Sheltering from a storm? Grab your bicycle helmets

On a recent Insight, we answered the question of what to do when you hear a tornado siren.

A reader sent in a helpful suggestion if you find yourself sheltering from a tornado or hailstorm:

Most advisories are similar in suggesting deep interior room safety in the absence of an underground shelter. Often, the advice includes gathering in a bathtub using a mattress to protect against falling debris. Head injuries are very prominent in the injuries from storms.

A simple, low-cost protection from head injuries for all members of families caught in such situations is a bicycle helmet.
They are inexpensive and available for all sizes in a family. Bicycle helmets are in many homes for outdoor sports and should be a part of any emergency shelter preparation kit.

From the way-back machine (or, more on criminalizing speech)

If you haven’t read the story about Denton’s 10-year-old ordinance that could make criminals of City Council members who talk about City Hall secrets, you can catch up here.

I asked the city secretary to find for me the minutes of the May 2006 meeting and the original copy of the ordinance signed by then-mayor Euline Brock on May 16, 2006.

I’ve attached the documents below. You will note there is little discussion recorded in the minutes, other than the council unanimously approving an ordinance that was ostensibly recommended by the city’s ethics committee. Interestingly, the item was presented by former city attorney Ed Snyder.


May 16, 2006 Minutes

Did he or didn’t he?

I’ve had more than one reader ask me to check out whether Texas oil and gas powerhouse attorney Shannon Ratliff wrote House Bill 40.

I put that task on my to-do list for this Sunday’s piece, a thorough question-and-answer on HB 40. Reaction from various attorneys and others who watch challenges to municipal authority call HB 40 everything from legislative overreach and a really bad law, to a reasonable compromise.

If you replay the testimony from the March 23 House Energy Resources Committee, about an hour in (the entire bill’s history is here), Ratliff is on the panel and fielding many questions from state representatives about the bill. It’s not hard to see why some people would come to the conclusion that Ratliff wrote the bill.

Ratliff: The fact of the matter is, we attempted in this bill, to connect it with a well established principal in oil & gas law and that is the reasonable and prudent operator rule.

Ratliff: What we’ve tried to do, is put some standards in place to deal with the general statement about it’s health, safety and welfare. And what we’ve done there, is we’ve taken activities that cities have typically engaged in such as setbacks for all kinds of activities …

Rep. Tom Craddick (to Ratliff): What about the legal aspect in this, the lawsuits? I mean, obviously no one seems to know—you may know because you wrote it—but no one seems to know what commercially reasonable is…

The two then share a joke about how the new definition of “commercially reasonable” would put attorneys in great demand. (Yet another descriptor I’ve read for HB 40, an attorney’s right-to-work bill.)

Loyal readers of Texas Monthly may remember a 2009 piece by Mimi Schwarz that detailed a long and storied battle between ExxonMobil and the prominent O’Connor family of South Texas.

It was in that story we learned of Ratliff’s impeccable credentials as an attorney and as one of the state’s power brokers; how his success before the Texas Supreme Court earned him the nickname “the Dark Knight of Oil and Gas law.”

I called him and asked him today if he wrote HB 40. He acknowledged the joke from the hearing, but denied writing HB 40.

Ratliff said State Rep. Drew Darby wrote it.

Revisiting term limits

Term limits for Denton City Council members have been in the city’s charter since the 1980s. In 2008, some voters disagreed with the city attorney’s interpretation that council members should be allowed to vacate one kind of council seat, whether at-large or district-specific, and reset the clock on another kind of council seat. They filed suit to keep term limits at three terms, or six years.

An ad hoc committee proposed a set of charter amendments that were, ultimately, looser than the original three-term limit and codified the interpretation. Voters approved the propositions in 2009.

Here’s how it rolled, according to a news report by Lowell Brown we published on Nov. 4, 2009:

Proposition 1 keeps the existing limit of three consecutive two-year terms and applies the limit separately to each of the council’s seven seats. It essentially codifies the city’s longtime practice of not counting past years of service against council members who switch seats or take a break in service. The proposition was designed to settle a debate over whether Denton term limits applied per seat or across all seats. Past years of service don’t count against council members who run for a different seat, including mayor, or sit out a term.

