Tag Archives: Amarillo City Council

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.

Campaigning for city’s brighter future

Every now and then I get responses to my blog posts commenting on Amarillo’s progress from those who look a bit skeptically at what gets my attention.

I will post something hailing the development downtown. I like looking past the highway headaches we experience along Interstates 40 and 27. Then I get the responses from my fellow Panhandle residents who aren’t as supportive of what I see happening.

That’s their call. Just as my blog posts are my call.

I suppose it’s an unwritten policy of High Plains Blogger to offer positive commentary on Amarillo, where my wife and one of my sons and I have have lived for more than two decades.

I want the city to succeed. I have noticed a decidedly different approach from the city’s governing council regarding Amarillo’s growth and the role that municipal government is playing.

The council once operated under a policy of letting private enterprise carry the ball forward. The city took a more hands-off approach to public involvement. I assumed my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News in January 1995 and felt a decided slow-down of inertia at City Hall.

That appeared to change with the election of Debra McCartt as the city’s first female mayor. It continued through her time in the mayor’s office and was picked up by her successor, Paul Harpole. This past year, Ginger Nelson took over and seems set on continuing the city’s more proactive approach.

I fully support this form of “good government” and I will continue to use this blog as a forum to express that support.

Some of the more critical observers of Amarillo’s business activity perhaps think of this blog as a forum for a Pollyanna. If that’s the case, well, I would disagree in strong terms.

I’ve been known to toss a brick or two at local political interests when opportunities present themselves. I also have snooped around and found those opportunities hidden in places most folks cannot find.

I won’t assign nefarious motives just for the sake of stirring up trouble. To date, as I’ve watched the city move forward with downtown redevelopment and the myriad other initiatives under way throughout Amarillo, I remain in wholehearted support of what I consider to be a march toward a brighter future.

Atkinson lands on his feet

Jarrett Atkinson was, in effect, shown the door at Amarillo City Hall when voters elected a new majority to their City Council in 2015.

The city manager had done a good job for Amarillo during his six years at the helm. The new council majority saw things differently. Atkinson gave it a shot — for a brief period of time — before he submitted his resignation.

He said all the right things upon his departure. He didn’t make waves. He didn’t burn bridges publicly.

Atkinson took some time off and then ventured two hours south along Interstate 27 to become Lubbock’s city manager, where, according to an article in the Amarillo Globe-News, he has had a productive and eventful first year at that city’s administrative wheel.

It gladdens my heart to know that Atkinson has remained in public service.

It is true that I’ve lost touch with him since he left Amarillo City Hall; in truth I lost touch when I left the Amarillo Globe-News in August 2012. But I remained a strong supporter of the city manager, even as he struggled under the City Council’s new majority, which lasted two years before voters decided to clean them all out and installed an entirely new council in the spring of 2017.

I admired Atkinson’s expertise on water management. He took Amarillo many steps forward in its acquisition of water rights, helping secure the city’s future development. Atkinson was the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission’s go-to guy on water management before he made the move to Amarillo City Hall.

Moreover, I trust he’ll bring that same expertise to his new gig in Lubbock.

While it is true that Atkinson was universally loved and admired by the staff at Amarillo City Hall, I continue to look at the progress the city made during his time as city manager.

Downtown Amarillo took many steps forward on his watch. The city continued its moderate and steady growth. The city’s overall economic health remains strong, built largely on the municipal administration that Atkinson led.

I will continue to wish Jarrett Atkinson well as he continues his public service career. Lubbock has gained a solid hand at the municipal wheel.

Amarillo goes smoke-free … without a city ordinance

I feel like revisiting an issue that some years ago got a lot of Amarillo, Texas, residents all fired up.

I am referring to smoking indoors.

Over the years I have discovered something curious — and quite welcome — about the city where my wife and I live. It’s damn near impossible to find an eating establishment that still allows indoor smoking.

I haven’t been to every single such establishment in the city, so this isn’t a declaration of fact. It is a perception that has dawned on me.

City residents twice in recent years rejected municipal referendums calling for a citywide ban on indoor smoking. The calls for a city ordinance came from the medical community that sought to mandate that business owners order customers to keep their smokes unlit while they ate and drank indoors.

