off and on to Texas Highways magazine for about the past, oh, 30 years … give or take.

My latest issue arrived in the mail while my wife and I were traveling west to Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., and Grand Coulee Dam, Wash.

I looked at the cover title, “Small Town Splendor: The Best Little Courthouses in Texas,” opened the magazine and found something that surprised the daylights out of me. One of the mag’s “best little courthouses” happens to be the Potter County Courthouse in downtown Amarillo.

Why is that a surprise? I expected the list to include really small town courthouses. Among the other 11 featured in the magazine, by the way, is the Donley County Courthouse in Clarendon — which is beautiful structure, too. Texas Highways notes: “The Panhandle’s oldest functioning courthouse, it boasts a distinctive asymmetrical design — no two sides of the building are the same.”

Amarillo ain’t a “small town,” with a population right at 200,000 residents.

The Potter County Courthouse and the grounds on which it sits have become part of downtown Amarillo’s revival about which I have written extensively on this blog. The structure, built in 1932, is “what the Texas Historical Commission calls one of Texas’ best examples of art deco design.

The county applied for a state historical preservation grant to help restore the building. The county emptied the building, moved offices to other locations throughout the downtown district — including the Santa Fe Building and into the Courts Building, which former County Judge Arthur Ware refers to unflatteringly as the “grain elevator.”

The three-year project was done in 2012. The county moved the offices back into the building. County Judge Nancy Tanner established a security system for visitors.

The courthouse grounds have become the home field for downtown’s High Noon on the Square every summer, which features local musicians and other artisans entertaining lunchtime crowds.

The structure really is a gorgeous place for Potter County’s public servants to work.

Thus, I was heartened to see Texas Highways offer a tribute to downtown Amarillo’s courthouse.

City may become latest to join discordant chorus

Amarillo’s governing council long has prided itself on speaking with one voice, moving in unison toward common goals.

It’s been rather, um, boring at times to watch the city endorse this program or that with nary a negative voice being heard. Oh, I’ve heard some dissent, from the likes of the late commissioners Dianne Bosch and Jim Simms. But generally when the city voted, it marched off in unison.

That era may have ended, if only temporarily, with the election in May of three newcomers. They have vowed to enact serious change in the way things get done. How that change manifests itself fully remains a bit of a mystery.

It all reminds a bit of how Randall and Potter counties’ commissioners courts have run at times over the years.

Randall County elected Ted Wood as its county judge in 1994 and he proceeded to open the floor up to residents who could gripe until they went hoarse. Wood’s philosophy was that the county was there to serve them, and the Commissioners Court was obligated to listen to every word that residents had to say.

This incessant complaining from residents led to frayed tempers at times as commissioners occasionally lost patience with residents’ long-winded tirades.

After Wood left office, the new county judge, Ernie Houdashell, restored some order in the court and it’s been relatively smooth sailing ever since.

Across the 29th Avenue county line, in Potter County, there was another dynamic taking place. The late┬áCommissioner Manny Perez was fond of gumming things up with occasionally intemperate remarks about individuals or projects. Then came fellow Commissioner Joe Kirkwood, who’d┬áchime in with dissent that at times didn’t make much sense.

Then-County Judge Arthur Ware tried his best to keep the peace. He had limited success.

The Potter County Commissioners Court has a new county judge. It’s running smoothly these days … so far.

What’s in store for the Amarillo City Council as it moves forward?

I’ve never been shy about dissent. I prefer healthy debate and discussion over one-note sambas being played out.

My main concern as the new City Council starts to get its legs under it is the seeming headlong rush to make critical changes at the top of the administrative chain of command. It began with that startling announcement from newly minted Councilman Mark Nair’s request that City Manager Jarrett Atkinson resign; Nair’s comment came on the very same day he took the oath of office.

Does the young man really and truly want to toss out the city’s top administrator now, just as the city is beginning to implement a remarkably creative and forward-thinking strategy for reshaping its downtown business district? And the other two new councilmen — Elisha Demerson and Randy Burkett — are on the hunt as well for the city manager’s resignation?

