Hallelujah. After months of fighting, debate and stubbornness beyond the point of all reason and studied deliberation, the decision over whether Bellmead homes and businesses should be protected from fire is now inscribed in all but stone. Two new fire trucks are on the way. Trib staff writer Cassie L. Smith reports that the first is due within the next few months.

There’s a huge difference between tax reform and tax cuts. While this newspaper through three different owners and editorial boards over the years has supported measures to make our federal tax code more equitable and fairer, we last year voiced reservations about the Republican-crafted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It is contrary to what used to be a Republican principle in that it cut taxes while engaging in deficit spending. The Trump-signed measure offers only the sketchiest promise of increased tax revenues to cover what sure looks like runaway spending by a Republican president and a Republican Congress.

The intensely partisan Kavanaugh battle over a vacant Supreme Court seat is over, but many Americans are left to reflect on bad feelings only exacerbated by the Senate confirmation fight, including rampant victim-blaming and wildly unsubstantiated allegations. The midterm election season now shifting into high gear offers a chance for all to readjust moral compasses and pursue the high road going forward. So who among us will take that road — and who will succumb to temptation to once more pour salt on oozing political wounds, just to score one more hateful hit?

Affidavits alleging former Baylor University Board of Regents chairman Richard Willis credited Baylor’s football success to “n----- football players” and “the best blond-haired, blue-eyed p---- in the state of Texas” just a year before Baylor imploded over stunning Title IX failings should be considered with the cool, studied detachment one might have hoped would accompany the national debate over Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s legal and moral fitness for the Supreme Court.

Motorists inconvenienced for a year or so by $3.6 million in major repairs reinforcing the State Highway 6 Twin Bridges over Lake Waco, prepare to let out another collective groan: State officials confirm that while the short-term work is complete, the bridges strongly rate overhauling, maybe even replacing. Huh?

For all the overdue lessons offered our country by the recently empowered #MeToo movement, spurred by decades of sexual assault and sexual harassment gone neglected, one is astonished that only one conservative Republican on the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee Friday had enough of a conscience to demand an FBI investigation into allegations dogging Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The fact other Republicans were ready to pass this nominee along in the process without due diligence is a national disgrace.

Although Wilbert Austin was best-known for mowing the lawns of elderly constituents and his early work fighting for single-member districts to ensure minority representation on the Waco City Council, some of us also remember the late Baptist pastor and councilman’s frustration in efforts to ensure East Waco shared in the development bonanza characterizing not only downtown Waco but much of West and South Waco. So it’s with irony we note some community resistance to his dreams more than a year after his death.

A few weeks ago, a cheerful server at Magnolia Table explained more fully to a Trib editorial board member the idea behind what co-owner Joanna Gaines calls the restaurant’s “community table.” It’s a revival of an American custom in which visitors and locals share the same dining space and, over nourishing sustenance, exchange in civility views and insights from wherever in the world they come.

If one failing further aggravates the sharp political divide we see not only nationwide but here in Central Texas, it’s the fierce refusal by partisans on the far left and far right to acknowledge the nuances in any given situation. And today being Sunday, that means we all have another opportunity to sit in our echo chambers as we risk the possibility of professional football players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Can Americans discern all that’s really at play here?

A Facebook and Twitter meme in circulation these days holds that the only thing any American need know about Muslims can be summed up in the 9/11 attacks on our nation. Another asks why, if Islam is a religion of peace, Muslim scholars and clerics don’t loudly condemn extremists who misrepresent it so. Of course, this latter question also begs why more Christians don’t condemn Christian leaders embracing policies and candidates who so obviously subvert Christian principles and make a mockery of Jesus Christ’s teachings.

Ethics appear near-dead in America, invoked selectively as a way to vilify someone in the other guy’s political party. Yet each of us at one time or another gets a chance to say yea or nay in such matters. Take the question now facing Hewitt residents: If an appointed city official blows the whistle on an elected city official for violating state law, is the latter ethically justified in firing the former?

