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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

May 7, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Houston Chronicle. May 6, 2019.

If you see something, say something.

That’s good advice in this era when airports, train stations, schools and even churches have become settings for terrorist acts. It’s a good slogan for neighborhoods trying to work with police to reduce crime.

It’s also what you should do at work, especially if it’s at a job site where dangerous chemicals and materials are stored or handled. If you see something, say something before a tragedy occurs. It’s no longer safe, if it ever was, to count on companies to spot and respond to safety risks on their own, or to just assume Texas’ overly lenient regulators will do their jobs.

Speaking up and insisting on a response might have prevented the deadly fire last month at the KMCO plant in Crosby. Three contract workers who say they were injured have filed a lawsuit accusing company officials of knowing about a leaky valve before the explosion that the defective device may have caused.

If it’s true that managers knew of the leaky valve beforehand and ignored it, then it’s possible that plant worker James Earl Mangum, 27, of Daisetta might still be alive had they addressed it.

Ignoring employees’ safety concerns risks tragic incidents such as the fire at KMCO, but it also increases the risk of future incidents, too. Too often, plant workers won’t report a problem to a supervisor because past allegations have fallen on deaf ears. And workers who might report concerns to outside authorities have to weigh both the risks to their jobs and the likelihood that officials will act.

That may have been a problem at both the KMCO plant and the March 17 fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company chemical storage facility in Deer Park. Both facilities have been cited numerous times over the years for violating air and water pollution regulations. That’s evidence that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality isn’t doing its job.

A recent report says a chemical fire or explosion occurs almost every six weeks in the Houston region. Elena Craft of the Environmental Defense Fund says that’s because “the state agency responsible for ensuring chemical plant safety is missing in action.”

If Texans can’t trust the TCEQ to protect them, they’ll stop reporting violations. That only ups the risks for all of us.

So, it was good to see Harris County Commissioners Court approve the hiring of four new prosecutors to investigate environmental crimes. The two prosecutors currently assigned to that duty handle 400 to 500 cases a year, but most involve smaller companies or individuals accused of illegal dumping and water pollution.

With more lawyers in that division, District Attorney Kim Ogg can look at bigger targets. Her office has already charged ITC with five misdemeanor counts for releasing chemicals into the Tucker Bayou during the fire. Ogg took a similarly aggressive stance by charging Arkema with failing to properly store highly combustible chemicals that ignited and polluted the air during Hurricane Harvey.

That same aggressiveness should lead the county to invest more in the Pollution Control Services Department. In February, it received a 28 percent budget increase, about $1.2 million, but the Deer Park and KMCO fires occurring within three weeks of each other stretched its resources to monitor air and water quality.

County leaders have been smart to make other improvements, too. The pollution department didn’t have a website to give the public real-time air quality data during the ITC fire, so Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo got an ad hoc group of county employees to design one. They did it in eight hours. Hidalgo also directed the county health department to hire 11 private contractors at a cost of $375,000 to help monitor the air and bill ITC for the expense. In all, the county planned to bill ITC nearly $2 million for expenses, including costs incurred by emergency and law enforcement agencies.

Making environmental rules breakers pay for their crimes is crucial. That can happen only if agencies at every level of government charged with monitoring chemical and other dangerous facilities do their jobs. They can’t put job creation above environmental protection. Voters should show the door to politicians who urge officials to join their club of corporate sycophants.

Meanwhile, more workers need to find their voice and remember: when you see something, say something. Don’t be afraid to tell a supervisor that you noticed a leaky valve or improperly stored materials or inadequate safety procedures. Then say if he or she doesn’t report the problem to the appropriate regulatory agency, you will. Say you would rather be fired than become a fatality.

Some workplace incidents are unavoidable. Others never would have occurred if someone who saw something, said something. Anyone can do that. Just open your mouth and speak to whoever will listen. Don’t let your silence seal your fate.

___

The Dallas Morning News. May 6, 2019.

Dallas voters sent some very clear messages to the political class in this election about how they want their community governed, both in policy and in practice.

The first critical takeaway is that Dallas won’t accept the politics of division and nastiness. The second takeaway is that Dallas is committed to the evidence-based education reform that has seen Dallas Independent School District sharply improve its performance at a fast pace.

Let’s begin with the first — the rejection of the politics of division.

Two of the most polarizing figures in local politics — council member Philip Kingston and former mayor Laura Miller — saw voters rebuke them.

Miller challenged popular incumbent Jennifer Staubach Gates in a campaign that threatened to bring the politics of “NO” back to northwest Dallas. Voters instead rewarded Gates, a force for positive and collaborative change, with an overwhelming victory.

Kingston, meanwhile, managed to slide into a runoff with challenger David Blewett, despite losing badly to Blewett in total votes. Kingston should be thankful that Warren Johnson, a single-issue candidate with no shot at winning, joined the race and drew votes or the incumbent would almost surely be out of office.

In an interview with our editorial board, Kingston proudly announced that collaboration and compromise aren’t the way to do politics in Dallas. Instead, he offered a vision that boiled down to ramming through your agenda over your opponent’s.

As if to prove it, just before the election, Kingston sat at the council horseshoe and theatrically ripped apart a compromise proposal on paid sick leave that was offered by council member Adam McGough. The audience of labor organizers and other sharply progressive groups cheered.

Those sorts of nasty antics are exactly what Dallas voters don’t want. McGough sailed to re-election.

