Tag Archives: Potter County Commissioners Court

Time of My Life, Part 34: Remembering an honest pol

My journalism career enabled me to cross paths over the course of many years with some of the more fascinating and occasionally unique individuals one ever could imagine meeting.

I want to tell you about one of them. I won’t speak ill of him because he’s no longer around to defend himself.

I present to you Manny Perez Villasenor. My peeps from Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle know of whom I am writing.

Manny was a Potter County commissioner who I believe it is fair to say was quite unlike any other who served on that elected governing body.

Manny died in 2011. My relationship with him went up and down, back up and then back down repeatedly over the years I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

He was irascible. Also cantankerous. He could get angry at the hint of a negative word. He also could be kind. Manny could be engaging in a clumsy, inarticulate sort of way.

Above all he was honest. Yep, he was an honest politician. I have not just typed an oxymoronic phrase. Manny Perez always told you what was in his heart, on his mind. He didn’t sugar-coat anything that I ever remember.

In this era of the liar in chief, and of politicians at all levels being caught telling lies or “misspeaking,” Manny Perez was at some level the original truth-teller.

Yes, he could be frustrating. Even maddening in his mercurial temperament. If I wrote something complimentary of him, he could not have been kinder,  or more solicitous.

But . . .

When I wrote something with which he disagreed, Manny would pick up the phone and read me the riot act. “I don’t care what the Globe-News thinks of me,” he would rant. “I work for my people” in Potter County’s Precinct 2, he would say. “I never want to speak to you again,” he would conclude. After a lengthy harangue, he would hang up.

Of course, I would remind him that he most certainly did “care” what the paper thought of him, which is why he would bring it up.

A week later, or maybe two, he would call. Manny needed something from the me, or the newspaper. It would be as if the previous tirade he launched at me never occurred.

Manny was a proud Democrat, although given his inability to articulate public policy or to explain in clear, concise terms anything of detail, I never was sure why he adhered to any partisan label.

I think he would consider himself to be a political conservative. He didn’t like spending public money needlessly. He didn’t attend seminars, workshops or various meetings that took him out of his comfort zone . . . meaning anywhere outside of his northeast Potter County precinct.

He and I would have lunch once in a while and he always — as in always — remind me that he didn’t do business with anyone outside of his precinct boundaries.

I’ve moved away from Amarillo. Manny Perez has been gone for eight years. In a strange — and unexplainable — way I still miss him.

The man kept me on my toes. He kept me humble in a way only Manny Perez could do.

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.

Tear down the former Dilla Villa!

We drove by the Tri-State Fairgrounds this morning along Third Avenue when I noticed a well-known Amarillo eyesore.

I refer to Potter County Memorial “Stadium.” I put the word “Stadium” in quotes because it is nothing of the sort. It is a rat hole, a dump, a run down, has-been venue that to my way of thinking no longer has any value to Amarillo.

My advice to the Potter County Commissioners Court? Tear the thing down! Scoop up the rubble and take it to the landfill. Clear the land, landscape it and turn it into something a damn sight more attractive than what sits on it at this moment.

Potter County owns the rat trap once known as the Dilla Villa. The Amarillo Dillas were playing some form of minor-league baseball at that venue when my wife and I arrived on the High Plains in early 1995. It was a dump back then, too. Its condition has worsened over the years. The men’s restroom stinks; the plumbing is poor; the outfield grass looks like a combination of at least three types of grass seed.

The condition of the venue was so bad that the sandlot organization that played ball there until this past year decided it wasn’t good enough for them. So they abandoned Amarillo.

Yes, I am aware that it has some history here. Longtime residents have a certain historical affection for the building. I don’t know what constitutes “longtime.” I have lived here for nearly 23 years; I figure that’s long enough to qualify me as someone with some history in Amarillo.

I’ve been cheering the construction of the upcoming venue that’s going to be built downtown. They’ll break ground soon, or so I understand, on a 4,500-seat ballpark near City Hall. It will be the home field for a new AA minor-league team that is relocating from San Antonio for the start of the 2019 season.

It will be a “multipurpose event venue” that can play host to a whole array of outdoor activities. It won’t be just a baseball park.

This means to me that the Potter County Rat Hole no longer is viable. It means the county needs to rid itself of a venue with zero potential. Have you seen the exterior of the outfield wall facing Third and Grand? It ain’t pretty, man.

I am aware that at least three members of the Commissioners Court read this blog. That’s a majority. If they’re going to be convinced by anything I say here in this forum, then I encourage them to take action.

Get rid of that rotten structure!