State Board of Education members made clear early into their Tuesday hearing that, no, they would not be removing the adjective “heroic” used to describe Alamo defenders in public school classrooms or returning to sender the teaching of William B. Travis’ rousing “victory-or-death” letter written during the 1836 siege. What’s more, a member of the work-study group that made recommendations at least suggesting such changes vigorously insisted nothing of the sort was intended — and fired off a “fake news” charge to safeguard his flank.

After some of the cultural issues faced by Shawn Oubre as city manager of the Texas coastal city of Orange over the past 13 years, his assumption of duties as Woodway city manager this fall should find him facing considerably fewer battles over such controversies as Confederate monuments and atheist Christmas greetings. The biggest talk of Woodway the past few weeks has been the scourge of rose rosette devastating roses in the city’s 16-acre jewel of a botanical park, Carleen Bright Arboretum.

Americans are entirely justified in wondering if the federal judiciary is in danger of warranting the same lack of respect, even contempt, that Congress and the White House now command. Regardless of how you ideologically view Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States, we never thought we’d witness a day in America when a federal jurist dodged questions such as whether a sitting president can pardon himself.

Polling indicates Americans remain sharply divided on abortion. Yet many Texans also believe the state of Texas struck the right balance involving rights of pregnant women and rights of the unborn through a 2013 law prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks gestation. Even some in the pro-choice movement have confided this is a workable compromise (though in whispers). However, when state legislators began exploring an effort to mandate how medical facilities dispose of fetal remains in order to show “dignity” for the unborn, even some pro-life supporters cited it as onerous, unnecessary, even mean-spirited.

Hewitt Mayor Ed Passalugo and City Council member James Vidrine — caught this year exchanging an emailed joke about women’s vaginas — led most of the council in firing the city attorney Tuesday, blaming him for obeying a legally grounded public information request and allowing the public — God forbid, the public — to see how some of Hewitt’s elected leaders spend their time. Anyone with even a pretense of Christian decency, let alone any regard for responsible governance, should be outraged at this worsening city spectacle.

For eight long months now, the Trib has dutifully published letters and columns by individuals extolling the virtues of 2017 tax-cut legislation as well as pro-business initiatives in the Republican-led Congress and White House. These include sharp reduction of the corporate tax rate and expansion of the standard income-tax deduction for everyday taxpayers. Business regulations have been greatly thinned. And last week Republicans reveled in revised figures showing the U.S. economy grew at 4.2 percent in the second quarter — better than even projected.

Trib staffer Lauren Dodd’s Sunday Page One drought story included this zinger: Minus rainfall, Waco is experiencing its driest year in recorded history. Our city has received only 9.61 inches of rain since January, beating out the previous year-to-date dry record of 9.64 inches in 1954, set amidst a famous seven-year drought which some of us old-timers endured.

Many Americans this week will reflect on and honor late war hero, senator and presidential contender John McCain, a naval aviator who as a prisoner of war tortured by the North Vietnamese refused to abandon fellow POWs with less military pedigree when he had the chance, a Republican statesman who defines the word “maverick” for resisting radical rabble and party hacks infecting America and the Republican Party. This week also allows Americans — at least those with a sense of history, duty and honor — to reflect on how far we’ve plummeted as a nation.

Whether in public schools, charter schools or universities private and public, last week’s start of classes represents more than the end of summer. The return of students to studies represents another opportunity for educators and, to a degree, society to ensure the next generation turns out a little better than ours. Given the often hostile, increasingly resourceful and downright competitive world students will face, our most critical duty in life is preparing them as best we can.

Three local stories in Sunday’s Trib highlight both the excitement behind Waco’s growth in residents and business as well as mounting anxiety over state and federal officials’ leaving our stretch of Central Texas less than prepared to fully accommodate such growth. Somewhere amidst all this must come rallying cries from local leaders, especially those championing pro-business policies — and these cries must resound with clarity among those presuming to represent us in the Texas Legislature and elsewhere.

