Tag Archives: Randall County

He never really left ‘home’

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

HEDLEY, Texas — Cruising through this Donley County community today at the end of a 5,400-mile trip across the western United States, my mind was drawn to a son of this part of the Texas Panhandle.

He was born and was reared in Hedley. Ernie Houdashell went on to serve two tours during the Vietnam War, then found his way into the political arena.

Ernie became a trusted source for me when I arrived in the Panhandle in January 1995 to become editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. He later — after I left the Globe-News — would become a good friend, with whom I would share occasional lunches at an Asian buffet we both liked in Amarillo.

Houdashell was chief of staff to state Rep. John Smithee, a Republican from Amarillo, when I arrived at my post way back when. He then got elected and re-elected time and again as Randall County judge, presiding over a commissioners court that set policies and oversaw their implementation often at the urging of Houdashell, a consummate deal-maker.

Ernie and I disagreed politically. We never let those differences get in the way. He once told me that we only were “adversaries, not enemies.”

Houdashell died of COVID-19 complications earlier this year. Even though I have moved away from the Panhandle, we kept in touch. I would see him on my occasional forays back to the Caprock.

On Houdashell’s watch as county judge, the county moved from a cramped Amarillo annex to a more spacious complex in another Amarillo neighborhood; he also oversaw the relocation of the county’s government complex from the square in Canyon to another site across the street from West Texas A&M University; the county expanded the displays at the Panhandle Veterans War Memorial, adding a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter, an F-100 fighter jet and a piece of the USS Arizona battleship that was sunk at Pearl Harbor.

Indeed, Houdashell was proud of his service during that war. He served two tours, the first of which qualified him as what was known back then as a REMF, an acronym for “rear echelon mother … ,” well you know the rest of it. That didn’t set well with Houdashell, so he volunteered for a second tour, getting orders for a Huey company, where he served a yearlong tour as a door gunner.

He told stories about growing up in Hedley, about the shenanigans he and his buddies would pull at the old water tower that still stands alongside U.S. 287. He told tales about a fellow he identified as “Gervis Pinkerton.” I know if Gervis was a real guy. It didn’t matter. Houdashell cracked me up with every story he would tell.

In some respects, Ernie Houdashell never left Hedley, Texas far behind. It was part of him and contributed greatly to the charm I recognized in my friend.

I will miss him forever.

Jury duty will have to wait

JPhoto by Jason Doiy
By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

An automated phone call this afternoon dashed my hopes … yet again!

I had hoped to be called for jury duty next week when I reported to the Collin County administration building. Alas, it won’t happen. The call came to inform me that I was being dismissed, that my services are not required.

Maybe next time, yes? Perhaps? Do ya think?

This is a big deal for me. I have always wanted to serve on a trial jury. Not because I lust for the duty. It’s just that I always have wondered to myself what happens in a jury room when a group of men and women gather to ponder how a particular case — civil or criminal — should go. I guess it’s the reporter in me, the nosey, inquisitive side of my persona that drives this interest.

Then again, perhaps I can blame the career I pursued for nearly 37 years as one reason why I never have been called.

When we lived in Randall County, Texas, I would get a summons. I would call the day prior and the automated system would tell me not to bother.

I did serve on a grand jury in Randall County for a period of time. That was a fascinating call to duty. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent in the jury room pondering whether to indict someone on a criminal complaint. When we were sworn in by the presiding judge, though, I recall vividly something the district attorney at the time told us. James Farren said we likely never would be summoned for trial jury duty in Randall County because of our grand jury service. Why? Defense attorneys would strike us because they could argue we are prejudiced in favor of the prosecuting side. Oh, well.

We moved from Randall County to Collin County. I want to wipe the slate clean.

However, the call won’t come this time. Again!

I’ll have to wait for another summons. I hope to serve on a trial jury before I check out of this world.

Is there a trial in my future?

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

A longtime dream of mine took a baby step toward coming true today when I fetched the mail from the mailbox.

It contained a jury summons from the Collin County Courthouse.

The dream involves serving on a trial jury. I long have wanted to perform that particular act of citizenship.

I came of age in my native Oregon. I never got a summons, not from Multnomah County or from Clackamas County, where we lived until we moved to Texas in 1984.

