Category Archives: local news

Amarillo mayor is talkin’ baseball

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson is sounding mighty pleased these days, with good reason.

The city scored a big win this past week with an announcement that a minor league baseball franchise is pulling up stakes and relocating to the city she has helped govern for the past few weeks.

The San Antonio Missions will play ball at the new ballpark/multipurpose event venue to be built in downtown Amarillo. They’ll start their 2019 season in April of that year and the plan is for them to stay possibly for decades, depending on the number of contract extensions they sign.

OK, we don’t yet know the name of the new team, but a couple of things jumped out at me as I watched Nelson’s TV interview this past weekend.

* She credits the weather as being a big selling point for the Elmore Group deciding to move the Missions to Amarillo. That’s a bit of a surprise. Nelson said the weather from “April to September” is ideal for evening baseball. Low humidity, “downtown wind,” placid temperatures after the sun goes down all worked in Amarillo’s favor to luring the team here.

But … but … but what about those infamous spring winds, Mme. Mayor? Isn’t there a standing joke here about how, if you don’t like the weather, “just wait 10 minutes”? Let’s hope for the best on that one.

* Nelson also answered a valid question about the cost of the multipurpose event venue and how it’s going to cost more than that what the non-binding referendum in November 2015 called for. That measure pegged the price at $32 million; the current price tag is $45.5 million. “That’s an apples and oranges” comparison, Nelson told KAMR’s Jackie Kingston.

The referendum presumed an “independent baseball team” would be playing at the MPEV. The Missions are a major league-affiliated minor league AA team, which she said will provide a much better entertainment product for fans to enjoy.

See the interview here.

I am in the mayor’s corner in celebrating the pending arrival of this new entertainment feature to Amarillo. I’ve noted before, but I believe it bears repeating: I see no downside in the city’s effort to its downtown district.

This contest could get interesting … maybe, possibly

I get uncomfortable when friends of mine become engaged in politics.

It’s about to happen again. The campaign for the 13th Congressional District has just welcomed a newcomer to politics. His name is Greg Sagan, who told local media that he only recently became a Democrat. What drove him to become a member of a political party? He said it was the election of Donald John Trump this past November as president of the United States.

So now he’s a politician. He is going to run against longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry for the seat Thornberry has occupied since January 1995.

Pass the Pepto, will ya? This one gives me heartburn.

You see, I happen to be fond of Sagan personally. My wife and I have socialized with him and his wife. We’re also former colleagues of a sort. You see, back when I was editing the Opinion pages of the Amarillo Globe-News, Sagan was a regular contributor to the newspaper. He wrote a weekly column for the G-N. It was then that our relationship took root and then blossomed. His contribution to the newspaper ended when I resigned in August 2012.

I know Sagan to be a patriot. He served in the U.S. Navy and saw duty in Vietnam during the war that defined our generation. He is an unapologetic political progressive. He’s also a hell of a good writer. The boy can turn a phrase.

The campaign for Congress will get pretty damn serious around the first of next year, if not a bit sooner. My quandary centers on a couple of key points. One is that my wife and I most likely will have moved on by the time the campaign kicks into gear. I’ll likely be ineligible to vote in that election.

Of course, this blog will be firing plenty of ammo at this and/or that political target, which won’t take me out of the game completely.

I do not yet know how Greg is going to craft his campaign or what specifically will constitute his platform. Knowing him as I do I am certain he’ll hammer out a theme that makes sense, is cogent and is well-crafted.

He’s got a steep — I dare say nearly impossible — barrier to clear. If he’s the only Democrat to run in the 2018 primary, he’ll have to face a well-funded, well-seasoned and well-established incumbent who represents one of the country’s most reliably Republican congressional districts. GOP and, yes, Democratic partisans in Texas are known to be fiercely loyal to their officeholder.

I’ve known Mac Thornberry even longer than I’ve known Greg Sagan. I like Thornberry personally and over the years we’ve had a solid professional relationship and a cordial personal one. However, he has disappointed me many times over that span of time.

Is this the time for a change in our congressional representation? I don’t yet know. I do sense, though, that local Democrats are coping with the palpitations they get whenever someone emerges who they think can upset the status quo.

You go, Greg!

Political ‘leaders’ too often become ‘tyrants’

Jay Leeson, writing for Texas Monthly’s Burka Blog, wonders how Texas legislators can stiff their constituents in favor of an agenda being pushed by the state’s second-leading politician, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

He wonders if state senators, for instance, are working for the people who they represent back home or for the lieutenant governor.

Implicit in his essay is the question about whether Lt. Gov. Patrick is running the Texas Senate — a body over which he presides — with too heavy a hand.

Read the essay here.

Indeed, we see this developing all too often. Politicians attain positions of power thanks to the votes of their fellow politicians and then decide that their voice is more important than anyone else’s. It’s a bipartisan affliction that crosses party lines.

