Tag Archives: Potter County politics

Potter County judge race could get testy

Potter County Judge Arthur Ware has announced — in a statement delivered by his wife — that he won’t run for re-election in 2014. He is to be commended for realizing the obvious, that his 2010 stroke has rendered him incapable of campaigning for his office, let alone performing the duties that go along with it.

Then came this thunderbolt: Ware has endorsed former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt, who plans to announce soon her intention to run for the office. You want more theatrics? We have Nancy Tanner, Ware’s one-time right-hand woman, who worked as his administrative assistant for 20 years before being fired summarily for reasons that haven’t yet been disclosed publicly. Tanner also wants to be the judge, and she contends she has the chops to do the job, given her vast knowledge of court matters, probate and much of the detail that goes with it.

Let’s backtrack about 13 years to the 2000 Republican campaign for Potter County sheriff. Longtime Sheriff Jimmy Don Boydston stepped aside. Up stepped his chief deputy, Art Tupin, Boydston’s go-to guy at the sheriff’s office. Tupin was supremely qualified for the job. He didn’t win the GOP primary that year. The winner turned out to be Amarillo Police Officer Mike Shumate, the former head of the APD Crimestopper program, who went on to trounce an unknown Democratic opponent. How did Shumate win the primary? He had developed something of a cult following because of his rather, um, colorful way of portraying bad guys and the way he would seek to drum up tips from radio listeners that would help the police department solve crimes.

In a perfect world, Shumate wouldn’t have been elected. He wasn’t nearly as qualified as Tupin for the job. As it would turn out some years later, Shumate got himself into some serious trouble and was convicted of crimes relating to the sheriff’s department relationship with vendors supplying food and other materials to the jail. He was kicked out of office and sentenced to a jail term in Armstrong County.

Now we have another case of a popular public figure, McCartt, possibly running against someone, Tanner, who on paper is far more qualified for the job both of them likely want.

Please understand: I am not equating McCartt fully with Shumate. The comparison I want to make is as an overarching public personality. McCartt served three successful terms as mayor until 2011. But as the mayor in Amarillo’s system of government, she didn’t do any heavy lifting. Her job — which she did magnificently — was to be the city’s voice and face. She remains an ardent advocate for the city and she is to be saluted for the job she did in trumpeting the city’s many virtues.

All the nuts and bolts are handled by the city manager and his staff.

I have kidded McCartt many times over the years that I think she’s really a hologram, in that she was able to be at several places at the same time.

Nancy Tanner is another kind of public figure. She isn’t nearly as well known beyond the county courthouse. She was a workhorse for the county judge. By my reckoning, Tanner possesses a superb knowledge of county government. I believe that in all the factors that ought to matter, Tanner is more qualified for the job than McCartt — just as Art Tupin was more qualified to be sheriff than Mike Shumate.

I admire both Tanner and McCartt greatly, for reasons I think I’ve made clear in this blog post.

The question now becomes: If the campaign boils down to these two individuals, who will the voters select? If history is a guide, I’d have to say the stars are lining up in McCartt’s favor.

Then again … there might be someone else who can make the most compelling case of all for succeeding Arthur Ware.

I absolutely am going to watch this campaign with keen interest.

Call it a career, Judge Ware

It’s time for me to get something off my chest.

Potter County Judge Arthur Ware needs to do one of two things: Either resign his office or declare that he will not seek re-election to the job he’s had for the past two decades. Of course, the first option precludes the second one. Either way, it’s time for the judge — who I admire greatly for all he has done for the county and the country — to end his career.

Ware cannot do his job. He suffered a devastating stroke in 2010 that left him paralyzed on one side of his body and unable to speak coherently. He manages to force a word or two out at a time, but he is unable to articulate county policy, or argue a budget point, or converse with anyone who stands before him in a probate hearing. I saw him about two years ago at a downtown Amarillo restaurant. I sought to engage him in conversation. He answered with single words. “Yes” and “no” had to suffice. It was a sad encounter.

