Tag Archives: Amarillo City Hall

Amarillo official on verge of poetic job promotion

Bob Cowell is on the cusp of possibly scoring a remarkably poetic change in his professional career.

Cowell is the Amarillo deputy city manager who for a time served as the top municipal administrator until the City Council selected Jared Miller as the new city manager. Cowell had applied for the permanent appointment, but was passed over for Miller, who came to Amarillo from San Marcos, the Hill Country city where he also served as city manager.

OK, here’s where it gets interesting.

Cowell has been named one of five finalists for the San Marcos city manager’s job. He could be tapped to succeed the man who left that post to take the municipal administrative reins in Amarillo.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s rather cool.

Even though I do not know Cowell, my hope was that he would stay on as deputy manager if the City Council selected another individual to lead the city staff. I understand, though, that a man’s got to do what’s best for himself and his family. Heck, I left my home state of Oregon in 1984 to pursue my own career way down yonder in Beaumont, Texas — and in the process subjected my wife and two young sons to some serious culture shock; we powered through it and Texas is now home.

I am going to root for Cowell to get the San Marcos gig. He appears to have been a solid and steady hand in Amarillo. He well might be what they need in San Marcos to run that community’s city hall now that Jared Miller has trekked northwest to Amarillo.

It would be poetic, yes?

No time for delay on MPEV

I remain a strong supporter of Amarillo’s efforts to reshape its downtown district.

That strategy took a giant leap forward this week with the announcement that organized minor-league baseball is returning to Amarillo. The San Antonio Missions are moving their AA franchise to Amarillo and they intend to play their Texas League hardball schedule in the brand new multipurpose event venue.

The return of organized/affiliated minor-league baseball fills a 37-year void. I’ve heard a lot of cheers around the city since the announcement was made. I share the enthusiasm not only for the baseball team’s pending arrival, but for what it bodes for downtown’s future as the community keeps moving its revival forward.

Here’s the thing, though, that gives me a minor case of heartburn: The team will play ball beginning in April 2019, when the season starts.

I ventured downtown today for a noon meeting and drove past the still-vacant lot across Seventh Avenue where the MPEV will be built. There’s nothing going on there.

The ballpark will have to be built, polished up and ready to go in less than two years.

What that means to me is that there is no time to fiddle around here. No time for dawdling. No time for delay.

We’ve all witnessed major construction projects get hung up along the way. Contractors have trouble with certain subcontractors; the weather can play havoc on construction schedules; shipments of material get hung up along the way.

The MPEV is set to cost around $45.5 million. Hotel occupancy tax revenue is supposed to fund most of it. I have faith that the funding mechanism has been well-considered. I also have faith that the Panhandle’s baseball-loving community is going to fill the estimated 4,500 ballpark seats to watch their new team play hardball.

I will be waiting with bated breath for the design to be finalized and for work to begin. Don’t make us wait too long, though.

The clock is ticking.

When it’s built, MPEV will benefit entire city

I’m still trying to process the news today of the arrival of a AA baseball franchise in Amarillo.

The meter is now running. The San Antonio Missions are moving their franchise here in time for the start of the 2019 Texas League season. That means the multipurpose event venue — aka the ballpark — will need to be completed in time for the first pitch.

The MPEV is the reason the Missions are coming here. They want to play in a shiny new venue. They want to play hardball in the downtown district.

It’s going to cost about $45.5 million. Yes, it’s more than the $32 million price tag attached to the November 2015 citywide referendum that voters approved. It doesn’t bother me that the cost escalated. Why? Because the plan is for the MPEV to be funded through hotel occupancy tax revenue.

The grumbling has begun. Some folks might not want the ballpark to be built. They believe the city has too many other needs that attention. Roads and streets; parks, police and fire protection … those kinds of things.

I’ll concede that I am not an urban planning expert. I have gotten around the country a good bit over the years and I’ve noticed that vibrant cities have one thing in common: a bustling, busy and active downtown business/entertainment district.

My wife and I just returned from a nearly 3,800-mile road trip. We witnessed plenty of pizzazz in places like Nashville and Memphis, Tenn. We saw more of it in Roanoke, Va., a city that’s quite a bit smaller than Amarillo, but which boasts a highly attractive downtown district. I do not know all the particulars of those communities, so my perception is based on first impressions.

