Tag Archives: Amarillo City Council

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.

Light ’em up, just not around me

I am not too proud to acknowledge making a mistake.

Such as when I railed on the blog about smoking indoors. I once thought that Amarillo needed to enact an ordinance that banned the activity everywhere. Other cities had done so; even communities where residents are as politically conservative as this one.

Then it occurred to me: Although my wife and I don’t go out all that often, we are able to enjoy meals and each other’s company in smoke-free environments — even without a smoking ban ordinance in effect in Amarillo.

I guess, then, it’s time to acknowledge that my view on smoking bans has, um, evolved yet again.

Back when I was working for a living — specifically writing editorials and editing the Opinion page for the Amarillo Globe-News — I got to offer perspectives with which I didn’t necessarily agree. One dealt with smoking ordinances. The newspaper’s editorial board, of which I was a member, opposed citywide ordinances banning the activity. The Globe-News believed that privately held businesses had the inherent right to determine such matters.

I sucked it up and espoused the company line.

A smoking ban ordinance went to a citywide referendum twice. Both times Amarillo voters rejected the proposed ordinances.

It’s not that I oppose citywide bans as a matter of principle. I wouldn’t object to Amarillo’s City Council imposing such a ban if it chose to do so. What I’ve determined is that such a mandate from City Hall is unnecessary, given what I’ve determined has occurred in the city without such an edict.

I’m sure there are still joints in Amarillo where smoking is allowed. I won’t go to any of them. Neither will my wife. To the best of my knowledge, neither will our son. The Chamber of Commerce office in downtown Amarillo likely has data on which places are smoke-free and which still allow patrons to smoke ’em if they got ’em.

I recently made a lunch date with a friend. We’re going to a diner on Sixth Avenue that used to be notorious for its smoke-filled environment, which was the sole reason my friend stayed away from the place; frankly, so did I. I mentioned that in the past year, the diner has remodeled its interior and has gone smoke-free.

Good deal! That’s where we decided to meet.

I quit the nasty habit of smoking cold turkey more than 37 years ago. I dropped a two-pack daily habit to zero simply by tossing the weeds into the trash can. No one told me to quit. No one forced it on me. Indeed, the price of smoking has gone beyond prohibitive. I recently saw a guy drop about $150 on two cartons of cigarettes. My thought: You’ve got to be kidding me.

I figure that business owners know how to market themselves to attract paying customers whose money will keep the lights on.

That’s what has happened in Amarillo, Texas. I am grateful.

Here’s an idea: How about sprucing up AMA?

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson rode into office partly on the strength of an ambitious six-point campaign platform.

It pays a lot of attention to economic development, fiscal responsibility, accountability to taxpayers and even makes a nod toward improving the appearance of public rights-of-way along our interstate highways.

I didn’t see any mention of Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. Indeed, I am keeping my copy of an Amarillo Globe-News story that profiled Nelson’s campaign platform; my intent is to remind myself of issues she is addressing and which of them she needs to devote more attention.

About the airport.

I just returned this evening from a quick trip to AMA and noticed a couple of things about the site.

One is that the grounds immediately around the covered parking structures look better than they have looked in recent months. The grass is cut and trimmed. I did notice a number of weeds sprouting through the pavement in the parking lot. Tsk, tsk.

The other thing I continually notice as I drive along Airport Drive is that it, um, is so non-descript. I didn’t notice a “Welcome to Amarillo” sign, or any roadside artwork that depicts the personality of the community travelers are visiting … many for the first time, or perhaps for the only time.

I make the point about AMA for this reason: In the 1990s, the city spent a lot of tax money to subsidize jet traffic provided by American Airlines. The idea of spending Amarillo Economic Development Corporation sales tax revenue on these jet aircraft was to make air travel more comfortable for business travelers. The AEDC subsidy was intended to lure business to Amarillo. It drew its share of criticism from other communities. Frankly, it sounded like so much sour grapes.

I found the strategy to be innovative, aggressive and ambitious. The city ended the subsidy. American Airlines pulled the jets out of its Amarillo-to-D/FW route — for a time. Then the airline brought jet traffic back to AMA, as did United Airlines and Continental; Southwest always flew jets in and out of AMA.

The city once staked a lot of public money on air service at its airport. What’s more, in recent years the city has renovated and remodeled AMA, modernizing the terminal, turning it into an attractive site.

We have a new mayor and an entirely new City Council making policy at City Hall. Our new city manager, Jared Miller, came here from San Marcos with a reputation as someone who emphasized economic development.

I’ll throw this idea out to them all for consideration: How about developing some sort of strategy to make Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport a good bit more inviting to those who come here from the Metroplex, from Houston, Denver, from Las Vegas or from Phoenix?

There might be a business opportunity to be gained for the city if the traveler gets a first-glimpse look at what the city has to offer on his or her way out of the airport.

Just some food for thought, folks.

A new City Council takes charge

It’s done.

Five new Amarillo City Council members have taken their oath of office and have settled in behind the dais at the City Council chambers on the third floor of City Hall.

A new era has begun. Right? Maybe.

I fielded an interesting question today from a friend who asked: Do you think the city will get turned around now? My answer: I am happy with the outcome of the election.

My friend’s question, though, seemed to suggest something with which I disagree. Although I was unhappy with much of the bickering, backbiting and backstabbing that occurred at City Hall during the past two years, I am not going to subscribe to a notion that the city had backslid dramatically since the 2015 municipal election.

Mayor Ginger Nelson declared her intention to ensure that Amarillo is a better place when she leaves office — eventually. “I see two ways to do that,” she said, according to the Amarillo Globe-News. “Everyone works and we work together.”