I worked during at least one of those elections for the Amarillo Globe-News. Our newspaper’s editorial policy opposed the mandate. We stated our preference for business owners to do the right thing without being forced to do so by the government.

I gritted my teeth while writing editorials taking that position. My personal preference — and it remains so to this day — was that the city should put residents’ health first. Second-hand smoke is dangerous to those who inhale it. What’s more, a former city councilman — a physician — once admitted to me that his personal preference was to enact a smoke-free ordinance, but that he didn’t want to be the sole vote on the five-member governing panel.

But now, years later, my wife and I are still eating out on occasion. We have discovered that none of the establishments we frequent allow indoor smoking. Indeed, some of these businesses — which formerly allowed it — have gone smoke-free on their own. Imagine that! It turns out that the newspaper’s opposition to was on the mark.

A couple of well-known places along Historic Route 66 have gone smoke-free. I interviewed one business owner while working part-time for KFDA NewsChannel 10 and learned that although she opposed the ordinance she was adamantly opposed to smoking inside her restaurant.

This is all my way of paying tribute to those business owners who have stayed true to their conscience while improving the health climate for their customers.

I am pretty certain some readers of this blog are going to remind me that there remain some joints around the city that still allow smoke to billow from stogies and cigarettes.

Fine. I just can’t find them. I prefer it that way.

Is graffiti abatement still on the city’s agenda?

Paul Harpole became Amarillo’s mayor in 2011 after campaigning on a vow to rid the city of graffiti that was scarring private property.

He orchestrated the launch of a program aimed at cleaning up buildings that were being “tagged” by gang members and would-be gang members.

Then he left the mayor’s office earlier this year. The current mayor, Ginger Nelson, campaigned on a multi-faceted platform of issues ranging from economic development, to fiscal accountability, to beautification of our public rights-of-way. There are plenty of other issues, too.

I don’t recall reading about graffiti abatement as I pored through Nelson’s list of municipal priorities.

So, my question is: Did the graffiti abatement program vanish when Paul Harpole walked away from the mayor’s office?

I hope that’s not the case.

One mayor’s effort to rid the city of a nuisance should become part of the next mayor’s agenda as well. Don’t you think?

Harpole stays the course on graffiti battle

I thought Harpole had the right idea when he decided to take on the “artists” who deem it OK to deface other people’s property.

Mayor Nelson appears quite dedicated to her vision for making the city a better, more attractive place for its 200,000 residents. I believe part of her overall strategy needs to include her immediate predecessor’s aim to rid the city of graffiti.

Amarillo poised to become a baseball city again

It is a virtual lead-pipe cinch that I won’t be living in Amarillo when they toss the first pitch at the city’s new downtown ballpark.

The city’s new AA minor-league baseball team will commence its initial season in April 2019 in a shiny new 4,500-seat venue.

The journey toward that end has been fraught with some difficulty, some apprehension and, yes, a bit of controversy. It’s going to come to fruition, which makes me happy for the city my wife and will depart in due course.

I will acknowledge that I was not a regular attendee at the independent league games played by teams that had various names. I did attend a few games at the dump once known as the Dilla Villa, in honor of the Amarillo Dillas who were playing baseball there when my wife and I arrived here in early 1995.

They morphed into another team, which morphed again. Then the outfit that ran that team decided to split its home season between Amarillo and Grand Prairie. That lasted one year. Now they’re gone.

The ballpark, also known as the multipurpose event venue, was conceived by local officials and business leaders while all that nonsense was occurring at the rat hole that passes for a ballpark at the Tri-State Fairgrounds. They had a number of public hearings. They put the issue to a non-binding citywide referendum in November 2015 — and it passed.

The price tag for the referendum was pegged at $32 million. It grew to $45 million. They knocked down the old Coca-Cola distribution center, and relocated that business elsewhere.

Has it been smooth sailing? Not at all. I had my own doubts about whether the Local Government Corp. could pull this deal off. The City Council support for the LGC’s work seemed a bit tenuous. Then this past spring, voters decided to elect a new council.

Let us not forget that the general managing contractor, Wallace Bajjali, vaporized along the way in a dispute between the firm’s principal owners. It didn’t deter the progress toward landing the affiliated AA franchise.