I do know a bit about Amarillo’s personality and my sense is that the city’s population — which is on the cusp of 200,000 people — is going to respond positively to the development that will follow once the ballpark is built.

Moreover, the word will get out. The city’s marketing gurus need to find creative ways to send the message well beyond Amarillo’s corporate borders that this city is a happening place.

What, then, might happen? Those hotels that have sprung up all along Interstate 40 are going to fill up. Revenue will pour in. The city will be able to invest that revenue in the kinds of projects that will improve the city’s image and lure even more activity into this community.

The announcement today completes just the first phase of the city’s redevelopment and revival. The City Council, the senior city administration and the Local Government Corporation have received the commitment they wanted from a professional sports franchise to relocate here.

The ballpark is the critical element that lured that franchise to this city. There’s little time for dawdling and delay. Work needs to begin soon.

And when it’s finished, I am willing and ready to suggest that the entire city will reap the reward.

Let’s not set a new water-use record, OK?

Amarillo residents think they need to be No. 1 … apparently.

City Hall staff reports that water usage Tuesday tied an all-time daily record, set in August 2002. Residents and businesses pumped 92 million gallons of water in a single day.

That’s a lot of, um, lawn irrigation, car washes and pool fillups.

The city’s Every Drop Counts water conservation mantra needs to be placed on the top of residents’ minds.

Yes, the city took a lot of rain early this month. My wife and I were on the road, but we heard about it. Our favorite playa, Lake McDonald, has been revived thanks to the abundant moisture.

News about heavy water use does concern me. I’m sure it concerns you, too.

I want to harken back about two years ago when the city’s administrative staff was run by a certified water expert. City Manager Jarrett Atkinson could talk water policy, conservation and management with the best of ’em. Then he quit as city manager because — as I understand it — he had difficulty working with the then-new City Council majority. He landed in Lubbock, where as city manager he is now lending his water-conservation expertise to that city’s governing council.

The message ought to remain the same in the city Atkinson left behind. Our water is not infinite.

I get that it’s hot! Summer has arrived. However, every drop of water does count. Really. It does!

Now we get to wait for the first pitch

I likely won’t be around when they throw out the first pitch, but I’ll be cheering the event nevertheless.

Amarillo’s Local Government Corporation has secured a deal that brings organized baseball back to the city. It comes in the form of the San Antonio Missions, which will depart the Alamo City and relocate in the Panhandle in time for the start of the 2019 season.

This is a good deal. It’s a huuuge deal. It revives the hope of those of us who want to see the city build that multipurpose event venue downtown and want to see the city’s central district restored in a new fashion.

The Elmore Sports Group, owner of the Missions, wants to move to Amarillo because of the promise of the downtown ballpark that will be erected across the street from City Hall. It will cost $45.5 million — give or take — and it will be funded primarily with hotel occupancy tax revenue.

According to the Amarillo Globe-News: “We are very excited,” said D.G. Elmore, group chairman. “We have moved teams at various times in our 36-year history of owning ballclubs, and as I reflect, I don’t think there is a time we have seen the level of business support like this.”

“In many ways, it’s unprecedented,” Elmore said. “This type of support is fantastic.”

Is this project criticism-free? Hardly. We are going to hear from those who do not believe the city should invest so heavily in its downtown district. They want the city to spend money on other areas, on other neighborhoods, on other projects.

What I see happening is a revival that is going to ripple across the city. The MPEV/ballpark will generate considerable interest for the city’s downtown district. That interest translated directly into revenue for the city. That revenue can be spent — wisely, of course — on myriad projects and improvements all across Amarillo.

Now that the LGC has received the commitment it wanted from the Missions, work can begin in earnest on specific design plans for the MPEV. Crews have cleared out the lot. The Coca-Cola distribution center that once occupied that downtown property has relocated to a business park on the east side of the city.

The sounds of baseball being played downtown will be new to those who have lived here for any length of time. My wife and I have called Amarillo home for more than two decades. Our life is set to change in due course as we continue to prepare for our relocation.