It  sounds almost cliché, I suppose, for the new mayor to pledge political teamwork. Nelson does present a vigorous image as the new mayor. She spoke often during her campaign about the need for the council to move ahead as a single unit once it makes a policy decision.

I do not want that message to suggest a stifling of differences of opinion among council members. I am quite sure the mayor would resist any such implication.

What I do want, though, is for the council to unite behind a policy decision to ensure consensus and to let those who work in the trenches — and those of us who pay the freight while watching from a distance — that the council is moving forward with a unity of purpose.

The previous council didn’t always project that image. The sense of open dissent perhaps sent a message beyond the city that could be interpreted that Amarillo’s government wasn’t functioning as efficiently as it should.

To the extent that such perceptions turned the city in the “wrong direction,” I’ll accept my friend’s question about the need to turn the city around.

City Hall, though, has functioned well with professional senior staffers who continue to do their job with competence and dedication. I don’t sense that those qualities diminished — even as the city struggled to steady its administrative ship while it sought a new permanent city manager.

A new City Council has taken over. All five of them represent the same at-large citywide constituency. They all earn a whopping $10 per public meeting. They have taken this job on, I am going to presume, because they believe in public service.

I wish them well, good luck and patience as they strive to keep the city moving forward.

How about that MPEV? Any news … at all?

Amarillo’s new City Council will take office very soon with a heaping plate of unfinished business.

Downtown revival is proceeding nicely. But the city has this big ol’ vacant lot across Seventh Avenue from City Hall that it’s got to fill with something. They knocked down the old Coca Cola distribution plant and relocated it to a business park near Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

That something happens to be a ballpark/multipurpose event venue. You remember it, right?

Amarillo voters in November 2015 approved a “non-binding referendum” that authorized the city to spend $32 million on the MPEV. The cost of the structure has escalated a bit since then, to around $45 million.

But the city has assured residents it will be built. Some things must happen before we start busting up pavement. First and foremost is that the city needs a commitment from a minor-league baseball franchise to come to Amarillo. The council formed a Local Government Corporation to lead the negotiation with owners of the San Antonio Missions, which is looking — one still hopes — for a new place to play some hardball. San Antonio wants a AAA franchise; the Missions are a AA outfit.

Meanwhile, Amarillo is without baseball of any kind since that joke of a team vacated the city to relocate in Grand Prairie. Why did the team bolt? They didn’t have an adequate place to play ball.

The MPEV is supposed to solve that issue. It will be a shiny new venue that will serve many purposes in addition to being the home field for an affiliated minor-league baseball team; the Missions are part of the National League San Diego Padres organization.

City Hall has been quiet about the MPEV negotiations, which might be a good thing. Lame-duck Councilman Randy Burkett popped off a few months ago about a deal he said was on the verge of being struck, but LGC chairman (and former mayor) Jerry Hodge quashed any hope of an imminent deal; he said the LGC was still working on it and said he was “ashamed” of Burkett’s big mouth.

We’ve got five newbies coming aboard at City Hall. Let us hope they can nudge the negotiation along, with the help of City Manager Jared Miller. My faith in the LGC’s ability to finalize a deal remains fairly strong.

The MPEV issue, though, has tested many residents’ confidence that the city can deliver on its promise to bring minor-league baseball back to Amarillo — and to put it downtown.

Welcome to the thick of the fray, City Council.

Make way for the ladies at Amarillo City Hall

Amarillo’s history is layered with tales of the exploits of men.

They were involved with cattle, the railroad, oil and natural gas. They formed civic clubs, became active in politics and in government. They built banks and other businesses throughout the city.

It was a man’s world around Amarillo. A good ol’ boys club. Men ran the show.

Well, an election just occurred in Amarillo and — presto! — just like that the City Council has an entirely new look. We have three women comprising a majority on the five-member governing board.

I once lamented the loss in 2015 of two women who had served on the council. They got beat by two men whose election created an all-male City Council. I wanted Ellen Robertson Green and Lilia Escajeda to be been re-elected two years ago, but then they got beat by Elisha Demerson and Randy Burkett, respectively, in the contests for Places 1 and 3.

Burkett didn’t seek a second term, and his seat will be taken by Eddy Sauer. However, Demerson lost to Elaine Hays; meanwhile, Freda Powell defeated a male candidate in the race for Place 2, which had been occupied by Lisa Blake, who decided against seeking election to the seat to which she was appointed after Brian Eades resigned from the council.

The third woman on the council is none other than the new mayor, Ginger Pearson Nelson, who defeated two opponents handily to win the right to succeed Paul Harpole, who decided to bow out after three terms as mayor.

What, precisely, does a female-majority City Council mean for Amarillo? I haven’t a clue. Indeed, the entire council has been turned over, with Howard Smith becoming the fifth member of the body after defeating incumbent Mark Nair in the race for Place 4.

It really shouldn’t matter a great deal that we have a majority City Council comprising women. Except you might recall the big deal that was made in 2007 when Debra McCartt was elected the city’s first female mayor.

She became a marvelous spokeswoman for the city and it was on her watch that the city took the bold step of installing automated surveillance equipment at troublesome intersections to catch motorists running through red lights. McCartt stood firm in her support of the red-light cameras in spite of sometimes blistering criticism that some had directed at the City Council.

There well might be some more bold initiatives undertaken by this new council. Is it an inherent fearlessness that enables female politicians to do things their male counterparts cannot do? Beats me.

I also must note as well that Potter County’s Commissioners Court is being led by the county’s first female judge, Nancy Tanner, who was elected to the post in 2014.

There simply is something appealing to me now as the city awaits the transition to this new governing council about the prospect of a female-majority body making critical policy decisions.

Take it away, ladies. I’m pulling for you.