Tag Archives: Amarillo City Hall

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.

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.

Citizen comment is good, but let’s be reasonable

AMARILLO, Texas — I ran into a longtime acquaintance tonight at Amarillo’s Civic Center auditorium. He is a member of the City Hall legal team and, quite naturally, our discussion turned to the recent kerfuffle at City Hall over citizen comment time in front of the City Council.

As I understand, a few soreheads in Amarillo are mad at the city administration and the council because of rules being placed on the time and substance of citizens’ comments during council meetings.

My friend said he believes Mayor Ginger Nelson and City Manager Jared Miller are placing reasonable restrictions on the time and tenor of the comments. I understand that many of the comments have gotten intensely personal. They have accused the council of violating the Texas Open Meetings Law and of keeping secrets from the public.

Well, I am not close enough to the situation to make a serious judgment on the complaints. Although I do believe governing bodies have the inherent responsibility to conduct their public meetings with decorum and dignity; if residents become too nasty and personal in their comments, they do not need to be heard.

I reminded my friend of what a former local county judge used to do. Randall County Judge Ted Wood — who took office when I arrived in Amarillo in January 1995 — allowed county residents unlimited time to comment to the Commissioners Court. Wood’s view was that since the commissioners work for them, the residents are the “boss.” Commissioners, according to Wood, were obligated to give them an open forum to bitch and moan, rant and rail to their hearts’ content.

My friend said, quite correctly, that was an unreasonable concession to the public. Residents who blather on and on take up too much valuable time from the elected officials, from the public staff and from other residents who come to have their own voices heard.

The soreheads who gripe continually at City Hall have filed suit against the city. I don’t know the merits of their action, so I won’t comment. I’ll just offer this bit of opinion: The city, based on what I’ve read from afar, has acted reasonably in trying to maintain a level of dignity at City Council meetings.

The soreheads need to settle down.

MPEV sprouts like a weed in downtown Amarillo

Holy cow! We haven’t been gone all that long  from Amarillo. We’re coming back for a quick visit and we’re going to see the change taking place at a rapid pace in the city’s downtown district.

A friend sent me this picture. It is of the multipurpose event venue — the “ballpark,” if you will — that’s under construction across the street from City Hall.

I am beginning to believe that, by golly, they’re going to be ready for the first pitch to be tossed in April 2019.

The ballpark will be home to an as-yet unnamed AA minor-league baseball team that’s affiliated officially with the San Diego Padres of the National League. I’m still pulling for Sod Poodles to be the new team’s name. So help me I don’t know why, but I have changed my initial opinion of that name that showed up on a list of finalists under consideration.

The ballpark continues to be very big deal for the city. It will cost an estimated $44 million. It will seat about 5,000 baseball fans. My hope — perhaps it’s even my hunch — is that the ballpark will be full of fans when someone throws the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day of the Texas League season in Amarillo.

I look forward to casting a gaze up close when we venture to Amarillo in a few days. We’ll be back just a few weeks later to attend a concert at the Civic Center.

I won’t be surprised to see that the ballpark/MPEV has sprouted even more dramatically as the city marches its downtown district to a bright future.

I hate wishing for a drought to continue in the Panhandle of Texas, but another dry winter — such as what the Panhandle experienced this past winter — will enable the contractor to finish the job on time.

Is this a one-issue race for governor?

Honest to goodness, I usually don’t vote for public office based on a single issue. I regret, though, that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott might have tossed at my feet the one issue that might make me vote against him.

Gov. Abbott said not long ago that the Texas Legislature needs to rescind its earlier approval for cities in the state to deploy red-light cameras at dangerous intersections to help deter motorists from running through stop lights.

If he’s re-elected, Abbot said he would ask the 2019 Legislature to pull the plug on the cameras that have been deployed in cities across the state.

To be fair, I have been looking for a reason to support Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez. The campaign for governor has been so devoid of compelling issues, I cannot commit fully to supporting the former Dallas County sheriff.

