Tag Archives: Amarillo City Council

Hot buttons hit; now, produce some evidence

I must have hit a couple of hot buttons with a recent blog post about Amarillo Matters, wondering about the sniping at this group of individuals who seek to have its voice heard on the direction taken by City Hall.

My earlier post wondered why the sniping is occurring, given that Amarillo Matters’ mission and vision statements seem noble enough.

A couple of respondents challenged me for weighing in at all, given that I no longer live in Amarillo.

Amarillo Matters worked to re-elect the City Council; they were rewarded by voters who returned all five council members for another two years in office.

But some of these respondents have tossed out a few potentially explosive terms. They referred to what they called “corruption.” They accused members of Amarillo Matters of being interested only in “self-enrichment.” The criticism of the blog post implied that the rich folks who comprise Amarillo Matters somehow are interested only in fattening their own hefty bank accounts.

Is there evidence of malfeasance? Or double-dipping? What about back-room wheeling and dealing?

My comment aims only to draw attention to the positive direction I’ve seen occurring in Amarillo over the course of several years. Yes, that positive course even pre-dates the election of the City Council in 2017.

One critic sought to “shame” me for being “so dismissive” of concerns about Amarillo Matters. I am not dismissing anyone. My concern rests with what looks and sounds to me like an empty gripe.

I must ask: Is the city heading down the path toward oblivion?

I’ll answer my query: I believe it is moving toward a bright future.

Amarillo Matters taking shots … but, why?

Why is it a bad thing for a political action group to seek to guide the city into a future that well could lift everyone who lives there?

Amarillo Matters taking shots … but, why?

Election Day came and went across Texas this past weekend. In Amarillo, the returns were fruitful for those who like the direction City Hall has taken the past couple of years.

Among those who are gratified is a group called Amarillo Matters. The political action committee endorsed all five City Council incumbents; they all won re-election.

But as usual, I am hearing some bitching/griping/sour graping from afar, way over yonder in Collin County, where my wife and I now live.

Some folks think Amarillo has forked over enough money to get the City Council to do its bidding. They are unhappy about it.

OK, let’s take a look briefly at Amarillo Matters. Shall we?

It’s mission statement is simple. It states: Amarillo Matters will work to identify, articulate and facilitate positive opportunities for Amarillo and the surrounding area.

Sounds sinister, right?

Oh, then there’s this from its vision statement, which declares in part: Amarillo Matters will seek out and support leaders of the highest integrity. We will look for leaders who know what makes us great and have the desire and knowledge to make us better.

Nefarious, don’t you think?

Look, I no longer have a dog in that fight. We sold our home in March 2018. We have moved away. We have set up a new life in Collin County. However, I do take a great interest in the city where we lived for more than two decades. It is a city in which I was charged with the task of commenting on its direction during my nearly 18 years as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. Thus, it is hard for me to let go.

Amarillo Matters was right to get involved when it was founded in 2016. A group of leading civic and business leaders didn’t like what it saw when a new majority took control of the City Council in 2015. I shared their concern as I watched it during my final years in the city.

The city has made tremendous progress since the 2017 election, when voters elected a brand new City Council. Is it wrong for Amarillo Matters to want a council that will lead the city toward a future that remains largely unknown, but which is taking shape in real time?

Amarillo appears to be moving forward. How is that a bad thing?

Good call, Amarillo voters, in re-electing City Council

To my former neighbors in Amarillo, I want to offer a bouquet and a word of praise for the wisdom they demonstrated Saturday in re-electing the five individuals who serve on their all-volunteer City Council.

They were returned for another two years in the saddle with healthy majorities, including the mayor, Ginger Nelson, who faced multiple challengers in her bid for a second term.

I say all this, of course, without casting a vote in the election. We don’t live there any longer, but I have been pleased with the progress the city has made in the two years since Nelson and her council colleagues took their seats.

Downtown’s redevelopment is continuing at a brisk pace. The Amarillo Sod Poodles are playing minor-league baseball in front of healthy crowds at Hodgetown. Yes, the city needs to fill some storefront space at the parking garage built across the street from the ballpark; I am not giving up on that venture.

What’s more, the city has thrown all in on the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine planned for its Health Sciences Center campus on the west end of the city.

