Tag Archives: Amarillo City Council

Vet school plan ‘coming together’

The late actor George Peppard once portrayed a TV character, Hannibal Smith, on the series “The A-Team,” who was fond of saying he loved it “when a plan comes together.”

Well, ladies and gents, a Texas Tech University plan is coming together for Amarillo and the rest of the Texas Panhandle.

The Texas Tech Board of Regents has authorized Tech President Lawrence Schovanec to execute an agreement with the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation sets aside as much as $69 million to help finance construction of a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo.

Is that cool? Or what? Of course it is!

AEDC delivered a monumental pledge to Texas Tech to help move the vet school program forward. Tech is planning to build a vet school in Amarillo that will cost an estimated $90 million. It will be located near Tech’s existing campuses near the medical center complex in west Amarillo.

This is huge deal for Amarillo. And for Tech. And for the future of large-animal veterinary medicine in the Texas Panhandle.

The project ran into some resistance from another university system, Texas A&M, where its leaders didn’t want Tech to proceed. A&M has the state’s only school of veterinary medicine and I suppose they wanted to keep its monopoly on that form of higher education.

Texas, though, is a large and diverse enough state to accommodate more than a single school of veterinary medicine. Thus, Tech’s plan is a good fit for Texas, not to mention for the Panhandle.

As the Amarillo Globe-News reported about the May 8 decision by the Amarillo City Council to proceed with the project: “This investment by the EDC ensures the vet school will happen and also challenges industry and community partners to join in the success of making this vet school happen,” Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said at the time. “The timing of Amarillo’s investment before the legislative appropriations request will increase the momentum of private fundraising and hopefully assist the legislative funding request. Funding for the project will come from annual tax revenues, which is sales tax, recognized by the EDC. The estimated annual economic impact for the veterinary school of medicine will be $76 million annually to Amarillo.”

Yep, a huge plan is coming together. Hannibal Smith would be proud.

Social media: sometimes a poisonous purveyor

I am likely never to fall totally in love with social media. I have accepted its presence our lives. However, there are times when I detest it with — as my mother used to say — “with a purple passion.”

Amarillo City Councilman Howard Smith has posted this item on Facebook, which I’ll share here:

It has come to my attention that a Facebook page has been created called: Howard Smith for Mayor 2019.

I want this to be crystal clear. I did not start this page, nor do I support it.

I am excited to continue my work on the Amarillo City Council. I have absolutely NO intention of running for Mayor.

I think Mayor Nelson is doing a tremendous job, and I am honored to work alongside her and my fellow Council Members to help move Amarillo forward.

Additionally, a GoFundMe account has been created to pay legal fees to oppose the building of the MPEV.

I, Howard Smith, did not contribute to this fund. I support the MPEV.

During this digital age when misinformation is so easily distributed, I encourage you to reach out to me with any questions or concerns.

I respectfully ask that anyone pretending to be me or anyone utilizing my name please stop immediately.

What, do you suppose, caused this little item to show up? My hunch is that it has something to do with that recent dust up regarding Ginger Nelson’s decision to crack down on applause during City Council meetings.

As for the MPEV construction, if Councilman Smith says he supports it, I’ll take him at his word.

Social media can be pervasive. They can spread rumors faster than a Texas Panhandle wildfire. It become incumbent on those who become subject of social media discussion to use the media to counteract it or to endorse it, whichever is the case.

Howard Smith has counteracted what he suggests are unfounded rumors.

It’s good to stay alert.

Downtown Amarillo’s progress marches on

There was some discussion this week at Amarillo City Council’s regular meeting about the city’s downtown march.

A woman asked the city to suspend work on the multipurpose event venue until residents could vote on whether it should continue.

I have no idea whether she represents a larger bloc of residents, but I was impressed to hear City Manager Jared Miller’s response. It was that the city did put the issue to a non-binding referendum in November 2015. Voters were asked whether they endorsed the MPEV’s construction. A majority of them answered in the affirmative. Miller also noted that the city was not obligated to put the issue to a vote, but it did as a show of good faith.