Back to Abbott … I wish he wouldn’t have ignited the red-light camera discussion. I continue to support cities’ attempts to deploy this technological ally in their effort to curb dangerous motorists’ behavior. Amarillo, where my wife and I lived until this past spring, is one of those cities.

A former city commissioner, Ellen Robertson Green, once declared that the best way for motorists to avoid getting slapped with the $75 fine is for them to “stop running red lights.” Duh!

Abbott says the cameras haven’t improved traffic safety sufficiently. He said something, too, about an increase in rear-end wrecks at intersections as motorists try to avoid running through yellow lights that turn red.

What about city officials’ concerns about the hazards created by those who continue to run through these street lights? And don’t Texas Republicans traditionally cede these decisions to local authorities, preferring to keep the state out of matters that can be decided locally?

I’m still grappling with how I’m going to go on this race for governor. I hate the idea of leaving that ballot spot vacant when it comes time to vote.

I also hate deciding an important election campaign on the basis of a single issue. However, if I must …

MPEV occupant lines up a big-league affiliate

The San Diego Padres are coming back to Amarillo, Texas.

Amarillo’s upcoming minor-league baseball season has cleared yet another hurdle. The Padres used to be affiliated with an earlier Amarillo baseball franchise. They’re back in the fold with the new team that doesn’t yet have a name.

It is getting a ballpark, though. Bit by bit, the multipurpose event venue is going up along Buchanan Street. They hope to have the venue complete by April 2019, when the AA season commences in Amarillo.

Given the progress I’ve seen — albeit from some distance these days — I am no longer going to doubt the project will be done in time for the team to toss out the first pitch next spring.

The San Antonio Missions are moving to the Panhandle from South Texas; San Antonio will be home to a new AAA franchise that is relocating from Colorado Springs, Colo.

The next big question now appears to be: What are they going to call this new Amarillo baseball team?

I’ve done a 180 on this one. I once hated the Sod Poodles name that showed up on the list of finalist names being considered by the Elmore Group, owners of the new Amarillo team.

I am not entirely crazy about the name today, but the thought of the name has grown on me. I now officially hope that Sod Poodles, or some derivation of the name, becomes the name of the new team that will take the field.

But … the city that is remaking its downtown district — with new hotels, entertainment venues and a serious dressing up of street corners — has a new major league baseball affiliation about which it can boast.

Not bad.

McCartt no longer stands alone as one who defies natural law

I long have held up a former Amarillo mayor as the model for defying certain natural laws. How? By being everywhere at once.

That’s what former Mayor Debra McCartt managed to do during her time as the city’s chief elected official. McCartt, the city’s first female mayor, seemingly was able to attend multiple events simultaneously while representing City Hall, advocating for the city, rooting for interests being promoted by municipal management and the City Council.

Debra McCartt might have to move over, making a place for another politician.

He is Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. O’Rourke is challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is running for re-election to his second term. Indeed, it seems as though Cruz has been in the Senate forever, even though he’s just a rookie lawmaker.

O’Rourke has been on TV shows left and right: Stephen Colbert; Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon. He’s been interviewed by MSNBC, CNN and various broadcast network talking heads.

Has Beto cloned himself? Well, no. He hasn’t. It just seems as though he has.

I get that Cruz has been tied to his desk in Washington. For that matter, O’Rourke should be, too. Except that the House of Representatives, where O’Rourke serves, has taken some time off; the Senate, though, was kept on the job by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who canceled the Senate’s annual summer recess.

O’Rourke’s defying of these natural laws — visiting all 254 Texas counties  and appearing on every TV talk show under the sun — might explain partly why he is making this U.S. Senate contest so damn competitive.

I still hold former Mayor McCartt in high regard for the ability to be everywhere at once that she demonstrated while advocating for the city. However, she no longer stands alone as the public official who manages to be everywhere at the same time.

Gov. Abbott, have you lost your mind?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has given me a reason to vote against his re-election. I mean, doggone it, anyhow!

Abbott wants to unplug the red-light cameras that have been deployed in cities throughout Texas. The cameras are meant to deter motorists from breaking the law when they run through stop lights and, thus, endanger other motorists and pedestrians.