Earlier this week, the judge was shot down by his four Commissioners Court colleagues on his request for a pay increase. Every one of the commissioners opposed the increase. At least two of them spoke quite harshly about the judge, one of them saying he should take a pay “decrease” and other saying the county would be “negligent” by approving the proposed pay raise.

And after taking the verbal battering from his colleagues, Ware had no response. Why? He couldn’t verbalize the thoughts that no doubt were running through his head.

I’m not privy to all the ins and outs of county politics and policy these days. I do know a couple of key points. One is that a number of qualified individuals are considering a run for county judge in 2014, when Ware’s term is up. Another key point is that candidates for county office must be able to articulate a policy. They must make public appearances at, say, church picnics, candidate forums, televised debates, the Tri-State Fair, grange halls, feed stores and … well, you get the idea.

I say all this with deep affection for the man. I remember meeting Ware when I arrived in Amarillo in early 1995. He wasn’t that many years removed from his active-duty deployment as a Marine called to fight during the Persian Gulf War. His office is adorned with Marine Corps banners, flags and assorted photos and other paraphernalia. Semper fi, Judge Ware.

He scored a huge coup in 1995 when the county purchased the Santa Fe Building for 400 grand. He took a colleague and me on a tour of the then-vacant building and talked effusively of the grand plans he had to turn it into a county office complex. After a few hiccups along the way, the county got it done.

He fought for the county’s inclusion in a tax increment reinvestment zone to help fund downtown Amarillo’s redevelopment, acknowledging forcefully that the county courthouse indeed, sits in the middle of the downtown district.

But all that is in the past. The here and now has produced a sad spectacle.

Arthur Ware cannot possibly campaign for an office the functions of which he no longer is able to perform. Tell the public, judge, what you plan to do. My best advice is to quit now and spare yourself further humiliation at the hands of your colleagues.

Dear Judge Ware: Please explain this firing

Texas is an “at will” state, meaning that employers can fire employees for any reason, or for no reason. They concoct reasons for terminating employees.

That appears to be the case involving a long-standing Potter County administrative assistant and her boss, the county judge.

The judge is Arthur Ware. The administrative assistant is Nancy Tanner. Ware suffered a serious stroke in 2010. He’s been unable to communicate effectively ever since. Technically, he’s been on the job but much of the work that entails actually talking to constituents – such as probate hearings – has been farmed out to other county officials.

Nancy Tanner has indicated a desire to succeed Ware as county judge in 2014. She has announced her intention to consider running for the office. Tanner sent a letter to friends and supporters throughout the community recently expressing that desire. In the letter, she said that because of his physical condition, Ware “probably” won’t seek re-election next year. Tanner’s letter, though, mostly extolled her own qualifications, of which there are plenty. She knows the probate process inside and out; she’s been handling court administration for more than two decades. What’s more, she’s been a loyal aide to Judge Ware and professes to this day that she maintains great respect and affection for him.

The letter went out. And then, quite suddenly about two weeks ago, Ware informed Tanner that he is firing her. Hit the road, he said in effect.

OK, so what’s going on here? Tanner believes politics played a part in her dismissal. Ware isn’t saying anything about it. Some of his Commissioners Court colleagues are asking for a clarification – which they are correct to do.

State law doesn’t require Arthur Ware to give a single reason for making a personnel-related decision. So it appears he’s going to rest on that law, go about his business and perhaps hope the tempest subsides.

I don’t think it should until Ware explains why he dismissed his trusted administrative assistant who has declared her desire to succeed him.

The county has been roiled by controversy before. This won’t be the last time. But the man at the center of this story needs to tell his constituents of his plans. Will he seek re-election or not? Was Tanner’s summary firing related to the letter she sent out? Did it have anything to do with the presumption she made about whether he would run again? A full and detailed accounting of what happened is in order.

Nancy Tanner deserved better than what she got. What is done is done. Just because the law protects an elected official from having to explain himself doesn’t make it right for him to stonewall the public.

Talk to your bosses, Judge Ware – the people you serve as county judge.