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Thursday, June 17, 2004

Peggy McCracken

Squarely Pegged

By Peggy McCracken

Life in slow lane
ideal for dreamer

Itís mid-afternoon as I write this at my home laptop computer, while munching frozen fruit and enjoying the cool breeze from my new Aircool air conditioner. No, Iím not unemployed. Thanks to those of you who have inquired whether I lost my job in the recent downsizing. I opted for a half-day bookkeeping job rather than go back to reporting.

Oops. A Trojan Horse just attempted to connect to my computer. I have cable here at home, and the laptop is always connected to the Internet. Without my Norton firewall, anyone out there could access my computer, read my files and do all kinds of damage.

Some days I think computers may not be worth the bother. Other times I wonder how we ever got along without them. In the year since my husband died, I have downloaded instructions for filing his will for probate, the correct forms to do it with, and filled them out onscreen before printing and filing them with the court.

While re-decorating my house, I ordered custom-made micro mini blinds for the patio door and big windows in my living room, checked window-treatments to determine what type of drapes would work best, then purchased the materials locally to make custom swags.

I have looked up the owner of a house we wanted for Godís Army, using Internet phone directories and a helpful database called LexisNexis; researched the law regarding delinquent taxes on that house - and on some extra lots I own that I wasnít getting a homestead exemption on. (If they are contiguous with your homestead, the lots are considered a part of it and the homestead exemption applies.)

Since we needed to incorporate Godís Army as a non-profit religious organization to hold title to property and claim a tax exemption, I downloaded instructions and forms for that, too. Then, once we received the charter, I went online again and obtained a federal employer identification number so we could open a bank account.

One of the most useful aspects of the Internet has been shopping for a house in St. Louis, Mo., where my daughter is a real estate agent. She located houses in my price range and e-mailed me the URL where I could view pictures and read descriptions of each one. I critiqued them by return e-mail, and we finally settled on one that fits my budget. Most of the paperwork has gone back and forth by FAX, overnight letter or snailmail. Now youíre wondering if I plan to leave Pecos. The short answer is no. Assuming the seller fixes electric and plumbing problems to my satisfaction, I will fly to St. Louis July 8 to close on the house, then help Peggy Lynn move into it. Over the next three years, she will apply her interior decorating and landscaping skills to increase the value of my second residence. If I am still able to work and live alone by that time, I hope to sell the house at a profit and stay right here in my modest, handicap-equipped home.

President Ronald Reagan was just moving into the White House for his eight-year tenure when he was my age. I should be able to work a half-time job for at least that long.

My plan is to do house- and yard-work during the cool of the day, work at the office four hours, nap, cook supper, maybe watch a classic movie, then work in the yard some more. Or sit on the shaded patio dreaming my dreams, enjoying my velvet red roses and yellow flowers while eating frozen yogurt with just enough Coke to soften and flavor it.

Am I living the life or Riley or not?

ďIf you love Wisdom and donít reject her, she will watch over you.Ē Proverbs 5:6

EDITORíS NOTE: Peggy McCracken is Enterprise business manager and webmaster. Contact her at

Sage Views

By Smokey Briggs

My disbarment, staffing changes in Monahans,
the closing of the Pecos Enterprise, and a
few other interesting rumors.

This is an info-column. It is not meant to be witty, or even entertaining. It is scheduled to run in The Monahans News and the Pecos Enterprise this week. If you do not believe me buy a copy of both papers. Please.

This column is meant to sow a bit of truth into the field of rumors that has sprouted in the past few weeks concerning The Monahans News, the Pecos Enterprise and me. Please hang with me because it is a bit longwinded, much like the author. The truth is not always easy to communicate in compact sound bites.

The rumor mill has been churning near redline fueled in part by not-quite complete reporting concerning recent events at both newspapers.

To be fair, Ruth Friedberg with the Odessa American did a good job with both articles she wrote - both the one about Pecos moving from daily to weekly publication and the second article covering the staffing changes at The Monahans News. She quoted me accurately, and in context.

So did Chris Roberts with the Associated Press. However, the other AP article that I have seen and several other pieces both in print and on television have managed to mangle quotes and/or miss the context.

First a little history since some of these rumors go all the way back to my coming to West Texas.

My beautiful wife Lori and I moved to Lubbock in 1994 to attend law school at Texas Tech. Our moving truck was my baby - a 1946 Chevy 3/4 ton that I have owned since I was 12. The truck is currently in pieces but Iím finished with the engine and one day she will be back together.

In Lubbock Lori sold Kirby vacuum cleaners for awhile and then got a job in the front office with a home health care agency. I humped tools for an HVAC company for a year until I found a job editing a trade magazine for the fast oil change industry.

After law school I practiced law in Lubbock for a year for a personal injury firm. Not glamorous but it paid the bills and put food on the table for our growing family of three. Ruby, our eldest was born the month after I took the bar exam in 1997.

A year later I interviewed with Buckner News Alliance (BNA) for the publisherís job in Pecos. BNA also owned The Monahans News. That is when the rumor that I have been disbarred first cropped up.

