Thing Tarrant County Needs

Critic’s choice: A regional park system

Whenever city governments hit budget problems, as so many around the country have this year, park development and maintenance are often the first programs that get kicked to the curb. But in urban areas that have well-maintained park systems –– Seattle and Minneapolis come to mind –– the parks are regional systems with their own funding sources. Fort Worth and Tarrant County could do that as well, with better long-term planning. As it stands now, whenever there is a budget crisis, pools get closed, and (if city officials have their way) stay closed. Politicians may get more quick-fix calls about potholes, but they earn long-term rage for neglecting beloved parks and pools.

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TV Journalist

Readers’ choice: (tie) Jane McGarry, NBC-TV/Channel 5; and John McCaa, WFAA-TV/Channel 8

Critic’s choice: Chris Hawes, Channel 8

Most journalists in Dallas apparently still can’t tell the Barnett Shale from Barney Fife, but Chris Hawes has figured it out. She’s become one of the best reporters on the subject, print or broadcast, in North Texas. The North Central Texas Communities Alliance singles out Hawes (and the Weekly, of course) on its web site for her “concerns for the welfare of people in all parts of the Barnett Shale.” Hear, hear.



Readers’ choice: David Finfrock, Channel 5

Critic’s choice: Mike Burger, KTVT-TV/Channel 11

Part salesman, part showman, and all professional, weathercaster Mike Burger has been on the scene a long time, between his former stint at Channel 4 and his current post at Channel 11. He’s one of the unsung TV personalities in North Texas. His persona is brisk and big-hearted in the manner of an old-time carnival barker, but he can turn serious and authoritative on a dime when the skies start to get stormy. A few weeks ago — just after the Weekly’s decision to pick him for this category — Burger announced he was retiring after almost 40 years. Future meteorologists should consider him the model of what a weathercaster should be.


Traffic Reporter

Readers’ choice: Tammy Dombeck,

KDAF-TV/Channel 33

Critic’s choice: Chip Waggoner,

KDFW-TV/Channel 4

Waggoner earned our respect three years ago by surviving a helicopter crash in the line of duty and then quickly reporting back to work. The Texas Christian University graduate no longer reports from inside flying copters, but he’s a solid traffic guy in the studio, delivering with easy charm the type of news that helps so many folks plan their day.



Readers’ choice: Dale Hansen, Channel 8

Critic’s choice: Brian Estridge, WBAP/820-AM and WBAP/96.7-FM

Estridge, like any radio personality whose opinion is worth a damn, can wax poetic on several subjects. He serves as co-host of Hal Jay’s Morning News Show and as “Voice of the Horned Frogs,” doing play-by-play for TCU football games. His enthusiasm is infectious. Unlike the know-it-alls hogging North Texas’ sports airways, Estridge isn’t a dinosaur stuck in a 1980s Cowboys-Southwest Conference mind-set. He broadcasts from the highly exciting here and now.


Hottest Local Celebrity (Male)

Readers’ choice: Casey James

Critic’s choice: TCU quarterback Andy Dalton

Redheads don’t always turn heads, but freckled Andy Dalton is definitely loaded with perfect teeth, manly muscles, and All-American good looks. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a record-setting quarterback for TCU, a guy whose name the rest of the country associates with Fort Worth. Humble and dedicated to the success of his team, Dalton has become a darling of the sports media –– and swooning female fans.


Hottest Local Celebrity (Female)

Readers’ choice: (tie) Karen Borta, Channel 11, and Kelly Clarkson

Critic’s choice: Krys Boyd, KERA/90.1-FM and KERA-TV/Channel 13

TCU alumnus Krys Boyd blows the lid off the “face for radio” stereotype. But don’t let the good looks fool you. She hosts the brainy Think program on the local public radio station at noon Mondays through Thursdays and on Channel 13 at 7 p.m. on Fridays.


Old Gal

Critic’s choice: Anne Gibson

Whether you think the film Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives is a treat or a travesty, this retired University of Texas at Arlington professor deserves kudos for her support, both monetary and otherwise, for the filmmakers. The 84-year-old cinema enthusiast saw it as an opportunity for straight audiences to learn about the transgendered community. She hopes moviegoers will leave a screening asking themselves, “How does society treat these people?”