Nelson, along with council members Howard Smith, Elaine Hays, Freda Powell and Eddie Sauer have sought to steady the municipal “ship of state” after a sometimes-rocky ride during the previous two years before they were elected the first time in 2017. From my vantage point, they appear to have done so.

Let us never forget: These folks get paid a “hefty” sum of $10 per public meeting, plus a reimbursement when they incur expenses while conducting city business.

They ain’t in it for the money.

My wife and I don’t get back to Amarillo — where we lived for more than two decades — very often these days. When we do, though, we enjoy seeing the change that occurs while we are away.

It looks damn good to my eyes.

Low turnout: It’s infectious and it needs to end

I guess Dallas municipal and school board voters are infected with the same disease that has plagued those in many other communities throughout the state. They don’t turn out to vote.

In today’s Dallas Morning News, columnist Robert Wilonsky notes the disinterest in the 2019 municipal election in south Dallas. “Despair is a hell of a disease,” he quotes a south Dallas resident in a column about the growth explosion that is underway in north Dallas regions. “It’s prevailing here. It doesn’t have to be. It shouldn’t be. It’s just here. And it’s in the way.”

Indeed. It’s in the way of progress.

I now will cast my gaze northwest from Dallas to Amarillo, another community about which I’ve commented frequently relating to its usually dismal municipal and school board election turnout.

Hey, guess what. That might change this weekend. What is the driver? It might be the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees election, where two incumbents from an embattled school board are standing for re-election.

AISD has gone through a tumultuous time starting with the resignation of Kori Clements as head coach of the Amarillo High School Sandies girls volleyball team. The school board has gotten an earful from constituents — and from this blog — about how it conducted itself prior to and in the wake of Clements’ resignation.

Clements said the school board and the administration didn’t back her while she fended off alleged interference from a parent who was upset over the playing time being given to her daughters.

Two incumbents are running for re-election. This election has the potential of producing a judgment from voters about how the board has handed this matter. When there’s controversy, I’ve noted over many years, there’s bound to be ramped-up voter interest.

I hope that’s the case in Amarillo.

Will it spill over to the City Council election that also occurs on Saturday? One can hope that the city and the school system will decided its local leadership with far more than a single-digit turnout, which too often is the case.

I long have noted that local elections are most meaningful for voters. They mean more in terms of decisions that affect voters directly than any other electoral level.

I am sorry to read about Dallas enduring the moribund turnouts that affect communities in Texas. I will continue to argue for greater turnout at this level of government.

Moreover, I will hold out some hope that Amarillo might shake itself loose from this desultory trend in just a few days.

Hey, if it takes some voter anger to awaken the “bosses,” the folks who pay the bills, then so be it.

Local PAC under fire once again

I try to keep an open mind. Really, I do.

However, I am baffled about why a group formed in Amarillo, Texas, to promote a certain agenda keeps getting sniped at by individuals and — please forgive me if I sound unkind — a few soreheads who cannot tolerate the influence this group has acquired.

Amarillo Matters is a political action committee with a stated mission to recruit individuals to run for public office. The PAC got involved in the 2017 municipal election, backed a slate of candidates for the City Council and then watched as all five of their endorsees won their seats on the council.

What has happened in the two years since then? Oh, a few things.

The city’s downtown revival has progressed. A new ballpark has opened downtown and the Amarillo Sod Poodles are now playing hardball at the AA level; they’re playing to thousands of fans each night. The Barfield Building, long abandoned and thought to be beyond repair, is being rehabbed and will open as a boutique hotel. City streets are being repaired and upgraded all over town.

The City Council is up for re-election next month. Amarillo Matters has endorsed them all. That’s no surprise, right? The folks the PAC endorsed are seeking another two years and Amarillo Matters isn’t going to abandon the council.

Is the city headed in the wrong direction? I do not believe so.

Check out Amarillo Matters website here.

I keep seeing social media posts from those who dislike Amarillo Matters. Why? Is it because its leadership comprises successful business and civic leaders? If so, why condemn them because of the success they have garnered? I believe we reward success in this country.

I have moved away from Amarillo but I retain an intense interest in the city’s future. I sat at ringside for more than two decades there and have watched it evolve from a moribund community to one that is on the move. Amarillo’s future has yet to be determined, but my creaky ol’ bones tell me it’s on the road to brighter days.

