Tag Archives: Amarillo City Council

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.

City boosts traffic improvements … with camera money?

The Amarillo City Council has voted 5-0 to spend more than $200,000 with money earmarked for traffic safety improvements.

The Amarillo Globe-News story doesn’t mention it specifically, but this is the kind of expense that state law requires of cities that deploy red-light cameras at troublesome intersections.

As the Globe-News reports: Officials said the purchase, which extends to four separate vendors, will fund new equipment and replace outdated equipment and other signal materials.

Read the story here.

This is why I continue to support the principle of cities using this technology to help deter lawbreakers from running through red lights. Amarillo has used these devices for several yeas, raising considerable amounts of money from fines collected by violators.

The bitching has been tiresome … and wrongheaded. Red-light camera foes keep insisting that the city is using this technology as a money-maker to fund this or that project. Wrong! State law says cities must dedicate that revenue to traffic safety improvements. Nothing else! It’s dedicated revenue.

To its credit, the City Council hasn’t backed down in the face of a vocal minority of residents who continue to yammer about the cameras. They cite such idiocy as the cameras intruding on motorists’ privacy. Interesting, yes?

Consider that motorists who drive their vehicles on public streets therefore surrender their “privacy” when they break the law and put other motorists and pedestrians in jeopardy.

The city is spending some money on needed improvements to its traffic signalization and other elements of its traffic management plan. If it comes from the revenue collected by red-light camera enforcement, so much for the better.

Young people have fallen silent again

I want to share this blog post once again. I’ve attached it to this item.

It speaks to the dreams of young Amarillo residents who took their case to the City Council. They pitched the idea of building a multipurpose event venue, of erecting a downtown convention hotel and of turning Polk Street into an entertainment district.

They wanted the city to deliver a reason for these young people to stay here after school. They don’t want to move away.

The good news? Much of what the young’ns argued for is happening.

The bad news? They’ve reduced their public presence. What happened to ’em?

City hears from the young and, until now, the silent

They have fallen silent yet again.

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.