Tag Archives: Amarillo City Hall

Sod Poodles? Let’s play ball … but hurry up!

AMARILLO, Texas — We’re all entitled to change our minds, right? Politicians do it all the time, saying their views have “evolved.” Or, in the case of Donald John Trump, his views change according to whatever his closest friends or his children tell him.

But … I digress.

I have done a nearly 180-degree about-face on the finalist names for the AA baseball team that’s going to play in a structure that at the moment is nothing more than a very large hole in the ground across the street from Amarillo City Hall.

None of the names excited me at first. Upon reflection, though, I am leaning toward Sod Poodles, the so-called old-fashioned name that supposedly refers to prairie dogs.

Don’t wish bad things to happen to me, please. My wife and I have a lot of fun-loving retirement years ahead of us.

Yeah, I said the name stunk when the franchise owners announced the finalist names. The one name that still sticks in my craw — if you’ll excuse the pun — is Jerky. Amarillo Jerky? Are you kidding me?

The team went for cutie names. They want the new baseball franchise to be a family-friendly endeavor. I think Sod Poodles fills the bill.

OK. That all being said, I want to offer a slight word of caution.

I ventured downtown over the weekend and noticed the big ol’ hole. I saw what looks like some reinforcement along the north edge of the hole.

I walked into the Embassy Suites hotel to see a friend who’s visiting from Lubbock. He reminded me that in his mind the construction pace needs to pick up. “I am not sure they’ll be ready for ball,” he said. I answered, “But they’re opening their season in April 2019.” Then my pal said, “Hey, that’s less than a year away!”

Duh???

I’m not an engineer. I have no experience with heavy-duty construction projects. My friend, though, has raised a legitimate concern. The multipurpose event venue where this team will play hardball is, um, seemingly a long way from becoming reality.

My farming and ranching friends will hate me for saying this, but if the MPEV is going to be finished on time, then I think Mother Nature perhaps needs to provide us with a second bone-dry winter in a row in 2018-19.

I’m trying to imagine how the crews are going to work when there’s a foot of snow on the ground in, say, December or January.

Let’s get busy, gang.

HOT to pick up MPEV tab

I got my first good look today at the big hole they’ve dug out in front of Amarillo City Hall.

It is, as they say, what it is: a big hole full of heavy equipment moving lots of dirt around. I noticed some wood scaffolding on the north side of the hole.

It’s going to take shape, probably quite soon, as the new multipurpose event venue, which in April 2019 will become the home field for the AA minor league baseball team that will relocate to Amarillo from San Antonio.

Yes, there’s still some grumbling — although it’s quite muted these days — about the MPEV. I’m OK with the muted aspect. The soreheads seem to want to believe erroneously that the MPEV is going to cost them a lot of property tax money.

It won’t..

The money is coming from visitors to the city as well as from lease fees the ballclub owners — the Elmore Group — are going to pay the city to use the MPEV.

My wife and I went out this evening to watch “Sister Act” at Amarillo Little Theater. On our way home, we scooted along Interstate 40 where I couldn’t help but notice the hotels along the route. What did they have in common? All their parking lots were full of motor vehicles.

What does that mean to me? It means the vehicles carried people to those hotels, where those people paid to spend the night. Part of that lodging cost gets siphoned off for the Hotel Occupancy Tax the city collects.

And, yes, a portion of that HOT goes to paying for the MPEV.

It makes me wonder about the timing of the initiative to build the MPEV and the hotel construction boom that erupted along I-40. I’m quite sure it’s more than mere coincidence, which makes me figure that someone — or several folks and interests — knew what they were doing all along.

Let the MPEV proceed … and let the visitors to our city pay for it.

Downtown Amarillo’s progress marches on

There was some discussion this week at Amarillo City Council’s regular meeting about the city’s downtown march.

A woman asked the city to suspend work on the multipurpose event venue until residents could vote on whether it should continue.

I have no idea whether she represents a larger bloc of residents, but I was impressed to hear City Manager Jared Miller’s response. It was that the city did put the issue to a non-binding referendum in November 2015. Voters were asked whether they endorsed the MPEV’s construction. A majority of them answered in the affirmative. Miller also noted that the city was not obligated to put the issue to a vote, but it did as a show of good faith.

