Tag Archives: Amarillo City Council

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.

Potential tumult awaits officials in Amarillo

A still-small part of me wishes I could settle into a ringside seat in Amarillo, Texas — where I used to live — to watch what might be a burgeoning political tumult involving two elected governing boards.

One of them is the Amarillo City Council, the other is the Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees.

Under the city charter, all five council seats are up for election in odd-numbered years. In 2017, voters elected an entirely new council, which had been roiled in dispute, tension and dissension.

The city has continued its march toward a serious economic revival in the two years since the new council took office. The council did manage to ensnare itself in a controversy involving policies governing public comment at public council meetings. I am not sure whether that tempest has subsided entirely.

Were I to vote in Amarillo, I likely would cast my ballot in favor of returning all the incumbents, if all them run for re-election. That cannot happen, as I now live in Collin County. However, I retain a considerable interest in Amarillo politics. It’s tough to shake it off after living there for 23 years, spending most of that time on post at the Amarillo Globe-News.

The Amarillo ISD board, though, is facing an entirely different circumstance. Three board members’ seats are up this year. AISD voters have a chance to select three new board members. It is my strong hunch they’ll have that chance, given the mess that has been stirred up on the board.

You might know the story. I’ll recap it briefly. An Amarillo High School girls volleyball coach, Kori Clements, quit her job after a single season. She walked away from one of the state’s most storied high school athletic programs, citing what she called parental interference; she also stated publicly that the AISD administration –and the school board — did not have her back.

It gets complicated. The allegedly offending parent reportedly is a member of the school board, who clearly should know better than to meddle in the work of a school district employee. That board member’s seat is not one of the three seats to be decided this year. Her term ends in 2021.

My equally strong hunch is that the three seats to be contested are likely to change hands, given the school board’s stone-cold silence on the coach’s resignation or on the issue that allegedly brought it about.

To be sure, I’ll be watching from afar. I simply hope for wisdom and discernment among voters when they go to the polls later this year. This election could be one for the books.

Here’s an endorsement: Re-elect Ginger Nelson

I might be climbing out on that proverbial limb. Then again, maybe I am not.

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson has announced she is running for a second term. I wish I could vote for her. I cannot, because I no longer live in Amarillo, my city of residence for 23 years.

However, I can use my voice — as “heard” through this blog — to officially endorse her bid for re-election. So, I will.

Amarillo needs to return Mayor Nelson to the center chair on the five-member Amarillo City Council.

I am glad her “campaign announcement” on Wednesday turned out to be code for a re-election effort. The nebulous language contained in a campaign “announcement” could have meant something quite different.

Yes, the city’s momentum is taking it forward. Mayor Nelson inherited a post that has helped push the city forward. Her two predecessors, Paul Harpole and Debra McCartt, got the wagon moving. Nelson has done well in her first term as mayor to keep the wagon between the lanes and out of the ditch.

She ran in 2017 on a number of campaign promises. Chief among them, as is usually the case, is economic growth. The city’s growth has been tangible, visible and is demonstrably beneficial.

Nelson wants a safe city. Her re-election campaign announcement speech included talk about her efforts to improve public safety. Police Chief Ed Drain has reinvigorated the city’s community policing program and for that he and the mayor and the council deserve high praise.

The city is working well. It’s being rebuilt from stem to stern. Downtown is in the midst of its major makeover. So are highways running through the city (thanks to the work being done by the Texas Department of Transportation). And of course we have the street repair.

The city is on the move. The mayor is a significant player in the city’s movement. It’s going in the right direction.

Re-elect Ginger Nelson.

Run again, Mme. Mayor . . . run again!

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson has scheduled what has been called a “campaign announcement” Wednesday morning.

Hmm. What will she do? I haven’t a clue. For that matter, I barely know Mayor Nelson. I’ve shaken her hand. I’ve had some conversation with her. This all occurred when she was running for mayor in 2017.

She won the mayor’s race that year, joining an entirely new Amarillo City Council that took office that year. She is one of three women to serve on the five-member council, giving the city it’s first ever female majority on its governing body. Nelson is the second woman ever elected mayor of Amarillo; Debra McCartt was the first.

