- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Victoria Advocate. June 9, 2018.

The city of Victoria took over management of the troubled Riverside Park Golf Course last July. The next month, Hurricane Harvey hit.

That’s a start about as rough as it gets, but the city seems to have the golf course headed in the right direction nonetheless.

The city took over the course after the nonprofit Victoria Parks Improvement Association canceled its 60-year lease. The association’s volunteers had fallen into a financial hole they couldn’t climb out of.

The City Council wisely decided local government needed to step in. A growing, vibrant city needs a municipal golf course in much the same way it needs a strong parks system and good roads, water and sewer.

Some might consider a golf course and parks to be optional for a city, but they truly are essential to the health of a community. When Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos spoke recently in Victoria, he talked about the importance of such quality-of-life issues in attracting businesses to invest in communities. He ranked such amenities up there with quality of workforce and quality of place.

To keep this decades-old investment alive, the city had to figure out how to efficiently operate a golf course. Fortunately, Victoria could turn to parks director Colby VanGundy. Hired in 2013, VanGundy already had made impressive strides in improving what he refers to as “the bones” of the city’s parks; the improvements have been most noticeable at Riverside Park, which had fallen into a state of some disrepair before his arrival.

The city looked at whether it should hire a management company to run the course, but ultimately decided the $60,000-$90,000 that it would cost annually could be saved if Victoria could hire a good course superintendent and golf pro. The city stumbled a bit when its first superintendent was hired away after only a few months on the job, but appears to be in good shape now with superintendent Brian Woolard and golf pro Rolando Hernandez.

Woolard has extensive experience in golf course maintenance and construction. He was called the “grass whisperer” in San Antonio when he resurrected the greens of the struggling Willow Springs Golf Course. That work earned Woolard recognition as the Central Texas Golf Course Superintendent of the Year in 2010.

He will have his hands full at Riverside, where years of neglect and a hurricane have ravaged the greens. After Harvey, electricity was out in the park for six weeks, meaning the city couldn’t water the course during some of the hottest days of the summer. The city also has been battling the weeds in the fairways and removing 1,400 downed or damaged trees throughout the park.

The work to restore the golf course to optimum playing level will take about three or four years, VanGundy estimates. The city is aiming to restore a good, playable municipal course that attracts enough golfers to be self-supporting or perhaps turn a modest profit. That’s a reasonable goal.

Riverside doesn’t need to be a course on the Professional Golfers Association tour, but it can and should be a strong asset the city uses in selling itself to investors and residents alike. So far, VanGundy and his team seem to have found the right formula by holding the line on expenses as the course gets back on its feet. The course’s first operating quarter report, presented last month to council, indicated the city was on solid ground so far.

If the golf course can weather the storm of the past year, there’s good reason to think Victoria can build on its reputation as a good place to golf and, more importantly, to live.

___

Odessa American. June 10, 2018.

It’s great news that the Odessa Police Department’s Police Athletic League (PAL) camp is in such high demand that they had to add an entire second camp this summer.

This type of hands-on and personal interaction between law enforcement and local youth helps cement relationships and make officers more accessible and real to youngsters who may not always see them as friendly faces.

The summer camp has been expanded to include two sessions this summer to welcome even more campers, in the camp’s 26th summer of bringing local youth together daily for activities, exercises and fun in the sun.

This year, after several summers of 60-child, one-month camps filling up fast and quickly closing registration, the program has doubled in scope, now supporting a full camp running throughout June and another with about 60 other campers running through July.

Both camps filled up and now about 120 local kids will have the chance to enjoy weekdays filled with tug-of-war, kickball, playground time and more at Floyd Gwin, plus afternoon field trips to pools and the bowling alley and others, while connecting with officers like Cpl. Michael Hamilton, who’s in his fifth summer along with Sgt. Jon Foust, the camp’s executive director and coordinator.

“I’m really excited about this summer,” said Foust, who’s in his 17th year running the PAL camp and 20th year involved in it. “I’m really excited about the direction and the progress that we’re making with these kids.”

Camp sessions run daily for four weeks with OPD officers spending part of their shifts with campers and others coming in to volunteer time.

We agree with Hamilton that more time invested into the camps means investing more in the youth of Odessa. We’re also proud that Foust said working with the kids is the most rewarding part of police work he’s been involved in.

That’s a great thing to hear from law enforcement in these times of misunderstandings and finger pointing around the country during often tragic encounters between youth and police.

In Lubbock, just recently, what was supposed to be a fun water fight turned into an ugly ordeal with an officer being assaulted by what appeared to be young people.