PP_2Print Journalist

Readers’ choice: (tie) Bud Kennedy and Randy Galloway, both Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Critic’s choice: Eva-Marie Ayala, Star-Telegram

Ayala, the Star-Telegram’s education reporter, does a yeoman’s job in covering the Fort Worth school district, from the ridiculous to the really important stuff that parents and taxpayers need to know. She shines a light on how the district is spending taxpayer dollars and what it’s doing (or failing to do) to educate our children. She can make those dreaded TAKS results understandable and even serves up the rare bit of school-board humor, as when President Ray Dickerson recently proposed using pet alligators to fend off copper thieves who target the district’s air-conditioning systems.


Local Morning TV Newscast

Readers’ choice: Good Day, Channel 4

Critic’s choice: Daybreak, Channel 8

In the intense battle among local television stations to win viewers on weekday mornings, it’s difficult to strike the right balance of enthusiasm and professionalism. A personality that might be fine at 6 or 10 p.m. could be downright overbearing at 7 in the morning. Channel 8 seems to have found a good formula with co-anchors Cynthia Izzaguire and Chris Flanagan, traffic reporter Alexa Conomos, and weather guy Greg Fields. The repartee often takes on an interesting dynamic –– Izzaguire, either by herself or with Conomos, takes the role of pestering little sister to Fields’ stoic older brother. The blandly pleasant Flanagan plays the youngest sibling who stands by and snickers.


Radio Personality

Readers’ choice: Kidd Kraddick In the Morning, KHKS/106.1-FM

Critic’s choice: Kidd Kraddick

It may not be high-brow talk radio or a world-music show on an independent station, but Kidd Kraddick and crew provide the light-hearted humor desperately needed early in the morning when folks are trudging off to work. The show’s main appeal is the offbeat chemistry among crew members. This group of people never seems afraid to say something stupid, act whiny, or produce a horrible radio segment, all of which ends up being comedy gold.


Servant of the People

Readers’ choice: Joel Burns, Fort Worth City Council

Critic’s choice: The Rev. Kyev Tatum, Pastor Friendship Rock Church, FW

For years now, Tatum has been a valuable thorn in the side of city fathers, almost always on behalf of Fort Worth’s voiceless and powerless. He has worked tirelessly toward his goal of eliminating Tasers from the arsenal of the Fort Worth Police Department and, in the meantime, yelling about the sometimes-fatal abuses of the electronic weapons. He started a local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and began pointing out inequalities in living conditions, social services, and housing between the area’s haves and have-nots. But Tatum is not all about pulpits, bully or otherwise. He also runs after-school and weekend programs for the kids at the Sycamore Center Villa Apartments and consoles the families of those who have lost family members due to violence. It’s hard to imagine a truer servant of the people.


Candidate for Alien Abduction

Readers’ choice: Mayor Mike Moncrief

Critic’s choice: U.S. Rep. Joe Barton

Texas has a bad reputation with the other 49 states, and despite our sunny dispositions and ravishing good looks, it’s not always unwarranted. We can argue all day about what we do wrong, but here’s an easy one: an elected official who publicly apologizes to the CEO of a company responsible for the worst ecological disaster of this millennium. Barton’s apology to British Petroleum’s Tony Hayward before a U.S. Senate hearing made Smoky Joe look completely out of touch, and likening the treatment that BP received to a “shakedown” didn’t help either. In a time when the political surf is increasingly turbulent, maybe getting out of the country –– heck, off the planet –– and dealing with his own probing inquiry would help clear Barton’s head a little and give the rest of us a break in the embarrassment department.


Politician Most Likely to Sell Grandma to the Highest Bidder

Readers’ choice: Mike Moncrief

Critic’s choice: Fort Worth City Council

It’s true, occasionally a Kathleen Hicks or Joel Burns sticks up for some group other than big business, gas drillers, or other species of fat cats. By and large, though, this council deserves this award richly and collectively. Their flagrant disregard of the interests of their citizenry with regard to Barnett Shale drilling has become all too commonplace. But this year they’ve outdone themselves, unanimously voting to fire the ethics committee for (finally) doing its job, repeatedly ignoring the wishes of neighborhood leaders, then abusing those leaders for daring to publicly disagree with the council — and even turning down a federal streetcar grant that the city had requested. There’s no longer even a pretense of a glove on the fist.