I suppose the rumor originates with the natural question of why would a guy licensed to practice law edit a newspaper instead.

Newspapers were my first love and where I intended to end up. My journey to law school started with a bet in a bar. Iím glad I went, but I am better suited for paper and ink. I mostly leave the law to people with talent although I still practice occasionally despite the enduring rumor.

The position in Pecos was perfect for us. It was a small town in West Texas, which we had come to enjoy. A smaller town away from the hustle of Dallas or even Lubbock was our goal.

That was January of 1999. In 2001 Carson Mae was born.

In January of 2003 Phil Buckner, the man behind BNA, informed me that it was advantageous for BNA to sell The Monahans News that year. Would I be interested?

When I quit stammering I managed to say yes.

My contract with BNA as publisher in Pecos ran through the end of 2004, but as long as I would stay on in Pecos, BNA would allow me the time I needed to see to my new newspaper. The sale took place in August of 2003.

Since then the rumor mill has been going full blast.

In Monahans I have been ďthat guy from Pecos who bought our newspaper.Ē In Pecos I have been ďthe traitor.Ē

Then the events of the past few weeks began to unwind. Pecos had to move from daily to weekly publication. The Pecos Enterprise has been the smallest daily newspaper in Texas for over a decade. Keeping her daily had been a labor of love and passion for me and the staff.

In the end, finances won out over passion. Newspapers are businesses and you have to make payroll and pay your bills. The Enterprise had to go weekly. For five years we had fought through each month knowing that it could be our last as a daily, but it was still a shock when it actually happened.

In the meantime, things had not gone perfectly at The Monahans News either.

At our first staff meeting I informed everyone on board that unless revenue increased Lori and I could not take a living out of the paper without eliminating some positions and doing the work ourselves.

Since we do not have any rich uncles in our family a salary is a necessity.

In an effort to avoid that eventuality we came up with the plan that saw us move to twice weekly publication, among other things. The hope was that we could increase revenue to the point that no jobs would be eliminated.

We were not successful. More time and a better economic climate might have helped but the point is moot now.

So, at the end of May I found I could no longer afford the services of three of our staffers in Monahans. I let go the former publisher, the managing editor and the sports editor. With my situation changing in Pecos the newspaper Lori and I owned had to start putting groceries on the table.

That same week was Pecosí final week as a daily. I think this combination of events is what gave rise to the rumor that I fired people in Monahans so I could hire people from Pecos.

In Pecos we had to make some heavy cuts as well. We shut down the press, eliminating two full-time and one part-time job. As a weekly we no longer needed most of our circulation staff and another full-time and two more part-time jobs were eliminated. We also had to eliminate the full-time classified advertising position and the second reporting position.

However, we were able to soften the blow somewhat in that I had been holding off on hiring a second pressman in Monahans in case it all came to this. So, I could offer one of my Pecos pressmen a job in Monahans. The young lady who was taking care of classifieds was planning on starting college in mid-summer as well.

Now in the fall of last year, I was afraid that I could see the scribbling on the wall that foretold the move to weekly publication in Pecos. If I had not had a clue I would not be much of a publisher. It was not written in stone then but I had serious doubts that we would make another year.

In August I also lost my second reporter in Pecos when she went back to college.

I was in a jam. I had a new newspaper, my first, to watch over and I was working as publisher and also reporter in Pecos. It was more than I could do. Worse, I could not in good conscience ask somebody to quit their current job or change their life to take a job that I feared might not be around in six months.

My kid brother came to my rescue. Brenden is 12 years my junior. He is the youngest, Iím the oldest.

He had just finished his B.S. in Biology and was hanging out waiting tables in posh restaurants and dating pretty girls in Atlanta before starting graduate school.

I made him an offer he could not refuse - move in with his brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces in beautiful Barstow, Texas and work for next to nothing wages. Who could turn that down?

He could not and he arrived in Pecos in August much to the delight of Carson Mae and Ruby Leigh who have not allowed him to sleep in a single Saturday morning since his arrival.

When we took the Enterprise to weekly publication I asked him to help me out in Monahans until his seat comes up for graduate school this coming January.

Then he is off to better things in the world of mari-culture and genetics. By then I hope to have my life more under control and will be better situated to take on some more of the tasks in Monahans.

So, I guess that is how the rumor got started that I fired everybody in Monahans so I could hire folks from Pecos.

Not true, but I think a few reporters working the story liked that angle better than the truth. It happens.

The last rumor I would like to put to death is the latest from Pecos, which alleges that I have shut down the Pecos Enterprise office, fired the entire staff, and am now producing the entire paper from Monahans. Not so either. The Monahans connection is that we now print the Pecos Enterprise on the press at The Monahans News.

The office is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Most of the folks who were here last month are still here. The only real change is that we only publish once a week.

At the moment, Lori and I are working on a deal with Phil Buckner that would create a 50-50 partnership between us in Pecos.

I hope it works out. I think it will. If it does, it will make both newspapers stronger. That in turn makes it more likely that Lori and I will be able to stay in rural West Texas, which is where we want to be.

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York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
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