Ordinarily, we’d say it’s time to celebrate last week’s good news about four long-troubled Waco Independent School District campuses’ making sufficient academic progress to forestall threat of state-mandated closure. But Waco ISD Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson is right: The time for celebrating is short with students returning to classes this week — and whatever mix of solution and resolution so wonderfully worked for these campuses and neighborhoods must now be refined (and bottled if possible) as the new school year ensues.

We’ll cede to others any debate over whether Gov. Greg Abbott’s press conference in Waco last week was well-timed electioneering or genuine executive branch business. We agree with his push for statewide bail reform to better protect local and state law enforcement officials. But that’s not enough. Any bail reform undertaken by the Texas Legislature must go further than even Abbott’s outlines and ensure protections for all Texans, including low-income defendants with no history of violent crime.

Amidst the muscular turnout of hundreds of Axtell area residents protesting the July 31 Waco City Council vote to purchase land near Axtell for a possible city-run regional landfill, an Axtell resident asked a Trib editorial board member present why more Waco residents weren’t also outraged over the issue. Our answer may have been discouraging but was at least honest: Many of us in political life simply don’t concern ourselves with such issues till they actually land in our backyard or impact our pocketbook.

Two conflicting arguments exist concerning the new state law requiring letter-grading of public school districts and individual campuses: One holds this more blatant, in-your-face labeling will better shake into awareness and resolve neighborhoods, parents and school boards in ways we haven’t always seen when schools struggle academically. School administrators, however, argue that labeling schools A through F greatly oversimplifies educational complexities and can unfairly malign neighborhoods often hindered by poverty.

Through the latter years of the Obama administration and early Trump years, the American public has collectively questioned how, in the wake of deadly shooting rampages, perpetrators displaying mental and emotional instability approaching derangement nonetheless maintained ready access to firearms. States ranging from largely liberal California to strongly conservative Indiana (home of Vice President Mike Pence) have passed “red-flag laws,” complete with significant due-process protections, providing for court hearings to curtail gun access for anyone displaying physical hostility to others.

At a time when many Americans fear the worst for our environment because of the much-debated scrapping of regulations designed to protect it, one must thank someone at the Environmental Protection Agency and Baylor University for demonstrating otherwise. As Trib staff writer Lauren Dodd reports, local educators have been learning — at times in torrid summer heat — the critical importance of water quality in a week-long program, “Immersed in the Wetlands: An Environmental Academy for Educators.” To which we raise a cool glass of water and cheer.

Psst. Bellmead City Council members, you really shouldn’t have to hold a town-hall meeting just to determine whether your constituents want to hike taxes by two cents to fund reliable fire department service. You were duly elected to demonstrate leadership and make decisions such as this. Given that state law requires yet other, more formal public hearings on the tax rate this very month, you’ll know soon enough if you’re on the right course with your electorate.

By all accounts, tax-cut-o-mania has seized America. The Trump administration is contemplating $100 billion in capital-gains tax cuts, primarily for the very wealthiest — and without congressional approval. Congress is talking about Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 2.0 to make permanent some middle-class tax cuts initially set to expire in several years. Republicans have quit complaining about our spiraling national debt or annual deficits. They’re obviously saving that talk till Democrats regain control.

Trying to be philosophical about a hike of nearly 9 percent in average home values in McLennan County might seem weak medicine indeed for what riles us. Still, after fuming a little over what this jolt might or might not mean in individual property-tax bills, it helps to remember that all of us gain in at least one respect when our property gains in value. That’s one reason we keep watering the lawn. Like much else, we also might experience some pain along the way.

If hardworking farmers and their advocates are any indication, the Trump administration’s $12 billion relief package for farmers imperiled by the president’s devastating, ill-advised trade wars is kindly appreciated but doesn’t negate the fact that, more than anything, American farmers want stable, practical international trade policies — not more government subsidies. After all, one man’s government subsidy is another man’s socialist bailout, an example of government again picking winners and losers and redistributing taxpayer cash.

