Category Archives: Politics

FEMA logo

Dentoning….bunker on the edge of town

Denton underground…..nope, not the rumored tunnels under the Square, but the giant hole on the east side of town. Dentonites frequently drive by the Cold War relic on the hill. It is unassuming,…..not insisting upon itself. The only give-away that the building might be more than a small office is the manned guard shack. The building has been on Loop 288 for 50 years……the guard a “new” addition courteous of Arab terrorists.

FEMA logo

The underground Federal Center was opened in early 1964. It was the first of 6 fortified federal buildings dug out of the ground and built to withstand a 1 megaton nuclear detonation as close as a mile away. The reasoning behind the center revolved around the real possibility, at the time, of a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. Denton was chosen as the site due to its relative distance from the more vulnerable cities of Dallas and Ft. Worth and because of the NIKE missile base, in operation at the time, just north of Denton.

The building visible from Loop 288 houses a small meeting room, a reception desk and two entry ways…..a stairway and an elevator to the two floors lying unseen beneath. The surface building is nondescript and wouldn’t survive a run away car, much less a nearby nuclear blast, but in it are two massive doors, each weighing 25 tons which would quickly seal access to the subterranean office and command center if required.

FEMA Center

One of two above ground turrets. The only physical access to the surface if building sealed.

FEMA building

Ladder to surface turret.

The two floors below are massive, each over 25,00 sq ft. The building was designed to be completely self contained……able to allow 500 people to live and work for 30 days with no contact with the outside world……whatever might have been left of it. Food was stockpiled, a filtration system kept the air breathable, it has it’s own well and three massive diesel generators kept the lights on. The generators, overhead lights, even the toilets were on springs. Had the worst happened, the conditions would not have been ideal, but would certainly have kept that part of our government housed, alive, and safe.

Then there is this.....

Then there is this…..

Toilet

Fortified toilet

For the first couple of decades after opening, the Federal Center was maintained and consistently upgraded to perform it’s intended purpose. As time wore on and our world changed with the end of the Cold War, the facility began to downgrade not through neglect, but through conscious decisions not to maintain and/or replace systems which made the building self sufficient. With the Soviet Union no longer an eminent threat, the powers that be rethought the need for a stand alone bunker on the outskirts of Denton.

Two of three massive diesel generators

Two of three massive diesel generators

The Federal Center took on a new role with the global changes of the 1980s. The building is still well maintained, but is now dependent on surface utilities, water etc, to function. The two story underground office building primarily houses the Federal Emergency Management Agency which was absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Above ground warehouses now store a variety of vehicles used in any type of national emergency. Mobile command centers, communication vehicles……… even support vehicles capable of accessing underground fuel sources are maintained and ready to go at a moments notice.

FEMA

Mobile Emergency Response vehicles

I can't read underground

I can’t read underground

The Federal Center on the edge of town has been repurposed in response to major changes in our world. It’s not the “bunker” it once was, but the unique building, built for the problems of another time, still stands ready to address the problems of today……

Dentoning….Invisible Denton

There is the Denton we all see and love……..vibrant, fun, comfortable, familiar, busy and diverse. There is another Denton that few see and many don’t know exists. Homeless Denton co-habitates with our daily lives and is anchored in places that would amaze many.

We all see people we suspect are without daily shelter…..we may even be approached on occasion by someone asking for a handout, but we don’t have the obvious clues of people at busy intersections, signs in hand, asking for money for one need or another as we do in larger cities. The absence of this does not mean there are not people struggling to live beside the roads, under the bridges and in camps in the woods of Denton.

A Denton home...

A Denton home…

Denton has programs to feed and provide essential needs to the less fortunate. Our Daily Bread is probably the most noticeable of these essential centers. Our Daily Bread has food, personal hygiene items, some transportation and even medical care for the homeless. When it comes to shelter though, the pickings are slim. The Salvation Army has very limited space, with separate areas for men and women. But they cannot begin to handle the numbers that live within the City of Denton.

The homeless are homeless due to many different reasons. Some have mental issues, others substance abuse problems, some are homeless due to the economy……….some just chose that life. I think the average Dentonite would be dumbfounded at, for the most part, the invisible population of homeless people in our city.

Some live in alleys, under bridges, in abandoned buildings, but a large number of the homeless live in camps within a mile or two of our Square. These camps consist of visqueen (yes, that is the correct spelling) covered mattresses and sleeping bags, in tents, boxes, or out in the open. Often tucked in thickets which provide additional protection, these “homes” are the only shelter from the elements these people know. Some are bunched together, but most house just one person.