I would get a summons from Jefferson County on occasion, but then would be dismissed. We moved eventually to Randall County in the Texas Panhandle in 1995, where I would occasionally receive a jury summons. One time — just once! — I had to report for duty, where I joined other potential jurors waiting to be selected. Then out came District Judge David Gleason to tell us that our services wouldn’t be needed. Every other summons I got from Randall County would result in my being informed that everyone had settled so I didn’t have to report.

We have migrated to Princeton, in Collin County. The summons arrived today. To be honest, this summons doesn’t tell me if I might be called to serve on a district court jury, a court at law jury or a justice of the peace court jury. Does that mean my chances of being called might pan out? I hope it does.

I know you might think I am a bit loony in the noggin, but I want to serve on a jury. I am aware of those who seek exemptions, citing their work or their age or their physical infirmity. The only thing I can claim is my age, given that I am well north of 65 years of age now. I am not going to evade jury duty.

I know the pay ain’t great. It used to be $6 daily. They’ve kicked it up a bit. That doesn’t matter to me in the least.

Don’t mistake me as some sort of do-gooder, although I have been distressed to read over the years about Texas courts struggling to find eligible residents willing to serve on juries. I have long been curious about how jurors interact with each other and with officers of the court.

I hope I get the chance to find out.

We were foes … not enemies

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

The death of a longtime Texas Panhandle political stalwart brings to mind an axiom that has gotten lost in recent years, which is that people of good faith can disagree but not demonize each other.

So it was with the late Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell and yours truly. Houdashell died over the weekend. I am still seeking ways to handle my profound grief.

I loved Ernie Houdashell at many levels. I admired his commitment to the county he served; I reveled at his patriotism; I honored his service to his country, serving two tours of duty during the Vietnam War, the second of which exposed him to fierce combat aboard an Army helicopter. I marveled at the creative ways he sought to improve the quality of life for his constituents.

However … I wasn’t a fan of Houdashell’s politics. He was a staunch Republican partisan. I am, shall we say, of a different ilk. I knew Houdashell at two levels: first as a journalist working as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News; second as a former journalist who maintained a personal friendship with him.

Indeed, our friendship flourished even as we disagreed about the nature of the politics that drove Houdashell and which once consumed many of my waking hours as a full-time opinion journalist.

But we never, ever let our differences interfere with how I felt about him. I hope — and I believed — that he felt the same toward me.

We have seen a diminution of that kind of adversarial relationship in recent years. Ernie and I disagreed fervently about Donald J. Trump. Indeed, I know of several friends who have seen other relationships suffer grievously because of political differences regarding the lame-duck president. Not so with Ernie Houdashell and me.

We were foes. Not enemies.

I am going to cherish that friendship until the very end of my time on this good Earth. If only I could bottle and peddle it to others who suffer from the loss of their own relationships over something as petty as partisan politics.

This news hurts deeply: RIP, Ernie Houdashell

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

My Facebook news feed has just delivered some devastating news.

A longtime friend and an invaluable source for me back when I toiled for the Amarillo Globe-News has died. Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell is gone.

It is difficult for me at this moment to gather my thoughts and stop the heartbreak I am suffering.

Ern was a jewel. He loved Randall County deeply. He loved serving the folks who elected him to multiple terms as the county’s presiding officer. Ernie loved doing deals and was proud of the work he delivered on behalf of the commissioners court.

On his watch, the county moved heaven and Earth to modernize the service it delivered. The county relocated its Amarillo courthouse annex from a cramped site on South Georgia to a new location on Western Street. The county vacated the old 1909 Courthouse on the Square in Canyon and renovated the former Wal-Mart center into the county Justice Center. Yet, the county managed to acquire some state grant money to assist with the renovation of the exterior of the old courthouse structure, a move that Ernie at first resisted but later embraced as the Canyon square began to flourish and grow.

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment well might be what transpired at the old annex site, and the development of the Texas Panhandle War Memorial. Ernie was a proud Vietnam War veteran, which gave us a common bond. I enjoyed reliving the bad old days with Ernie. He was proud to have taken possession of the F-100 jet on display at the memorial, as well as the UH-1 Huey helicopter; indeed, he saw duty during his second tour of duty in Vietnam as a door gunner aboard a Huey. And he was able to acquire a piece of the USS Arizona to be displayed at the memorial.