Amarillo mayor’s race produces a fascinating dynamic

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Let’s focus for a moment on two individuals who might run against each other to become mayor of Amarillo.

One of them is Elisha Demerson, a member of the Amarillo City Council who is generating some community chatter about his apparent desire to be mayor. He might have a decision to make, given the announcement that came this week from the other individual I want to discuss.

That would be Ginger Nelson, who has announced her mayoral candidacy. Nelson is quitting her post on the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation to focus entirely on running for mayor.

Nelson also is producing a lot of buzz around the city. The business community appears to be rallying behind her. A banker friend of mine told me today that Nelson is the real deal: “She’s articulate, smart and has the city’s best interests at heart,”¬†my friend¬†said. Others with whom I am acquainted have said the very same thing about her.

Understand this, too. I don’t know Nelson. I haven’t met her. I’d like to visit with her at some point prior to the election. So, I just might do that.

Oh, and what about the current mayor, Paul Harpole? I’m hearing he’s going to call it a public service career and will make room for Nelson.

Where does all this political intrigue leave Demerson?

I believe it forces him to seek to retain his council seat rather than mounting a futile campaign to defeat someone with Nelson’s chops.

You see, much of the support for Nelson comes from those who believe the City Council’s dysfunction is unacceptable. That dysfunction began appearing immediately after¬†three new council members took office after the May 2015 city election. The city manager and the city attorney quit. The assistant city manager retired.

One of the new council members was Elisha Demerson. Coincidence? I think not.

I know Demerson only a little. We’ve been acquainted for a number of years. His years on the Potter County Commissioners Court predate my arrival in Amarillo, but I’ve learned about the rocky time he had as county judge.

His brief tenure on the City Council also coincides with additional rockiness. Is there a pattern here … or what?

So, with the municipal election about six months away, we’re already getting set to view a bit of political drama.

As if we haven’t had enough of it already for the past two years.

Perez gets fitting honor

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Manny Perez was a fighter.

He fought political battles. Indeed, he actually did put on the gloves and fight with his dukes. The former Golden Gloves boxer was pretty good at inflicting punishment in the ring.

He couldn’t live forever, though. Perez died in 2011 from surgical complications. He left behind a legacy of working for the folks who elected him multiple times from his Potter County Commissioners Court precinct.

Well, this week, Perez’s name was unveiled on a bridge at Grand Street in Amarillo. He wanted that bridge built and argued for it for many years.

It’s a fitting tribute to this dedicated public servant.

That’s just Manny. That often would be the response one would get when discussing one of Perez’s tirades against this or that individual, organization or cause. Perez didn’t speak with much delicacy or precision. He spoke from deep within his gut.

He and I had our share of disagreements during our professional relationship over many years. I edited the opinion pages of the Amarillo Globe-News and we took Perez to task on occasion over policy disputes. He didn’t like being challenged.

He’d call and bitch at me about what we had said. During the course of his angry response he’d usually say something like, “I don’t need your support. I don’t want it. All I care about is the people.”

I would respond with something like, “Fine, Manny. But we aren’t going to change our mind and you won’t change yours.” Then he might say he wouldn’t speak to me “ever again.” He’d call later and we’d talk as if the previous conversation never happened.

We were on good terms when Perez died. I’m grateful for that.

I also am glad to see his name on the Grand Street bridge.

 

A perk awaits semi-retired journalist

Now that I’m no longer a full-time journalist, I plan to¬†accept an invitation I otherwise¬†might ¬†have declined.

I look forward to this event.

On New Year’s Day, Potter County Judge-elect Nancy Tanner is going to take office as the presiding officer of the county’s Commissioners Court. I’ll stand and applaud when she takes her oath of office.

Reporter Decorum Rule No. 1 prohibits such outward displays of support from the media. Reporters, editors and opinion writers are supposed to maintain a public appearance of neutrality. I couldn’t cheer for speechmakers at the two national Republican presidential conventions I attended — New Orleans in 1988 and Houston in 1992.

I did, though, attend the Democratic convention in Charlotte in 2012, but that was about a week after I had been “reorganized” out of my job at the newspaper where I worked for nearly 18 years. I had obtained press credentials for the convention and planned to cover it, but since I was a “civilian” when I got there, I was allowed to cheer.

Back to the present. I’m still a civilian. Sure, I might have attended the swearing-in as a journalist, but I’d have to put on my best professional face and demeanor.

Nancy Tanner was elected county judge this year in a clear statement of good sense and reason from Potter County’s voters. I am quite glad she won and I’ve stated so already on this blog and to whomever I’ve spoken about it since her victory.