A notable Texas politician, Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson, was famous for corralling fellow senators, getting right into their faces and “persuading” them to vote for a bill of his choosing … or else pay the consequences.

Another brief story involves another Texas pol, former Republican U.S. Rep. Larry Combest of Lubbock, who once refused in the 1990s to support legislation dramatically overhauling the nation’s farm program. House Speaker Newt Gingrich wanted him to support it, and pressured him to do so. Combest refused because he said it would do harm to the West Texas farmers and ranchers who sent him to Congress in the first place.

This dance is occurring now in Washington, D.C. Republican leaders want to overhaul health care laws. They have developed an alternative to the Affordable Care Act that has been getting some seriously angry reviews among voters in congressional districts and states all over the country. Senators and House members are hearing about it, too.

Do they vote for their constituents’ interests or the interests of the party leadership?

Democrats exerted the same pressure on their congressional members when they pushed for passage of the ACA in 2010. The law was unpopular out here in the land, but Democratic congressional leaders insisted on approving it. The ACA’s fortunes have turned; Americans want to keep it and they favor it over the alternative that Republicans are trying to shove down our throats.

But GOP congressional leaders won’t be persuaded by silly notions about public opinion or the principle of representing the desires of the “bosses,” voters who elect them — or who can unelect them if they are given the chance.

Political leadership — whether in Austin or Washington — is vulnerable to those who turn it into tyranny.

Might start looking for ancestral identity

I am being tugged slowly into a form of an identity crisis.

It deals with my ethnic heritage.

You’ve seen those incessant TV commercials, I’m sure, about the people who thought they were derived from some ancestral background, only to find out their roots were planted elsewhere. The guy who thought he was German, bought the requisite clothing, and then learned he is of Scottish descent? He’s my favorite.

Here’s the deal with yours truly.

I have spent my entire life believing I am one of those rare pure-bred Americans. My last name is Greek. My parents were born in the United States of America. All four of my grandparents were immigrants.

Dad’s parents came from southern Greece, the Peloponnese. Mom’s parents came from Marmara, an island in the Sea of Marmara, the body of water that separates the European portion of Turkey from the part that’s in Asia.

My maternal grandmother always spoke proudly of her Greek ethnicity. I believed her. Nearly 40 years after her death, I still do.

Now, though, the slightest twinge of doubt is starting to creep into my skull. It concerns Mom’s branches on the family tree.

My grandparents, and their ancestors, were surrounded by Turks. They lived in fairly primitive conditions on Marmara. Is it possible that one or more of them might have been smitten by a Turkish neighbor? Might they have, oh, acted passionately on those feelings in the dead of night, away from prying eyes?

What’s more, might there even have been a visitor from, say, Bulgaria or Russia who ventured onto the island? Might said visitor have consorted with a distant member of my family?

Remember, too, the history between the Greeks and Turks. The Ottoman Empire controlled Greece for hundreds of years until the 19th century. The Greek war of independence ended that domination, but the nations have fought many conflicts over the years since that time. They remain to this day wary of each other; they cannot even decide which of the Aegean Sea islands belong to Greece and which of them belong to Turkey.

Still, I see these commercials that tell us about DNA tests that prove beyond a doubt our ethnic makeup.

Here’s where the identity crisis gets even more dicey for me. I am not sure I want to know. Moreover, were I to learn that the “truth” behind my ethnic background is different than what I have thought my entire life, would I be willing to share it?

Science has this way of complicating matters … you know?

What became of this Amarillo ‘movement’?

When you see the word “movement” attached to a political activity, you ought to get the feeling of a groundswell, an initiative with staying power.

I thought recently of a “movement” that surfaced in Amarillo in 2015. It was called the Amarillo Millennial Movement. Do you recall it, too? Good on ya if you do.

The AMM is gone. It vanished into thin air seemingly the moment that city voters in November 2015 approved a non-binding referendum calling for construction of the multipurpose event venue in downtown Amarillo.

Its co-founder was a young woman named Meghan Riddlespurger, who followed her friend and mentor Melissa Dailey to Fort Worth; Dailey was forced out as director of Downtown Amarillo Inc. When Dailey hit the road, the AMM’s co-founder hit the road with her.

The ostensible idea behind the AMM was to energize the city’s younger residents, to encourage them to stay in Amarillo rather than bolt for greener pastures, more opportunity, greater career choices. AMM got excited about the MPEV and a few of those young folks — their numbers aren’t exactly clear to me — became involved in the pro-MPEV campaign.

It’s troubling to me that AMM isn’t around today to relish the news that came out about the pending start of the 2019 Texas League baseball season, which will include an Amarillo-based team affiliated with the San Diego Padres of the National League.

