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.