Council member Scott Griggs will do well to consider the results in that race as he shapes his mayoral runoff against state Rep. Eric Johnson.

Griggs is not as acerbic, but his politics have become increasingly divisive. He railed most loudly at anyone who would oppose the sick leave ordinance he championed, despite business leaders’ nervousness about giving City Hall subpoena power over the employment records of all private businesses. Tone and a willingness to work with others matter to Dallas voters, and Griggs will have to demonstrate he gets that.

Now for the second takeaway.

We were glad to see voters in North Oak Cliff and beyond send Ben Mackey to the Dallas ISD board.

Mackey is one of the top local thinkers on education, and his big margin of victory tells us voters understand how crucial DISD’s gains have been, despite constant noise from opponents of reform who appear satisfied with the persistent educational underperformance forced on Dallas kids.

Mackey is the principal at one of the best public high schools in the nation, which happens to be right here in Dallas. As leader of the School for the Talented and Gifted at Townview Center, he has had a front row seat for two key reform initiatives: the Teacher Excellence Initiative and the Accelerated Campus Excellence program.

We are also glad voters chose Maxie Johnson for the board and expect that the clear support he sounded for reform during the election will carry over into votes for empirically sound changes that will boost Dallas ISD and increase school choice throughout the district.

In the coming budget, Dallas ISD stands to see its difficult financial straits eased, through both increased taxation passed last year and school finance reform that should pass in Austin this session. The additional money must be spent wisely to improve outcomes for students, many of whom are poor and have been unable to rely on our schools as a path of upward mobility.

In another area of education, Dallas voters showed yet again that we are willing to invest in our people. The overwhelming passage of a $1.1 billion bond program for the Dallas County Community College District demonstrates how deeply voters understand that we must train the region’s workforce.

The district is positioned to provide low-cost, high-value training and education to people in North Texas. Investing in that training is a way to get the next Amazon that comes along to say yes to Dallas.

There is a reason democracy works so well. Individually, no one can implement all the “right” answers. Our system requires building consensus, getting buy-in, and often taking “yes” for an answer when the best we can do is win support for the second-best solution to a problem. But we can take pride that, as a city, we recognized what was important this weekend. We recognized that we want unified, collaborative governance. We recognized that we want the best possible schools for our kids, even if that means upsetting entrenched interests. And we recognized that we want to invest in a better future.

Our one sadness is that just under 10% of us made those decisions. We wish we could celebrate more broadly and won’t stop our effort to get everyone to the polls in every election.

But those who did make it out should look at what they accomplished and be proud of the Dallas they represented.

___

Amarillo Globe-News. May 7, 2019.

Amarillo voters agreed that the positive momentum and encouraging change generated during the past two years by the mayor and city council was important enough to merit another term for the five incumbents per municipal election returns over the weekend.

Mayor Ginger Nelson captured 64 percent of the vote in winning a second consecutive term. Nelson has demonstrated passionate leadership, a long-term vision for the city, made a strong commitment to public safety and been a tireless advocate for the proposed Texas Tech University veterinary school that would be placed in Amarillo.

“We’ve had some big wins,” she said in our story prior to Saturday’s final totals being announced. “The Texas Tech vet school is much closer to being a reality, but we need to focus some attention on the Civic Center and that’s a project we already have a citizens’ committee working on.”

Likewise, City Council incumbents Elaine Hays (Place 1), Freda Powell (Place 2), Eddy Sauer (Place 3) and Howard Smith (Place 4) all claimed resounding victories as voters endorsed the group’s collaborative approach to city leadership.

The future of the Civic Center is one of many important issues the mayor and council will face in the months ahead as well as infrastructure improvements and a continued emphasis on the city’s drawing power as a tourism destination.

It was an important day as far as the future of Amarillo was concerned. Voters also elected three new members to the Amarillo Independent School District board as two incumbents were unseated. Three Amarillo College Board of Regents members retained their seats on the nine-member board as Johnny Mize, Dr. Paul Proffer and Dr. David C. Woodburn prevailed in winning six-year terms.

“We’ve become nationally recognized for our student success and our student poverty initiative,” Proffer said in our story Sunday. “I want to continue to keep tuition costs low and continue programs such as THRIVE. And I want to work with industry to make sure that we are providing the well-trained workforce that they need and for our city to bring in new companies.”

Equally critical for Amarillo College was the narrow passage of an $89.2 million bond measure for funds to be used toward improvements on four AC campuses and other additions, a spokesman for the school said in our story Sunday.

“We are excited for the future of Amarillo College and grateful to the community for its incredible and continued support,” Amarillo College President Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart said in our story. “The college will now coordinate with the architects to determine a schedule for the projects and initiatives that are included in the Master Plan.”

We offer our congratulations to all of those who prevailed in Saturday’s election, and we thank you for your service to the community. We express the same sentiment to everyone who was willing to pursue elected office. No community can ever have too many people willing to serve the public in what are often thankless, highly scrutinized jobs.

Now that the voters have spoken, it’s time to get back to work. As mentioned above, the mayor and city council, all of whom will benefit from the previous two years of experience, can focus on the current momentum Amarillo is enjoying. Opportunities for continued progress exist as well within the AISD and Amarillo College.

Like all of you, we look forward to the future and thank those citizens who played a part in shaping the future — one vote and voter at a time — last Saturday.