Work then began this past year. It will be done by February 2019. By April of that year, a AA baseball team will start playing hardball in the MPEV.

I would like to offer this nugget of, well, opinion about the MPEV.

It’s a vital component of the city’s stated desire to improve its downtown district. I get that the November 2015 referendum called for construction of a $32 million ballpark, but that the cost has escalated some to $45.5 million. There well might be some latent resentment among residents — many of them soreheads — who dislike that its cost has escalated.

The city doesn’t need to put the brakes on a project that’s already been discussed, debated, dissected and, finally, determined to be part of the city’s dynamic future.

The public has had plenty of opportunities to comment on it. Whether the public has responded to those opportunities sufficiently is a matter of ongoing discussion.

I remain steadfast in my belief that the MPEV is going to trigger a tremendous revival of interest in our downtown district. When that occurs, I also remain dedicated to the notion that all of Amarillo will flourish perhaps in a manner that we cannot yet foresee.

I want to join my good friend David Horsley, a former Center City board member, who told the council: “We had great goals and thought we were pushing the ball down the field a little bit … But after I rotated off after about six years, we didn’t have much to show for our work. And it was kind of depressing. Downtown is the heart of the city and the heart was barely beating. Skip forward 28 years and now look at what’s happening downtown. I know you all can’t take credit for what’s happening, but I think there is a lot of wonderful stuff happening downtown and maybe you do get a tiny bit of credit for it. And I thank you for being leaders and helping good stuff happen downtown that people are going to want to be involved in.”

Amen, pal.

Why remove red-light cams and invite traffic woe?

While running an errand in Amarillo, I happened to zip past an intersection where the city has deployed its red-light cameras, the devices used to nab those who disobey the stop lights that command motorists to stop.

It then occurred to me: The city is considering removing the camera from this intersection, at Coulter and Elmhurst streets. And it begs the question: Why would the city take down an enforcement tool that it has declared has worked well, that has fulfilled its mission?

I don’t know what if anything the city has decided. The City Council announced it intends to install more of the devices at other troublesome intersections around the city. The council also might remove some of the cameras, citing areas where there no longer are problems with motorists running through red lights.

Hmm. Why do you suppose that has happened? Oh, might it be the presence of the cameras that have deterred vehicular misbehavior?

It makes me wonder, thus, why the city would want to take down devices that have done their jobs.

I will not accept the canard that keeps popping up from the soreheads around Amarillo who oppose the cameras. They contend the devices are intended to “make money” for the city.

What utter crap! The Texas Legislature imposed strict provisions when it allowed cities to deploy the cameras. One of them requires cities to earmark revenue earned specifically for traffic improvement. So, to suggest — or imply — that the revenue is collected to fatten the budgets of municipal departments or give the city some funds to throw around smacks of demagoguery.

As for the city’s intent to remove the cameras, I hereby encourage Amarillo’s powers that be to rethink that notion. If the device its doing its job at Coulter and Elmhurst, the city would be foolish to invite motorists to return to their red-light-running ways — and put other motorists and pedestrians in potentially dire peril.

Butt out, Rep. Tinderholt

I am quite certain that damn few Amarillo residents knew the name of Tony Tinderholt until he decided to stick his nose into an Amarillo City Hall dustup over whether residents can applaud during City Council meetings.

Tinderholt is a Republican state representative from Arlington. Oh, and he’s also a golden boy associated with Empower Texans, a far-right-wing political action group that decided to become involved in a couple of Texas Panhandle GOP legislative primary races this spring.

Empower Texans had its head — and other body parts — handed to it when Panhandle Republican voters essentially re-elected state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price, both of them Amarillo Republicans.

Tinderholt has decided to pressure Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson into rethinking her decision to restrict clapping at council meetings.