Homeless camp

Homeless camp

The people who live in these “towns” within our town are fiercely protective of their locations. The less people know, the better. A couple of the camps are amazingly large with populations of elderly, runaways, baby-boomers and even children. The police are aware of these camps, but for the most part allow the residents to live as they must. During the daytime, they are mostly abandoned as people go about their lives. As dark settles, small fires are lit, cooking stoves started and bags are occupied.

These areas, of course, do not have the simple things like water, sewers, trash collection etc.. that we take for granted and thus have the looks of a refuge camp which, in fact, they are. Piles of trash, large collections of empty bottles, clothing, bikes and “natural” bathrooms litter the camps. The people get by, but it is a very hard life. The “real” world to these people has very little resemblance to the world we know.

Homelessness

A home

A home

The homeless “problem” is around us and is part of Denton. We may not see it, but it is here and it is close. Society struggles on how to help these people in towns and cities around the world. Here in Denton, we can give to our Daily Bread, the Salvation Army, and support Dr. Filipo Masciarelli, who along with his wife, provides medical care to Denton’s homeless population……..there are other ways to help if they are sought out. The Holiday Season is usually a time we think of giving to and helping others, but there so many who need assistance year-round.

Transportation

Transportation

We are so fortunate to live in Denton, let’s think of ways to help those who live in Invisible Denton……….

Dentoning….the rest of the story.

……Sometimes stories just need to be finished.

[This article was offered to the Denton Record-Chronicle to allow them to complete the story. There was no reply.]

Recently, the Denton Record-Chronicle ran an article about Mayor Mark Burroughs’ travel expenses for trips over the past year while representing the City of Denton. Once again, half-researched, half-reported “facts” misled DRC readers, yet when a little deeper record checking is done, the story becomes clear.

Denton Mayor

Mark Burroughs

I did that record checking, and here is what I found.

1) That the City’s budget was “busted” by the Mayor’s travel: The truth is that the Mayor (and the entire City Council) stopped most travel during the recession. The records show that the budget was not adjusted to post-recession travel demands until a few months ago. (Adjusting from $30,000 to $45,000 for the entire City Council per year). And remember, as the City’s chief representative, the Mayor does the majority of the travel.

2) That the City may have paid for the Mayor’s family to travel: The truth is, the City has never paid for travel, food or other such expenses for the Mayor’s wife or children while accompanying him on City business. (Although some cities do)

3) That the Mayor charged the City for premium rooms while on City trips: The truth is, the City only paid the lowest available rates at the facilities where events occurred. Mayor Burroughs paid the costs of any upgrades to accommodate his family every time they accompanied him.

4) That the Mayor of San Antonio apparently pays much of his own travel while on City business, so the fact that Denton’s Mayor asking for reimbursement is somehow wrong or unfair: In fact, the Mayor of San Antonio is a PAID position, while our Mayor is not paid at all (neither is the rest of the City Council). San Antonio’s Mayor also often travels with up to three personal staff who appear to often report meals and other Mayoral travel expenses on their travel reports………..our Mayor is assigned no such staff. Besides, what is the point here? Should our UNPAID Mayor be asked to pay for travel expenses incurred while on City business out of his family’s pocket?

5) That the Mayor of Frisco’s room costs were less (for the same USCM conference attended by Mayor Burroughs) than those of our mayor: The reason for this is, Frisco Mayor Maso left the conference and inauguration events days earlier when rates were considerably less.

6) That some individual orders at one meal during a USCM conference were high: The truth is, the average meal costs over the whole trip were not out of line, a fact vaguely referenced in the DRC story. Remember too that entertaining is a universal practice in conducting business, something Mayor Burroughs was doing during his trips for the City of Denton.

7) That the Mayor was taking trips to vacation destinations on the City’s dime: In the original article, you may have noticed that the DRC failed to mention the names of the cities the Mayor traveled to, (Ponta Grossa and Ciritiba, Brazil and Tartu, Estonia) and which account for the majority of the costs. Presumably, that is because few have ever heard of them and they are certainly not “tourist destinations”. Additionally,
travel to such “off the beaten path” locations is just more expensive by nature. Gabriel Carranza, Assistant Vice Provost of International Cooperation, University of North Texas said that these trips by Mayor Burroughs were requested and organized by UNT to establish sister city, university and corporate development opportunities and to explore sustainable community initiatives. Next to nothing was said about this in DRC article, because as the reporter herself said………”That was not the direction of my story.”

So a partial story was?

While on this subject, it’s probably a good time to address the fact that Denton has an unpaid City Council. I wonder what it COSTS each Councilperson to serve our great city? Cities of similar size pay their Council members something to reward the enormous amounts of time spent by each doing City business. Denton has been growing and continues to grow and with growth comes larger, more complicated and more time-consuming problems. At the very least, I think its time to offset the out of pocket expenses each councilperson accrues. We live in a great city, and those who work hard to represent us should not be asked to pay for the privilege to do so.

