Tag Archives: Amarillo City Council

Here’s an endorsement: Re-elect Ginger Nelson

I might be climbing out on that proverbial limb. Then again, maybe I am not.

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson has announced she is running for a second term. I wish I could vote for her. I cannot, because I no longer live in Amarillo, my city of residence for 23 years.

However, I can use my voice — as “heard” through this blog — to officially endorse her bid for re-election. So, I will.

Amarillo needs to return Mayor Nelson to the center chair on the five-member Amarillo City Council.

I am glad her “campaign announcement” on Wednesday turned out to be code for a re-election effort. The nebulous language contained in a campaign “announcement” could have meant something quite different.

Yes, the city’s momentum is taking it forward. Mayor Nelson inherited a post that has helped push the city forward. Her two predecessors, Paul Harpole and Debra McCartt, got the wagon moving. Nelson has done well in her first term as mayor to keep the wagon between the lanes and out of the ditch.

She ran in 2017 on a number of campaign promises. Chief among them, as is usually the case, is economic growth. The city’s growth has been tangible, visible and is demonstrably beneficial.

Nelson wants a safe city. Her re-election campaign announcement speech included talk about her efforts to improve public safety. Police Chief Ed Drain has reinvigorated the city’s community policing program and for that he and the mayor and the council deserve high praise.

The city is working well. It’s being rebuilt from stem to stern. Downtown is in the midst of its major makeover. So are highways running through the city (thanks to the work being done by the Texas Department of Transportation). And of course we have the street repair.

The city is on the move. The mayor is a significant player in the city’s movement. It’s going in the right direction.

Re-elect Ginger Nelson.

Run again, Mme. Mayor . . . run again!

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson has scheduled what has been called a “campaign announcement” Wednesday morning.

Hmm. What will she do? I haven’t a clue. For that matter, I barely know Mayor Nelson. I’ve shaken her hand. I’ve had some conversation with her. This all occurred when she was running for mayor in 2017.

She won the mayor’s race that year, joining an entirely new Amarillo City Council that took office that year. She is one of three women to serve on the five-member council, giving the city it’s first ever female majority on its governing body. Nelson is the second woman ever elected mayor of Amarillo; Debra McCartt was the first.

I want her to run again, even though I cannot vote for her. All I can do from a distance now that I’ve moved away is suggest that she needs to be re-elected. She needs to keep her hand on the municipal till as it steers toward what I perceive to be a bright — if still unknown — future.

The city’s new downtown ballpark is under construction; its new AA baseball team has a goofy, but oddly charming, name; the team will play start playing hardball in April 2019. More change is occurring downtown. The city’s streets — seemingly damn near all of ’em — are under repair, rebuilding and renovation.

Progress can be painful.

Hey, it just occurs to me I might be getting ahead of myself. Maybe the mayor will announce Wednesday she’s had all the fun she can stand after just a single two-year term.

I doubt that will happen. I hope Ginger Nelson runs again.

Bring on the women!

In 2017, Amarillo voters had the good sense to elect an entirely new City Council, given that the previous one had become so dysfunctional.

Three of the new council members are women, which on a five-member governing body means its majority comprises females.

I commented on my blog at the time about that marvelous turn of events and a couple of soreheads chastised me, suggesting that the presence of a female-majority council didn’t mean a damn thing will change.

Guess what. Now we’re about to welcome more than 100 women to the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s the most ever for Congress’s lower chamber. It’s all the talk in Washington as these individuals get set to take their seats.

The vast majority of the newly elected women are Democrats, so they constitute part of that so-called “blue wave” that swept over Congress, flipping the House from Republican to Democratic control.

I’m wondering now: Where is the thought that these women won’t make a difference, that they won’t have an impact on the flow of legislation, or the topics to be considered?

One of the returning women, Nancy Pelosi of California, is poised to become speaker of the House. She’s “killing” her intraparty foes with promises of committee chairmanships and prioritizing legislative items to their liking. That’s how you play the “inside game” and Speaker-to-be Pelosi is proving to be pretty damn good at it.

I am one American voter who is glad to see women making a greater impact, leaving a bigger and deeper footprint on the nation’s legislative agenda. I remain committed to the notion, too, that a female-majority City Council in the city of my former residence is going to make a positive difference in the community’s future.

What do thriving cities have in common?

The answer to the question posed in the headline is easy to discern.

Downtown. They all have thriving downtown districts in common. Show me a city with bustling, living, vibrant central business and entertainment district and I’ll show you a city on the move — in the right direction!

I am happy to reaffirm that Amarillo, Texas, where I lived for 23 years, is making a significant move toward a bright future because it is redeveloping its downtown district, which is slated to look like the rendering that accompanies this blog post.

I cannot stress enough how delighted this makes me feel about Amarillo, a community I grew to love during my time there.

We arrived in Amarillo in early 1995 and found a city that was, well, nice enough. It has nice people, which usually is a euphemistic way of saying that the city didn’t have much else to offer. That more or less described the Amarillo my wife and I discovered when we settled there.

Over time, though, it has changed. The most dramatic change occurred when the City Council decided to get off its collective duff and infused some public money into downtown redevelopment.