Subject for Cryogenic Preservation

Readers’ choice: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones

Critic’s choice: Arlington Heights High School administration

Widespread attendance fraud? Racial animosity? Violence? Students doing clean-up duty to keep their repeated absences off the school’s record? Looks like this place could use a spell in the deep freeze until a team of educational specialists can tackle all of AHHS’ myriad problems in one go. 


Old Guy

Readers’ choice: Steve Murrin

Critic’s choice: Larry Meeker

Meeker, a third-generation Texas oilman, says there are three things in his life he is proudest of: marrying his wife Peggy, killing “god-damned commies” in Korea, and convincing voters to create the Tarrant County Community College District. At 78, he is still fighting the good fight for folks who wouldn’t be able to go to college if it weren’t for the effort he put forth 35 years ago when he headed that successful campaign. Then in 2004, TCC Chancellor Leonardo de la Garza embarked on a plan to build a half-billion-dollar architectural monstrosity along the Trinity River. Outraged at what he called a “theft” from needy students, Meeker embarked on a second — and again successful — campaign, this one to shut the construction down, get rid of de la Garza, and replace de la Garza’s “rubber-stamping” board members with reformers. Today, he is three for three. Moral: Never underestimate a man who’s faced the army of North Korea and lived to tell about it.



Critic’s choice: Adam Dietrich, Butterfly Connection

As artistic director of the Butterfly Connection, Adam Dietrich has his finger on the pulse of Fort Worth’s arts scene. His organization offers local filmmakers and artists the opportunity to work on professional film and stage productions, even if they lack experience. He also works with underprivileged kids and mentors young, up-and-coming arts organizations. The Butterfly Connection has also collaborated with dozens of other nonprofits and arts groups.


Free Spirit

Critic’s choice: Lake Simons of Hip Pocket Theatre

Dividing her time between New York City, Fort Worth, and anywhere else that requires the skills of an actor-mime-clown-puppeteer, Lake Simons –– daughter of Hip Pocket co-founders Johnny and Diane Simons –– is effortlessly charming as a performer, writer, director, teacher, mentor, and arts advocate. She had a busy year in the Fort with her one-woman mime show Etiquette Unraveled, her puppet extravaganza Lowdown Wax, and her work on the Cowtown Puppetry Festival, but whether she’s wearing a big red nose onstage or helping a 10-year-old build an animal puppet, Lake puts her radiant spirit into everything she does.


Fight to the Finish

Critic’s choice: A.C. “Ace” Cook

Getting diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in 2007 and being given just months to live didn’t scare this old Fort Worth character much. More than anything, the diagnosis pissed off the Stockyards business owner and noted early Texas art collector. Cook vowed to prove the doctors wrong, spend more time with family and friends, grow his red hair long and wild, and stand toe to toe in the ring with cancer for as long as he could. He won quite a few rounds. But on Sept. 13, two years and nine months after his diagnosis, he failed to answer the bell. He’s probably horse-traded his way into heaven by now.


Underrated Pro Athlete

Readers’ choice: David Murphy, Texas Rangers

Critic’s choice: Darren O’Day, Texas Rangers

O’Day deserves this in part because set-up pitchers are always undervalued, even when they’re working for what may be the best Texas Rangers team ever. The big right-hander from Florida became available from the Mets off waivers last year, and the Rangers have enjoyed excellent short-term relief from him. Together, O’Day and ninth-inning specialist Neftali Feliz give the Rangers a potent 1-2 punch at the game’s end, and the team’s success in the postseason will likely hinge on them.


