Tag Archives: Amarillo City Council

No messing with library hours

Amarillo’s new City Council is in the midst of budget discussions. It’s an annual ritual the city’s governing board must endure.

I got word the other day that the city was considering a reduction in a valuable service it provides to its residents. I’m talking about the public library.

Now I hear that the cuts are off the table. At least for now. I hope they stay off the table and that the city doesn’t mess with a service that, according to the library’s 2016 annual report, provides a tremendous return on the investment taxpayers make.

The plan, as I understood, was to close the North, East and Northwest branches on Saturday. The city was considering a return to its 2009 weekly schedule.

The savings? It is reported to be around $92,000 annually.

The council is now turning elsewhere to save some money. Good deal.

Let’s put the library expenditure $3.8 million into some perspective. According to the Amarillo Municipal Library annual report, the city received $30.5 million in ancillary benefit in return. The return on that investment? $26.7 million. Not a bad return, right?

As I understand it, the library provides a valuable place for Internet research for residents who might not have Internet services in their homes. They visit the branches around Amarillo and use the public computers to do research or to assist them in finding answers to myriad questions they might have. Indeed, the library reports that 72,215 persons used the Internet in FY 2016.

Thousands of children participate in the summer reading program; 6,985 residents logged on to the library’s Wi-Fi network; the library loaned out 57,643 audio books, CDs and other media; it loaned out 307,904 DVDs. All this occurred during FY 2016.

My point is that the public library provides a valuable public service. The City Council also serves the same public.

Surely, council members want to ensure that the public they serve — and which uses the library network — remains educated and informed on the world around us.

My hope is that council members continue to keep faith with the public, the people for whom they work and who they serve.

I also hope reason will continue to prevail at City Hall.

Older residents need to be heard, too

Once upon a time — not too many years ago — a so-called “movement” arose in Amarillo that purported to speak for young residents.

It was called the Amarillo Millennial Movement. Its mission was to promote a downtown entertainment venue that ostensibly would be a reason for young Amarillo residents to continue living here. The venue was put to a vote in November 2015 referendum — and it passed.

AMM then vanished. It’s gone. It was a flash in the pan.

Two years later, the city is now targeting the other end of the age spectrum. Older residents are getting to have their feelings known about what they want their city to provide. The old folks don’t have a catchy name, but they are being heard by City Hall, where staffers are beginning the process of developing an action to assist elderly residents in finding ways to spend their time.

The multipurpose event venue, by the way, will be built. Construction will begin soon. The AMM no longer exists, but the MPEV is likely to become a big part of elderly residents’ lives in Amarillo, too.

Don’t you love the symmetry?

There was a meeting this morning at the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission conference room downtown. It was called by Linda Pitner, senior services coordinator for the city. The meeting comprised a focus group of mostly retired men who live in Amarillo. Full disclosure: I was one of those focus group members.

The meeting was called to collect ideas, concerns and suggestions from these individuals on an array of issues, which included: what we do in our spare time; the city’s offering of activities geared toward “active adults”; what residents should expect of the city.

It was a lively discussion. It produced a lot of ideas for the facilitator, Jill Jackson Ledford, who came here from Charleston, S.C., to assist Pitner in the development of the potential action plan. The discussion covered bike trails, mass transit, the MPEV and other downtown improvements; it included discussion of the role of community churches in people’s lives and also included suggestions on how the city can develop more effective “clearing houses” to disseminate information to city residents.

One forum participant, retired Amarillo College President Paul Matney, told of how the Amarillo Senior Citizens Center offers the usual array of traditional activities for elderly residents. He cited bingo, quilting, line dancing and dominoes. Those “active adults,” Matney said, need more than that; they deserve more than those kinds of static activities.

Pitner told the group that men traditionally do not respond well to surveys. Amarillo’s female residents did respond to surveys sent to them, Pitner said. Thus, the men came together today for this focus group.

Where does the city go from here? What happens to the information gathered? The facilitator is going to compile a detailed report. She’ll present it to Pitner, who then will take it to the city manager, who will present it to the City Council.

It’s a long-term process. The current council might act on it. Or it could hand it off to the next council that will take office after the May 2019 municipal election. The decision ultimately will come from council members on how — or whether — to implement any and/or all of the elements contained within the report.

I do not expect this effort to meet the same fate as the Amarillo Millennial Movement. That is, my sincere hope is that it doesn’t disappear into oblivion.

Thanks, Bob Cowell, for your service to Amarillo

Bob Cowell has long wanted a city manager’s job.

Today he got one. It’s in Roanoke, Va., where that city’s council has voted 7-0 to hire the Amarillo deputy city manager as that community’s next top municipal administrator.