Although lost in the maddening shuffle of news from Washington and beyond, the revelation half the New York Daily News newsroom staff had been laid off Monday sparked anger and outrage among New Yorkers who pride themselves on being well-informed and see the Daily News as the local paper of record. (The stately New York Times is seen more as a chronicler of the world.) New Yorkers shouldn’t be too surprised: The gutting of newsrooms at mid-sized and large newspapers nationwide has been going on for more than a decade.

Waco Independent School District made history again last week, even beyond its innovative, in-district charter setup designed to prevent state-mandated closure of five academically struggling campuses. Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson revealed that, for the first time, local taxpayers will likely shoulder most of the burden of funding school operations rather than the state of Texas. By many accounts, the state share has been declining for years.

To his credit, Republican Congressman Bill Flores this week released a statement making clear he sided with U.S. intelligence agencies regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election after President Trump’s confounding and apparently fumbled statement to the contrary alongside Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Flores’ statement bears repeating here: “I have personally reviewed the reports of our intelligence agencies’ work regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. I have also reviewed the report issued by the House Intelligence Committee on this subject. I trust the hard work of these groups, which have proven that Russia did in fact meddle in our 2016 elections. Even though the actions of the Russians did not affect the outcome of our election, there is no doubt they did interfere in our election processes. The president should understand that Russia cannot be trusted and that it must be held accountable for its attempted election disruptions against our nation and against our allies.”

If civic-minded locals are expected to know anything about prehistoric behemoths, it’s that the Columbian mammoths that once favored our parts aren’t dinosaurs. Millions of years passed between the last of the great dinosaurs and the ice age in which mammoths flourished. Yet when tourists visited the Waco Mammoth National Monument this past Fourth of July, one asked a familiar question: Which came first, the mammoths or the dinosaurs?

During Hewitt City Manager Adam Miles’ listing of cutbacks made last year to keep the city tax rate steady for 2017-18, he spent some time Monday evening talking about how some crucial training was eliminated to save taxpayer money. That’s too bad because a couple of hours into Monday’s meeting of the Hewitt City Council, it was obvious to the crowd at Hewitt City Hall that many members of the council — if not most — were in sore need of basic training on how to be mindful, ethical and conscientious public servants. A course in decency and manners might help, too.

For all we’ve seen and heard of Baylor University’s forcefully implementing strict protocols to discourage sexual violence involving students, ensuring help for assault victims and changing campus culture, what we’ve seen so far of the scalding June 19 deposition from former Baylor athletics director Ian McCaw takes us straight back to Square One. The only way to put to rest festering questions about what Baylor leadership did or didn’t do in addressing a scourge of sexual assaults on its watch is sworn testimony from key regents, former Baylor leaders and members of the sullied athletic staff. Some champ at the bit to do just that.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, 81, reportedly dislikes the description he’s a “swing vote” on the nation’s highest court, that his vote alone often enough determines whether the liberal or conservative ideological camp wins out on some critical issue. Yet this is his strength as a jurist. To our thinking, you should want a high-minded justice who decides matters of policy and incident based on merits of the case and whether those merits pass constitutional muster.

A few days before Christmas 2016, a month after the most divisive, fact-free presidential election in recent history, a complaint was raised about a Tribune-Herald editorial board member sharing coffee with friends at Panera Bread on State Highway 6. An irate customer complained the journalist was engaging in the “obnoxious trashing of everything conservative.”

Putting aside the inevitable and prickly questions of judicial activism and strict constructionism, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week will almost certainly hike taxes for many of us who shop online. Yet at least in principle Americans should cheer the ruling on the grounds of basic fairness. This decision levels the playing field between major online businesses and brick-and-mortar storefronts when it comes to paying sales taxes.