Athlete (Almost) Worth His/Her Salary

Readers’ choice: (tie) Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers; and Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys

Critic’s choice: Texas Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis

When the Rangers signed Lewis during the off season, few observers expected much. He had spent the past two years with the Hiroshima Carp (what a name) in the Japanese leagues, trying to resurrect his career following injuries. But the Rangers got a great season out of Lewis this year, and his salary for the 2010 was a fairly low $1.7 million. His win-loss record (11-13) suffered from weak support by the offense, but his earned-run average (3.79) was among the best among starting pitchers in the American League. Suffice to say, the playoffs might not have been in the cards this year had the Rangers not plucked this guy from Japan on the cheap.


Use of Taxpayer Money

Critic’s choice: Air-pollution testing around gas drilling sites

Given the fact that the Fort Worth City Council has pretty much been a marionette for the oil and gas industry, many observers were shocked when the council approved a $600,000 contract with the Eastern Research Group to test the air quality around natural gas drilling sites. The study comes in the wake of news that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality withheld test results that revealed high levels of cancer-causing chemicals at drill sites in Fort Worth. Many citizens are skeptical as to whether or not the study will prompt the council to take any action. But it’s a good first step.


Media Overkill

Readers’ choice: Jerry Jones and Cowboys Stadium

Critic’s choice: Rick Perry shoots a coyote

Last spring, the governor used a .38-caliber gun with a laser sight to take out a coyote while jogging in an undeveloped area near Austin. The size of the gun and the hollow-point bullets he used were a bit of overkill, but since Perry was jogging with his dog, and since coyotes can easily carry off family pets given half a chance, that’s OK. What was dismaying about this was the way the Texas press used this to burnish our blow-dried governor’s image as some sort of backwoods he-man. That coyote gave its life to prove that the people covering our governor are a bunch of lapdogs.


Neighborhood Group

Critic’s choice: Oakhurst Neighborhood Association

Year after year, the Oakhurst Neighborhood Association just northeast of downtown is one of the busiest in the city. They don’t just talk it, they get out and do it, with monthly meetings, a beautification program, children’s activities, a citizens-on-patrol team, and more. Oakhurst also puts on barbecues and a Halloween costume contest and gives out a yard-of-the-month award. This year they’ve also been fighting two issues that leaders think will harm the community: a zoning change that would allow a metal recycling plant nearby and the use of Riverside Park as a floodwater storage area — a plan that would put a chunk of parkland beneath potentially contaminated water for parts of the year. Now that’s an active group.


Example of Gumption or Grit

Critic’s choice: Jim Ashford’s ethics complaint

Fort Worth’s ethics review panel has rarely met in the past 20 years, and even when they did, they seldom upheld complaints. But Ashford complained about city officials putting gas drillers on an air quality task force and actually got his case heard. Even more amazing, the panel voted unanimously to uphold the complaint. His victory was short-lived. The gas executives appealed. City officials belittled Ashford, fired the ethics panel, lauded the drillers, patted themselves on the back, and then revised the ethics ordinance to allow for more unethical behavior. But Ashford forced public discussion on this all-important issue, insisted that council members declare themselves, and made it clear to voters more than ever who and what is really running this city right now.



Readers’ choice: Kevin Buchanan,

Critic’s choice: Ann Sutherland, Fort Worth school board

You’d think a trustee of a public school district would have no trouble getting documents regarding that district — but guess again. Sutherland, elected last spring, was stunned to find that her requests for information were ignored, postponed, or stonewalled. So she filed freedom of information requests to get her hands on critical documents that are in the public domain, including an audit report highly critical of the administration’s financial policies, which administrators had withheld for months. Fellow trustee Christene Moss actually chastised Sutherland for “wast[ing] staff’s time” with the request — even though the withheld report was actually addressed to the board! Fortunately for the public, Sutherland, a long-time educator, ignored her critics and is charging full steam ahead to teach district officials how to spell “transparency.”



Critic’s choice: Amon Carter Museum blogs

The myriad posts at provide deep background on works in the permanent collection and also keep readers up to date on the goings-on at the constantly contemporizing museum, all in an accessible writing style.


