• April 12, 2021

Editorial Roundup: Texas - Odessa American: State

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Posted: Monday, April 5, 2021 9:00 am | Updated: 9:17 am, Mon Apr 5, 2021.

Houston Chronicle. March 30, 2021.

Editorial: Dan Patrick declares revolution for power grid. Texans must hold him to it

Headlines are half the battle, in the newspaper business and in the politics business. Sometimes, it’s all people read. Often, it’s all they remember.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other smart folks at the Texas Legislature know this. It’s why, when Patrick announced Monday that the Senate had passed a comprehensive bill responding to last month’s deadly energy blackout, he trumpeted words such as “reform” and “revolutionize” in his press release.

To be sure, the legislation did address the vulnerabilities the winter storm revealed: It would ban “wholesale index plans” in an effort to protect consumers from the kind of erratic price spikes that stuck Griddy customers with electric bills in the thousands. It would improve coordination between the electricity and gas sectors so the right hand knows what the left is doing in the next crisis.

Of course, Republican architects of the bill also used a statewide crisis that killed 111 people to take a cheap shot at renewable energy, sticking wind and solar with a fee to seemingly punish them for any drops in generation caused by Mother Nature’s whim. That qualifies for its own editorial but for now, we’ll call it what it is: shameless political opportunism aimed at helping the oil and gas industry profit off Texans’ misery.

Back to Patrick and weatherization. There’s a reason the very first provision he lauded in his press release was a fine of up to $1 million per day for energy companies that fail to “weatherize” for extreme conditions.

Such a fine would indeed be significant in a state that for decades has refused to even require companies to weatherize the vast network of generation, transmission and natural gas facilities and pipelines that help fuel Texas’ independent energy grid. Failure of companies to engage in basic emergency planning, and failure of lawmakers to require them to prepare their facilities for extreme cold, led to frozen wellheads and wind turbines and gas facilities, forcing nearly half the power Texas needed offline.

We credit Gov. Greg Abbott for promptly declaring weatherization an emergency this session and Patrick for making it a keystone of Senate Bill 3.

But this editorial board will save its superlatives for the day the $1 million fine actually becomes law, the day a bill passes that truly holds industry and regulators accountable and assures Texans that the kind of disaster we saw in February never happens again.

At this point, we have our doubts. For one thing, the bill by Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, is vague or silent about how weatherization requirements would be implemented and enforced and gives too much discretion to regulatory agencies who have shown unwillingness to regulate.

Just consider: the official responsible for making sure oil and gas operators comply with weatherization is Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, who, as we wrote Sunday, has opposed weatherization requirements in the past and refuses to require operators to fill out a free, simple, two-and-a-half page form exempting them from having their power shut off during blackouts so they can keep fueling power plants.

We’re not suggesting Craddick wouldn’t follow the letter of the law. But who will make sure she and other commissioners would follow the spirit of it, vigilantly enforcing and monitoring industry to ensure expensive weatherization upgrades are completed and maintained?

Environmental advocates have long complained about the Railroad Commission’s lax enforcement, infrequent inspections and fines too small to achieve compliance. In May, the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter lamented the agency’s unambitious goal of inspecting wells once every five years, its nonexistent system for tracking complaints and its secrecy on pipeline safety, which worsened after detailed data was removed from its website.

Yet, it’s this agency, along with the Public Utility Commission, that the Senate bill relies on to set penalty guidelines on weatherization, ranging from a letter of reprimand up to $1 million per day. Operative phrase: “up to.”

Even if industry follows weatherization requirements to a T, will ratepayers get stuck with the bill or will lawmakers find a way to protect consumers? That’s the concern of many, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who championed consumer rights as a state lawmaker.

“Requiring weatherization of those in the energy supply chain is a positive step forward,” he said in a statement to the editorial board Tuesday. “The question is who will pay for it.”

It’s an issue House members should seriously consider when they offer amendments to the Senate bill. Another is addressing one of the core culprits of the Texas blackout: the perverse incentive our system gives energy companies to profit off crisis. Last month, seemingly the only tool Texas had to prop up the failing grid was to price energy through the roof so generators had adequate motivation to jump in.

There’s got to be another way.

The only incentive for lawmakers to find it, and other solutions, is pressure from those who put them in office and have the power to remove them. Lawmakers have to know you’re paying attention, that you expect them to represent you and not industry, and that you’re reading past the beaming headlines to see if they really, truly lead to revolution.

———

San Antonio Express-News. April 2, 2021.

Editorial: Trust in city undermined by expunged report, secrecy

The story of the handling of an arrest report involving Police Chief Charles Hood’s youngest son is one of corrosive secrecy.