Under the new amendment, residents will be limited to 12 consecutive years of council service. The amendment includes no limit on the number of terms someone could serve in a lifetime. That means a council member could serve up to 12 years in a row by switching seats, sit out a year and then run again.

Proposition 2, which says council members representing the city’s four geographical districts must remain living in their district throughout their term in office. The charter previously didn’t prevent council members from staying in a seat after moving out of the district in which they were elected.

Proposition 3, which says vacancies in the mayor’s seat will be filled by special elections. Before, the mayor pro tem would have completed a mayor’s unexpired term.

Proposition 4, which makes clear that the council can’t interfere with the personnel decisions of any of its four appointees. The charter already prevented council members from interfering with the city manager’s personnel decisions, but the restriction didn’t extend to the city attorney, city auditor and municipal court judge.

Denton street width and bike lane rules

In “Insight,” on page 2 of the Sunday paper, March 29, we explored the question of what rules of the road bicyclists must to follow. Here it is again:

The Texas Transportation Code makes bicyclists subject to the same “duties of the road” that apply to drivers, such as observing stop signs and yielding right of way. 

Bicyclists must use hand signals to signal their intent to stop, turn left or turn right. Every bicycle must have a brake, and when riding at night, bicyclists must use a headlamp that emits white light visible at 500 feet. On the rear of the bicycle, they must also use either a red reflector visible at 300 feet or a red lamp visible at 500 feet. 

In addition, the code dictates that when moving slower than traffic, bicyclists should ride to the right edge of the roadway, not the shoulder or gutter — which, by definition, is not the roadway. 

Where a road is too narrow to safely share with a vehicle (including those less than 14 feet wide), Denton allows bicyclists to ride in the middle of the lane. [emphasis added] Bicyclists may ride two abreast on a multi-lane roadway, but they may not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic when doing so.

Carry your driver’s license or state identification with you when you ride. Bicyclists can be cited when they violate the rules of the road. Denton police wrote 26 citations to cyclists in the past 12 months, most for riding without proper headlamps or rear lighting. Bicyclists also got tickets for running stop signs and for riding on a sidewalk, the wrong side of the street or the wrong way along a one-way street. 

At the time I was gathering information, I was hoping to get the answer to how many Denton streets were 14 feet, or less, across. It seemed a key piece of information to know, as a driver, how often you might expect to see a bicyclist in the middle of the lane because the street is too narrow.

Turns out, it’s a lot. The answer came recently from the city’s new bicycle and pedestrian coordinator: “Most of the streets in Denton are 14 feet or less. There are very few that are 16 feet.”

Keep that important fact in mind when you are driving the city’s narrow streets, Denton.

Teacher gets students pumped for the STAAR test

Sixth-grade teacher Kelli Hauser, center,  recently filmed a remake of the video "Uptown Funk" called "STAAR Test Funk" to motivate  students for upcoming state standardized test next week.

It’s not your ordinary rally for an upcoming test.

In her own take on Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” sixth-grade reading teacher Kelli Hauser is looking to get students pumped for next week’s State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR ) exams and leave them dancing in the process. The teacher, from Denton’s McMath Middle School, released her remake of the chart-topping song in a video called “STAAR Test Funk” a couple days ago.

“Cause STAAR test we’re gon’ give it to ya,” Hauser belts out in the video. “It’s testing day and we’ve learned a lot. Don’t believe me, just watch.”

Hauser filmed the video March 12 at Ryan High School with the help of the high school drill team, the Strutters, and others.

“Denton, get pumped up. Our scores will triumph,” she sings. “STAAR test, I’ll mop you up. Our scores will measure up.”

The nearly five-minute video has accumulated more than 51,000 views since being posted on YouTube.

“I really just wanted to motivate [students], and I wanted them to [know] we’ve been working all year to make sure they learn what they need to learn … not just on the STAAR test but school in general,” Hauser said.  “A lot of kids feel stressed about the test and that’s the last thing that we want.

“My hope was to ease some of that tension.”

The last six years, Hauser has created similar motivational videos for students using lyrics she writes herself and instrumental music from pop stars including Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.

Check out her latest video and a side-by-side comparison with the “Uptown Funk” video below.


Bishop, denton native, dies at 83

James Neaul Haynes, a Denton native who rose in the ranks of the Church of God in Christ, died on March 9.

