Tag Archives: Amarillo City Hall

Sod Poodles, ballpark add to city’s life and future

I have repurposed this picture from my social media network and I now intend to use it to illustrate a point I think needs making.

Amarillo’s Sod Poodles, the minor-league baseball team that has opened to big crowds at Hodgetown, appear ready to lead the city where my wife and I used to live toward a new and bright future.

We have no regrets about moving away, but I damn sure wish at times I could be there to cheer the “Soddies” on.

I am hearing about a smattering of gripes from those who think the fireworks at the games are too loud. Residents are bitching about the money spent to build the ballpark and to inject new life into the downtown district.

The gripes are to be expected, I suppose. No project, regardless of its value, is deemed as picture-perfect to everyone affected directly or indirectly by it.

Sure, I live some distance away. Thus, I won’t likely hear these gripes in person; I’ll merely read about them on social media. I intend to remind those along my own social media network that the gripes are misplaced and likely misinformed.

The ballpark cost a good bit of dough: $45 million. The city spent more to condemn the Coca-Cola distribution center and relocate it to a business park near Rick Husband-Amarillo International Airport. There have been tax incentives and abatements given to businesses that have sprung up along Polk Street.

I am baffled, though, at the complaints that the city’s effort to spruce up its downtown district is misdirected.

It is not!

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Every flourishing city in America has at least one thing in common — a vibrant downtown business-and-entertainment district.

I am unable to predict whether Amarillo, Texas, will join the ranks of prosperous American cities. It remains my strong sense, though, that the city is on the way toward that future.

The Amarillo Sod Poodles’ presence in that shiny new sports venue can lead the way.

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?

AISD should have expanded search . . . here’s why

I feel the need to comment on the selection of a new Amarillo school superintendent. Then I’ll move on.

I’ve stated already that I do not know the new Amarillo public school superintendent, Doug Loomis. I wish him well and hope he succeeds. Given that I live some distance away from Amarillo, I have no particular axe to grind. I do have some thoughts on the process that brought Loomis to the top education administrator job in Amarillo.

The Amarillo Independent School District board conducted an in-house search. It did not look beyond the staff already on hand. I believe it should have done that very thing. My reason why has nothing to do with Loomis. He well might be the greatest superintendent AISD will ever employ.

However, a narrow search, one that doesn’t cast a wide net, does not give board members a chance to have assess the local applicants against those who might have a different view on how to implement educational policy. Loomis emerged as the sole finalist for the job vacated when Dana West resigned suddenly this past year.

Does the board know with absolute certainty that Loomis is the best it could have found to compete for this post?

When I was working as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, we tackled similar issues involving the hiring of chief administrators: at City Hall and at Amarillo College.

  • John Ward resigned as city manager after being on the job for 20 years. The City Council chose to look inward only. It elevated Alan Taylor to the manager’s job. We insisted the council look beyond the city. Taylor took our position as a criticism of him personally, even though we said expressly that it bore no reflection on him. We merely wanted the city to expand its search to include as broad a field of applicants as possible.

Taylor eventually retired and moved away. He did a fine job, although he continued to harbor ill feelings toward me personally and the Globe-News. I am sorry he felt that way.

  • Steve Jones became ill and eventually succumbed to cancer, leaving the Amarillo College Board of Regents with the task of looking for a new president. The man who served as acting president, Paul Matney, was elevated to the permanent post. The Globe-News argued yet again that the AC board should look nationally. Regents decided to stick with Matney. Our rationale for the AC search was the same as it was for City Hall.

It pained me greatly to make that argument, given my immense professional respect and personal affection for Paul Matney. He turned out to be an outstanding AC president and retired with his head held high and the gratitude for a job well done. To his great credit, Matney did not take our editorial position as a criticism of the job he would do.

AISD has some issues to tackle. My hope is that the new superintendent is up to the job. If only the AISD board had decided to expand its search far and wide.

Lights on at Hodgetown

Hey, I heard they turned on the lights at Hodgetown!

You know what that means? It means that when the Amarillo Sod Poodles open their AA minor league baseball season at home on April 8 they won’t be playing hardball in the dark.

Amarillo, Texas, is less than a month away from entering a new era of sports entertainment. The Sod Poodles are going to play ball at the downtown ballpark that is nearing completion along Buchanan Street, next to City Hall/the Civic Center and in the midst of a building boom that is still under way in the city’s downtown district.