We believe endeavors like PAL make it less likely that misunderstandings and issues will come up between law enforcement and young people.

It’s a great program with a long history and we appreciate those officers who spend not only part of their shifts working with youth or even volunteering after hours.

___

Longview News-Journal. June 10, 2018.

As Gov. Greg Abbott was conducting roundtable discussions aimed at finding ways to increase security for students in Texas schools, the News-Journal began convening a series of discussions to hear what East Texans had to say about the subject.

In Austin, the governor met with student survivors, educators, safety experts and lawmakers, seeking their ideas on how to begin making our schools safer.

Here, the newspaper brought together groups of students, parents, educators and law enforcers and asked them, in part, about the realities they see, the fears they face and the changes they hope to see.

We were gratified, then, that the plan proposed by the governor after his meetings addressed many of the concerns and hopes we heard at the meetings here.

Broadly, Abbott’s proposals fall into categories including making schools safer, preventing threats in advance and enhancing firearms safety. The list includes many actions that have long been discussed as necessary to combat school violence.

On gun access, Abbott’s proposal recommends lawmakers adopt a “red flag” law that would more easily allow the removal of guns from a potentially dangerous person after a legal process.

It recommends strengthening our state’s firearm storage law aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of children younger than 18, and making it a violation when a child gains access to a gun, even if it is not loaded.

A primary focus is to increase the number of law enforcement officers on campuses, and train educators who are willing to serve as armed school marshals.

Arming teachers is not something a lot of districts care to do, and we appreciate that. We are not fans of the idea, either. But smaller districts, those farther from a law enforcement presence or that cannot have police on every campus, should also have options.

The safety plan recommends making school buildings less structurally vulnerable, using social media and better reporting to identify possible threats, and providing a known mental health program that identifies and provides help for students at risk of harming others.

Those are all common-sense ideas, and that is encouraging.

More encouraging is that some of our East Texas districts and law enforcement agencies already have taken some of the recommended actions. But local school leaders point out they could do more, and would like to, but lack the necessary financial resources. That means state lawmakers will have to prove they care about students by providing adequate funding.

While Abbott’s pledge of $100 million in immediate funding may sound like a lot, with more than 1,000 school districts and about 8,800 campuses, that amounts to only about $11,400 per school.

That will not go very far when attempting to better secure buildings that are already well past their useful lives, or when hiring trained personnel.

Even calls to arm teachers come with a price tag attached, with the state promising to pay for very necessary training and some leaders calling for bonuses and stipends for educators who carry weapons in the classroom.

We do not know which of Abbott’s proposals will work, or even which are likely to come to fruition. But we know without question that doing nothing is not an option.

In one of our meetings, a parent suggested that what students want to see is that grown-ups are trying something, and Abbott’s plan can lead us in that direction. Unfortunately, too many in our nation and state for too long have taken the exact opposite approach: Try nothing and expect the outcome will somehow change.

It is past time to stop pretending anything will change simply through our hopes and prayers. Action is required to safeguard our schools. If that costs money, lawmakers have a job to do in providing the necessary funds. Local law enforcers also have a job to do, in quickly becoming more open and communicative than they have been about what parents, students and educators should do to be safe. Educators also have an important job in working to take all that and make our campuses safer.

We know that is a tall order but hope to see the fruitful discussion begun by Abbott continue this summer so that by the time students return to campuses this fall, they are safer than they were when they left for summer break.

Let’s get to work.

___

Houston Chronicle. June 11, 2018.

So now we know: Thousands of heedless Houstonians were out pleasure-boating during that fateful Hurricane Harvey weekend and had to be rescued by U.S. Coast Guard sailors.

How do we know?

President Donald J. Trump said so last week. During a conference call with state and federal leaders preparing for another hurricane season, he thanked the Coast Guard for helping save 16,000 people after hurricanes Harvey and Maria and other storms. The Coast Guard doesn’t “get enough credit,” he said.

Then he said this: “Sixteen thousand people, many of them in Texas, for whatever reason that is. People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane. That didn’t work out too well.”

Anyone who can make sense of such absurdity is a better Trump exegete than we.

Venturing a guess, the president seems to believe that the Coast Guard only rescues people at sea and that those bobbing boats he might have seen on cable news last August were foolish Houstonians seeking a little late-summer recreation in the face of impending mortal danger. Like Civil War-era Washingtonians picnicking near the First Battle of Bull Run, we were irresponsible gawkers, perhaps even deserving of the consequences of our own making.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus was quick to respond. “The people who took their boats into the water during Harvey were not storm-watchers,” the San Antonio Republican said. “They were heroes who went toward danger to rescue friends, neighbors, strangers. Texans helping Texans in a time of desperate need.”