If a group of successful individuals can form a PAC and then push an agenda that enriches the community, then I offer a tip of the cap.

Go for it!

Just wondering: When will this city reform its voting plan?

Amarillo, Texas, is a wonderful place to call home. I did so for 23 years. I have moved away but my interest in my former “home town” still burns hot.

Every so often the debate surfaces about the city’s municipal voting plan. I want that discussion to re-start.

Amarillo is governed by a five-member City Council. They’re all elected at-large. Four council members have precisely the same constituency as the mayor. I believe the city has grown enough to modify its governing system.

The debate I have heard over many years was whether the city should stay with its at-large plan or should it elect all four members from wards, single-member districts. I do not understand why no one has pitched a reasonable compromise.

Let’s look at this idea: Expand the council by two, from five to seven. Elect four of the six council members from wards; elect two of them at-large; and, of course, continue to elect the mayor at-large.

I saw this voting plan work quite well in Beaumont, where I lived and worked for nearly 11 years before gravitating to the Texas Panhandle in early 1995.

Beaumont’s demographic makeup admittedly is quite different than Amarillo’s. It is divided roughly 50-50 between white and black residents. Amarillo is much whiter than Beaumont, but it does have an increasing Latino population.

Amarillo also is considerably larger than Beaumont, with 200,000 residents living there now, compared to around 120,000 residents in Beaumont. Amarillo, moreover, has been on a steady growth pattern for many decades, while Beaumont’s growth has been stagnant.

I believe Amarillo is big enough, mature enough and diverse enough these days to look seriously at an important change in its municipal voting plan. There is no need at all to impede that debate just because it’s “the way we’ve always done it.”

I used to argue when I worked for the Globe-News that the current system works well enough. There was no need to change. I have changed my mind. I don’t believe a drastic change from at-large to strictly single-member districts is in order. There ought to be a compromise to be reached.

Why not debate it openly, seriously and with vigor?

Red-light cameras about to go dark?

If the Texas Legislature forces cities to take down their red-light cameras — devices that aid local police departments in enforcing traffic laws — I fear we’re going to see an uptick in wrecks caused by reckless driving.

Sad times might lie ahead.

The Legislature is pondering whether to rescind the authority it granted cities a few years ago to deploy these devices at dangerous intersections. Local law enforcement and traffic officials were able to determine the most dangerous intersections in their cities; they deployed the cameras to take pictures of license plates on motor vehicles that ran through red lights. Cities then send citations to the registered owners of the vehicles, who then are told to pay fines.

I believe the cameras have deterred over time the rash of red-light violations in cities throughout the state.

Some folks keep bitching about them, though. I guess they’ve caught the attention of legislators and the governor, Greg Abbott, who’s now on board with the movement to take down the cameras.

That would be a shame.

Amarillo was one of the Texas cities to make use of the technology. Yes, it brought out the gripers. They complained to the city that they didn’t like being “busted” by machines; they considered the cameras to be unfair.

I laughed when I heard such nonsense. I also like harkening back to a retort offered a few years ago by a member of the City Council.

Then-Amarillo City Councilwoman Ellen Green said it succinctly and cogently. “If you don’t want to pay the fine,” she said during a council meeting, “then don’t run the red lights.”

Cities always can use the technological help the cameras provide. I hope the Legislature rethinks its move toward taking them down.

My hope doesn’t quite match my fear of what the Legislature is going to do.

Long-abandoned hospital campus might get new life

Who would have thought this was possible?

A group that took over control of a long-abandoned hospital campus has pitched the Amarillo City Council for a plan to provide about 125 low-income housing units.

The project is far from a done deal, but knowing the leader of the refurbishing effort as I do, I will not be surprised to see this dream come true.

St. Anthony’s Hospital went dark after the medical complex merged with High Plains Baptist Hospital about two decades ago. It has sat vacant along Amarillo Boulevard and Polk Street ever since. Mary Emeny, who heads a group called St. Anthony’s Legacy and Redevelopment Corporation, talked the City Council into giving its approval.

Emeny’s group has filed application for tax credits from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

Emeny, a former Amarillo Globe-News Woman of the Year, wants to convert the campus into a housing complex that would provide about 125 units. I’ve known Mary Emeny for some time. She is a force of nature. Emeny wants construction to start in March 2020; she says it will take about a year and a half to complete.