The City Council itself would have initiate pay for the council, so maybe the action could be drafted to go into effect after the last of the presently serving members leave office. That way there could be no accusations of anyone trying to enrich themselves.

Please Share so that those who still read the DRC will read……

Dentoning….perspective

Recently, I was discussing the possiblity of Syria using chemical weapons and that I thought President Assad might be getting WMDs ready so that in the event it looked like he was about to be over-run, he could take the people of Syria with him. A friend of mine wondered if maybe Assad has “Jim Jones” syndrome. It had been a long time since I’d thought of the horror which took place in Guyana when “Pastor” Jim Jones convinced 900+ of his cult members to commit suicide. I remember listening to the radio that day about the tragedy in Guyana as I drove to ski in Ruidoso. The first reports mentioned Congressman Ryan and some others being killed at an airstrip, and as the day went on that some of the cult members may have died. With each report, the numbers grew until the unimaginable announcement that 900+ people had committed suicide.

I have had a life full (well, so far) of unusual experiences. A connection to the Jim Jones story is one of them. From 1980-1986, I worked for FEMA as a disaster assistance specialist. During that time, I did several things for FEMA, but for the last 3 years or so of that time, I was on the staff of the Federal Coordinating Officer, Bob Broussard. I was part of a small group of people who were always the first on the scene following a Presidentially-declared disaster. This small group of people was comprised of FEMA employees along with a few from the Small Business Association, Red Cross, etc…. The group was always the same, and we all grew close due to long hours, close quarters, and long periods of time on the road. I made some really good friends and got to know most of them very well.

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One of those people was a woman who worked for SBA. She and I often worked closely together in the weeks and sometimes months following a natural disaster and I felt like I knew her very well. One day, during a disaster-related visit to southern Louisiana, I noticed that my friend (I’ll call her Joan) was not being herself. Joan was normally very out-going, funny and upbeat. This day, Joan was quiet, sullen…….depressed. I asked her that morning if she was feeling OK and she just brushed it off as being tired from the long hours and to not getting enough sleep. Her demeanor did not improve as the day went on and I got worried about her. I finally asked her again if she were OK and she again brushed it off and then thanked me for asking. I thought I knew Joan pretty well, what she told me late that night made me realize I didn’t….

That night, after an exhausting 16 hour day, Joan asked me if we could talk. This wasn’t unusual, and I said “sure”, not thinking anything of it. All the people I was working with were staying in the same hotel, so Joan and I found a quiet place in the lobby and sat down. What she said next sent shivers down my spine. She thanked me for being concerned about her and said there was a reason other than being tired for her mood that day. She asked me if I knew what “today” was. I had heard no news that day, nor did anything special come to mind, so I told her no. She told me that it was the anniversary of the Guyana Tragedy. I thought about how horrible that story was, but I didn’t understand why that would be enough to make my friend have such a bad day.

Joan went on to tell me that before Jim Jones had moved the “church” from San Francisco to Guyana, she had been his personal assistant. She told me that she was closer to him during that time than anyone else in the church. I knew Joan well enough that I knew she was telling the truth. I, of course, found it interesting as she went on to paint a word picture of a good guy gone bad. She told me that she was completely devoted to him in the beginning and was definitely under his “spell”.

image

Jim Jones

Joan said that as the months and years went on, she began to notice disturbing things in Jones’ behavior. She mentioned alcohol abuse, drugs, dalliances with women of the church and financial improprieties. Jones’ paranoia grew as more people discovered his secrets and Joan said that was the main reason he decided to relocate his church to South America. A few months before the church left San Francisco for Guyana, Joan left the church and her boss, Jim Jones. Jones was furious about her leaving and threats were made. Joan found another job and stayed clear of Jones and the People’s Temple, though she remained closely tied to them from a distance.

During her time at the church, Joan’s mother and all 5 children joined the church. When Joan left, her family stayed. Like many of the cult members, they stayed because of their belief in the church but also out of fear of Jim Jones. Well, as you can probably guess, Joan went on to tell me that her mother and all 5 of her children died that day in the jungles of Guyana. I was stunned to hear the reason for her mood that day. I could not fathom the horror of such a loss. I was the first work-related friend she had told about her past. It was an honor that she trusted me enough to confide in, but it was almost something I wish I had never found out. I had no clue of what to say. None…

This was in the early ’80s, so I was in my early 20s. No matter what their age, who is prepared to comfort someone who has experienced such a horrific event in their life? I mumbled something I’m sure and Joan went on to fill in details of that time…… going to Guyana, bringing her family home, the funerals, and of her hate and disgust of Jim Jones. We continued to work together for another 3 years or so until I left FEMA. We talked occasionally about her family during that time, but Joan was strong and did not dwell on it or seek attention because of it.

