- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

San Antonio Express-News. March 26, 2018.

Downtown San Antonio is a jewel, and a recent federal historic designation should help keep it that way.

Here’s the news: The National Park Service has designated downtown as a federal historic district. The district includes more than 200 buildings and properties, including 37 already listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Here’s what it means: Properties in the district are eligible for federal tax credits equal to 45 percent of renovation costs. That’s a huge financial benefit for restoring and maintaining significant history in our community. Think of the 2015 renovation of the St. Anthony Hotel as a good example of what’s possible. But this designation creates much-needed continuity.

We must admit to occasional walks across the district on brilliant and sunny days, pausing to admire the stunning details of the Scottish Rite Cathedral, replica of a Greek temple; the ornate details in the facades of the Southwestern Bell Building and the Emily Morgan Hotel; and many other displays of architectural inspiration.

Downtown San Antonio is packed with wondrous architecture.

When we talk about downtown, the focus is often on the new - development at The Pearl or in Southtown; revival of the San Pedro Creek; the symbolic shimmer of the new Frost Bank Tower; the tension created with new high-end housing and an obvious need for affordability.

But this designation, thanks to the work of the city’s Office of Historic Preservation, will help preserve our rich and layered architectural history. As the city continues to move forward, its residents will always be able to look back.

___

Houston Chronicle. March 26, 2018.

Those pesky teachers are at it again.

First they balk at the idea of packing heat in their classrooms. Now they have the audacity to encourage each other to vote.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton apparently has some time on his hands, even though he’s fighting security fraud charges that could send him to prison for the rest of his life. His office has launched a fishing expedition against school administrators he suspects of “illegal electioneering.”

The Texas Tribune reports the AG’s office sent open records requests to more than a dozen school districts, demanding copies of communications about voting in Texas primaries. Some of those districts also got slapped with cease and desist letters telling them to stop using taxpayer money to advocate for political candidates.

What we have here is the latest salvo in a battle between right-wing activists and school administrators encouraging teachers to vote. Educators across Texas are justifiably upset with Republican elected officials who’ve slashed school funding and failed to fix our broken school finance system. So anything that drives more teachers to the polls presumably would hurt GOP candidates on the ballot.

That’s what prompted the influential conservative group Empower Texans to launch a social media campaign encouraging teachers to snitch on educators engaging in electioneering. That’s also what led state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, to ask for an attorney general’s opinion saying that school districts shouldn’t incentivize voting by driving students and teachers to polling places.

No doubt a couple of administrators have stepped over the line. One superintendent posted a video encouraging teachers “to let the Texas Legislature know you’ve had enough.” In at least two other districts, educators wrote questionable comments on official social media accounts; they didn’t name any politicians’ names, but they left no doubt they weren’t very happy with elected officials who’ve been cutting funding for public education.

Still, those examples don’t justify the attorney general’s office wasting a lot of time and energy trolling for superintendents and principals urging teachers to cast ballots. And let’s face it, there’s no doubt this heavy-handed action will serve the partisan purpose of discouraging school administrators from engaging in legitimate get-out-the-vote efforts.

This is the sort of behavior that threatens to stigmatize Texas Republicans as enemies of public education. Unless it wants to alienate a generation of Texas parents, the GOP doesn’t want to get stuck with that brand.

Our attorney general has more important job duties. This partisan battle against public school educators needs to come to an end.

___

The Dallas Morning News. March 26, 2018.

After a deadly house explosion in northwest Dallas, Atmos Energy is facing two substantial repair jobs: Not only must it replace problematic pipes carrying natural gas but it also must improve communication lines with all its consumers.

Twelve-year-old Linda “Michellita” Rogers died Feb. 23 when her home was blown off its foundation. Since that tragedy, we’ve asked many questions of Atmos officials - on behalf of North Texas residents - regarding the safety of natural gas service.

Assurances from Atmos lean heavily on the several billion dollars it has invested in infrastructure since 2005 and its plans to spend more. Company executives also point to the safety regulations under which they operate and the training of field personnel.

Yet it’s understandable if residents don’t feel completely at ease, especially given Dallas Morning News investigative reporting that exposed new concerns.

Atmos officials who met with us last week were adamant that the company had no way to know the danger the Midway Hollow neighborhood potentially faced. They brought with them a consultant with expertise in civil engineering and geology who explained how heavy rains and unique soil composition created a “sudden and unexplainable” problem.

But in a preliminary report Friday, the National Transportation Safety Board said Atmos became aware of gas leaks in the neighborhood Jan. 1 and had made various repairs.

Records obtained by The News show that at least one emergency repair was ordered in January after Atmos found a leak in the alley behind Linda Rogers’ home. The company says that problem, which it described as non-hazardous, was repaired by Jan. 29. Additionally, gas-related house fires were reported nearby on Feb. 21 and 22.

Among The News’ other findings is that Atmos can take weeks or even months to fully repair the most dangerous types of gas leaks. Company leaders insist they take action immediately to eliminate any potential danger.

Atmos says it wants to be more open with customers and, as part of that effort, released a map last week that generally shows where steel, cast iron and plastic pipelines are located in Dallas.

The company says it has replaced 400 miles of cast iron pipes - generally the oldest in the system - in North Texas and plans to replace the remaining 400 miles.

While plastic pipes are the preferred choice, Atmos maintains the steel ones are safe. Yet in 2010 the Texas Railroad Commission considered requiring gas utilities to replace all steel lines following several North Texas explosions.