Work then began this past year. It will be done by February 2019. By April of that year, a AA baseball team will start playing hardball in the MPEV.

I would like to offer this nugget of, well, opinion about the MPEV.

It’s a vital component of the city’s stated desire to improve its downtown district. I get that the November 2015 referendum called for construction of a $32 million ballpark, but that the cost has escalated some to $45.5 million. There well might be some latent resentment among residents — many of them soreheads — who dislike that its cost has escalated.

The city doesn’t need to put the brakes on a project that’s already been discussed, debated, dissected and, finally, determined to be part of the city’s dynamic future.

The public has had plenty of opportunities to comment on it. Whether the public has responded to those opportunities sufficiently is a matter of ongoing discussion.

I remain steadfast in my belief that the MPEV is going to trigger a tremendous revival of interest in our downtown district. When that occurs, I also remain dedicated to the notion that all of Amarillo will flourish perhaps in a manner that we cannot yet foresee.

I want to join my good friend David Horsley, a former Center City board member, who told the council: “We had great goals and thought we were pushing the ball down the field a little bit … But after I rotated off after about six years, we didn’t have much to show for our work. And it was kind of depressing. Downtown is the heart of the city and the heart was barely beating. Skip forward 28 years and now look at what’s happening downtown. I know you all can’t take credit for what’s happening, but I think there is a lot of wonderful stuff happening downtown and maybe you do get a tiny bit of credit for it. And I thank you for being leaders and helping good stuff happen downtown that people are going to want to be involved in.”

Amen, pal.

Why remove red-light cams and invite traffic woe?

While running an errand in Amarillo, I happened to zip past an intersection where the city has deployed its red-light cameras, the devices used to nab those who disobey the stop lights that command motorists to stop.

It then occurred to me: The city is considering removing the camera from this intersection, at Coulter and Elmhurst streets. And it begs the question: Why would the city take down an enforcement tool that it has declared has worked well, that has fulfilled its mission?

I don’t know what if anything the city has decided. The City Council announced it intends to install more of the devices at other troublesome intersections around the city. The council also might remove some of the cameras, citing areas where there no longer are problems with motorists running through red lights.

Hmm. Why do you suppose that has happened? Oh, might it be the presence of the cameras that have deterred vehicular misbehavior?

It makes me wonder, thus, why the city would want to take down devices that have done their jobs.

I will not accept the canard that keeps popping up from the soreheads around Amarillo who oppose the cameras. They contend the devices are intended to “make money” for the city.

What utter crap! The Texas Legislature imposed strict provisions when it allowed cities to deploy the cameras. One of them requires cities to earmark revenue earned specifically for traffic improvement. So, to suggest — or imply — that the revenue is collected to fatten the budgets of municipal departments or give the city some funds to throw around smacks of demagoguery.

As for the city’s intent to remove the cameras, I hereby encourage Amarillo’s powers that be to rethink that notion. If the device its doing its job at Coulter and Elmhurst, the city would be foolish to invite motorists to return to their red-light-running ways — and put other motorists and pedestrians in potentially dire peril.

Butt out, Rep. Tinderholt

I am quite certain that damn few Amarillo residents knew the name of Tony Tinderholt until he decided to stick his nose into an Amarillo City Hall dustup over whether residents can applaud during City Council meetings.

Tinderholt is a Republican state representative from Arlington. Oh, and he’s also a golden boy associated with Empower Texans, a far-right-wing political action group that decided to become involved in a couple of Texas Panhandle GOP legislative primary races this spring.

Empower Texans had its head — and other body parts — handed to it when Panhandle Republican voters essentially re-elected state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price, both of them Amarillo Republicans.

Tinderholt has decided to pressure Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson into rethinking her decision to restrict clapping at council meetings.

I won’t get into the merits of Nelson’s decision. I’m sitting out here in the peanut gallery and am out of the loop on the details of what transpired when Nelson kicked a constituent out of a council meeting. I will say only that Nelson perhaps overreacted in the moment, but has tried to explain — in the wake of some local criticism — that she has a keen understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment and its guarantees of free speech and all that kind of thing.

I am struck by the idea that a state representative from far away would want to meddle in a matter that should be settled by the folks who live here and who are elected to govern a community’s affairs.