Preserver of History

Readers’ choice: Local historian Ed Wallace

Critic’s choice: John T. Roberts

Roberts is the brains behind, which includes the history of every significant local building as well as a lively forum patronized by urban enthusiasts. The architect also served on the board of directors of Historic Fort Worth, Inc. His challenge these days is trying to save the Ridglea Theater from being partially bulldozed and turned into a branch bank.


Unused P.R. Slogan

Critic’s choice: “The Fort Worth Way: Hear No Citizen, See No Conflict, Smell Nothing Rotten”

If you’ve paid any attention at all to city hall in Fort Worth over the last few years, this one is self-explanatory. The city council has the bit in its teeth, and they’re not letting anyone — not citizens, scientists, neighborhood groups, nor their own ethics committee –– tell them what to do. “The Fort Worth Way” used to refer to what locals considered a more-genteel-than-Dallas method of handling conflicts, by talking them out informally before they became bitter public screaming matches. Now it pretty much means “Moncrief’s Way or the Highway.”



Critic’s choice: Casey James on American Idol

James went from a relative unknown in the Fort Worth club scene to an international superhero by ascending to the top-three tier of the Idol competition. On his hometown visit, he was followed by camera crews to the Keys Lounge, where he performed in a down-home jam session. The normally casual neighborhood bar was packed with screaming female fans, and even James seemed a little uncomfortable. He didn’t win, but the local pop and blues scene received some global exposure.


Best-Kept Secret

Critic’s choice: The toxic contents of hydraulic fracturing fluids

Drillers force natural gas out of the ground by injecting a mixture of sand, water, and chemicals at high pressure into underground rock formations. Drillers resist revealing the contents of all that stuff they’re shoving underground, and that’s allowed under a loophole in federal law written specifically for the oil and gas industry. But a few companies, led by Fort Worth-based Range Resources, are slowly beginning to open their files.


Sign of the Apocalypse

Readers’ choice: Bad winter of 2009-10

Critic’s choice: Wakeboarding in the Trinity

They keep saying the Trinity is clean enough to swim in, but that’s hard to believe when they also tell you not to eat the fish from it. True, the Trinity probably isn’t sufficiently full of chemicals to mutate resident fauna into sympathetic, anthropomorphic heroes, but the fact remains that a lot of people are afraid to dip so much as a pinkie in that rippling ribbon of brown. When wakeboarders set up demos in the bend near Gateway Park (not to mention when water district officials inner-tube down the river for the cameras), it kind of sends the imagination reeling in the direction of post-apocalyptic thrillers — call it Hell Comes to Cowtown, pitting the survivors of the great Barnett Shale Disaster against mutant Trinity Trout.


Local Footage on YouTube

Critic’s choice: “What’s That Smell Like?” (

Frankly, a YouTube search for “Fort Worth, 2010” doesn’t produce a lot worth passing around the office. (“Interview with Kathryn Dunn, Miss Fort Worth 2010” isn’t going viral any time soon.) However, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll come across a clip from this year’s Air Power Expo entitled, “What’s That Smell Like?” As an F-18 taxis in front of the crowd, some guy, sounding a lot like Spike Jonez’ redneck private in Three Kings, says, “I love the smell of jet fuel.” His unseen buddy chuckles and says, “Smells like freedom, Donny.” Donny cracks up. “Smells like kickin’ ass!” he says. This is probably the best commentary on Fort Worth anyone could casually make.


Place to Earn Public Service Credits
Critic’s choice: Tarrant Area Food Bank, 2600 Cullen St, FW

There’s a seemingly infinite number of things to do at the Tarrant Area Food Bank, from wheeling around massive containers of donations on pallet jacks to separating good donations from spoiled ones. The best part: The full-time employees never make the newbies feel stupid.


Place to Study

Critic’s choice: Trinity River Park, FW

It’s an obvious pick here, but the park is big enough to accommodate both those seeking solitude and the large groups of students who want to discuss nuclear physics or Dostoyevsky. The river provides the soothing sound of water flowing, and there’s easy access to nearby shopping centers for lunch and snacks. 


Community Service Program

Critic’s choice: Community Kitchen, Tarrant Area Food Bank

The Food Bank’s Community Kitchen provides culinary-arts training to low-income adults, many of whom are homeless, ex-cons, or just down on their luck. The 16-week program also helps its graduates find jobs or internships. The program boasts a 60 percent graduation rate and an 85 percent employment rate.