When asked about the decades-long timeline for replacing steel pipes, here was Atmos’ response: “Is it fast enough?” CEO Michael Haefner said. “That’s a good debate to have.”

Answers like that are unnerving. As Atmos finishes the replacement of the entire gas distribution system in Midway Hollow, it needs to dig deeper to determine how best to restore consumer confidence.

Perhaps that’s a full accounting on its website of work being performed throughout the system or better explanations of what technicians finds during service calls. But giving customers the full facts is the next step in Atmos’ pledge for greater transparency and improved communication.

___

Amarillo Globe-News. March 27, 2018.

Amarillo was part of the #marchforourlives event Saturday, a nationally organized demonstration/protest (depending on perspective) in support of increased gun control measures following a mass shooting at a high school in Florida.

Here is what Nell Newton, a minister at Amarillo Unitarian Universalist Fellowship who participated in Amarillo’s march, had to say regarding the event, “I wanted to support our youth because our youth are really seeing that things are not safe. Our youth are wondering what happened? Why did the adults not work to keep them safe?” (Amarillo takes part in the national conversation, March 24, amarillo.com.)

It is a valid question - why did the adults not work the keep kids safe?

This is a question that has many answers - if the question is looked at logically and not from a one-sided perspective.

For example, more gun laws and regulations will not change the fact that school administrators and officials failed to adequately address or respond to the myriad of problems and issues displayed by the shooter, at least in the case of the aforementioned Florida school shooting.

Syndicated columnist Ann Coulter has detailed mistakes made by school administration, most recently in a column in Amarillo Globe-News. (Coulter: Make Dems run on ‘school to prison pipeline’, March 19, amarillo.com.) We doubt many of the young people who participated in a #marchforourlives event (especially in Amarillo) are aware of this failure by the school, especially since many in national media have ignored these facts because they do not fit the gun control agenda.

And the constant blame of the National Rifle Association is tiresome and illogical.

According to www.opensecrets.org, the NRA ranked 154th out of 3,798 entities in 2016 in terms of money spent on lobbying, and No. 490 of 18,910 in contributions.

Follow the money - the political influence of the NRA is overrated, which is supported by the numbers, if one bothers to look.

Are some politicians fervently in favor of the Second Amendment? Yes, but this fact has more to do with politicians doing what is necessary to reflect what the voters back home want and support rather than a special interest group which ranked 490th in terms of contributions in 2016.

Young people need to understand that the gun used to commit death and carnage is often the final step in a descent into crime, evil and insanity - a fall that far too often can and should be noticed before a person legally or illegally obtains a gun.

___

Victoria Advocate. March 27, 2018.

The Victoria city and county officials have released a copy of the 929-page emergency plan.

The plan is designed to be the official handbook of how to be prepared for and respond to emergencies ranging from floods to hazardous material spills to nuclear cite crisis and natural disasters such as hurricanes.

The plan has been held so close to the vest of select officials for many years that even elected officials were not privy to the information until recently when city Councilmember Jeff Bauknight asked for a copy of the plan so he could have informed answers when the public needed information.

The Advocate also asked for a copy of the plan in early December, but was told no because it contained confidential material. But after learning other counties have posted their plans online, local officials changed their minds and agreed to release it after information they deemed confidential was redacted.

The plan is on the website now for anyone to read, the way it should have been all along.

Releasing the emergency plan is the right step. At the very least, the public can now get more informed, involved and better prepared.

It will allow the public an opportunity to volunteer to be a part of the committees the plan calls for to be set up prior to disasters.

It will help all in city and county governments be prepared for the next disaster when it happens.

We are doubtful many will take the time to read all 929 pages of the plan. To say it is not light reading is fairly accurate. But it is divided into sections that allow the public to pick sections that interest them.

Unfortunately at this time the plan is only a document online and not interactive and not searchable by topic. It does contain a two-page table of contents at the beginning of the plan.

As the emergency management officials begin working on the new plan, it is important for all to include lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey and other disasters so preparation for the recovery is already in place before the disaster.

A good example of the city doing this was pre-contracting for debris removal, which meant the contractor was in town soon after it was safe for workers to begin to clear the debris.

This also locked in the city on a set cost and expectations for the contractor, cutting out needless lost time to negotiate after the disaster.

The city is also taking the right steps now by having a consultant look at its water supply needs so it can be prepared with the right equipment to keep the water supply running to the city.

While we applaud the city for taking these steps, we question why they did not do a full damage assessment for private property. It is not credible to say the assessment was not needed because the federal disaster declaration had been granted.

This information would have greatly helped not only the city, but also nonprofits and recovery groups to know how badly the city was damaged and where the needs are for helping in the recovery.

We are also concerned that required parts of the plan were not followed. It appears the preparation for this storm was not carried out months beforehand.

Plans are developed for reasons - to be used and referred to so everyone is fully prepared when a disaster hits - not to sit on a shelf, never to be looked at until the disaster hits. Preparation takes time and energy, but if it is done properly, it will save time and energy after the disaster when time and organization are crucial.

As officials work to update this plan, hopefully this spring before the June 1 start of hurricane season, let’s hope all the planners take the past year’s experience to heart and make a plan that will work, including developing committees that will help the emergency operations be prepared and organized.

The public needs to be part of the planning as well, so we will have a better informed community that can pull together to successfully recover from a disaster no matter the level.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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