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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

August 1, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

The Monitor. July 30, 2017.

When National Butterfly Center Executive Director Marianna Treviño Wright last month drove over a hill on the center’s 100-acres site in Mission, she was “stunned” to see federal work crews clearing her private land and surveying it for a potential location for a border wall — all without permission or warning, she said.

When she asked what they were doing, they reportedly told her, “Clearing the land.” To which she retorted: “That’s my land!”

For Treviño Wright, the July 20 incident was a gross violation of her “due process by the federal government,” on several levels. Among them, trespassing and posing an environmental threat to the hundreds of reptiles, birds, plants — as well as the nation’s largest collection of wild butterfly species — that call the center home.

The potential location of a border wall on that very spot also puts into question the viability of a new $415,000 wetlands and monarch butterfly project, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, that the center planned to break ground on in the fall, she told us on a recent tour of the area.

“They gave no advanced notice. No proof of permission. Nothing,” she said. “If they put a wall here then how will we get access to those lands? Will there be a gate there? How will we check on the monarchs and the plants growing there to attract the butterflies? What happens when you pave paradise and put up a parking lot? . Right now we have more questions than we have answers.”

Agreed. This incident creates troubling questions about what our communities may be in for as preparations move ahead on one of President Donald Trump’s signature campaign issues.

Efforts to build a wall gained momentum when the U.S. House of Representatives voted in late July to appropriate $1.6 billion for its construction.

We call on federal officials to respect private property rights and adhere to due process. And we call on Texas elected officials to carefully monitor this process and demand federal officials follow the letter of the law.

There are still about 80 cases pending by property owners who opposed the acquisition of land back in 2006-08 when the federal government first began to put up a border fence/levee here via the Secure Fences Act in the George W. Bush Administration.

Over 300 cases in total were filed, Efrén Olivares, racial and economic justice director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said. Since April, his nonprofit group has offered free legal counsel to local property owners who are approached regarding the new border wall.

As of July 28, no new lawsuits have been filed, he said. However they are monitoring incidents like the National Butterfly Center.

“They cannot simply come into private property without the authority to do so. So we are definitely watching that,” Olivares told us.

It’s still unclear what exactly happened in “the back 70” acres of the Butterfly Center property — an undeveloped section cut off by a levee road and separating it from the “front 30″ acres where tourists and regular visitors frequent and where mainstays, like “Spike,” the 14-year-old 95-pound African Spurred Tortoise, as well as dozens of noisy Chachalacas, families of opossums and lizards and thousands (maybe millions) of wild butterflies live.

A spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed to The Monitor that work had begun near the center but said it was limited to surveying, marking spots and taking some soil samples. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ contractor has not performed any clearing or tree removals in the vicinity of the subject location,” Corps Spokesman Jim Frisinger emailed The Monitor.

A July 25 letter from Daniel Schroeder, acting branch chief for Border, Air & Marine operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said CBP has started “research for border security projects” in the Rio Grande Valley, but vowed all parties would be “seeking permission to identify the boundaries of the property through a right of entry to survey agreement.”

Treviño Wright said they were never asked or consulted. And she has published photos on the Butterfly Center’s website showing heavy tractors and equipment and recently cut trees on center property. She also is driving around with stakes in the back of her car, which she said she pulled up from the site.

Olivares said that taking photos as well as getting names and titles of workers is exactly what property owners should do if confronted by someone on their property without prior permission.

Likewise, we hope federal officials can see how putting a wall through the Butterfly Center would endanger so much wildlife and plant life.

Many butterfly species, like the blue “grass skippers,” cannot fly high, Treviño Wright said. They feed by “skipping” on low-lying plants and could not physically cross a 20-foot-high wall to reach plants on the other side. “Every type of butterfly is generally tied to one or two species of plants. Like monarchs with milkweed. They are obligate feeders,” she said. “If a wall goes up what would happen to them?”

“The border walls currently up have inflicted tremendous environmental damaged, fragmented environmental species, torn through wildlife refuges, national monuments,” said Scott Nicol of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Campaign.

Now he fears for places like the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, which is federal property, where soil samples and surveying for a wall also has begun. The refuge is home to endangered ocelots and is the “heart of the local ecotourism industry that is worth $463 million per year,” he said.

“They didn’t tell anybody they’d be doing any work at Santa Ana,” Nicol said “They haven’t done anything to allow communities to have input. . They didn’t tell anybody about the Butterfly Center.”

Our community does have a right to know where plans for a border wall are being considered. And we agree and thank lawmakers like U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who in late July pushed back against federal moves to put a wall in environmentally sensitive areas, like the Santa Ana refuge. Cornyn openly advocated for more use of technology, like Aerostats and drones and ground sensors, rather than a wall there. And he urged federal officials to consult with local officials.