It’s interesting, too, that Tinderholt would be affiliated with a group, Empower Texans, that sought to dictate to Panhandle residents how they should vote. The Texas Panhandle took care of its business quite nicely despite the pressure being brought to bear on this region from Empower Texans.

So, to Rep. Tinderholt and Empower Texans, I just have this modest rejoinder: Butt out!

Jerry Neal took APD down a progressive path

I am sad at this moment, having just learned of the death of a man I considered to be one of the finest law enforcement officials I had the pleasure to know.

Former Amarillo Police Chief Jerry Neal is gone. My memory of his service goes back a good bit.

I arrived in Amarillo in January 1995 to take my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. Neal had been at his post for 14 years already, having arrived here from Norman, Okla., to rescue a police department that had fallen into serious disrepair.

Chief Neal retired in 2007 after 26 years as the city’s top cop. He modernized it immediately. He introduced a new level of professionalism and service He insisted that the PD clear up cases that had gone unsolved. On his watch, APD established its Citizens Police Academy to acquaint Amarillo residents with the myriad aspects of police work; I happened to be one of those who participated around 2003 in an academy “class.” I found it to be an invaluable education on the difficulties that police officers face every day they go to work on our behalf.

The chief was a progressive police officer and administrator who worked hard to bring his department into the modern age.

As the Amarillo Globe-News reported: “Chief Neal helped modernize and shape the Amarillo Police Department into what it is today,” Cpl. Jeb Hilton wrote in the news release. “He is remembered as a fair boss, a great leader and a good friend. His legacy at the Amarillo Police Department lives on through his son Officer Kent Neal. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Neal family.”

I want to share a story about Chief Neal that I’ve repeated many times over the years.

In 2006, the Ku Klux Klan obtained a permit to demonstrate in front of Amarillo City Hall. I thought it would be worth attending this event — with notebook and pen in hand — to witness whatever might happen. Amarillo PD, along with the Potter County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety, had set up a huge security perimeter in front of City Hall to ensure minimal contact between the Klansmen and the public.

That was a good call.

Chief Neal was there, dressed — and I use this term cautiously — in full battle gear: blue uniform, flak jacket and all the hardware that police officers wear when facing potential hostility.

I was chatting with Chief Neal when a Klansman walked up and asked Neal, “Uh, chief, may I ask you a question?”

Neal’s offered a classic response. “No,” he responded tartly. “Now … get away from me.”

Oh, how I wanted to high-five him at that moment. I didn’t. His intolerance of a reviled hate group spoke volumes — and I told him so later, in a private moment.

Jerry Neal was a great cop who took seriously his oath to “protect and serve.”

Do not resign, Mme. Mayor

I cannot believe I read this item, but I’ll comment on it anyhow.

An Amarillo resident has presented a petition with signatures on it calling for Mayor Ginger Nelson to resign. She wants the mayor to quit. Why? Because the mayor imposed some rules of behavior during City Council meetings.

No applause allowed, according to the mayor.

So, for that this individual wants Nelson to quit.

Oh, my. Give me a break … please!

I’m just a single constituent. So, little ol’ me will just say it out loud: Do not quit, Mme. Mayor.

Nelson said she won’t resign. Fine. Stay the course. Ride this tiny tempest out.

I am believing that Nelson overreacted when she booted a gentleman out of a council meeting the other evening. The fellow was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor offense.

“I’m going to do the job that I was elected to do. And there were thousands of people who had a chance between three candidates to choose and I was elected. I feel the burden of doing that and I want to do that job the best I possibly can,” said Nelson.

There. That’s good enough for me.

She’s got a lot more work to do. It’s a lot more important than keeping order in City Council meetings.

Stay the course, Mayor Nelson.

Did the City Council overreact to applause?

Amarillo’s City Council has decided to make an issue out of something that shouldn’t really matter.

It is going to prohibit applause during City Council meetings.

Holy cow! Stop the presses!

A constituent decided to break out in applause. Mayor Ginger Nelson ordered him out of the council chambers. I understand he was arrested. The “altercation” has produced something of a mini-tempest at City Hall.

Some folks argue that the mayor has inhibited someone’s First Amendment right of free political speech. I wouldn’t go so far.