Ernie Houdashell could spin a yarn like few others. He grew up in Donley County and brought some of that rural humor with him when he spoke to civic groups.

Our relationship grew from a professional one to a deeply personal friendship after I left the Globe-News in the summer of 2012.

Man, this news hurts deeply. I will get past the immediate pain that has pierced my heart. However, I will cling for as long as I live to the love I acquired for Ernie Houdashell.

This indictment is, um, huge!

I am trying to catch my breath after hearing some shattering news out of the Texas Panhandle.

I need to be very careful with what I say with this blog post.

A Randall County grand jury has indicted Sheriff Joel Richardson on a charge of “misuse of his position.” He faces prosecution on a second-degree felony. I saw this news and, to be honest, it took my breath away. I am utterly floored.

Nothing I have read offers any specifics about what the grand jury has determined to be worthy of prosecution. Thus, I cannot comment on the allegation.

I do want to make a couple of points, one about the sheriff and another about the process.

First, I long have considered Joel Richardson to be one of the finest law enforcement officials I’ve ever known. I got to know Richardson while I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. He always has been a stand-up cop, a fine leader of men and women and is highly respected among his law enforcement peers. Richardson is not running for re-election this year.

Second, I served on a Randall County grand jury years ago. We would meet regularly and hear complaints brought to us by the district attorney’s office. None of the complaints we heard rose to anything approaching the level of what the current grand jury has delivered regarding Joel Richardson.

I can say this without hesitation: Grand juries do not indict people with Joel Richardson’s community standing without considering seriously the complaint that has been brought forward. I am not passing judgment on Richardson. I am saying that grand jurors take their responsibility seriously.

I want to believe in the sheriff.

Now, though, I need to catch my breath.

A ‘battle of the badges’ is brewing in the Texas Panhandle

Randall County Sheriff Joel Richardson is as honorable a man as I’ve known in public life. So, when he posts a document taking a fellow law enforcement official to task, well … I tend to look carefully at what he has to say.

Richardson is disturbed by what he alleges is being done by the county’s Precinct 4 constable, Chris Johnson. Richardson has endorsed Johnson’s opponent in the upcoming Republican Party primary election.

To say this is unusual is to, um, commit the Mother of All Understatements.

Richardson, who is not seeking re-election as sheriff, wants GOP voters to back Paula Hicks in the March 3 primary for Precinct 4 constable.

He has issued a blistering statement that accuses Johnson of some pretty catty behavior while serving as constable. He alleges that Johnson has been abusive to juvenile drivers, he accuses Johnson of driving away in a sheriff’s deputy’s cruiser and driving it well in excess of 100 mph through Amarillo, he says Johnson has “frisked” motorists who had been stopped by deputies “without probable cause.”

I won’t endorse the specifics of what Richardson has alleged. I just know the sheriff to be a man of integrity and a decidedly non-political cop, even though he has politicked for the office he has occupied for more than 20 years.

What’s more, for a sheriff to get involved in an openly political contest involving another law enforcement official — albeit a fellow politician — suggests to me that the sheriff has a serious bone to pick with the fellow he is criticizing.

Richardson refers to his statement as an “urgent and open letter to the voters of Randall County, Texas, Precinct 4.”

They would be wise to pay attention.

Awaiting holiday season in new surroundings

It’s one thing to move to a new community, a new home and becoming acquainted with new surroundings during most of the year.

It’s another thing altogether when you welcome the Christmas holiday amid all that newness. Why, even Toby the puppy — as you can see in the photo — is wearing some new Christmas threads.

So a new holiday awaits my wife and me — along with the Puppy — in our new digs in Collin County. We spent 23 or so Christmas seasons ensconced in our home in southwest Amarillo. We grew comfortable in that home, which we had built in the fall and early winter of 1996.

Indeed, our first Christmas in that home was one for the ages. We closed on the house on Dec. 22, 1996, took possession of the place, then had most of our worldly possessions hauled out of storage where it had laid dormant for nearly two years.

We spent Christmas opening up boxes and getting reacquainted with pictures, furniture, doo-dads, knickknacks and assorted gadgets and gizmos we had locked away.