I want her to run again, even though I cannot vote for her. All I can do from a distance now that I’ve moved away is suggest that she needs to be re-elected. She needs to keep her hand on the municipal till as it steers toward what I perceive to be a bright — if still unknown — future.

The city’s new downtown ballpark is under construction; its new AA baseball team has a goofy, but oddly charming, name; the team will play start playing hardball in April 2019. More change is occurring downtown. The city’s streets — seemingly damn near all of ’em — are under repair, rebuilding and renovation.

Progress can be painful.

Hey, it just occurs to me I might be getting ahead of myself. Maybe the mayor will announce Wednesday she’s had all the fun she can stand after just a single two-year term.

I doubt that will happen. I hope Ginger Nelson runs again.

Bring on the women!

In 2017, Amarillo voters had the good sense to elect an entirely new City Council, given that the previous one had become so dysfunctional.

Three of the new council members are women, which on a five-member governing body means its majority comprises females.

I commented on my blog at the time about that marvelous turn of events and a couple of soreheads chastised me, suggesting that the presence of a female-majority council didn’t mean a damn thing will change.

Guess what. Now we’re about to welcome more than 100 women to the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s the most ever for Congress’s lower chamber. It’s all the talk in Washington as these individuals get set to take their seats.

The vast majority of the newly elected women are Democrats, so they constitute part of that so-called “blue wave” that swept over Congress, flipping the House from Republican to Democratic control.

I’m wondering now: Where is the thought that these women won’t make a difference, that they won’t have an impact on the flow of legislation, or the topics to be considered?

One of the returning women, Nancy Pelosi of California, is poised to become speaker of the House. She’s “killing” her intraparty foes with promises of committee chairmanships and prioritizing legislative items to their liking. That’s how you play the “inside game” and Speaker-to-be Pelosi is proving to be pretty damn good at it.

I am one American voter who is glad to see women making a greater impact, leaving a bigger and deeper footprint on the nation’s legislative agenda. I remain committed to the notion, too, that a female-majority City Council in the city of my former residence is going to make a positive difference in the community’s future.

What do thriving cities have in common?

The answer to the question posed in the headline is easy to discern.

Downtown. They all have thriving downtown districts in common. Show me a city with bustling, living, vibrant central business and entertainment district and I’ll show you a city on the move — in the right direction!

I am happy to reaffirm that Amarillo, Texas, where I lived for 23 years, is making a significant move toward a bright future because it is redeveloping its downtown district, which is slated to look like the rendering that accompanies this blog post.

I cannot stress enough how delighted this makes me feel about Amarillo, a community I grew to love during my time there.

We arrived in Amarillo in early 1995 and found a city that was, well, nice enough. It has nice people, which usually is a euphemistic way of saying that the city didn’t have much else to offer. That more or less described the Amarillo my wife and I discovered when we settled there.

Over time, though, it has changed. The most dramatic change occurred when the City Council decided to get off its collective duff and infused some public money into downtown redevelopment.

The city created something called a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, which uses property value appreciation — and the tax revenue it generates within the TIRZ — to pay for public infrastructure improvements.

The council began walking the downtown redevelopment walk, rather than just talking about it.

It held a citywide non-binding referendum on whether to build a downtown ballpark/multipurpose event venue. The measure passed. The council made good on its pledge to adhere to voters’ wishes. The MPEV construction is proceeding.

The city will welcome a Double A minor-league baseball franchise next spring.

Meanwhile, business owners and private investors are pouring money into new development along Polk Street, the one-time Amarillo “main drag” downtown. Restaurants are popping up like spring flowers. A hotel developer built a four-star hotel across the street from City Hall, next to the city’s performing arts center. Loft apartments have opened up along 10th Avenue.

Another hotel is proposed to move into a renovated structure, the Barfield Building, at the corner of Sixth and Polk.

Many other cities can boast of similar improvements. They also can look back on when their prosperity commenced. They, too, can trace their rebirth to when their governing councils made the conscious decision to invest emotional capital, political capital and actual capital in their downtown districts.

Amarillo is going to join a number of cities that have revived themselves. It will get there eventually, of that I am certain.

I look forward to the day when Amarillo no longer will be known primarily as a place with nice people. Yes, the people are wonderful. They also are going to have a lot of entertainment options to explore in their newly vibrant city.