It’s not a story that should be tolerated at City Hall or any level of government, and yet only one City Council member, Melissa Cabello Havrda of District 6, appears to get this, bravely speaking out about an expunged police report and a city unwilling to acknowledge its failure to be open and honest with the public. Everyone else, including Mayor Ron Nirenberg, has fallen short.

Discussing an expunged record is legally thorny — how does one acknowledge something that no longer exists? That said, there has to be a way to acknowledge a failure to be open with the public.

As Havrda so perfectly summarized: “My concern is the perception of a government that isn’t open to the people, the people that I represent. It’s detrimental to all of us — it’s detrimental to me, to the people that I represent, and it’s detrimental to the city.”

She was referring to the arrest this summer of Hood’s youngest son at San Antonio International Airport. As Express-News reporters Brian Chasnoff and Emilie Eaton have outlined, the 17-year-old was suspected of having a fake ID and providing false information to a police officer. Hood’s son was charged with a Class C misdemeanor, but the report was later expunged.

What we find particularly galling is the timeline. Hood’s son was arrested June 26. On Aug. 3, Eaton requested the police report, citation and the city’s contract with an outside attorney to review airport police officers. Perhaps the report was expunged before the records request — we just don’t know.

Occasionally, city representatives would deflect. Laura Mayes and Jeff Coyle, who handle press inquiries for the city, would acknowledge emails from Eaton but nothing more.

In December, Assistant City Attorney James Kopp wrote to the attorney general’s office that the report should not be disclosed for a variety of reasons. But he also said the request was not received until Nov. 23. This, he said, is because the city was not operating under normal “business days” due to the pandemic. Come February, there were no documents to release.

An aside: Various government entities have used the pandemic as an excuse to not release or delay the release of records. This is indefensible.

But wait — there is more secrecy. The arrest sparked a rift between Hood and Police Chief William McManus. To address Hood’s concerns of possible racial bias, the city hired Danielle Hargrove, a mediation specialist, at $325 an hour. All told, she billed the city $5,525 and determined there was no racial bias, but she never provided a written report. It was done verbally.

Again, there is no record.

But that doesn’t mean the arrest did not happen. While we understand Hood’s concern for his son, who was taken to the Bexar County Jail and later the Frank D. Wing Municipal Court Building, the unfortunate reality is this is the untenable criminal justice system the community has chosen to live with. It’s a system that screams for fundamental change, which is why we repeatedly called for reforms in our “Unequal Justice” project.

Yes, the cite-and-release program should be expanded to more nonviolent offenses. People accused of nonviolent offenses, especially misdemeanors, should not languish in jail. But people do languish in jail, and they often plead guilty to be released, regardless of innocence.

We agree with Hood that his son should never have been in jail — there are better ways to handle such nonviolent offenses — but that’s the story for myriad cases each day. The difference here is few people have their police reports expunged following an opaque process.

In the end, the public is in the dark, a rift has emerged between the police and fire chiefs, and trust in the city has taken a hit.

———

Abilene Reporter News. March 31, 2021.

Editorial: Residents of Aspen apartments, without water since winter storm, not getting square deal

The residents of Aspen Square Apartments on South Third Street, near what soon will be Abilene Heritage Square — Abilene High School until 1955 — just wish it was an April Fool’s Day joke.

They have been without water since after the historic mid-February winter storm.

How are they managing?

There are several portable toilets set up at the entrance, which for starters doesn’t make for a pretty sight. Next to those on each side are small showering areas.

You don’t want to see the first-floor laundry. Portions of the ceiling have fallen, yet residents still are using some machines.

How is this situation persisting?

We asked City Manager Robert Hanna about the city’s role since it doesn’t appear the owners have moved quickly to help.

According to the Central Appraisal District of Taylor County, Aspen is owned by KG Realco West LLC in Austin.

The two-story, 30,352-square-foot complex was built in 1980. There are 36 units.

Its market value is $708,000.

Hanna said the owner could have relocated the residents but “they’ve chosen not to.”

“We do not have an obligation to house people in this instance,” Hanna said.

John Fowler, a Vietnam War veteran who lives in No. 108, said he no options to relocate, so he has been sticking it out. He is a Meals on Wheels recipient.

Hanna said an asbestos survey was wrapping up this week, and a permit hopefully would be issued so that work could begin.

By state law, abatement of asbestos must take place before improvements are made. The city doesn’t do this but it needs the abatement certified to allow plumbing work to begin. The city is ready to sign off on work where asbestos is not an issue.

Hanna said a resident informed the city about the water issue after the storm, and city staff verified that and required the owners to provide facilities. Other than that, progress on their end has not been fast coming.

“I would say the building owner is slowly working toward compliance,” Hanna said.

The city’s role, he said, is to “enforce the health and safety codes, which we are doing with all haste. Our enforcement actions so far have resulted in the building owner moving toward compliance at a faster pace than before we began those efforts.”

Hanna said the city doesn’t have property maintenance codes.