“Consultation is so important and I would hope the administration would work with local officials for a tailored solution perhaps involving technology that wouldn’t be any more disruptive than necessary,” Cornyn said.

We believe this communication is so very necessary right now. And we urge federal officials to take the added time and effort to be inclusive of our community, our private landowners, and to take into consideration our feathered, winged and furry friends as they study the feasibility and location of a border wall across our Rio Grande Valley.


El Paso Times. July 31, 2017.

For almost nine decades, the Boys & Girls Clubs of El Paso have provided important services to at-risk youth. After a series of struggles, the agency seems poised to continue serving our community.

The organization in late July appointed veteran educator Anthony Tomasheski as its new chief executive officer. He most recently was interim assistant superintendent of special education for the El Paso Independent School District.

The mission of the Boys & Girls Clubs is an important one. It provides a safe, constructive environment for children when they are not at home or in school. The agency focuses on academic achievement, character and leadership development, and healthy lifestyles education.

Over the past decade, the impact of the Boys & Girls Clubs of El Paso was blunted by a series of leadership failures. The organization was essentially insolvent by the end of 2016, its very existence imperiled.

National leadership of the Boys & Girls Clubs explored a variety of options for El Paso, including merging with other social service organizations or shutting the doors on its facilities.

The ultimate decision was to rebuild the organization under the Boys & Girls Clubs banners. That led to Tomasheski’s appointment.

“Having spent the past 12 weeks working directly with the Boys & Girls Clubs of El Paso community, I am extremely confident in Anthony’s ability to drive this incredible organization forward,” Duane Hinshaw, vice president with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, said in a statement. “I am certain there are great days ahead for the kids of El Paso under the leadership of such a dedicated, experienced and respected professional.”

Hinshaw had served as interim director of the El Paso organization for the past three months. His presence was part of the national organization’s commitment to rebuilding the El Paso Boys & Girls Clubs.

In recent months, the Boys & Girls Clubs pared expenditures to save the El Paso organization. No clubs were closed, although service was cut back to four days a week instead of five.

An outside accounting firm was hired to provide improved financial reporting. Board members, despite the serious challenges, rededicated themselves to the future of the organization. Management was streamlined.

Board members contributed from their own pockets to keep the organization alive, and the Boys & Girls Clubs Foundation of El Paso provided a matching grant. That infusion of cash provided stability, buying the organization some time to reorganize.

A major upcoming event for the organization is the 2017 Youth of the Year Gala on Sept. 22 at Epic Railyard.

We congratulate the members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of El Paso board and the foundation board for the hard work that brought stability to the organization. Hinshaw and other national Boys & Girls Clubs leaders have invested time and energy in service of our community, and deserve our thanks. We wish Tomasheski well as the new CEO.

Support from the El Paso community will be the major key to success for the Boys & Girls Clubs of El Paso. Through its difficult reorganization period, the Boys & Girls Clubs of El Paso proved itself worthy of that support.


Houston Chronicle. July 31, 2017.

Less than a day after President Donald Trump turned to former Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly to restore order, discipline and civility to a “Clockwork Orange” White House, the retired Marine general has cashiered the fledgling communications director. Anthony ’the Mooch” Scaramucci, the foul-mouthed banty in the snappy blue suit who took the job just 10 days ago, wore out his welcome in record time.

A multimillionaire hedge-fund boss in his pre-Trump life, Scaramucci made his White House debut as a peppy, smooth-talking sycophant hired to convey the wonders of all things Donald (when he wasn’t being profane). Although Trump seemed to appreciate his “Good Fellas” mien — until his sheen began to rival the Sun’s — it was obvious to most that the brash New Yorker wasn’t going to wear well, even in this wildly dysfunctional White House. Still, the abruptness of his demise was startling.

You have to hand it to this president: He gets things done, although it usually takes a while longer. National security adviser Michael Flynn served for 16 days after Trump was warned he could be a threat to the national security he was supposed to advise about. It took weeks to edge alt-right anarchist and White House strategist Steve Bannon out of his seat on the National Security Council, a position he shouldn’t have occupied in the first place. This is the first time, though, that Trump has fired someone before they were officially on the job. (Aug. 15 was supposed to be Scaramucci’s official start date.)

Somewhere Sean Spicer, he of the not-so-snappy suit, is laughing. Spicer, the erstwhile press secretary, resigned last month in protest of Scaramucci’s hiring. Spicer’s old friend, Reince Priebus, Kelly’s predecessor, was the object of the Mooch’s profanity-fueled tirade during a July interview with a New Yorker writer. According to the Washington Post, Kelly found the man’s scabrous rant “abhorrent and embarrassing to the president.”

