Tag Archives: Amarillo City Council

Amarillo College, city score a winner with free bus rides

When I heard of this news item from up yonder in Amarillo, I’ll admit to a reaction that might seem a bit unflattering.

It was: What took ’em so long to enact this one?

Amarillo City Transit, the public bus transportation system, is soon to offer free transportation for Amarillo College students. The idea is so brilliant yet so simple, I was struck by the length of time it took for someone to pitch it to the City Council.

Who might be the biggest beneficiaries of this initiative? I figure it’s got to be the students who attend classes at AC’s main campus on Washington Street, just south of Interstate 40. You see, parking at that campus has been a serious problem for as long as I can remember.

I have known several AC presidents over many years, starting with Bud Joyner; then along came Fred Williams, Steve Jones, Paul Matney and now Russell Lowery-Hart. They all grappled with the parking nightmare at the main campus, as did the AC Board of Regents. College enrollment grew, but the parking capacity didn’t keep pace.

The way I figure it, if the college and the city promote this new benefit aggressively and effectively, it will fill the buses with students coming into town to attend classes. It also well could alleviate the parking problem with fewer motor vehicles being crammed onto the parking lots and along the city streets surrounding the campus.

I also must admit to a failing of my own. You see, I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News for nearly 18 years and I don’t once recall ever having a discussion with my boss, or the editorial board, or with college administrators and city officials about enacting such a plan for students.

So I’m left to ask while kicking myself in the backside: Why didn’t I think of this idea long ago?

I am hoping this idea works well for the students … as well as for the college.

City Council’s big-picture vision laid the groundwork

The Amarillo Sod Poodles continue to be the talk of the city where they play AA minor-league hardball.

They play before large crowds at a venue called Hodgetown. They’re getting salutes for the sound of the name and the quality of the ballpark.

To think that all of this was thought by many observers — including yours truly — to be in jeopardy in 2015.

Looking back on that time, while I was still living in Amarillo, I recall a contentious municipal election. Voters installed a new majority on the five-member City Council. At least two of those new folks spoke openly about whether building a “multipurpose event venue” was even feasible. They fought with Mayor Paul Harpole. City Manager Jarrett Atkinson quit, reportedly under duress.

Still, the council approved a non-binding referendum for the ballot that fall. The issue went to a vote. City residents approved it, albeit by a narrow margin.

To its credit, the City Council honored the statement of that referendum — which it was under no obligation to do — and proceeded with the initial development of what we still referred to as the MPEV.

The rest is history. The city lured the San Antonio Missions to Amarillo; the Alamo City wasn’t left without a baseball team, as it welcomed a AAA franchise that relocated to South Texas from Colorado Springs.

Amarillo, though, turned out to be the big winner, given that it didn’t have any sort of organized baseball franchise competing here. You’ll recall that the former tenants of Potter County Memorial Stadium decided to play half of its “home games” in Grand Prairie, only to abandon Amarillo altogether.

A new City Council has taken over from the one that got elected in 2015. All five new council members took office in 2017 and were re-elected this year. They have carried the momentum from that earlier time forward, for which many of us — even though I no longer live in Amarillo — remain quite grateful.

I do hope one day to spend enough time in Amarillo to sit in the stands at Hodgetown and cheer for the Sod Poodles. First things first, though. The Sod Poodles compete in the Texas League with the Frisco Roughriders, which is just down the road from where I live these days.

I intend to cheer for the Sod Poodles even as they play against the “home team” in Frisco.

AISD board ought to include this applicant

This just in: A former Amarillo mayor has tossed her name into the mix to be considered for appointment to the Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees.

Yep, that would be Debra McCartt.

This news excites me. I happen to know McCartt. I also happen to believe she would lend some needed gravitas to the board. She also would bring some important governing experience to a board that has gone through its share of turmoil in recent months.

Here is what McCartt said today on Facebook: I’m excited to announce that I have officially thrown my name into the hat to fill one of the two open spots on the Amarillo Independent School District’s Board of Trustees. As you know, I’ve always had a passion for serving my community and have a long history of working in education, including eight years as a teacher and most recently a substitute. Educating our children is one of the most critical investments that we can make! I would love to be able to work to make our already excellent school district even better for our students. Stay tuned! 

I’m going to “stay tuned,” all right.

Two board seats need filling, as McCartt points out. One of them once was occupied by John Ben Blanchard, the other by Renee McCown. They both resigned shortly after the May election that produced several newcomers to the seven-member board.

Why is McCartt a fascinating candidate for appointment? It’s because she brings an enormous level of energy to a governing body such as this.

She served three terms as mayor of Amarillo. Prior to that she served a couple of terms as city commissioner. She earned her spurs on that governing board. Indeed, I was fond of suggesting that McCartt defied “the laws of physics” by seeming to be everywhere in the city all at once. She was a tremendous advocate and spokeswoman for the city.

I believe her ability to speak passionately for the city transfers to the Amarillo Independent School District.

I mentioned the tumult that enveloped the school district. It involved the resignation of a high school volleyball coach the implication that a school trustee had interfered with the coach’s performance of her job. McCown was the trustee allegedly involved in that mess. A complaint filed with the Texas Education Agency said that McCown had interfered on behalf of her daughters, who played for the Amarillo High School Sandies volleyball team. The coach quit and said in her resignation letter that the board and administration had failed to give her the backing she believed she needed.

To the best of my knowledge, McCartt does not have any children currently enrolled in the Amarillo public school system. I do not know if she has any grandchildren in the system.

I do know, though, that her time as a city commissioner and mayor did not include any accusations of meddling. She knows her limits as a member of a governing board and follows the rules to the letter.

There will be other good candidates, to be sure. I just feel the need to weigh in on this application in the hope that the AISD board gives Debra McCartt full consideration for an appointment.

I believe she would be a great addition to the school board.

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.