Dissent and constructive criticism are good things to embrace.

Bulldozing a well-established government infrastructure right off the top? Let’s take a breath and talk this through.


New judge, old judge bury the hatchet

Potter County Judge-elect Nancy Tanner has just posted some pictures on Facebook showing her yukking it up with the man she’s succeeding, Arthur Ware.

Why is that worth this brief comment?

Tanner served as Ware’s administrative assistant for two decades. Then in 2013 she announced publicly that she was thinking of running for county judge. Ware had been disabled seriously by a stroke in 2010 and it was unclear whether he would seek another term.

Ware then summarily fired Tanner, and threw his support to former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt, who had announced her candidacy.

Ware never has explained his reasons for firing Tanner, who then went on to win the Republican Party primary outright. With zero Democrats on the ballot, her nomination was tantamount to election.

They threw a retirement party for Ware. Lo and behold, the judge-elect was there to give Ware a rousing sendoff.

What’s the moral of the story? I suppose it can be that longtime friendships have a way of outlasting temporary political snits.

The tank is elsewhere

Social media can be quite a boon to finding answers to nagging questions in a hurry.

The other day I posed a question on Facebook about the whereabouts of a battle tank that once “guarded” one of the doors to the Potter County Courthouse in downtown Amarillo.

I got my answer … quickly. It’s been moved to Pampa, about 60 miles northeast in Gray County.

The tank is now sitting proudly with some other war relics.

I mistakenly referred to the tank as an M-48. It’s actually newer than that; it’s an M-60.

Potter County Judge Arthur Ware put the tank out there after then-Justice of the Peace Jim Tipton — a fellow Marine — procured the vehicle from someone, whose identity escapes me at the moment.

Ware, who is leaving office at the end of the year, told me several times over the years how proud he was to have the tank out there. He said it symbolized some memorial to veterans who had served their country. Ware, a Marine reservist, was called up during the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91 and went into battle with his fellow Marines against the allegedly vaunted Iraqi Republican Guard.

The tank stood there for many years. Then the county sought some historical preservation grant money to restore the courthouse. The rules from the Texas Historical Commission are quite restrictive, as they should be. The county sought to return the courthouse to its original pristine state, which in 1930 did not include the tank on the grounds.

The tank had to go. Period.

So the county found a suitable home for it.

I’m glad it hasn’t been scrapped. I also am glad the state historical preservationists stuck to their guns — so to speak — by ordering the county removed from the courthouse grounds.

The county did a good job of restoring the grand old building — while obeying the rules that took an old weapon of war to another location.

New county judge's plate will be heaping

Nancy Tanner isn’t shying away from the huge tasks awaiting her when she becomes Potter County’s next judge.

It’s not exactly a done deal just yet, although it’s virtually so. Tanner won the Republican Party primary in March. No Democrat is on the ballot. Still, she has to go through the motions of an election in November. It’s safe to assume she’ll be elected in the fall, then she gets set to take the gavel from her former mentor and friend, Arthur Ware, who fired Tanner from her job as his administrative assistant in 2013 for reasons no one yet really knows — officially.

Job One for the new judge?

It appears that the Courts Building needs replacing. Not repair. Or refurbishing. It needs to be knocked down.

No one in county government — at least those with whom I’ve spoken — likes working in the structure that Ware calls without a hint of affection the “Grain Elevator.”

It was completed in 1985, which means that it has fallen apart in less than 30 years. Compare that with the Santa Fe Building, which houses several county offices. That Santa Fe was built in 1930 and as a friend who works for the county told me this morning, he toured the┬áthen-vacant structure┬áright after the county bought it in 1995 — before the county lifted a finger to fix it up — and said “We could move┬áright now!”

I should add that the county paid a grand total of $400,000 for the 11-story office building.

How’s the county going to pay for a new Courts Building? Tanner told the Rotary Club of Amarillo this past week she believes certificates of obligation are an option. The county has a relatively light debt load, she said.