I’ll stipulate up front that I do not know Cowell personally. I know only of him by reputation. What I have heard about Cowell is that he held the city’s administrative staff together during a time of tumult, which I suppose might be enough of a selling point to his new employers in Roanoke.

A friend of mine in Roanoke gave me a heads up earlier in the day about Cowell’s hiring and asked me about him. I only can speak around the edges about Cowell; I don’t have much intimate knowledge of how well he does his job at Amarillo City Hall.

But as I told my friend, the managing editor of the Roanoke Times — and a former executive editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, Lee Wolverton — I know that Cowell was near the center of power when all hell was breaking loose at Amarillo City Hall.

He was there when former City Manager Jarrett Atkinson resigned in 2015 after the City Council election produced a new majority that didn’t think much of Atkinson’s work as manager. He also was there during the tumultuous time when Terry Childers came aboard as the interim city manager; Childers ended up walking away after he called a constituent a “stupid son of a b****.”

Cowell can take credit for helping hold the city administrative staff together during all that trouble.

He continued to serve the city under new City Manager Jared Miller’s leadership — and was a finalist for the city manager’s job in San Marcos, where Miller was working when he took the Amarillo job.

So, with that, Amarillo will have to replace a valuable municipal government hand.

Good luck and Godspeed, Bob Cowell.

More frequent mowing? It’s a start, City Hall

Amarillo City Councilman Eddy Sauer posted an encouraging message on Facebook, which reads in part:

At Tuesday’s Council meeting we signed an agreement with TXDOT to increase mowings and weed control on I-40 and I-27. Improving curb appeal is a huge priority for me and the Council. While I’d like to take the credit, this is the result of hard work by city staff and our local TXDOT engineers and coordinators. I am very pleased and proud of how hard our staff is working to embrace the new council’s vision of moving our city forward. We are truly blessed and will continue to work hard to fulfill the commitments we’ve made to our residents. 

It’s a start, councilman.

The city is setting aside some additional money to cover the cost of the increased mowing. But to those who have expressed concern about the appearance of the interstate thoroughfares coursing through the city — such as yours truly — there remains a good bit more work to do.

Mayor Ginger Nelson laid out a detailed platform that included a highway beautification plank in it. I believe she intends to follow through on that pledge.

There ought to be a strategy laid out that enables the city and the state to team up on a landscaping program that dresses up the I-40/27 interchange. I recall when the Texas highway department rebuilt the interchange, flipping the east-west bound lanes with the north-south lanes. It was a huge undertaking. The state decorated the overpasses with colors that mirrored Palo Duro Canyon’s walls.

Then it let the ground under the interchange to become choked by weeds.

I applaud the City Council’s decision to run the mowers more frequently along the interstate rights-of-way. There’s more to do.

Highways getting some attention?

Welcome aboard, Amarillo City Councilman Eddy Sauer, in the campaign to dress up our public rights-of-way.

Sauer recent went to Waco and then posted this item on social media: “I’m committed to cleaning up our highways and making our city more inviting. The I-40 and I-27 corridors are great marketing tools for Amarillo. We have a great city and a great opportunity and we need to take advantage.”

He was struck, apparently, by the appearance of a sign greeting motorists entering the city.

I drive through the I-40/27 interchange roughly once a week and my hair still bristles when I notice its shabby appearance. A former Texas Department of Transportation actually told me once that the state opted to let “natural” flora grow rather than spend money to dress it up and make it more visually appealing. I believe I laughed out loud when he told me that; he took offense at my reaction.

Mayor Ginger Nelson has vowed to work out an agreement between the city and the state for a joint maintenance project that dresses up these rights-of-way.

The mayor now appears to have at least one ally on the City Council. Maybe more of them will emerge. One can hope.

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?

More downtown construction at hand?

Amarillo’s brand new City Council is going to make an announcement Wednesday.

I am waiting with bated breath.

The council members might have some big news to share regarding the future of the city’s effort to remake, reshape, revive and re-create its downtown business/entertainment district.

That long-awaited multipurpose event venue might be coming closer to reality.

The city’s Local Government Corporation has been negotiating with San Antonio business officials about how to relocate that city’s Double A baseball franchise to Amarillo. The LGC has made it clear that it wouldn’t proceed with MPEV construction until it strikes a deal with some franchise to occupy the venue.

I am acutely aware that a number of soreheads are going to gripe about it. They complain about the escalating cost of the ballpark. Amarillo voters approved a non-binding referendum in November 2015; the MPEV cost was listed at $32 million on the ballot measure. The price tag has escalated to around $45 million.

My own hope is that the price of the ballpark doesn’t go much greater than its current level.

The council, though, has taken great strides already in the redevelopment of the downtown district. That five-star hotel is nearing completion; we’ve seen that parking garage go up.

