Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:
Victoria Advocate. Feb. 9, 2019.
Even though the Calhoun Port Authority's own rules forbid it, board chairman Randy Boyd has kept a firm grip on steering the ship straight toward his dredging company.
The Victoria Advocate's most recent investigation into the port revealed Boyd has held control for more than a decade even though the public body's own rules restrict a chairman from serving more than a two-year term. Boyd hardly can claim ignorance of this rule —the board's minutes obtained by the Advocate show he seconded the motion in 1997 to impose the term limit.
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His firm grip on power matters greatly because another previous Advocate investigation demonstrated how Boyd used the port board to steer business toward his private dredging company. He also improperly used his power to hire disgraced former Congressman Blake Farenthold to be the port's lobbyist, touching off a public furor.
Boyd set the stage for the political payback of hiring Farenthold by repeatedly fighting off board efforts to replace him as chairman. Records show the board voted five times between 2011-15 to try to replace him as chairman.
Each time, Boyd, supported by board members Dell R. Weathersby and H.C. "Tony" Wehmeyer Jr., voted against a leadership change. Their three votes created a deadlock on an oddly even-numbered, six-member board. Voting to replace Boyd were board members J.C. Melcher Jr., Shields A. "Tony" Holladay Sr. and Aron Luna.
In an even odder legal opinion, port lawyer Wanda Roberts decided a 3-3 tie goes to the incumbent, even though the board's 1997 rules imposed a term limit. A tie might go to the runner in baseball, but it certainly has gone against the port's taxpayers.
This same tie became evident May 24 when Melcher, Holladay and Luna voted to fire Farenthold soon after the Advocate challenged the illegal hiring of Farenthold. After coming out of closed session May 9, Boyd directed port executive director Charles Hausmann to hire Farenthold without the board voting.
Melcher, Holladay and Luna clearly wanted to immediately right the wrong of the improper hiring, but the trio of Boyd, Weathersby and Wehmeyer blocked that motion and instead voted to waste about $200,000 — and counting — by hiring an expensive Austin lawyer to fight the newspaper's lawsuit and by paying Farenthold's $160,000 annual salary without requiring or offering any evidence the ostracized former congressman was doing any work.
The 3-3 tie meant the port board didn't have the votes to hire Farenthold or to fire him. The former congressman became neither fish nor fowl, but the odor emanating from the port is unquestionably foul. The unseemly tie remains, even though public pressure finally led Farenthold to resign his lucrative lobbying post last month.
The public is trying to break the tie via the May 4 port board elections. Four people already have filed to challenge Boyd for his seat.
To put it another way, that means Boyd now has more challengers than the number of people who voted in the last port election. Until this fiasco exploded into public view, the port previously had managed to stay hidden from voters, canceling most of its elections for lack of any races. Boyd has not even stood for election since 2007.
The public is well aware now, so much so that perhaps the May 4 ballot for his District 4 seat should read, "Anyone But Boyd." One concern arising from the crowded ballot, though, is that the small turnout in a special district election could somehow allow Boyd to slip back in as votes are split among the candidates.
Also on the ballot is Weathersby, who as of yet has no opponent for his District 2 seat. That needs to change before the filing deadline Friday.
The port is a special purpose taxing district, meaning only the state Legislature can change the number of board members or, even better, provide oversight of how such shadow governments operate. Thus far, neither state Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, nor state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, has indicated a plan to introduce such important reform legislation this session.
Their inaction puts the burden squarely on Calhoun County voters. District residents must be sure they are registered to vote and take the chance to get the port board operating on behalf of the public instead of private interests.
The Dallas Morning News. Feb. 11, 2019.
It seems that nearly every day there is a fresh story of children being sexually abused. This time it's evidence of such abuse going on inside the Southern Baptist Convention.
The temptation is to hope there is an easy fix that involves setting up training or some other measure that ensures against all future abuse. The truth is that this is a complex problem that crops up in so many places because it stems from an evil embedded in human nature. To guard against it, we need our institutions to act proactively, to create a culture of speaking up and acting on evidence rather than ignoring it.
The Catholic Church is grappling with evidence of priests who abused children for decades. This has prompted calls to allow priests to marry and to give laypeople broader authority in the church.