Then again, I wonder why the mayor decided to make this an issue in the first place. Does the applause distract anyone? Does it delay the conduct of city business? Are there epithets being hurled?

I get that the council has the authority to set rules of decorum and behavior. It can allow public comment, for instance, or it can disallow it. The council allows constituents to speak on issues of the day.

I remember a time when Randall County Commissioners Court — presided over by County Judge Ted Wood — would allow constituents to speak for as long as they wanted. If they want on for hours, hey, that was OK with Wood. The county belongs to them, not the commissioners, he said. Woods’s generosity with public time drew some criticism, too, just as Mayor Nelson’s relative stinginess has brought some barbs.

I don’t see this issue as any big shakes one way or the other.

If I were King of the World, I would allow constituents to applaud. Within reason, of course.

Keep the cameras on duty

My request of the Amarillo City Council is simple and straightforward.

It should agree to expand the deployment of red-light cameras to other troublesome intersections in Amarillo.

Council members are reportedly ready to make a decision. They have targeted a half-dozen intersections where motorists are prone to running red lights. The city already has cameras keeping an eagle eye on lawbreakers; the camera snaps pictures of those who run through the lights and the city sends fine notices to the registered owners of the motor vehicle that has been used in the traffic infraction.

The cameras have worked so well at one intersection — Coulter and Elmhurst — that the city is considering disconnecting the cameras at that location.

The council has received some disturbing news at one level. A lot of the fines the city has assessed have gone unpaid. The count is more than 11,000 of them issued in 2017. Of course, the city cannot let those unpaid citations go unaccounted for.

Council members have learned that the Traffic Department has improved signalization at several intersections with the money collected from the red-light cameras. That, I should add, is how the Legislature stipulated the money must be spent in cities that deploy the cameras.

While some cities have cratered under criticism of this technology, I am delighted to see that Amarillo is staying the course … at least for now. My hope is that it stays the course for the long haul.

Motorists need to be aware that intersections are being equipped with this technology. The more the merrier. The cops cannot be everywhere all at once. The city has taken a proactive approach to dealing with a problem that has caused considerable misery, damage and grief because motorists choose to disobey the law.

My hope is that the City Council proceeds with an expansion of red-light camera traffic enforcement.

***

Stand your ground, commissioners

Yes on Barfield … what about the Herring?

A trip into downtown Amarillo, Texas, today brought to mind a question about the central district’s future.

If the Barfield Building — a seriously rotting hulk of a structure — can be targeted for renovation as a Marriott niche hotel, why can’t anyone come forward to revive an even more iconic structure, the Herring Hotel?

I am acutely aware that I am shooting from the hip, that there’s a lot about downtown redevelopment’s nuts and bolts that I don’t know.

I’m going to keep shooting, however.

I made the drive this morning down Third Avenue, past the Herring. I turned left on Polk Street and drove past the Barfield. As I looked at the Barfield’s busted windows and hideous exterior appearance, I thought immediately of the Herring, which looks at first (or even second) glance to be in better physical condition than the Barfield.

Robert Goodrich, a retired college professor of urban planning, has owned the Herring for quite a few years. He pays the taxes on it and seeks to find investors willing to sink some dough into reviving it. I’ve talked many times over the years to my friend Bob about the Herring. He is full of ideas and concepts. They include partial-use retail and apartment living plans.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am glad the Barfield might get a new lease on its long-abandoned life. It’s far from a done deal, even though a recent Amarillo Globe-News article on the Barfield offers encouragement to those who want to see the Barfield restored.

Many others, though, want the same thing for the Herring.

I’ve had the pleasure of walking through the ground floor of the Herring. I was working on a story for KFDA NewsChannel 10’s website when Goodrich took me on a tour of the building. I was stunned to note that the Herring is in relatively good condition. We didn’t walk into any of the upper floors. I’ve been told by city planners over the years that the Herring needs a lot of upgrading to bring it up to current building codes.

OK, now that I’ve emptied my rhetorical six-gun on the Herring, I am going to hope for the best, that my good pal Bob Goodrich — with some help from city economic planners — can restore what many Amarillo residents believe is a municipal treasure.

There is likely to be a time when virtually all of downtown Amarillo is shiny, new and vibrant. I cannot fathom the Herring Hotel standing alone forever as the city’s remaining multi-story eyesore.