Tag Archives: Amarillo City Commission

Hoping our City Council remains a proactive group

Amarillo is getting ready for another significant municipal election that is guaranteed to produce a body with a majority comprising newcomers to city government.

Three out of five incumbents aren’t seeking new terms. Will there be more “change” coming our way? Perhaps.

What shouldn’t happen is that we get a council that returns to a static bunch that is unwilling to become a proactive agent for change.

I’ll flash back for just a moment.

I arrived here in January 1995 to become editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. My primary interest upon arrival was to size up the then-City Commission. What I observed — and this is a subjective view — was a passive group of five individuals. I didn’t witness a lot of bold policy initiatives initially.

Sure, the city decided to sell its public hospital and held a referendum in 1996; the measure passed and Northwest Texas Hospital was sold to a private health care provider.

But by and large, the commission didn’t take a lot of initiative relating to economic development.

The city’s governing personality seemed to change with the election in 2005 of its first female mayor, Debra McCartt. It was during McCartt’s tenure as mayor that the city enacted a controversial plan to monitor traffic; it deployed red-light cameras at key intersections around the city.

The plan wasn’t entirely popular. Many residents bitched about it. My own view was that the plan was a needed effort to assist law enforcement authorities in their attempt to deter motorists from running red lights. The cameras are efficient and they do not blink.

McCartt left office in 2011 and turned the mayor’s gavel over to Paul Harpole, who’ll be mayor until after the May 6 election. Under the current mayor’s watch, the city has embarked on a massive downtown redevelopment program. I applaud that effort as well and it’s already paying dividends for the city.

What’s going to happen when we elect the next City Council this spring? My hope is that the next council — with its new mayor — retains its activist profile.

I’ve long been a believer in good government. My conservative friends perhaps mistake me for a big government liberal who believes government can solve all our problems. Not true. I believe that government at the local level can do many good things and can act as a catalyst for others to follow suit.

I further believe we have witnessed that synergy occurring with the reshaping, remaking and revival of our downtown business district.

Whoever we elect in May needs to keep the momentum moving forward. We damn sure cannot turn back now.

In just a little more than two decades, I’ve been able to witness what I perceive to be a fundamental change in city government’s approach to problem-solving.

It’s working.

How would this guy do in the Internet Age?


My mind wanders occasionally into strange places.

I think of people I used to know and wonder things like, oh, how would they fare in today’s world?

The name of a one-time Amarillo gadfly came to mind today. His name was Michael Wyatt. He’s deceased now; he died in an automobile accident in the late 1990s at a fairly young age.

I came to Amarillo in early 1995 to become editorial page editor of the two papers published by the same owner: the Amarillo Daily News and the Amarillo Globe-Times.

One of the things I learned upon arrival was that the opinion section operated under a policy that I felt compelled to change immediately. It did not place any time restriction on the frequency of people submitting letters to the editor. Put another way: One could get letters published every day of the week if he or she were so inclined.

Michael Wyatt was a prolific letter writer. He had opinions on just about anything — and anyone — in public life. He was unafraid. He took on City Hall, the school districts, county governments, the chamber of commerce. You name it, he had something to say about it.

The frequency of Wyatt’s submissions, I would learn, had a chilling effect on others who had something to say about a public issue. Wyatt scared people off, kept them from expressing their views. “Why get into a public p*****g match with this loony bird?” they would ask themselves.

Well, we changed the policy right away, settling finally on a once-per-calendar-month rule.

He also would come engage us face to face, talk our ears off about this and/or that. He wanted to know what we thought about something and, of course, he would share his own view.

I’m wondering now how Wyatt would fare in this Internet Age.

I have to believe he’d be in hog heaven with the availability of venues, forums, platforms, websites — whatever — to express himself.

I wrote a column for the newspaper upon hearing of Wyatt’s death. I saluted him as someone who felt the calling to contribute to the public dialogue. He did so with gusto and demonstrated great courage in speaking his mind. A member of the Amarillo City Commission at the time called me to complain about the column paying tribute to Wyatt; he told me he “couldn’t stand him.” Why? “Well he was just so damn critical all the time.”

My reaction at the time, as best as I can remember, was “umm, too bad.” He sought to keep our elected officials on their toes.

To be blunt, Wyatt likely would put many of the individuals who respond to this blog to shame. I’ve got my share of “regulars” who like to comment on this or that; many of them get into arguments with each other on the social media outlets through which I channel these blog posts (and which will receive this one once I’m finished with it).

I find myself chuckling at the notion of Michael engaging in these seemingly endless exchanges. He was quite capable of devouring anyone rhetorically.

It’s too bad he didn’t live long enough to witness the dawn of this new “information/disinformation age.”

Michael Wyatt — wherever he is now — no doubt is wishing he could come back to take part. He would be right at home.


Bring on the red-light cameras

Amarillo city officials are about to expand the use of those pesky red-light cameras in use to catch those who ignore the command to stop at red lights.

Go for it, City Hall.