Decision by Voters

Critic’s choice: Tarrant County College District board election

Finally. This year the voters elected two reform candidates to the Tarrant County College District board who promise to clean up the mess left behind by the infamous Chancellor de la Garza and the dysfunctional board majority he controlled. With the election of former journalist O.K. Carter of Arlington and Fort Worth lawyer Bill Greenhill, the tables have turned. Along with reform-oriented incumbents Joe Hudson and Robyn Winnett, they form a majority that now has a chance to steer this badly battered college district back onto the straight and narrow path of prudently managing the people’s money and opening the doors of opportunity to every kid from 19 to 90 in this county who wants an education.


Agency Most Open to the Public

Critic’s choice: U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fort Worth District

While most government entities in this county seem to regard requests for public records as affronts to their dignity, HUD-Fort Worth is a refreshing exception. Response is quick and efficient; often the local office doesn’t take the 20 working days allowed by federal law to respond. In cases of public interest, they’ve even been known to waive the charges, as the law allows. And this was true even before that Kenyan Muslim socialist became president.


Environmentally Conscious Organization

Critic’s choice: Downwinders at Risk

It’s like an environmental fairy tale: Scrappy little group horrified at environmental implications of heavy (but lightly regulated) long-term pollution from major industry (in this case, the Midlothian cement kilns) sets out to fight them in the streets, at the barricades, in the courthouse and the court of public opinion –– and ends up, many years and many bake sales later, gaining victories that not only help clean the air and save the health (and possibly the lives) of thousands of people but also provide funding for more clean-air projects across the region. Give ’em a cape and a pair of tights, and they could star in their own comic book.


Special Awards: Living on the Shale

Individual Defender of the Environment

Readers’ choice: Don Young

Critic’s choice: EPA Region 6 Director Al Armendariz

This former Southern Methodist University engineering professor impressed local environmentalists after he started verbally slapping around state regulators for letting industries pollute our water and skies with very little oversight. Few could have predicted he’d be picked as the Environmental Protection Agency’s new regional administrator over Texas and surrounding states last November. Talk about an early Christmas present.


Barnett Shale Watchdog Group

Readers’ choice: North Central Texas Communities Alliance

Critic’s choice: North Central Texas Communities Alliance

Formed less than a year ago in response to Chesapeake’s assault on the homeowners of Fort Worth’s Carter Avenue, the NCTCA has become the leading voice in educating the public to the dangers of urban gas drilling across the Barnett Shale. Founded by Esther McElfish and Louis McBee, the NCTCA has been able to form a cohesive political unit out of the disparate community and neighborhood groups in the area, making them a force to be reckoned with.


Barnett Shale Video

Critic’s choice:

This is the video that changed the way we look at gas company operations. Shot by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on an overcast October afternoon, it shows a Quicksilver gas facility in Acton. As soon as the crew starts shooting, with their infrared (FLIR) camera, broad, dark plumes of pollution can be seen flowing from a condensate water tank, battery, and compressor station. To see more TCEQ videos, go to


Moment in Barnett Shale History in the Last Year

Readers’ choice: TCEQ lying about Fort Worth air quality

Critic’s choice: Como and Ridglea saying no to gas cash

Aug. 10, 2011: That’s the day Chesapeake Energy withdrew its application for a variance to drill four gas wells between the Como and Ridglea neighborhoods. It was a remarkable victory for homeowners who simply refused to take the money in exchange for the problems the drilling would bring. And there was some big money on the table: Chesapeake was said to be offering up to $7,000 per homeowner if they’d just sign a waiver saying they didn’t object to the location of the wells — necessary because the wells were going to be closer than 600 feet from homes. But damned if the affected homeowners didn’t say no to the cash. There’s no guarantee Chesapeake won’t come back and ask again in the future (and if they did, there’s a very good chance that the Fort Worth City Council would find a way to approve it), but in a world where the gas companies seem to win everything, it was nice to see the little guys take a round.