The city’s life is about to change, too. Also for the better.

Affiliated minor-league baseball is returning to Amarillo, which used to be home to the Gold Sox, a team affiliated with the San Diego Padres of the National League. And that makes the Missions’ relocation somewhat poetic and symmetrical, as that team also is part of the Padres organization.

There’s much to do. But with the announcement today that the Missions have signed on the dotted line, the LGC can claim much work has been done already.

Let’s get busy.

More downtown construction at hand?

Amarillo’s brand new City Council is going to make an announcement Wednesday.

I am waiting with bated breath.

The council members might have some big news to share regarding the future of the city’s effort to remake, reshape, revive and re-create its downtown business/entertainment district.

That long-awaited multipurpose event venue might be coming closer to reality.

The city’s Local Government Corporation has been negotiating with San Antonio business officials about how to relocate that city’s Double A baseball franchise to Amarillo. The LGC has made it clear that it wouldn’t proceed with MPEV construction until it strikes a deal with some franchise to occupy the venue.

I am acutely aware that a number of soreheads are going to gripe about it. They complain about the escalating cost of the ballpark. Amarillo voters approved a non-binding referendum in November 2015; the MPEV cost was listed at $32 million on the ballot measure. The price tag has escalated to around $45 million.

My own hope is that the price of the ballpark doesn’t go much greater than its current level.

The council, though, has taken great strides already in the redevelopment of the downtown district. That five-star hotel is nearing completion; we’ve seen that parking garage go up.

Amarillo doesn’t have any kind of organized baseball activity occurring this spring and summer, which I am sure upsets the city’s baseball fan base. The MPEV, though, would play host to a number of other activities, which would jazz up the nightlife in the city’s long-slumbering central district.

My hopes have gone up, slumped, gone up again and then receded. As of this moment, I am once again cautiously optimistic we are going to get some good news.

About the aesthetics, Amarillo

We’re home.

It’s a good place to be. We love Amarillo, our city of choice for more than 22 years. My wife and I carved out a nice life here and whenever we leave the city for any length of time, we are happy to return. Our life is in flux as we prepare to resettle elsewhere — hopefully sooner rather than later.

Now that I’ve gotten the positive vibe out of the way, I want to register a minor quibble.

We returned home today via Interstate 40 westbound from points east and a little bit north. We logged 3,760 miles on our Dodge pickup and the fifth wheel RV we hauled behind it over the course of the past 17 days.

I was struck as we approached Amarillo’s eastern border, though, by something that troubles me. The community’s physical appearance looks, shall we say, seedy. It looks tacky. It’s unkempt and unattractive.

Is it the city’s fault? Frankly, I cannot remember if I’d seen the city limit sign prior to making our approach. If the abandoned rail cars near the airport sit in Potter County territory, then perhaps these remarks ought to be directed as well to the county. We noticed a few old vehicles as well.

Then we entered interchange where I-40 merges with U.S. Highway 287. What greeted us there? A non-descript sign that reads “Amarillo.” No mention of the big skies, endless opportunities, Palo Duro Canyon (one of the state’s true treasures) or that it’s the home of some notable native sons and daughters; the late astronaut Rick Husband came immediately to my wife’s mind; perhaps the reminder of another notable astronaut Gen. Tom Stafford’s roots in Weatherford, Okla., where we had passed through earlier in the morning brought Husband to my wife’s attention.

Mayor Ginger Nelson ran for office this spring on an extensive platform of ideas, issues and initiatives. One of them dealt with gussying up the I-40/27 interchange, about which I’ve written already on this blog. No need to belabor that point.

Perhaps Her Honor can expand her beautification vision to include some effort to make the westbound approach to our city more appealing to those who are laying eyes on The Big A for the first — or perhaps only — time.

Let’s get real. The Good Lord didn’t bless this region with purple mountain majesty, although we do have some mighty pretty sky. As we cast our eyes downward, toward the terra firma, we see that humankind has to do his and her part to tidy up the place.

We have some work to do.

Drainage improvements needed? Maybe?

We were on the road when the sky opened up over Amarillo, Texas, not long ago. It rained torrents. Hail fell across large sections of the city. The power went out in some neighborhoods.