But the experience of the Southern Baptist Convention suggests making such changes won't solve the problem. A Houston Chronicle investigation showed sexual abuse at the hands of hundreds of pastors and volunteers, in a denomination in which pastors are allowed to marry and laypeople historically take on large roles in their churches.
And consider the problem of predators in our schools and universities, where the environment is different from church, and yet, sexual abuse continues to happen. The data on child sexual assault show a widespread problem. According to a 2013 study by researchers at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, the rate of lifetime sexual abuse or assault at the hands of adults is 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys. If you were not sexually abused as a child, you almost certainly have a friend or relative who was.
It is crucial that institutions including schools, places of worship and child care organizations establish hiring and volunteer processes to screen out predators. It's also critical that they adopt procedures to halt predators who manage to avoid initial detection and to be actively looking for abuse so as to catch as it early as possible. We think the Catholic Church has come up with a good set of rules. Of course, it is crucial that organizations remain disciplined about following their policies.
Running background checks on anyone who works with children is table stakes. For employees, this should involve contacting past employers, too. Everyone who works with kids, even just to read to a classroom once in a while, should undergo training on preventing sexual assault and identifying signs of abuse, and what to do about it.
Outside of special circumstances, no adult should spend time with children alone, without a second adult. And concern about sexual abuse should be reported to the police. Not to the priest or pastor; the police.
Public lists of sexual predators are useful, and we applaud the Catholic Church and others who assemble such lists in order to halt abusers. We support the idea of the creation of a master list, either by law enforcement or a nonprofit, though we caution setting up protocols to ensure no false accusations enter the database.
In the end, it's up to all of us. Each of us must take sexual abuse seriously and be ready to take action when we see signs of abuse, even by people we trust. Religious leaders enjoy a special place in society. When those leaders abuse that position to abuse children, the most vulnerable among us are at greater risk. Decades ago, sexual assaults were swept under the rug. In this era, it should be clear that open and consistent public scrutiny is crucial to protecting our children.
San Antonio Express-News. Feb. 11, 2019.
They served in the Vietnam War, but they served offshore. They handled Agent Orange, the cancer-causing defoliant, but they handled it on carriers and ships in coastal waters.
And because they served offshore as mechanics or radar men on aircraft carriers, so-called Blue Water Navy veterans have been denied disability benefits. An overwhelming federals appeal court ruling should right this wrong.
It is well past time.
In a 9-2 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found Blue Water Navy veterans are eligible for disability benefits under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, overturning a Veterans Affairs administrative decision.
Their ruling was fairly straightforward: International law includes coastal waters. So, when lawmakers referred to the Republic of Vietnam, they were inherently referring to its coastal waters as well.
Anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 Navy veterans could benefit from this ruling. Those who have any of the 14 diseases connected to Agent Orange could potentially receive as much as $2,000 a month, tax-free.
Express-News journalist Bill Lambrecht has been dogged in his reporting on this issue.
Some history to consider about how this important ruling came to be: For years, Blue Water veterans have been denied these benefits, unless they could show they served on the ground in Vietnam or along an inland waterway.
But many Blue Water veterans were exposed to Agent Orange while on carriers, and subsequently have had cancer, diabetes and heart ailments, among other health issues.
The Department of Veteran Affairs argued there was no proof these ailments were the result of Agent Orange exposure. Such ailments are common for people in their 60s or 70s, the VA said.
But there have been signals that cost concerns may have clouded this viewpoint. For example, after the U.S. House unanimously approved legislation to restore benefits for Blue Water veterans, the effort was derailed in the U.S. Senate over cost concerns. Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said it would cost billions of dollars to provide these benefits and lead to administrative hassles.
So what? If the benefits are owed — and this ruling has made it clear they are — then they should be provided.
It's unclear if Veterans Affairs will appeal this ruling, but the better path would be to honor it and the sacrifices these veterans made. It is the right thing to do.
Congress can help the cause by passing legislation to reaffirm the original intent of the Agent Orange Act of 1991, broadening it to those veterans who served in Guam, South Korea, the Philippines and other locations that also housed, or may have housed, herbicides.
The VA has said there are no records of Agent Orange being used or stored in Guam, but veterans say otherwise. And the same VA had long argued that Blue Water Navy veterans were not eligible for these benefits, but they are.
Lacking definitive evidence, the VA should extend these benefits to Vietnam veterans who served in Guam and other locales.
It is never wrong to do the right thing.