Amarillo doesn’t have any kind of organized baseball activity occurring this spring and summer, which I am sure upsets the city’s baseball fan base. The MPEV, though, would play host to a number of other activities, which would jazz up the nightlife in the city’s long-slumbering central district.

My hopes have gone up, slumped, gone up again and then receded. As of this moment, I am once again cautiously optimistic we are going to get some good news.

Drainage improvements needed? Maybe?

We were on the road when the sky opened up over Amarillo, Texas, not long ago. It rained torrents. Hail fell across large sections of the city. The power went out in some neighborhoods.

I heard about all this via social media while we were plowing through our own rainstorms back east.

Moreover, I also heard some grumbling about the city’s chronic trouble spots that present themselves whenever the heavens pour copious amounts of water on the city.

Some of the griping concerned the city’s efforts to remake its downtown district while — allegedly! — ignoring the infrastructure associated with flood control.

Hmmm. I don’t believe the city has ignored these problems.

The new City Council, though, has been handed an issue it needs to ponder deeply and carefully. Does it have the money it needs to improve storm water removal? If it doesn’t have the money on hand, is there sufficient support among city residents to support a bond issue to pony up the money required to do the job?

All five of the council members campaigned in one form or another on a platform calling for reasonable spending of taxpayer money. They’re all serious folks with, I also believe, seriously noble intent to do right for the city electorate that voted them into office.

Drainage concerns likely have floated to the top of their issues on which they should deliver.

Open meeting violation? Let’s be careful, council members

Texas has a fairly concise and well-defined law governing open meetings of government bodies. It doesn’t take a great deal insider knowledge to understand the basics.

One of the tenets of the Open Meetings Act is that a quorum — meaning a majority — of a governing body cannot meet without posting it in advance.

Three members of the Amarillo City Council met recently in an informational setting with the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. Since there’s only five council members, a gang of three comprises a majority.

Did they make any decisions? Did they cast votes? Did they discuss city business among themselves? Did they — in the strictest sense — break the law? Probably no on all counts.

I long have chided county commissioners, for example, for sitting at the same table at luncheons. I recall one time spotting three members of the Randall County Commissioners Court at a social event somewhere and admonishing them — in jest — against passing any tax increases while they were breaking bread together.

http://amarillo.com/politics/news/local-news/2017-05-24/amarillo-city-councilmembers-may-have-violated-texas-open

I also am acutely aware of how governing bodies can skirt the Open Meetings Act through what’s called a “rolling quorum.” The presiding officer, say, a mayor, can meet with one council member at a time privately to reach a consensus on a particular issue. Nothing in the law prevents such a series of meetings from occurring. It’s legal, although it’s not always the correct way to conduct the public’s business.

The three council members in question — Howard Smith, Eddy Sauer and Freda Powell — all are smart and astute enough to avoid falling into the trap of talking about city business without first notifying the public.

The council, whose five members all are newbies, are set to complete training on the Open Meetings Act. I trust they’ll be brought up to speed.

I’ve noted already that the Texas law is quite clear. In the future, perhaps all members of the council need to be mindful that the community is watching.

‘Men will be boys’

The headline on the Texas Tribune story says plenty about the way the Texas Legislature ended its regular session.

It concluded with two legislators, both men — a Democrat and a Republican — threatening to harm each other. A disturbance broke out on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives.

The Tribune article, written by Ross Ramsey, posits an interesting notion. As I look the article over, Ramsey seems to suggest that we need more women in the Texas Legislature.

It’s been a man’s world under the Capitol Dome for a long time.
Ramsey makes this point: “According to the Legislative Reference Library, 23.9 percent of all of the women — all of them — who ever served in the Texas Legislature are in office right now. That’s 37 of the 155 who have served in the Texas Legislature’s history.

“About one in five Texas lawmakers is female. Over the state’s history, 2.8 percent of the 5,571 people who’ve served in the Legislature have been women. The 155 women who’ve served wouldn’t be enough — if they were all alive and in office today — to fill all 181 seats in the House and the Senate.”

He goes on to note that none of the women currently serving in the House took part in the melee at the end of the session. Ramsey adds: “If you know any of them, you know that’s not because they were afraid.”

I once took note of the time in 2015 when Amarillo voters booted two women off the City Council, electing an all-male governing body. I lamented at the time the absence of any female perspective on the council. This year, voters reversed themselves in a big way, electing three women to the five-member council, creating a female council majority for the first time in Amarillo history.

It’s not that City Hall has seen the kind of nonsense that erupted at the State Capitol. It’s merely that I consider female voices on the council to be a good thing.

I’m now thinking that we might need more women in the halls of the Texas Legislature to bring some measure of calm to state government.