If politics proves anything, it’s that everyday Americans, for all their education, tend to think in simplistic ways, our ideas for societal solutions often derived from bumper stickers and campaign slogans. The specter of shooters bent on taking out as many of our children, educators and police officers as possible should demand more from us. To our relief, folks who bothered to show up for Waco Independent School District meetings on school violence recognize this. Our compliments.

For those of us who pass by it in the months and years to come, the abandoned, 14-acre Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center campus in North Waco will stand as an enduring monument to cheap talk by state leaders when it comes to mental health. Every time a tragedy erupts involving someone who obviously has mental-health issues — mass shootings are common examples these days — a hue and cry goes up among lawmakers that government and society must aggressively expand access to improved mental-health treatment. And some of us take them seriously.

Flag Day 2018 finds the United States of America anything but united. Our nation is in tatters. Gone are the days when our presidents — whether George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Delano Roosevelt — stressed if not demanded unity of citizens and appreciation of our social, cultural and political differences. Instead, today’s leaders in the White House, Congress and the Statehouse play on our many differences — and then smugly wrap themselves in the American flag as patriots.

Anyone who reads this newspaper knows we have vigorously opposed voter suppression in all its many ugly guises. We repeatedly opposed the state’s 2011 voter photo ID law as racially discriminatory, a conclusion eventually shared by the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — twice. We have condemned gerrymandering as corrupt whether Democrats or Republicans practice it. But as more states contemplate laws updating voter rolls, we add this: At some point, non-voters must accept responsibility for their failure to act.

One of the joys of the Tribune-Herald staff and, we hope, our readership comes in highlighting innovative ways to do more good in this community and beyond. While watchdog reporting remains the Trib’s priority, how can we not relish giving space, for instance, to the resourcefulness locally and nationally to help place abandoned and unwanted dogs with appreciative and loving owners, no matter where they live? Trib staffer Cassie L. Smith’s Friday story about a 2-year-old pit bull terrier languishing on the Humane Society of Central Texas’ urgent adoption list for months and the angel who transported Millie to a pit-lover in Iowa shows that, in our age of political and social polarization, not all is lost. Not so long as dogs are around.

For all the factors contributing to Baylor University’s tortuous saga involving student sexual assaults, the Sam Ukwuachu case remains the powder keg that blasted it onto the national scene in late summer 2015. This came partially through Trib coverage but arguably more so through a Texas Monthly investigative piece given wide distribution. Considering some of the irregularities that marked the trial, it’s no wonder the case still confounds.

A familiar saying holds that those of us who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. Yet this argument pivots heavily on what we learn and how rigorously we internalize those lessons. For instance, what have we learned from D-Day, the massive Allied invasion 74 years ago that marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany and the liberation of Europe at the cost of some 10,000 Allied troops killed, wounded or missing in action that day?

For years, establishments operating at the present-day site of Magnolia Table sold T-shirts acknowledging the challenges of the notorious traffic circle out front and allowing the wearer to boldly claim “I Survived the Circle.” Now that the best and brightest of the Texas Department of Transportation and City of Waco have collaborated on striping the circle to make it safer, it may well be time to bulk up on a new shipment of those T-shirts.

Flashback

What were we talking about one year ago? Take a look back.

To its credit, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality presents rigorous criteria for cities planning landfills, primarily to ensure water and air quality, public safety and easy access. If those are indeed worthy considerations along with restraining taxpayer-funded costs, we can see no logical reason why the Waco City Council should jettison from consideration for a future landfill a site that it already owns along Old Lorena Road near U.S. Highway 84.

As many politicians have remarked in the past when swimming against the political tide, polling doesn’t necessarily yield good public policy. Yet Texas Republican lawmakers, if not the president of the United States, should consider the overwhelming consensus against rounding up and deporting young immigrants brought to the United States as children and now here illegally.

No less than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made clear in his famous 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller ruling that, like other cherished amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Second is not without its limits. While vigorously defending Americans’ right to maintain weapons for self-defense, the conservative jurist wrote that the Second Amendment and its legal precedents are “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”