The city created something called a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, which uses property value appreciation — and the tax revenue it generates within the TIRZ — to pay for public infrastructure improvements.

The council began walking the downtown redevelopment walk, rather than just talking about it.

It held a citywide non-binding referendum on whether to build a downtown ballpark/multipurpose event venue. The measure passed. The council made good on its pledge to adhere to voters’ wishes. The MPEV construction is proceeding.

The city will welcome a Double A minor-league baseball franchise next spring.

Meanwhile, business owners and private investors are pouring money into new development along Polk Street, the one-time Amarillo “main drag” downtown. Restaurants are popping up like spring flowers. A hotel developer built a four-star hotel across the street from City Hall, next to the city’s performing arts center. Loft apartments have opened up along 10th Avenue.

Another hotel is proposed to move into a renovated structure, the Barfield Building, at the corner of Sixth and Polk.

Many other cities can boast of similar improvements. They also can look back on when their prosperity commenced. They, too, can trace their rebirth to when their governing councils made the conscious decision to invest emotional capital, political capital and actual capital in their downtown districts.

Amarillo is going to join a number of cities that have revived themselves. It will get there eventually, of that I am certain.

I look forward to the day when Amarillo no longer will be known primarily as a place with nice people. Yes, the people are wonderful. They also are going to have a lot of entertainment options to explore in their newly vibrant city.

Citizen comment is good, but let’s be reasonable

AMARILLO, Texas — I ran into a longtime acquaintance tonight at Amarillo’s Civic Center auditorium. He is a member of the City Hall legal team and, quite naturally, our discussion turned to the recent kerfuffle at City Hall over citizen comment time in front of the City Council.

As I understand, a few soreheads in Amarillo are mad at the city administration and the council because of rules being placed on the time and substance of citizens’ comments during council meetings.

My friend said he believes Mayor Ginger Nelson and City Manager Jared Miller are placing reasonable restrictions on the time and tenor of the comments. I understand that many of the comments have gotten intensely personal. They have accused the council of violating the Texas Open Meetings Law and of keeping secrets from the public.

Well, I am not close enough to the situation to make a serious judgment on the complaints. Although I do believe governing bodies have the inherent responsibility to conduct their public meetings with decorum and dignity; if residents become too nasty and personal in their comments, they do not need to be heard.

I reminded my friend of what a former local county judge used to do. Randall County Judge Ted Wood — who took office when I arrived in Amarillo in January 1995 — allowed county residents unlimited time to comment to the Commissioners Court. Wood’s view was that since the commissioners work for them, the residents are the “boss.” Commissioners, according to Wood, were obligated to give them an open forum to bitch and moan, rant and rail to their hearts’ content.

My friend said, quite correctly, that was an unreasonable concession to the public. Residents who blather on and on take up too much valuable time from the elected officials, from the public staff and from other residents who come to have their own voices heard.

The soreheads who gripe continually at City Hall have filed suit against the city. I don’t know the merits of their action, so I won’t comment. I’ll just offer this bit of opinion: The city, based on what I’ve read from afar, has acted reasonably in trying to maintain a level of dignity at City Council meetings.

The soreheads need to settle down.

Go for it, Jerry Hodge, in your effort to oust regents chair!

I hereby endorse former Amarillo Mayor Jerry Hodge’s effort to oust the chairman of the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents, Rick Francis.

Hodge is steamed over the way the Tech board treated former Chancellor Bob Duncan. I am, too. Angry, that is. Duncan got the shaft, the bum’s rush and was shown the door after what well might have been an illegal meeting of the Tech regents.

Regents took what was called an “informal vote” in executive sessions to deliver a no-confidence decision against Duncan, who then announced his “retirement” from a post he had held for the past six years.

State law prohibits governing bodies from voting in private, but the Tech regents did so anyway. Thus, we might have a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Law.

Hodge also is miffed that Francis might have sought to undermine Tech’s decision to build a college of veterinary medicine in Amarillo, which has drawn full-throated support from the Amarillo City Council, the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation and a number of corporate donors who have pledged money to help finance the project.

Committee targets Tech chairman

Will the campaign succeed? That remains a wide-open question. The committee that Hodge leads wants Gov. Greg Abbott to take action. Count me as one who doubts the governor will jump to the committee’s cadence.

Still, as a Texas resident with strong sentimental attachments to Amarillo, the Panhandle and a deep and abiding respect for the long public service career of the former Texas Tech chancellor, I want to endorse Jerry Hodge’s effort to raise as much of a ruckus as he can.

McCartt no longer stands alone as one who defies natural law

I long have held up a former Amarillo mayor as the model for defying certain natural laws. How? By being everywhere at once.

That’s what former Mayor Debra McCartt managed to do during her time as the city’s chief elected official. McCartt, the city’s first female mayor, seemingly was able to attend multiple events simultaneously while representing City Hall, advocating for the city, rooting for interests being promoted by municipal management and the City Council.

Debra McCartt might have to move over, making a place for another politician.

He is Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. O’Rourke is challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is running for re-election to his second term. Indeed, it seems as though Cruz has been in the Senate forever, even though he’s just a rookie lawmaker.