As KFDA NewsChannel 10 reports: While the plan would be to serve elderly residents, the building will address other needs in the community. “We’re hoping we can put a day care center on the first floor. Daycare is a real need up in that area as well. Seniors and daycare is a natural fit,” said Emeny.

I took a tour of the St. Anthony’s complex a few years ago when I was working as a freelance writer for NewsChannel 10’s website. The former owner walked me through the structure. Yes, it is a mess. Vandals had damaged it. The building was not secure.

Emeny’s outfit has a big job ahead of it.

I wish them well. I also am hopeful that the St. Anthony’s redevelopment effort to revive a structure that fulfills a serious community need: affordable housing for those in dire need of it.

Incumbents all have opponents? Good! Let the debate begin!

I understand that all five members of the Amarillo City Council are facing challenges this election cycle.

To which I must proclaim: Good deal!

Incumbent officeholders occasionally become afflicted with a certain sense of entitlement. I don’t know if that’s the case with the five Amarillo council members. Frankly, I don’t know any of them all that well. I guess the council member I know best is Freda Powell, and I cannot really say I “know” that much about her.

But they all have challengers, all of whom I presume believe they can do a better job of governing the city of Amarillo.

That remains to be seen.

Still, the notion that the incumbents are going to be forced to defend their record is a good thing for a city historically suffers from abysmal local election turnout. It dips at times into single digits, which cannot possibly produce any kind of “mandate” for the candidates who win these contests.

The 2019 municipal election might develop into a series of contests worth watching.

I’m watching this election from some distance this year. I have moved away from Amarillo, but I remain deeply interested in the city’s future. I happen to believe it is moving forward briskly and I credit the City Council for the progress the city is exhibiting.

I understand there’s been some tumult relating to public comments allowed at City Council meetings. The council, as I understand it, has sought to maintain a civil tone among the comments allowed by the public. That effort seems to have riled some constituents and they have responded at times rather angrily . . . which I guess might validate the council’s effort, yes?

Amarillo’s entire City Council stands for election every other year. All five incumbents have to make the case to voters. If they are unopposed, they have no case to make, given that no one is challenging their performance in public office.

That’s not so in 2019. Representative democracy also is better served when challengers step forward to have their voice heard and they seek to make the case they can do better.

So, let the debate commence.

Watching the rebirth of a city’s downtown

I don’t get back to Amarillo, Texas, as often these days. My wife and I are getting set to plant new roots in a home in Collin County.

We aren’t going to cease returning to the city we called “home” for more than decades. I am getting anxious to witness the rebirth of its downtown district.

You know already that I am a big supporter of the changes that are under way in the Texas Panhandle community. I am heartened by the expected completion of Hodgetown, the baseball park that will be the home field for the AA minor-league Amarillo Sod Poodles baseball squad; the Sod Poodles open their home season on April 8. As an aside, my wife and I will be in Amarillo that day, getting ready to shove off in our fifth wheel for a trip downstate and then to New Orleans; hmm, I might look for a way to attend that opening-night game.

I simply am amazed that the city has embarked on this urban revival journey. When we arrived in Amarillo in early 1995 we saw little evidence of a municipal appetite for the pro-active approach we have witnessed unfold there. City Hall operated on a policy of letting private business fuel any significant change. The city took a hands-off approach; it didn’t want to invest public money on what it considered to be a private venture.

That has changed to a large degree at City Hall. Two mayors, Debra McCartt and Paul Harpole moved the City Council forward in pushing for development of the ballpark. It promoted what it called “catalyst projects” that would bloom in the wake of the ballpark’s completion. Those projects appear to be bearing fruit.

The city welcomed the opening of a first-class hotel; it is pledging to make major improvements to the Civic Center; Polk Street — once known as Amarillo’s “main drag” — is coming back to life; renovated buildings on Polk are welcoming something called “pop up” businesses; the Barfield Building is in the process of being repurposed into a Marriott “boutique hotel.”

This all makes my head spin.

And I don’t even live there!

Every return to Amarillo we make these days fills us with surprises. We’ll be back again soon. I await the next jaw-dropper.