The Elmore Group, which owns the San Antonio Missions, is now going to relocate that team to Amarillo; San Antonio will get a AAA team that will relocate to the Alamo City from Colorado Springs.

Meantime, life is good for diehard baseball fans in Amarillo. They’re going to get to watch a professionally run baseball team play ball in a sparkling new venue.

I wish them all well. This journey has given me a mild case of heartburn along the way. It’s all good now as they prepare to break ground on the ballpark.

I intend to watch it grow and will be cheering from afar when they toss out that first pitch.

Just wondering: Amarillo Matters … where is it?

A political action group emerged from nowhere earlier this year. It called itself Amarillo Matters. Its mission, as I understand it, was to elect a slate of candidates to the City Council.

It succeeded. This past spring, voters flipped the entire five-member council, electing five newbies. Amarillo Matters then seemingly packed its bags, and its members went back to whatever they were doing before they formed this political action committee.

They were mostly successful businessmen and women. Their agenda included electing individuals who shared their pro-business tilt. Hey, I have no problem with that.

There’s been some success in the months since the new council members took office. Chief among them is the landing of that AA minor-league baseball franchise that is relocating to Amarillo from San Antonio and will play baseball at the new ballpark that will be built in downtown Amarillo; they’ll toss the first pitch in April 2019.

That’s a big deal, man.

But what has become of Amarillo Matters? It’s no longer garnering headlines, or any discussion on local broadcast media. I looked at its website this evening. It’s still up. AM has a link where one can contribute money; I am not giving them any dough.

I’ve written plenty about them already:

http://highplainsblogger.com/?s=Amarillo+Matters

Given that I am unplugged from most of what’s going on at City Hall these days, I am left to use this blog to pose questions about some of the community’s key players.

I consider Amarillo Matters to be an important cog in the city’s civic machinery. I know many of the folks who formed the PAC’s leadership team earlier this year. I respect them, too.

I hope it hasn’t become what the Amarillo Millennial Movement turned out to be: a flash in the pan. AMM formed to promote the approval of the ballpark in the November 2015 municipal referendum. The measure passed — and AMM then vanished, vaporized, disappeared. Yes, I am aware that the AMM comprised essentially one individual, a young woman who moved to Fort Worth. But you get my point, yes?

Amarillo Matters, where are you and what are you doing to make sure that that Amarillo still, um, matters?

Renaming buildings and streets? Follow a simple formula

Amarillo city officials are considering some ordinances related to building and street renaming.

There’s been a bit of controversy about that in recent times, with Amarillo public school officials considering whether to rename an elementary school that currently is named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, whose participation in the Civil War has come under scrutiny of late.

Hey, I have one recommendation for Amarillo City Hall: Whatever you decide, be sure to avoid naming a building or street after a living individual.

No living honorees

The city named its administration building in 2014 after the late City Commissioner Jim Simms; it named its international airport after Rick Husband, the astronaut who died aboard the shuttle Columbia in 2003; Amarillo has named part of a street after Justin Scherlen, a police officer who died in the line of duty.

Cities that name structures or streets after living individuals run the risk of being embarrassed by the “honored” individual. The most prominent example that comes to my mind involves Pete Rose, the former Cincinnati Reds baseball great who got a street named in his honor in Cincy; then Rose got ensnared in a gambling scandal that resulted in his being banned for life from induction in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. The city took Rose’s name off the street.

So, go ahead, City Hall, with considering this ordinance. I have no problem with the city having a policy for this process — as long as it involves individuals who have left this world.

Good luck, City Council.

APD returns to community policing

Terry Childers didn’t exactly distinguish himself during the year or so he served as Amarillo’s interim city manager.

Childers did, however, make one stellar personnel decision in 2016: hiring Ed Drain — an assistant police chief in Plano — as the interim chief of police when Robert Taylor retired as Amarillo’s top cop. Then he took the next step when he named Drain as the city’s permanent police chief. Not long after that, Childers quit and returned to Oklahoma City.

Drain, meanwhile, has distinguished himself in his few months on the job in Amarillo. Mayor Ginger Nelson brought out some key points regarding Drain’s tenure in her State of the City speech, noting some improvements that I want to look at briefly in this blog post.