Our Christmas tree that year was a potted Norfolk pine we brought with us from Beaumont. We strung a few lights around it, tossed a little tinsel on it and surrounded it with gift packages.

We moved from Randall County to Collin County in the spring of 2018. Then earlier this year we decided to look for a house to purchase. We found one in Princeton, closed the deal and moved in. That all took place in late February.

Now our first Christmas in our latest new home is coming up fast. It won’t have quite the same element of rediscovery as the holiday I described earlier. However, it will be memorable nonetheless. Of that I am certain.

My biggest challenge now rests with trying to decide how to string lights around our new house. Wish me luck.

Hoping to get the call for jury duty

I am not a weirdo. Really. I’m not. I do, though, want to fulfill a civic duty that always seems to escape me.

I want to serve on a trial jury.

My wife and I moved from Randall County to Collin County in Texas a little more than a year ago. We registered to vote almost immediately. We have renewed our motor vehicle tags in Collin County. The folks at the county clerk’s office know we’re residents of this county; so do those at the district clerk’s office as well as the tax collector-assessor’s office.

It’s just that whenever I have gotten the call during all those years — 23 of them, in fact — that we lived in Randall County, I always was told “don’t bother to report.” I’d get my summons. I would call the preceding day after 5 p.m., per the instruction on the summons. Then I would get told that the cases all had settled and that “all jurors” were excused.

Damn, man!

I once served on a grand jury in Randall County. The district attorney, James Farren, told us that service on the grand jury likely would disqualify us from any trial jury, given that grand juries serve under the direction of the state. The grand jury receives criminal complaints from the DA’s office and then decides whether to indict someone for the crime listed on the complaint. That was a marvelous experience.

Still, now that I’ve moved away I am hopeful that the court system in Collin County — whether it’s a district court, a county court at law or a justice of the peace — would see fit to summon me to report for jury duty.

I’ve always wanted to sit on a trial jury. Does my grand jury experience taint me forever as a “pro-cop” kinda guy? No. It does not.

Hey, I’m retired now. I’ve got nothing but time on my hands. I don’t work for a living, although we have plenty to do around our house. It can wait, though, while I would serve on a trial jury.

Too many people look for ways to evade/avoid/skip jury duty. Not me. I want to serve. Come and get me. I’m all yours.

Biting my tongue regarding constables

I made the acquaintance today of a young man whose job causes the hair on the back of my neck to bristle … and I mean no disrespect to the individual himself, as he is a nice, earnest and dedicated public servant.

Or so I will presume for the moment.

He serves as a constable in Collin County. I won’t identify him just yet; that might come later if I choose to write any more about this matter.

You see, I have long had bur under my saddle about constables. I dislike the office. I have lived in communities as disparate as Beaumont and Amarillo that have had regrettable experiences with constables.

To be candid, I believe the elected office is superfluous. State law empowers constables to issue civil papers; that’s their primary task. They issue papers, such as eviction notices or court summonses. They also provide courtroom security for justices of the peace. And, yes, they have the authority to make traffic stops or assist police when the need arises.

However, as I have noted before, these duties can be done by sheriff’s deputies. Or by municipal police officers.

When I was working in journalism for many years I had the chance to comment on constable goings-on. In Jefferson County, for instance, voters elected a constable who wasn’t certified by the appropriate Texas law enforcement authorities. He vowed to obtain his certification — eventually! He failed to meet the deadline and was removed from office.

Potter County had a constable who didn’t do any work. It had another constable who enjoyed acting the part of dedicate law enforcement official, but fell far short of actually doing the duty.

In Randall County, there was a constable who pledged to surrender his office because there wasn’t enough work, only to think twice about it. He stayed on the job and battled county commissioners over his salary. Then Randall County voters elected a constable who campaigned on the pledge to not to do any work, enabling the county over time to disband the office. He then was gerrymandered out of office after the 2010 census was completed.

I still dislike the constable’s office. It is unnecessary. It also has a powerful lobby in Austin that fights for constables and justices of the peace.

I wish my new acquaintance well as he performs his constable duties. However, I would cheer loudly if the Texas Legislature ever finds the guts to get rid of the elected public office.