I heard about all this via social media while we were plowing through our own rainstorms back east.

Moreover, I also heard some grumbling about the city’s chronic trouble spots that present themselves whenever the heavens pour copious amounts of water on the city.

Some of the griping concerned the city’s efforts to remake its downtown district while — allegedly! — ignoring the infrastructure associated with flood control.

Hmmm. I don’t believe the city has ignored these problems.

The new City Council, though, has been handed an issue it needs to ponder deeply and carefully. Does it have the money it needs to improve storm water removal? If it doesn’t have the money on hand, is there sufficient support among city residents to support a bond issue to pony up the money required to do the job?

All five of the council members campaigned in one form or another on a platform calling for reasonable spending of taxpayer money. They’re all serious folks with, I also believe, seriously noble intent to do right for the city electorate that voted them into office.

Drainage concerns likely have floated to the top of their issues on which they should deliver.

Open meeting violation? Let’s be careful, council members

Texas has a fairly concise and well-defined law governing open meetings of government bodies. It doesn’t take a great deal insider knowledge to understand the basics.

One of the tenets of the Open Meetings Act is that a quorum — meaning a majority — of a governing body cannot meet without posting it in advance.

Three members of the Amarillo City Council met recently in an informational setting with the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. Since there’s only five council members, a gang of three comprises a majority.

Did they make any decisions? Did they cast votes? Did they discuss city business among themselves? Did they — in the strictest sense — break the law? Probably no on all counts.

I long have chided county commissioners, for example, for sitting at the same table at luncheons. I recall one time spotting three members of the Randall County Commissioners Court at a social event somewhere and admonishing them — in jest — against passing any tax increases while they were breaking bread together.

http://amarillo.com/politics/news/local-news/2017-05-24/amarillo-city-councilmembers-may-have-violated-texas-open

I also am acutely aware of how governing bodies can skirt the Open Meetings Act through what’s called a “rolling quorum.” The presiding officer, say, a mayor, can meet with one council member at a time privately to reach a consensus on a particular issue. Nothing in the law prevents such a series of meetings from occurring. It’s legal, although it’s not always the correct way to conduct the public’s business.

The three council members in question — Howard Smith, Eddy Sauer and Freda Powell — all are smart and astute enough to avoid falling into the trap of talking about city business without first notifying the public.

The council, whose five members all are newbies, are set to complete training on the Open Meetings Act. I trust they’ll be brought up to speed.

I’ve noted already that the Texas law is quite clear. In the future, perhaps all members of the council need to be mindful that the community is watching.

‘Men will be boys’

The headline on the Texas Tribune story says plenty about the way the Texas Legislature ended its regular session.

It concluded with two legislators, both men — a Democrat and a Republican — threatening to harm each other. A disturbance broke out on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives.

The Tribune article, written by Ross Ramsey, posits an interesting notion. As I look the article over, Ramsey seems to suggest that we need more women in the Texas Legislature.

It’s been a man’s world under the Capitol Dome for a long time.
Ramsey makes this point: “According to the Legislative Reference Library, 23.9 percent of all of the women — all of them — who ever served in the Texas Legislature are in office right now. That’s 37 of the 155 who have served in the Texas Legislature’s history.

“About one in five Texas lawmakers is female. Over the state’s history, 2.8 percent of the 5,571 people who’ve served in the Legislature have been women. The 155 women who’ve served wouldn’t be enough — if they were all alive and in office today — to fill all 181 seats in the House and the Senate.”

He goes on to note that none of the women currently serving in the House took part in the melee at the end of the session. Ramsey adds: “If you know any of them, you know that’s not because they were afraid.”

I once took note of the time in 2015 when Amarillo voters booted two women off the City Council, electing an all-male governing body. I lamented at the time the absence of any female perspective on the council. This year, voters reversed themselves in a big way, electing three women to the five-member council, creating a female council majority for the first time in Amarillo history.

It’s not that City Hall has seen the kind of nonsense that erupted at the State Capitol. It’s merely that I consider female voices on the council to be a good thing.

I’m now thinking that we might need more women in the halls of the Texas Legislature to bring some measure of calm to state government.