One of them involves the return of community policing.

Former Police Chief Jerry Neal introduced to the city the notion of police officers making themselves more visible in the neighborhoods they patrol. He deployed bicycle patrols and instructed officers to engage in greater outreach to the communities they serve.

Then Neal retired. Taylor assumed command. Community policing disappeared. Then Taylor retired. In came Drain. Community policing has made a return.

As Nelson said Tuesday morning, the police department has instituted community policing programs in five neighborhoods. The program includes police substations where officers are able to do paperwork and perform other duties required of them.

The city has transformed the old North Heights YMCA into a community center now called the Charles Warford Center. It will include a police presence and will, according to Nelson, “provide a safe place for neighborhood children.”

It’s interesting to me that all this has occurred during Chief Drain’s time as head of the Amarillo Police Department.

I happen to be a big fan of community policing. It has worked in cities all across the nation. It puts police officers in more direct contact with the neighborhoods they serve. It helps remove the Us vs. The Man stigma that occasionally infects police relationships with the communities they serve.

Crime statistics suggest the city has work to do, according to Nelson, who said Tuesday that she intends to remove Amarillo from the list of “most dangerous cities in Texas.” She intends to make Amarillo known as one of the state’s “safest cities.”

I believe the mayor has a tremendous resource at her disposal in the form of Police Chief Ed Drain.

Mayor delivers on State of the City address

I had this gnawing feeling in my gut when I ventured this morning to the Amarillo Civic Center.

My gut was warning me of a possible happy-talk recitation from Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson who pledged to offer her view of the State of the City.

To her great credit, the mayor in effect told my gut to settle down. No need to worry about that. Instead, Nelson proceeded to tell a Grand Plaza Ballroom packed with attendees that the city has made great strides already, but has a good bit more distance to travel as it is “Getting it Done” for the city’s 200,000 residents.

Indeed, Nelson today put quite a Getting it Done-themed agenda looking forward on the record. She laid down a terrific benchmark to take forward next year — and for years after that.

This is the kind of speech that residents need to hear from the City Council’s presiding officer. Granted, under Amarillo’s voting plan, the mayor represents precisely the same citywide constituency as the other four council members; everyone on the council is elected at-large. The mayor is given what Theodore Roosevelt used to call the “bully pulpit” and this morning I heard Amarillo’s first-term mayor use that pulpit with effectiveness.

Much is going well in Amarillo, Nelson said. The city maintains a low municipal property tax rate; the city’s downtown district is moving forward and soon construction will begin on a $45.5 million downtown ballpark that will be home to a AA minor-league baseball franchise.

Amarillo’s police department is reinvigorating its community policing program under the guidance of Police Chief Ed Drain. The city is opening police substations in minority neighborhoods and putting officers in closer touch with the neighborhoods they are patrolling.

The city is working to improve North Heights living conditions and plans to focus soon on The Barrio and San Jacinto, Nelson said.

But we haven’t reached nirvana, the mayor cautioned.

Response times from police and firefighters need to improve, she said. The city needs to boost its educational level; only 22 percent of Amarillo residents have earned a bachelor’s degree or better, Nelson said. The city is ranked by the FBI as one of Texas’s “most dangerous cities,” according to Nelson.

“We have an epidemic of illegal dumping in our alleys,” Nelson said. There needs to be “better planning” between the city and the Texas Department of Transportation as it regards the enormous amount of road work that’s under way, the mayor said.

The city must do a better job of improving the physical appearance of Interstates 40 and 27 as they course through Amarillo, she said, although she noted that the city has instituted a new schedule for mowing the rights-of-way.

She urges residents to “buy local,” noting that business and sales tax revenue has slipped a bit in recent years. She laid the blame for the sale slippage on “online shopping.” Nelson said buying local ought to be an “easy” goal for residents to achieve if they intend to support their community.

It’s easy for elected municipal officials to tout the good news and give the challenges the short shrift when speaking to a public audience. Mayor Nelson did not do that this morning.

My major takeaway from her State of the City speech is that she set the table for more speeches that will communicate where the city continues to fall short … and where it is “Getting it Done.”