The Local Government Corporation managed to finish the deal. The LGC persuaded the San Antonio Missions to come here in time for the 2019 season. The ballpark where they’ll play must be done on time for them to throw out the first pitch.

We’re focusing on the baseball element. The team that will play at the ballpark will be its primary tenant. There will be other events at the MPEV/ballpark. That’s what I always understood was the focus behind AMM’s mission, to generate youthful exuberance to attend the various other entertainment-related events at the venue.

Riddlespurger has spoken publicly about the negativity she experienced while leading this AMM effort. That was one major reason why she decided to leave Amarillo. Interesting, yes? She helps found an organization that urges young residents to stay home, then she bails on the city to pursue a career opportunity.

Hey, I don’t blame her for seeking to advance her own future.

The Amarillo Millennial Movement, though, is a “movement” in name only. AMM is no longer around to witness the culmination of its greatest political triumph.

My hope springs eternal. Perhaps another group can rise up and join the marketing effort that will be required to ensure that the MPEV/ballpark attracts the activity it must to make it worth the effort to build it

Amarillo official on verge of poetic job promotion

Bob Cowell is on the cusp of possibly scoring a remarkably poetic change in his professional career.

Cowell is the Amarillo deputy city manager who for a time served as the top municipal administrator until the City Council selected Jared Miller as the new city manager. Cowell had applied for the permanent appointment, but was passed over for Miller, who came to Amarillo from San Marcos, the Hill Country city where he also served as city manager.

OK, here’s where it gets interesting.

Cowell has been named one of five finalists for the San Marcos city manager’s job. He could be tapped to succeed the man who left that post to take the municipal administrative reins in Amarillo.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s rather cool.

Even though I do not know Cowell, my hope was that he would stay on as deputy manager if the City Council selected another individual to lead the city staff. I understand, though, that a man’s got to do what’s best for himself and his family. Heck, I left my home state of Oregon in 1984 to pursue my own career way down yonder in Beaumont, Texas — and in the process subjected my wife and two young sons to some serious culture shock; we powered through it and Texas is now home.

I am going to root for Cowell to get the San Marcos gig. He appears to have been a solid and steady hand in Amarillo. He well might be what they need in San Marcos to run that community’s city hall now that Jared Miller has trekked northwest to Amarillo.

It would be poetic, yes?

No time for delay on MPEV

I remain a strong supporter of Amarillo’s efforts to reshape its downtown district.

That strategy took a giant leap forward this week with the announcement that organized minor-league baseball is returning to Amarillo. The San Antonio Missions are moving their AA franchise to Amarillo and they intend to play their Texas League hardball schedule in the brand new multipurpose event venue.

The return of organized/affiliated minor-league baseball fills a 37-year void. I’ve heard a lot of cheers around the city since the announcement was made. I share the enthusiasm not only for the baseball team’s pending arrival, but for what it bodes for downtown’s future as the community keeps moving its revival forward.

Here’s the thing, though, that gives me a minor case of heartburn: The team will play ball beginning in April 2019, when the season starts.

I ventured downtown today for a noon meeting and drove past the still-vacant lot across Seventh Avenue where the MPEV will be built. There’s nothing going on there.

The ballpark will have to be built, polished up and ready to go in less than two years.

What that means to me is that there is no time to fiddle around here. No time for dawdling. No time for delay.

We’ve all witnessed major construction projects get hung up along the way. Contractors have trouble with certain subcontractors; the weather can play havoc on construction schedules; shipments of material get hung up along the way.

The MPEV is set to cost around $45.5 million. Hotel occupancy tax revenue is supposed to fund most of it. I have faith that the funding mechanism has been well-considered. I also have faith that the Panhandle’s baseball-loving community is going to fill the estimated 4,500 ballpark seats to watch their new team play hardball.

I will be waiting with bated breath for the design to be finalized and for work to begin. Don’t make us wait too long, though.

The clock is ticking.

Rep. Price makes the grade, according to Texas Monthly

Texas Monthly is an entertaining and informative publication.

Its most popular regular feature arguably is its annual Bum Steer Award issue that highlights the antics of the weird throughout our vast state.

The next most popular issue is the one that features the Best and Worst Legislators. Guess what, dear reader: One of the Panhandle’s own made the Best list.

I’ve long been proud of Walter Price IV — aka Four Price — the Republican state representative from Amarillo. He’s a friend and a supremely good guy. According to TM, he’s also one of the Legislature’s most effective members.

The TM list was compiled by veteran political journalist R.G. Ratcliffe, who knows his way around the Capitol Building in Austin.

Price is the only Panhandle delegation member to make either list from the 2017 Legislature. That is not to denigrate the others: Reps. John Smithee of Amarillo and Kenneth King of Canadian, or Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, all of whom are Republicans in the heavily GOP Legislature. It’s interesting to me, though, that GOP Sen. Charles Perry from just down yonder in Lubbock made the Worst list, but since he’s not from the Panhandle, I won’t say any more about him.