I won’t get into the merits of Nelson’s decision. I’m sitting out here in the peanut gallery and am out of the loop on the details of what transpired when Nelson kicked a constituent out of a council meeting. I will say only that Nelson perhaps overreacted in the moment, but has tried to explain — in the wake of some local criticism — that she has a keen understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment and its guarantees of free speech and all that kind of thing.

I am struck by the idea that a state representative from far away would want to meddle in a matter that should be settled by the folks who live here and who are elected to govern a community’s affairs.

It’s interesting, too, that Tinderholt would be affiliated with a group, Empower Texans, that sought to dictate to Panhandle residents how they should vote. The Texas Panhandle took care of its business quite nicely despite the pressure being brought to bear on this region from Empower Texans.

So, to Rep. Tinderholt and Empower Texans, I just have this modest rejoinder: Butt out!

Do not resign, Mme. Mayor

I cannot believe I read this item, but I’ll comment on it anyhow.

An Amarillo resident has presented a petition with signatures on it calling for Mayor Ginger Nelson to resign. She wants the mayor to quit. Why? Because the mayor imposed some rules of behavior during City Council meetings.

No applause allowed, according to the mayor.

So, for that this individual wants Nelson to quit.

Oh, my. Give me a break … please!

I’m just a single constituent. So, little ol’ me will just say it out loud: Do not quit, Mme. Mayor.

Nelson said she won’t resign. Fine. Stay the course. Ride this tiny tempest out.

I am believing that Nelson overreacted when she booted a gentleman out of a council meeting the other evening. The fellow was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor offense.

“I’m going to do the job that I was elected to do. And there were thousands of people who had a chance between three candidates to choose and I was elected. I feel the burden of doing that and I want to do that job the best I possibly can,” said Nelson.

There. That’s good enough for me.

She’s got a lot more work to do. It’s a lot more important than keeping order in City Council meetings.

Stay the course, Mayor Nelson.

Did the City Council overreact to applause?

Amarillo’s City Council has decided to make an issue out of something that shouldn’t really matter.

It is going to prohibit applause during City Council meetings.

Holy cow! Stop the presses!

A constituent decided to break out in applause. Mayor Ginger Nelson ordered him out of the council chambers. I understand he was arrested. The “altercation” has produced something of a mini-tempest at City Hall.

Some folks argue that the mayor has inhibited someone’s First Amendment right of free political speech. I wouldn’t go so far.

Then again, I wonder why the mayor decided to make this an issue in the first place. Does the applause distract anyone? Does it delay the conduct of city business? Are there epithets being hurled?

I get that the council has the authority to set rules of decorum and behavior. It can allow public comment, for instance, or it can disallow it. The council allows constituents to speak on issues of the day.

I remember a time when Randall County Commissioners Court — presided over by County Judge Ted Wood — would allow constituents to speak for as long as they wanted. If they want on for hours, hey, that was OK with Wood. The county belongs to them, not the commissioners, he said. Woods’s generosity with public time drew some criticism, too, just as Mayor Nelson’s relative stinginess has brought some barbs.

I don’t see this issue as any big shakes one way or the other.

If I were King of the World, I would allow constituents to applaud. Within reason, of course.

AMA goes ‘flaps up’ to PHX

I have lived in Amarillo for more than 23 years and I do not remember the kind of hype that preceded a takeoff this morning from Rick Husband-Amarillo International Airport.

An American Airlines jet took off today for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. It got lots of media coverage. It was the first non-stop flight between AMA and PHX.

I get that it’s a big deal. I also understand how Amarillo’s airport has become a vital economic development recruitment tool. It’s a small terminal compared to the other locations it serves with non-stop flights: Sky Harbor, Dallas Love Field, George Bush (Houston) Intercontinental and Dallas-Fort Worth and Denver International.

What’s important to understand, though, is that most of those terminals (Love Field being the exception) connect AMA with virtually any destination in the world.

The Amarillo-Phoenix connection aims to boost leisure as well as business travel to the desert Southwest. As the Amarillo Globe-News story noted, airport officials couldn’t state whether the maiden flight to Sky Harbor was full.