I will be in Amarillo on opening night. My wife and I will be there to get our fifth wheel RV out of storage and take it on a jaunt downstate and on toward New Orleans.

But I just might sock a couple extra bucks in my pocket and get us a ticket or two for the Sod Poodles’ opening night game downtown.

I’ve been cheering this endeavor on for longer than I can remember. It’s only right to be there to watch ’em toss out the first pitch.

My strong sense is that the city is about to turn an important corner on its way toward economic revival.

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.

Amarillo still ‘Matters’ to this group

A political action group formed two years ago to help elect a slate of candidates to the Amarillo City Council is back at it.

Amarillo Matters, which comprises some well-funded, well-known and successful business and civic leaders, is working to re-elect the council members it helped elect in 2017. They’re all running for re-election this year.

What strikes me as strange — even from my now-distant vantage point — is that Amarillo Matters is being demonized by challengers to the incumbents. For what remains a mystery to me.

I’ve seen the Amarillo Matters website, read its profile, looked at its mission statement. It says it works to develop “positive opportunities” for the city. It vows to be free of conflicts of interest. Amarillo Matters says it believes in “limited government.”

There’s more to the website explaining this group. You can see it¬†here.

It’s a high-minded group with noble goals, ambitions and causes.

The way I view the city now that I no longer live there is that Amarillo has continued nicely on its upward trajectory during the past two years.¬†Downtown continues its revival; the city streets are under significant repair and renovation; the state is tearing the daylights out of Interstates 40 and 27, but that, too, shall pass; Amarillo economic development gurus have gone all in — with significant amounts of public money — on Texas Tech’s plans to build a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo.

I have to ask: Is this all bad? Is this a reason to toss aside the city’s leadership?

It’s not that everything is peachy in Amarillo. Sure, there are problems. What American city doesn’t have them? The city needs to devote more money and attention to long-neglected neighborhoods, but I hear that the city is aiming to do precisely that.

I keep hearing whispers about feather-bedding, favoritism and assorted accusations of malfeasance. So help me it sounds like sour grapes from those who aren’t deriving some sort of direct financial benefit from all the good that is occurring in the city.

This economic system of ours means that individuals benefit as well as the community at large. I see Amarillo Matters as the positive influence it purports to be. Thus, I do not grasp the basis for the negativity coming from those who seek further “change” in the direction the city has taken.

From my perspective, the city is doing just fine.

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.

Time of My Life, Part 20: Going local

The final three years or so of my journalism career were fraught with challenges as the shape and substance of media were undergoing significant change.

The Amarillo Globe-News and its parent company were seeking ways to cope with those changes, with limited success . . . or so it appeared to me.

One of the ways I sought to cope with those changes was to redirect the emphasis of commentary on our opinion pages. I obtained buy-in from the publisher of the paper, which as I look back on it now was peculiar, given that our relationship was deteriorating at the time.

I proceeded with the change. It was to place much greater emphasis on local issues, while forgoing comment on national or international issues. By “local,” that included editorial comment on matters of regional concern throughout the High Plains region we sought to cover. I sought to make daily comment on issues pertaining to our core circulation areas covering Randall, Potter, Moore, Deaf Smith and Armstrong counties. Amarillo and Canyon remained central to our concern as well.

Then there were state issues that spilled over into our part of Texas. Those issues got our attention as well.

I would keep a daily log of those editorials. I categorized them: local/regional, state, national and international. My goal always was to focus on local/regional issues first.

Why the change? Well, it became obvious to me that national media — cable TV and the Internet — were absorbed with national and international matters. Our readers had access to that information and to those opinions. Their own opinions were cast in stone. We would be wasting our energy trying to guide them into accepting whatever we thought about those matters.

So we turned our attention to City Hall, the county courthouse, the State Capitol.

There were a couple of months when we were able to devote every day of editorial commentary on local/regional or state matters. Those days gladdened me and made me more determined to continue on that course.

I believe it produced a positive result. We had tremendous traffic in letters to the editor and unsolicited essay submissions from readers. They wanted to weigh in on some of the local issues of the day and, yes, to speak out on the national and international issues we were setting aside.

The Globe-News tossed those changes aside after I resigned in August 2012 and returned to commenting on national and international matters. That was their call. I am just proud to have concocted a strategy I thought was a reasonable response to the change that is continuing to upend print media.

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.