Tanner sent me an invitation to attend the swearing-in at the Santa Fe Building in downtown Amarillo. Barring a catastrophic illness or some other unforeseen emergency, I plan to be there. I am likely to give the new judge a hug and will wish her well as she embarks on this new phase of her public service career.

Yes, indeed. Semi-retirement does have its perks.

 

Tanner vs. McCartt for Potter County judge

I’m going to make some assumptions about the upcoming race for Potter County judge in 2014.

One is that the two most serious Republican candidates already have declared their intention to seek the seat now held by County Judge Arthur Ware. The other is that no serious contender is going to enter the contest. A third assumption is that there won’t be a serious Democrat running for the seat, given that the Potter County Democratic Party is virtually comatose.

So, we’re left with two women with vastly different capabilities: former county court administrator and Ware’s one-time right-hand woman, Nancy Tanner, and former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt.

Ware, who’s not running for re-election, has endorsed McCartt — which shouldn’t be a surprise given that he fired Tanner from her county job earlier this summer for reasons he hasn’t yet explained.

So the question becomes: How will these women present their political credentials and what will they say is their strongest suit?

Tanner has a long list of actual accomplishment on her dossier. She’s run the court system; she has been at Ware’s side during the two decades Ware has been county judge; and she’s done much of Ware’s actual job since the judge suffered a devastating stroke in 2010. She knows the county well. She is well acquainted with county department heads and elected officials.

McCartt’s history is quite different. She served as mayor for three terms after serving a couple of terms on the Amarillo City Commission. McCartt is an immensely popular personality in Amarillo. She loves the city and served admirably as Amarillo’s chief spokeswoman during her mayoral tenure. However, the city’s political structure doesn’t give the mayor much actual power; the administrative duties are done by the city manager. Furthermore, the mayor and the four commissioners all represent the same constituency, since they all are elected at-large. But I’ll go back to my thought about McCartt’s personal popularity. It’s huge and I believe it will matter a great deal when the two candidates square off in public forums to debate the issues.

Potter County voters already have demonstrated a tendency to go with popularity over professionalism, as they did in 2000 when county Republicans nominated Mike Shumate to be sheriff over Art Tupin. Shumate had a checkered career with Amarillo Police Department, but developed a cult following when he ran the APD Crime Stoppers program; Tupin, meanwhile, served as chief Potter County deputy sheriff under Jimmy Don Boydston and was eminently more qualified for the job than Shumate. That didn’t matter to county Republicans. Shumate then breezed to victory in the general election that year over a Democratic candidate no one has seen or heard from since the votes were counted.

I am thinking the same dynamic may play out in the Tanner-McCartt race.

Tanner’s learning curve would be much less severe than McCartt’s, given that Tanner has done much of the job already and McCartt has little actual hands-on experience with managing the complexities of government.

Let’s all stay dialed in on this contest. It’s going to be a fascinating campaign that likely might reveal lots of things about Potter County’s voting public.

Courthouse intrigue mounts

Potter County commissioners went into closed session this week to discuss a complaint about County Judge Arthur Ware. They came back out and said there would be no action taken.

End of story, yes? No.

http://amarillo.com/news/local-news/2013-08-19/potter-commissioners-considering-complaint-against-judge-arthur-ware

Ware’s tale is getting very strange. He suffered a stroke in 2010 and has been unable to communicate verbally effectively ever since. He hasn’t handled mental health cases. The county has been paying for outside assistance to aid in the performance of the judge’s other duties, such as probate hearings.

The judge’s longtime administrative assistant, Nancy Tanner, announced her desire to run for county judge and then got fired summarily by Ware, who subsequently announced he wouldn’t seek re-election and endorsed former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt, who plans to run for the office. Tanner will decide soon whether to run.

What’s missing here? By my lights, its any kind of explanation as to the complaint that was filed against Ware.

State law allows the commissioners to scurry behind closed doors to talk about matters such as these in private. However, it does not require them to do so. The open meetings exemption relating to personnel matters usually pertains to paid staff. If some non-elected individual on the payroll faces disciplinary action, commissioners certainly can claim the personnel exemption and meet in private.

An elected official is a different case. Arthur Ware is the county’s presiding elected official. He chairs the Commissioners Court. I’m not suggesting that his colleagues spill all the beans, but there needs to be some notion made public as to the nature of the complaint.

It likely won’t occur.

Meanwhile, the intrigue over what looks like a fascinating county election in 2014 keeps building.

This is going to be one wild ride.