TM cites how Four Price — a lawyer by training — often gets overlooked because he makes legislating look easy. As TM notes: “It’s not. As chair of the Public Health Committee, Price introduced more than a dozen bills to reform how Texas cares for those with mental illness, a historically neglected population. Probably the most significant was House Bill 10, which designated a state ombudsman to oversee access to behavioral health care and push insurance companies to cover treatment for mental health the same as they do physical ailments. It passed the House on a 130–13 vote, and the Senate sent the measure to the governor with only one dissention.”

Read the entire article on the Best and Worst legislators here.

I am sure Rep. Price is going to get his share of pats on the back from his friends throughout Amarillo and House District 87, which includes Potter and Moore counties.

That said, I want to join them in offering a good word to a sharp and energetic young man who works hard on behalf of the community that keeps sending him back to the Legislature.

When it’s built, MPEV will benefit entire city

I’m still trying to process the news today of the arrival of a AA baseball franchise in Amarillo.

The meter is now running. The San Antonio Missions are moving their franchise here in time for the start of the 2019 Texas League season. That means the multipurpose event venue — aka the ballpark — will need to be completed in time for the first pitch.

The MPEV is the reason the Missions are coming here. They want to play in a shiny new venue. They want to play hardball in the downtown district.

It’s going to cost about $45.5 million. Yes, it’s more than the $32 million price tag attached to the November 2015 citywide referendum that voters approved. It doesn’t bother me that the cost escalated. Why? Because the plan is for the MPEV to be funded through hotel occupancy tax revenue.

The grumbling has begun. Some folks might not want the ballpark to be built. They believe the city has too many other needs that attention. Roads and streets; parks, police and fire protection … those kinds of things.

I’ll concede that I am not an urban planning expert. I have gotten around the country a good bit over the years and I’ve noticed that vibrant cities have one thing in common: a bustling, busy and active downtown business/entertainment district.

My wife and I just returned from a nearly 3,800-mile road trip. We witnessed plenty of pizzazz in places like Nashville and Memphis, Tenn. We saw more of it in Roanoke, Va., a city that’s quite a bit smaller than Amarillo, but which boasts a highly attractive downtown district. I do not know all the particulars of those communities, so my perception is based on first impressions.

I do know a bit about Amarillo’s personality and my sense is that the city’s population — which is on the cusp of 200,000 people — is going to respond positively to the development that will follow once the ballpark is built.

Moreover, the word will get out. The city’s marketing gurus need to find creative ways to send the message well beyond Amarillo’s corporate borders that this city is a happening place.

What, then, might happen? Those hotels that have sprung up all along Interstate 40 are going to fill up. Revenue will pour in. The city will be able to invest that revenue in the kinds of projects that will improve the city’s image and lure even more activity into this community.

The announcement today completes just the first phase of the city’s redevelopment and revival. The City Council, the senior city administration and the Local Government Corporation have received the commitment they wanted from a professional sports franchise to relocate here.

The ballpark is the critical element that lured that franchise to this city. There’s little time for dawdling and delay. Work needs to begin soon.

And when it’s finished, I am willing and ready to suggest that the entire city will reap the reward.

Hoping the council will share the credit with predecessors

I noticed some pictures today of the announcement that a Double A baseball franchise is coming to Amarillo.

I saw plenty of dignitaries and the chairman of the team that’s coming to the Panhandle. They’re excited as the dickens at the prospect of building that shiny new ballpark downtown. They should be!

But when they finish the job, when they chalk the field for the opening game of the 2019 Texas League baseball season at the new place in downtown Amarillo, I am hoping that the City Council will be sure to extend an invitation to the festivities to the individuals who did much of the work to make it happen.

I refer to the previous City Council.

Amarillo voters turned over the entire five-member council this past May. The new folks took over and then watched the Local Government Corporation hammer out the details of the San Antonio Missions’ baseball franchise relocation.

This, of course, didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t even transpire in the span of a month or two. It took years to cobble together this agreement.

I recall when President Obama strode to the microphone in May 2011 to announce the killing of Osama bin Laden. He made it clear that the effort was done after years of diligent work by intelligence and military agencies over the course of two administrations.

He has said the first call he made when he new bin Laden was dead and the commandos who killed him were out of danger was to former President George W. Bush.

I don’t intend to put too fine a point on this, but Amarillo’s next big step forward is the work of a lot of individuals and local agencies. Yes, I was critical of the previous council over a number of issues. However, it was that council’s hard work that brought about the big announcement today.

My candidate for throwing out the first pitch in April 2019? Former Mayor Paul Harpole.