O’Rourke has been on TV shows left and right: Stephen Colbert; Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon. He’s been interviewed by MSNBC, CNN and various broadcast network talking heads.

Has Beto cloned himself? Well, no. He hasn’t. It just seems as though he has.

I get that Cruz has been tied to his desk in Washington. For that matter, O’Rourke should be, too. Except that the House of Representatives, where O’Rourke serves, has taken some time off; the Senate, though, was kept on the job by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who canceled the Senate’s annual summer recess.

O’Rourke’s defying of these natural laws — visiting all 254 Texas counties¬† and appearing on every TV talk show under the sun — might explain partly why he is making this U.S. Senate contest so damn competitive.

I still hold former Mayor McCartt in high regard for the ability to be everywhere at once that she demonstrated while advocating for the city. However, she no longer stands alone as the public official who manages to be everywhere at the same time.

They work for you, not the other way around

The more I think about it, the more I hope the Amarillo City Council abandons a nutty notion about meeting at 7 in the morning every Tuesday at City Hall’s council chambers.

City Manager Jared Miller has this idea that he can save the city money by avoiding overtime pay for staffers who need to attend council meetings; so he has pitched the idea of meeting at 7 a.m. instead of at 5 p.m., which has been council’s policy for the past few years.

Let’s back up a bit. Miller’s new to the city, so he might need just a bit of perspective to throw into the mix.

The council — formerly known as the City Commission — used to meet at 3 p.m. every Tuesday. Some residents complained because they couldn’t attend council/commission meetings during the middle of a work day. Over time, the council decided it would change its meeting schedule to accommodate more residents’ desire to listen in and to possibly comment to council members if they had a concern that needed the city’s attention.

Sure, the change in schedule came with some cost. The city needed to pay staff members who needed to attend these evening meetings. I reckon the city manager believes it’s too much money.

I get that. I have some sympathy for those who don’t like paying city staffers overtime. But understand: I no longer am one of Amarillo’s taxpaying residents; my wife and I have relocated to the Metroplex.

My feeling all along — and will continue to be — is that elected city officials don’t operate in a vacuum. They answer to the residents/voters who put them into office. In Amarillo, council members work essentially for free: $10 per public meeting, which makes their service a “labor of love,” if you want to call it that.

That doesn’t lessen for an instant their responsibility to ensure that everyone gets a decent chance to attend their public meetings. I keep thinking that 7 a.m. is a tad early to be rousting residents out of the rack if they want to attend a council meeting.

This 7 a.m. “trial” is going to start on Sept. 4. My hope is that they deliver a verdict of “non-starter” and return to a time that is more commensurate with residents’ ability to attend — and to have their voices heard.

Council to meet at 7 a.m.? Really?

Let me stipulate that I don’t really have a dog in this fight, given that I no longer live in Amarillo, Texas.

That doesn’t disallow me from speaking out on what I believe is a strange policy shift at City Hall.

The City Council, beginning Sept. 4, is going to start meeting at 7 a.m. Yep, that’s seven bells after midnight. That’s early in the day, man!

Why the change? I guess City Manager Jared Miller is up for a change just because he can change the meeting time at his discretion.

The city is seeking to save money, given that some city staffers have to attend council meetings. So, rather than pay them overtime to attend a 5 p.m. council meeting — which is after hours for staff members — Miller believes that staff members will be on the clock already so they can attend council meetings.

I get that. But what about the constituents who want to attend council meetings? They have children to prepare for school. They have to do their own prep to make themselves presentable at the start of a work day. When does someone roll out of the rack? Five? Six? Can they get ready in an hour before motoring down to City Hall?

The City Council is going to launch this new meeting schedule for a 90-day trial. Good luck with it. I have to agree with the complainers who dislike the 7 a.m. start for City Council meetings.

It’s too early!

Texas Tech preparing to enlarge its Panhandle footprint

Texas Tech University really wants to build a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo. For that the entire Panhandle should be grateful to the Lubbock-based university system.

Two committees comprising Tech regents have approved a degree plan for the school and a design for the way they want it to look.

It’s going to be erected near Tech’s health sciences center in west Amarillo. It’s going to cost more than $80 million over five years to operate; construction will cost around $89 million. The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, with the blessing of the Amarillo City Council, has committed around $69 million in public money to lure the veterinary medicine school to Amarillo.

The school isn’t a done deal just yet. Tech’s regents, along with Chancellor Bob Duncan, are acting as if it is.

That’s fine. The Texas Legislature will be able to weigh in next year.

However, Tech has made the case for a new school of veterinary medicine. It wants to build it in Amarillo, cementing its commitment to the Panhandle.

Read the Amarillo Globe-News story here.

Tech will build this school over the objection of the Texas A&M University System, which has the heretofore only vet school in Texas. A&M officials don’t want Tech to build the school. The reasons why escape me, given that the state is large enough to field enough students for both veterinary medicine schools.

The Tech vet school is going to specialize in large animal veterinary medical care.

This is a huge boon to the Panhandle. My perch from some distance away doesn’t lessen my own support for this worthwhile and stunning advance in the region’s economic well-being.