“The city does not have a rental inspection process, and there are many buildings in Abilene that most Abilenians would refuse to live in if they had the choice not to live in them,” he said. “Some communities adopt property maintenance codes, Abilene has not done that yet.”

That will be brought forward when updated buildings codes go before the City Council, Hanna said. Those currently are under review.

“It is my hope this will give the city some proactive tools to address building owners that fail to meet acceptable standards,” he told us.

This certainly is the case here, and the Aspen complex is in better shape than others in the city.

Hanna said once a permit is issued, he was told water service could be restored to four units a day, with the entire apartment complex restored within 10 days. Other work, such as tile and wall board, would have to be done.

That timetable almost reaches the two-month mark.

These residents live a humble existence. But not having water for weeks and having to venture outside for use of restrooms and showers is something most Abilenians would not tolerate.

Fowler said he had to get water from elsewhere for cooking and to flush his toilet before portable toilets arrived. He used snow, too.

Sadly, this makes our personal storm inconveniences minor. These folks still are in survival mode.

Abilene is a giving community. It would be great if someone stepped up to help these folks. A picnic? Rent assistance?

Fowler said rent has not been discounted.

It’s hard to imagine this scene across the street from a $42 million renovation project.

But we’re not fooling.

———

Weatherford Democrat. March 30, 2021.

Editorial: McMurtry and Cleary, two lives well written

When writer Larry McMurtry rolled up to accept his Academy Award for helping write the screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain,” many Texans would appreciate his familiar attire. On Hollywood’s grandest night, one where fashion is much discussed, McMurtry sauntered up to the stage in black cowboy boots and blue jeans. The rest of his ensemble — dinner jacket, black bow tie and white shirt — looked more like an afterthought.

McMurtry was the essential Texan and he showed it that night in 2006 on that Academy Awards stage. However, McMurtry was also a transcendent talent who had incredible success in Hollywood, but he was also careful to remind the audience that much of their work was built from the pages of a book.

In his lifetime, McMurtry chronicled life in Texas in “The Last Picture Show,” “Terms of Endearment” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Lonesome Dove.” He died on Friday. He was 84.

For those who love the written word and Texas, McMurtry’s passing was a blow, but his legacy will be remembered for his memorable stories, characters and words. While he was known for some of the heft in his books, especially the beefy “Lonesome Dove,” he was a man of few words on the craft of writing.

In one of his memoirs, McMurtry wrote: “The best part of a writer’s life is actually doing it. The thrill lies in the rush of sentences, the gradual arrival of characters who at once seem to have their own life.”

McMurtry’s most notable works were centered in Texas. In “The Last Picture Show” it was North Texas of the 1950s, and in “Terms of Endearment” it was 1970s Houston and finally “Lonesome Dove” — set in south Texas in the years after the Civil War. “The Last Picture Show” was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, while “Terms of Endearment” won Best Picture in 1983 and Oscars for Shirley McLaine and Jack Nicholson. “Lonesome Dove,” of course, was made into a wildly popular miniseries in 1989 starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall.

His work followed in the footsteps of many great Texas writers, including J. Frank Dobie and O. Henry, and there are a host of great Texas writers to follow in McMurtry’s footsteps.

McMurtry’s literary contributions are a gift to the state of Texas, one to be celebrated for its honesty and clarity — a talent of all great writers. In his preface to the 25th anniversary of “Lonesome Dove,” McMurtry summed up what he thought about life: “And the blue pigs walked all the way to Montana just to be eaten. Life ain’t for sissies as Augustus might have said.”

While we mourn the loss of McMurtry, we also must take note of the loss of celebrated children’s author Beverly Cleary, who died last week at 104 years of age. For many children and parents, Cleary’s work was an indispensable part of life growing up.

Cleary’s most notable work — in a very long and prolific career — was the series of books about Ramona Quimby. The series, which started in 1955, gained steam in the 1970s as Cleary incorporated some of the challenges facing parents and children during that era, including Ramona’s mother heading to work full-time.

Over the course of her career, Cleary’s books sold more than 84 million copies and were translated into numerous languages. Her journey to write books began when she was a librarian and a child asked her if there were any books about people like him. She took it upon herself to write those books.

“I think sometimes beginning writers are so impressed with what they have written that they can’t really judge it,” she said. “I know I wouldn’t want to see anything published as I wrote it initially because it changes so much in the writing. I revise until a little light bulb clicks off and I know it’s done. I just know when it feels right. My first editor told me I was an intuitive writer. I hadn’t really thought about myself that way, but I guess she was right.”

Like McMurtry, Cleary’s contributions are hard to measure, but the good news is that the written word is timeless and the stories they told will be with us for many years to come. Thank you, Larry McMurtry and Beverly Cleary for a life well written.

END

© 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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