I’ve been all for the cameras since their initial deployment about six years ago. Too many motorists these days seem to believe the red light hanging from the power lines over the intersection is a suggestion, or a request, to stop their vehicle. No, it’s an order. Where I come from, lawful orders are meant to be followed.

The city will impose a grace period that will last until Nov. 1. After that date, the city gets serious with the new cameras.

I’ve long thought that public knowledge of the red-light cameras has enhanced motorists’ awareness. If a motorist knows — or believes — an intersection is being patrolled by an electronic device, he or she is likely to be more obedient when the red light glows at them from above.

No, the cameras aren’t the perfect solution. Indeed, the city is deploying the new devices because of continued law-breaking by motorists. The city has used the revenue generated to help pay for the additional cameras as well as enhance other areas of traffic management — which state law requires of cities that use these cameras.

Past city commissions have shown a tendency toward passivity at times when issues like this arise. The current commission has taken on the challenge, just as those who sat on the commission immediately prior to them.

One bit of good news comes from City Traffic Engineer Jerry Bird, who says recidivism is low, meaning that those who get cited by the city aren’t repeating. Fine. Keep them deployed.

City ponders rail depot purchase

As a big supporter of Amarillo’s effort to revive its downtown district, I am intrigued by the city’s consideration of purchasing the Santa Fe Depot across the street from the Civic Center.

The City Commission will consider this purchase at its next meeting, on Tuesday. The city might plunk down $2.6 million for the deal.

Then what? That’s the big question.


I was most intrigued by the quotes attributed to City Commissioner Lilia Escajeda, who seems to be suggesting something different from her colleagues. Commissioner Ellen Green noted the building’s historical significance and said that Amtrak might want to use the depot to bring passenger train service back to Amarillo.

Escajeda, though, said the depot’s purchase would make it easier for the city expand its Civic Center in the future. Is she suggesting the city could, um, knock down the depot — since it might own the property — to make room for a Civic Center expansion? I hope that’s not what she’s saying.

My own sense is that the city purchasing the depot has the potential for contributing to a successful downtown revival. My hope would be for the city to pull out all the stops to find a suitable — and successful — tenant who could put the building to the kind of use that would attract visitors to the downtown district.

Who or what would that entail? Well, I’m not a commercial real estate marketing genius, so I’ll leave that discussion to the experts. What’s more, the city has no shortage of resources to find someone who knows something about marketing buildings such as the Santa Fe Depot.

The building is beautiful and has at least as much potential as the “other” Santa Fe Building downtown, the one that Potter County transformed from a rotting hulk into a glorious office structure.

Go for it, City Hall.

Tanner vs. McCartt for Potter County judge

I’m going to make some assumptions about the upcoming race for Potter County judge in 2014.

One is that the two most serious Republican candidates already have declared their intention to seek the seat now held by County Judge Arthur Ware. The other is that no serious contender is going to enter the contest. A third assumption is that there won’t be a serious Democrat running for the seat, given that the Potter County Democratic Party is virtually comatose.

So, we’re left with two women with vastly different capabilities: former county court administrator and Ware’s one-time right-hand woman, Nancy Tanner, and former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt.

Ware, who’s not running for re-election, has endorsed McCartt — which shouldn’t be a surprise given that he fired Tanner from her county job earlier this summer for reasons he hasn’t yet explained.

So the question becomes: How will these women present their political credentials and what will they say is their strongest suit?

Tanner has a long list of actual accomplishment on her dossier. She’s run the court system; she has been at Ware’s side during the two decades Ware has been county judge; and she’s done much of Ware’s actual job since the judge suffered a devastating stroke in 2010. She knows the county well. She is well acquainted with county department heads and elected officials.

McCartt’s history is quite different. She served as mayor for three terms after serving a couple of terms on the Amarillo City Commission. McCartt is an immensely popular personality in Amarillo. She loves the city and served admirably as Amarillo’s chief spokeswoman during her mayoral tenure. However, the city’s political structure doesn’t give the mayor much actual power; the administrative duties are done by the city manager. Furthermore, the mayor and the four commissioners all represent the same constituency, since they all are elected at-large. But I’ll go back to my thought about McCartt’s personal popularity. It’s huge and I believe it will matter a great deal when the two candidates square off in public forums to debate the issues.

Potter County voters already have demonstrated a tendency to go with popularity over professionalism, as they did in 2000 when county Republicans nominated Mike Shumate to be sheriff over Art Tupin. Shumate had a checkered career with Amarillo Police Department, but developed a cult following when he ran the APD Crime Stoppers program; Tupin, meanwhile, served as chief Potter County deputy sheriff under Jimmy Don Boydston and was eminently more qualified for the job than Shumate. That didn’t matter to county Republicans. Shumate then breezed to victory in the general election that year over a Democratic candidate no one has seen or heard from since the votes were counted.

I am thinking the same dynamic may play out in the Tanner-McCartt race.

Tanner’s learning curve would be much less severe than McCartt’s, given that Tanner has done much of the job already and McCartt has little actual hands-on experience with managing the complexities of government.

Let’s all stay dialed in on this contest. It’s going to be a fascinating campaign that likely might reveal lots of things about Potter County’s voting public.