He was 83.

A national funeral for the influential pastor will be at noon on Tuesday, March 17, 2015 at the Inspiring Body of Christ Church, 7701 S. Westmoreland Ave. in Dallas.


Haynes was the sixth child of the late Bishop F.L. Haynes and Mrs. Ola Mae Haynes. He was born on Aug. 8, 1931. The Haynes family was characterized by achievement. Haynes’ younger brother, Abner, was one of the first black athletes to desegregate Texas college football in 1956 when he and teammate Leon King joined the then North Texas Statue University ball team in 1956.

James Haynes graduated from Fred Moore High School in 1948 as class valedictorian, and earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Colorado.

He attended Dallas Theological Seminary, and was given an honorary doctorate in 1986.

Before his death, Haynes served as former First Assistant Presiding Bishop and Emeritus Member of the General Board of the Church Of God In Christ, Inc.

Haynes was a relatively young preacher, starting in 1949 and then earning a license from the Church of God in Christ in 1952 as an elder. As an elder, Hayne’s taught his faith to energing and maturing members of the denomination.

Haynes dedicated himself to the denomination. In 1962, he moved to St. Emmanuel Church of God in Christ.. He also served as pastor at Jackson Memorial, Wheatley and Haynes Chapel Churches of God in Christ. The Haynes Chapel church was named for Haynes’ father. Bishop F.L. Haynes.

Haynes’ final parish was Saintsville Sanctuary Church of God in Christ in Dallas. In 1967, he became a superintendent in the denomination and was elevated to the office of Bishop of the Texas Northeast Jurisdiction in 1978.

His work continued. He was appointed to the National Trustee Board of the denomination. In 1984, Bishop Haynes was appointed to the General Board of the denomination. In 1997, he became the Assistant Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ, serving under Presiding Bishops Chandler D. Owens , Gilbert E. Patterson , and, most recently, Charles E. Blake .

In 2008, Haynes was not reappointed to the office of Second Assistant Presiding Bishop, but stayed on the General Board. He officially retired from the General Board in November of 2012, and was declared an emeritus member of the General Board by Bishop Charles E. Blake on November 12, 2012.

Haynes is survived by his wife, Vivian King Haynes, their children, Pia and Vrai Haynes and sons-in-law Reginald Williams and William C. Morris. Haynes is survived by four grandchildren.

Photo: Bishop J. Neaul Haynes, left, is shown at his longtime church, Saintsville Church of God in Christ, Dallas on Sunday, September 10, 2006. Bishop Haynes, second in command of the Church of God in Christ denomination, one of the world’s largest black churches, died on March 9.

Denton ISD unveils revamped website

Denton ISD unveiled its first website redesign in five years, Monday, March 9,2015.

Denton ISD unveiled its first website redesign in five years, Monday, March 9,2015.

Denton ISD has a virtual new look.

Earlier today, the district launched a new website design that it’s been working toward the entire school year, according to spokesman Mario Zavala. It’s the district’s first redesign to in five years, he said.

“You need to find more ways and new ways to give your users access to information more easily, and I think we’re doing that with this new design,” Zavala said. “Overall I think it’s going to be a better experience for our users.”

He said no information is changing on the website. Families will still be able to find the essentials like lunch menus and school calendars but more easily and with fewer clicks to access information.

“The biggest need we saw was for a responsive template,” Zavala said. “What that entails is the new web design adjusts to your screen size. The information is accessible easily from all formats.”

Additionally, Denton ISD intends to release an application compatible for Android and iPhone devices, according to a statement Denton ISD released on its website.

Zavala said the new design is constantly in an updating phase, and that district officials will be working to fix glitches as they arise.

Website visitors can expect a new look to individual campus website pages before the end of the school year, he said.

“School websites will be transitioned to the new design on a rolling basis, beginning with elementary and early childhood schools, followed by secondary and alternative schools. The new design isn’t being implemented at once to ensure proper compatibility with content,” according to the district statement.  “As the district transitions websites to the new layout, some modifications – such as accent colors and content sizes – may be tweaked as visitors are viewing the site. All content will remain accessible, however. A small amount of non-essential content – such as photos – found on inside pages may not display properly on smartphones until they have been modified.”