Priebus reportedly earned the president’s scorn a while back when he was unable to dispatch a fly that had invaded the Oval Office and was bothering His Eminence. The Mooch’s White House tenure was fly-like, but the old Marine from whom he got the swat could turn out to be significant. In his new position, Kelly could provide direction and focus to a reeling and rudderless White House. But then again, as friends and acquaintances point out, he’s a man “who won’t suffer idiots and fools.” His days could be numbered, as well.


The Dallas Morning News. July 31, 2017.

It pays to be the boss.

Last year was a slow one for raises among the CEOs of America’s largest publicly traded companies, but even so, chief executives in North Texas and across America did astoundingly well. The median pay for the 10 best-paid CEOs in North Texas was more than $14 million.

And when it comes to being the boss, it sure helps to be a man, too. Not a single one of those CEO titles belonged to a woman last year.

That’s a scandal, if an old one. It’s also a glaring weakness in this nation’s business culture. This year there are more women than ever leading the Fortune 500 firms, but 32 of 500 is hardly anything like equity. And in Texas? We’re batting 0-for-92 among the nation’s 500 largest public firms located here. We’ve had female mayors, university presidents, and governors — but not a single Fortune 500 CEO who isn’t a man.

Three years ago, Thomas Gilligan, then dean of the University of Texas’ highly regarded MBA program, joined experts from around the country at the White House to try to find out why. Afterward, he told this newspaper that one reason for the slow progress for women CEOs is that big businesses tend to be “very conservative when it comes to moving away from a business model that has worked for them.”

Everyone talks a lot about flexible schedules and better work-life balance, said Gilligan, now the director of Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University and a member of the board at Southwest Airlines. “But if it were that evident that providing flexible workspace was in the firms’ best interest, they would have jumped on this a long time ago.”

Still, small changes are afoot. More and more elite business schools are focusing on gender equity. And earlier this year in our own region, one of North Texas’ largest firms named Barbara Smith its CEO, beginning Sept. 1. Irving-based Commercial Metals just missed the Fortune 500 cutoff, but its more than $4 billion in annual revenue made it the 24th-largest publicly traded firm by revenue in this region.

That’s great news, and while it’s only a trickle of optimism, we can hope it is a harbinger of a day when a woman reigning in the rarefied world of business’s most elite club is commonplace.


Amarillo Globe-News. July 31, 2017.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed a statewide texting and driving ban on June 6.

Specifically, this was HB 62 — a bill which was a long time coming following multiple failures to pass a statewide ban on texting and driving.

As of Sept. 1, the statewide texting and driving ban becomes official — marking the end of a long political road for a law that is needed for public safety.

According to the Texas Legislature, the “record vote” (on May 21) for HB 62 in the House was 123-17. Amarillo/Texas Panhandle state representatives Four Price, John Smithee and Ken King (all Republicans) voted for the bill. Price is listed as one of 39 co-authors of the bill, whose primary author was Tom Craddick of Midland.

In the Senate, the “record vote” (on May 19) was 23-8, with state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, voting for the bill.

In other words, a statewide texting and driving ban (HB 62) was supported by the Amarillo-area delegation in the Legislature.

This is why it is interesting that there is now push-back against the statewide texting and driving ban, with Seliger and Price expressing concern that the state is usurping local control with a statewide law which differs from Amarillo’s ban. (State push to remove local texting law concerns Amarillo officials, July 28, amarillo.com.)

The statewide ban preempts texting and driving bans of cities and towns, and we get why there would be local concern.

However, according to a bill analysis (on the Texas Legislature website) of SB 15 in the special session (the bill which appears to be the cause of local concern about the statewide ban), “Should SB 15 pass and become law, four state laws would govern the use of cellphones by drivers: Texting while driving (H.B. 62, 85R) .”

Again — HB 62 is the law which state lawmakers (including those from the Amarillo-area) passed rather convincingly.

The additional three laws pertain to cellphone use in school zones, on school property and drivers under 18.

While it is accurate that SB 15 (in the special session) calls for the statewide ban on texting and driving to overrule local texting and driving laws, a uniform and cohesive statewide law was one of the goals of the legislation (HB 62) in the first place.

There are differences between Amarillo’s texting and driving law, which was enacted in 2013, and the state’s version. To put it simply, Amarillo’s version can be described as stricter.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, at least 47 states “ban text messaging for all drivers. All but 47 have primary enforcement.”

The goal should be a clear and concise statewide law which removes confusion for motorists. A patchwork series of texting and driving laws which differ according to which city or town a motorist is in is not in the best interest of public safety — and this was a primary reason for a statewide texting and driving ban.

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