According to the Globe-News: Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said, “I’m proud when people land here at our airport. It reflects us as a community; it reflects our creativity; it reflects our history and our culture. So I’m very, very proud of our airport.”

The city has invested a lot in its air terminal. I, too, happen to be proud of the air service we get in Amarillo. It has just improved a good bit with a heavily promoted service to a new community.

I am going to remain confident that this new air service will be worth the hype that preceded its first flight out west.

Yes, on more red-light cameras!

You go, Amarillo City Council. Go for it! Install more red-light cameras in the ongoing effort to deter motorists from endangering other motorists and pedestrians.

The council is considering whether to install more cameras that traffic engineers have determine to be hazardous. They are places where motorists choose to disobey stop lights. They either run through them while they’re en route, or … they take off from a dead stop and just blaze on through.

Given that police cannot witness every traffic violation as it occurs, the city decided to deploy technology to assist the police department in its effort to make our streets safer for motorists and pedestrians.

I know that the critics of this program are going to gripe about potential expansion of the red-light camera initiative. Some soreheads keep bitching that its sole intent is generate revenue for the city.

To them I would like to speak once again about what state law mandates regarding these cameras. Please read these next few words slowly, let them sink in:

The revenue is dedicated to traffic improvements.

State legislators have been somewhat reluctant over the years to give cities the authority to install these cameras. Once they did, they sought to ensure that any revenue they generate is set aside specifically to improve traffic infrastructure.

Here’s a bit of cheer: The city is considering removal of lights at some locations, such as at Coulter and Elmhurst. According to the Amarillo Globe-News, accidents at that intersection have decreased significantly.

As City Manager Jared Miller told the Globe-News: “When we first put in Elmhurst as a location, the accidents there warranted installing a traffic safety camera,” … Miller said. “Now, it is not worth it. It has accomplished its objective. This is a good example of a location that has had the desired effect. The purpose is not to generate revenue, but improve safety at intersections in the city.”

What in the world of safe driving and driver awareness is wrong with that?

Waiting for big ceremony downtown

I accepted an invitation today.

It wasn’t an exclusive invitation, as I’m sure the folks who extended it want as many folks as they can find to attend.

They’re going to break ground Thursday on the, um, multipurpose event venue on Buchanan Street in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

The MPEV, aka The Ballpark, will be completed in time for the 2019 AA minor-league baseball season. It will cost an estimated $45 million. It will seat around 4,500 fans for baseball and a lot more for other community events that proponents hope will be part of the venue’s agenda.

This is a big deal, folks! The MPEV reached this point after countless public hearings, serious public debate, two contentious City Council elections and a citywide referendum that voters approved by a narrow margin in November 2015.

I’ve long supported the concept of the MPEV and I want this ballpark built on time and hopefully under budget.

The promise of the MPEV brought a shiny new hotel across the street from the Civic Center. They’ve built a parking garage as well, with ground-floor space set aside for retail establishments; to date, those floors remain dark, but there’s considerable promise that outlets will move in once the MPEV gets much closer to completion.

The groundbreaking event will be for symbolic purposes only. A group of dignitaries will line up with shovels under foot. They might make some remarks. They’ll smile for the cameras, push the shovels into the dirt, shake hands, pat each other on the back and then go back to their day jobs.

Then the real work will begin.

My confidence that the MPEV would become a reality for Amarillo went through its share of ups and downs. The City Council seemed to waffle on it after the 2015 municipal election. Then it sent the matter to a “non-binding” vote in that referendum later that year. The MPEV became the subject of sometimes-heated community debate. Then it passed. The city wasn’t obligated to abide by the result, but the council did the right thing and proceeded forward.

So, here we are. Amarillo is on the cusp of a new era. They’ll break ground on property just south of City Hall.

I’ll be there to watch the new era begin.

Then I will cheer when the era arrives. Who knows? I might even be in the stands to watch ’em toss out the first pitch.