A sarcastic Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez also responded: “I’ll be sure to invite the president to ride out the next hurricane in a jon boat in Galveston Bay the next time one approaches.”

Gonzalez - along with his deputies, and countless other first responders and volunteers from Southeast Texas and around the country - spent days rescuing people from rooftops, attics and submerged vehicles. They were heedless to danger, all right - heroically heedless in service to men, women and children they didn’t even know.

Unfortunately, we’ve grown accustomed to bizarre Trumpian bloviations. (No, Mr. President, Canada did not burn down the White House.) The ad hoc remarks are often best ignored. U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz did just that, discretion being the better part of Republican valor in these peculiar times. And yet the president’s Hurricane Harvey inanity is too serious for Houstonians to let slide.

A region still recovering from catastrophic flooding doesn’t need its plight minimized or ridiculed. It needs help.

Help from the federal government, from the White House, from the Texas congressional delegation. If the man in charge is abysmally ignorant about what happened in the wake of a Category 4 storm and the epic deluge that followed, who’s to say that government agencies - Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Flood Insurance Program, among others - will understand the urgency of Houston’s needs? Who’s to say that Ben Carson and other Trump appointees will be any better informed?

Who’s to say we have a prayer of getting a third reservoir, new bayou infrastructure or a coastal storm surge barrier before the next big storm?

We need political leadership - from Washington to be sure, but also from Austin. Gov. Greg Abbott, whose mealy-mouthed response to the president’s remark was nearly as inane as the remark itself - “no information on that one way or the other” - ought to have called a special session of the Texas Legislature months ago to address relief, recovery and preparedness. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick needs to tend to local needs.

Those needs are urgent. We’re two weeks into another hurricane season, facing fresh risk of another disaster, and we’re still begging for assistance to recover from the last one. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett are doing what they can, but as local officials, their resources are limited.

The people of Puerto Rico, those who survived a hurricane that killed thousands, know something of the importance of political leadership. They remember a president who responded to biblical devastation by tossing rolls of paper towels at them. They know how arrogance and ineptitude at the top can magnify a dire situation.

Mr. President, those Texans in rescue boats weren’t out looking for trouble. They were looking for help. A year later, the Houston region is still looking.

Show some leadership. Make us your priority, not your punchline.

___

The Dallas Morning News. June 11, 2018.

Here’s a persistent and sad reality that should spur North Texans to act: Tens of thousands of local kids are living in households where there’s not enough to eat.

Those children are in even more dire straits during the summer months because, for many of them, the school cafeteria offers the only decent meal of the day.

Many individuals have already pitched in to fill the nutrition gap by supporting the special summer campaign of The Dallas Morning News Charities that’s underway through June 29. A buck buys a meal; more than 153 donors already have pitched in more than $35,600.

Still, the need is great. The North Texas Food Bank, one of the seven nonprofit agencies participating in this summer drive, estimates that 300,000 kids - that’s one in every four North Texas kids - suffer from food insecurity. That means they either don’t have sufficient food or they face uncertainty around whether there will be meals available.

Remember that, among major cities in the U.S., Dallas still has the third worst child poverty rate, at 30.6 percent. And 9 in 10 students in the Dallas school district qualify for free or reduced lunch.

What a shameful set of facts for a region that is rich in so many other areas.

Underfed kids are sicker and more likely to suffer developmental delays. Poor families are forced to purchase inexpensive and often unhealthy foods in order to have something to eat. That leads to all kinds of health issues, such as obesity and diabetes.

And if you think the problem is mainly a big-city issue and doesn’t touch the suburbs, you’d be wrong. For example, the campaign will help Allen Community Outreach try to provide 1,000 free bags of healthy breakfast and lunch foods for Collin County residents. Ditto for Frisco Family Services, which is working to serve the needs of the 11 percent of Frisco Independent School District kids who live in poverty.

The Dallas Morning News Charities effort is only one of several campaigns this summer. CitySquare has a Summer Food on the Move program. Every weekday morning, CitySquare AmeriCorps members will load vans with food to be distributed at low-income apartment complexes.

DMN Charities donors came through in a big way last summer. The organization’s larger campaign runs each November through January. But in the organization’s inaugural summer drive, it far exceeded its goal of 30,000 meals; this summer’s target is 60,000 meals.

Let’s not stand by and watch our vulnerable kids suffer. North Texas, we can do this.


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