This is a deal-breaker, Gov. Abbott. Have you gone around the bend?

Cities charge violators $75 when they run through intersections. The Legislature established strict rules on how cities should spend the revenue they collect: They pay the vendors who operate the equipment and then dedicate the revenue specifically to improve traffic enforcement and other matters related to that critical issue.

But then the governor says the cameras aren’t working as they should. He wants the state to pre-empt local communities’ desire to use technology to help police officers enforce traffic laws. Some cities have taken the cameras down. Others, such as Amarillo, where I used to live and work, have stayed the course. Good for Amarillo!

“Red light cameras have been like the white whale for many conservatives who have tried to ban them in Texas by arguing they harm individual liberty or are unconstitutional,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “Eliminating red light cameras is a low cost way to appeal to conservative legislators whom the governor will need to pass his agenda.”

Harm individual liberty? We don’t allow motorists to drink and drive. We require drivers and passengers to wear seat restraints. Do those rules “harm individual liberty”? I wish the professor was kidding. I also wish Gov. Abbott is kidding when he says the state needs to unplug the cameras.

Sadly, they aren’t.

They work for you, not the other way around

The more I think about it, the more I hope the Amarillo City Council abandons a nutty notion about meeting at 7 in the morning every Tuesday at City Hall’s council chambers.

City Manager Jared Miller has this idea that he can save the city money by avoiding overtime pay for staffers who need to attend council meetings; so he has pitched the idea of meeting at 7 a.m. instead of at 5 p.m., which has been council’s policy for the past few years.

Let’s back up a bit. Miller’s new to the city, so he might need just a bit of perspective to throw into the mix.

The council — formerly known as the City Commission — used to meet at 3 p.m. every Tuesday. Some residents complained because they couldn’t attend council/commission meetings during the middle of a work day. Over time, the council decided it would change its meeting schedule to accommodate more residents’ desire to listen in and to possibly comment to council members if they had a concern that needed the city’s attention.

Sure, the change in schedule came with some cost. The city needed to pay staff members who needed to attend these evening meetings. I reckon the city manager believes it’s too much money.

I get that. I have some sympathy for those who don’t like paying city staffers overtime. But understand: I no longer am one of Amarillo’s taxpaying residents; my wife and I have relocated to the Metroplex.

My feeling all along — and will continue to be — is that elected city officials don’t operate in a vacuum. They answer to the residents/voters who put them into office. In Amarillo, council members work essentially for free: $10 per public meeting, which makes their service a “labor of love,” if you want to call it that.

That doesn’t lessen for an instant their responsibility to ensure that everyone gets a decent chance to attend their public meetings. I keep thinking that 7 a.m. is a tad early to be rousting residents out of the rack if they want to attend a council meeting.

This 7 a.m. “trial” is going to start on Sept. 4. My hope is that they deliver a verdict of “non-starter” and return to a time that is more commensurate with residents’ ability to attend — and to have their voices heard.

Council to meet at 7 a.m.? Really?

Let me stipulate that I don’t really have a dog in this fight, given that I no longer live in Amarillo, Texas.

That doesn’t disallow me from speaking out on what I believe is a strange policy shift at City Hall.

The City Council, beginning Sept. 4, is going to start meeting at 7 a.m. Yep, that’s seven bells after midnight. That’s early in the day, man!

Why the change? I guess City Manager Jared Miller is up for a change just because he can change the meeting time at his discretion.

The city is seeking to save money, given that some city staffers have to attend council meetings. So, rather than pay them overtime to attend a 5 p.m. council meeting — which is after hours for staff members — Miller believes that staff members will be on the clock already so they can attend council meetings.

I get that. But what about the constituents who want to attend council meetings? They have children to prepare for school. They have to do their own prep to make themselves presentable at the start of a work day. When does someone roll out of the rack? Five? Six? Can they get ready in an hour before motoring down to City Hall?

The City Council is going to launch this new meeting schedule for a 90-day trial. Good luck with it. I have to agree with the complainers who dislike the 7 a.m. start for City Council meetings.

It’s too early!