Now the big question: How much would a new building cost? My spies at the county tell me they’ve heard estimates that hover around the $150 million mark. Would the county issue that COs to cover the entire cost? Tanner didn’t say.

The building is a piece of crap. Everyone seems to agree on that fundamental point.

It needs to go. Finding a suitable strategy to replace will keep the new county judge up late at night.

Welcome back to public service, Judge Tanner.



Tradition has its place in transition

I’m a bit of a sucker for political tradition.

Take, for instance, what happens when we change presidents of the United States. There’s a long-standing tradition of the outgoing president instructing his staff to work with the staff of the incoming president. The two leaders exchange ideas, the outgoing guy gives the new guy tips on what to expect, how he might respond to certain events.

The tradition concludes with the outgoing president leaving a note in the Oval Office desk for the new president to read. It’s often a personal note of congratulations and expressions of good luck … that kind of thing.

Does that tradition exist at county courthouses?

One of my sources in the Potter County Courthouse tells me he believes not. I asked him recently about whether he detected any close working relationship between the outgoing and incoming county judges. He shook his head “No.”

Nancy Tanner is going to become the next Potter County judge in January. She’s replacing a man for whom she worked for two decades. County Judge Arthur Ware fired Tanner in 2013 for reasons he hasn’t yet specified publicly. Tanner then went on to win this spring’s Republican primary for county judge, defeating four other candidates. No Democrat is on the ballot, so her nomination was tantamount to election.

Tanner has picked a transition team. I keep wondering, though, if she’s working at all with Ware — her former boss and the guy who cut her loose.

Ware’s communication skills have been hampered since he suffered a debilitating stroke in 2010. I’m not entirely clear whether the current judge is able to verbalize effectively.

Tanner does the advantage of knowing much of the nuts and bolts of county government already. She was Ware’s administrative assistant and developed a solid working knowledge of how the various county departments interact with each other and with the county judge’s office.

Maybe she won’t need Ware to hold her hand — figuratively — as she prepares to assume the post of county judge.

Still, it would serve the cause of tradition if Ware offered some help to the new judge.

Hoping for a smooth handoff

Political traditions often consist of unwritten rules of decorum and courtesy.

One of them involves the transition from one elected official to another in a particular office. Let’s take, just for kicks, the Potter County judge’s office.

Will courtesy be the rule of the day when Nancy Tanner takes over at the end of the year from her former boss, Arthur Ware?

Tanner — who served as Ware’s administrative assistant during his tenure as judge — won the Republican Party primary in March in the race to succeed Ware, who didn’t seek re-election after serving as county judge for 20-plus years. Tanner’s road to victory got a little bumpy right off the start.

She declared her intention to seek the office before Ware announced this would be his final term. She didn’t officially declare her candidacy, just let it be known she was thinking about it.

Ware then fired Tanner from her job. You’re out! he told her. Pack your stuff up and hit the road. Ware then announced he would retire from public office at the end of the year and endorsed former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt in the GOP primary.

Ware never has explained precisely why he fired Tanner.

Tanner won the primary outright. No Democrats are on the ballot, so pending the outcome of November election — which Tanner will win — she’ll become county judge-elect.

One of the more interesting facets of the campaign is that Tanner ran on her experience as Ware’s top hand. During a Panhandle PBS-sponsored candidate forum, Tanner declared that “only two people on Earth” know the details of the job of county judge: Arthur Ware and Nancy Tanner.

So, I cannot help but wonder if Tanner and Ware will be able to set their acrimony aside long enough for Ware to show Tanner all the ropes, the hidden tasks and responsibilities and perhaps share a secret or two with her that even she doesn’t know.

I hope for a smooth transition and seamless handoff. Hey, if presidents of the United States can be beaten senseless by challengers and then leave nice notes in the Oval Office desk drawer for them when they depart …

Surely a county judge in Texas can show some grace as he leaves the public arena.