I have lost touch with Joan, but when I look back, I’m always flabbergasted that she could be so normal after something like that. She was a person you would think did not have a care in the world, yet she had survived something incomprehensible. I think about Joan occasionally when things aren’t going my way. Even my worst problems pale in comparison to what she endured/endures. I hope Joan is doing well and hope to see her again someday. I think all of us can learn to judge the severity of our problems as they relate to Joan’s.

Life is good…….no matter what.

Dentoning….a different world

Denton is chock full of history, mystery, synergy, and familiarity. (That last one was a stretch, but fitting). Denton’s Square has superficially changed through the 167 years of its existence, but it has looked pretty much the same for over 100 years. Many of our parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents trod the same sidewalks that we do today. There are so many stories that revolve around the square…….after all, it is the center of our great town and at one time, the entire town was contained within the Square and the few blocks surrounding it.

This week, Denton has hosted hometown boy (man), David Barrow, as he and a film crew document a turbulent time in Denton’s past. When We Were All Broncos “will document the period during which Denton rose to the challenge of integrating its schools while navigating the changes brought on by the social and cultural turmoil of those times”(quote from broncodocumentary.com). I intend to blog about David’s efforts once this weekend is over, but this blog post addresses the same tragic chapter of American history being addressed in David’s documentary.

It’s hard to imagine that just a few decades ago, blacks and whites existed LEGALLY in two separate worlds. Segregation was the law of the land and facilities throughout our city had separate accommodations for black people and for white people. Unbelievable. For the sake of this blog, I am speaking primarily about the legal existence of segregation, not the racism behind it, although the two cannot really be divided and racism still exists……….thank God, segregation does not.

During WWII, Denton fielded both white soldiers and black soldiers. In 1942, a black soldier from Denton was serving our country in the European theater of operations. His name was Tim Terry Jr. Before leaving for the war, Mr. Terry worked at Tobin Drugs on the Square. On October 23, 1942, he wrote a “V-Mail” from the battlefield to his colleagues at Tobin’s……in answer to a letter written to him by Henry Bowden. During WWII, V-Mail was used to reduce the logistics of transferring an original letter across the military postal system during the war. With V-Mail, a letter written from either side of the pond(s) was censored, copied to film, reprinted at its destination, and then sent on via regular mail. Below, you will find a copy of that V-Mail and a transcription.

v-mail

V …- MAIL (WW II correspondence to/from military personnel serving overseas.)

Mr. Henry Bowden
Tobin Drug Store
Denton, Texas

Sgt. Tim Terry Jr. (8 digit U.S. Army serial number)
Oct. 23, 1942

Hello Henry, Jewel, Mr. and Mrs. Tobin and gang. Say and I hope that includes you all if I missed anyone tell them hell-o and say that I am glad to hear from all you good people. It sure is swell to hear that you are all well and doing fine. I hate to hear that you and Ray are about to get hooked up in this man’s army. Brother I hope you get to stay in the states cause you haven’t seen nothing brother. I’d do anything to have some nice ice cream or candy or a nice cigar. In other words folks its rough. But I’d love every one of your necks if I could only see you. There were tears as big as a house come in my eyes when I read your letter. In other words good people, I’m lonesome for you. You are my good white people. I must close for now but I’ll write if I can. I’d love to hear from you all and no fooling. To the swellest people I have ever known. So long for now.
A true friend forever.
Old Terry boy
PS: tell all hell-o

Since first reading this document, I have done some research and found that Tobin’s and its employees had the reputation of being black-friendly when most of the rest of Denton clung to segregation……but De jure segregation was still the law of the land in 1942. De jure segregation, which sanctioned or enforced by law the separation of the races, was stopped by federal enforcement of a series of Supreme Court decisions after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Tobin’s employed and did business with the black population of Denton, but by law could not allow them to sit at its lunch counter.

lunch counter

Picture from Denton. Could this be Mr. Terry?

Tobin’s policy in 1942 was a step in the right direction of what would become the new law of the land in 12 years. Could Tobin’s have gone further? Of course, but those were different times and Civil Rights for all came in baby steps. The letter refers to pharmacy owner, Mr. Tobin and to pharmacist, Henry Bowden, both of whom tried to enlist in the war effort but were declined due to age and young families.

To me, Mr. Terry’s V-Mail is a testament to Dentonites of the past who saw a wrong and chose to do all they could to not participate in or to perpetuate it. Of course there were others in Denton at the time who felt the same and did similar things, but I am proud of Mr. Tobin, Mr. Bowden and the other employees of Tobin Drugs.

Henry Bowden

I am especially proud, though, to be the grandson of Henry Bowden.

Enjoy Denton!