Tag Archives: Amarillo City Hall

Red-lights cameras can stay … at least for a while

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that I wish he hadn’t signed. It was a bill that disallows cities from deploying red-light cameras to aid in enforcing traffic safety laws.

Ah, but here’s an interesting catch: An amendment to the bill approved by the Legislature allows cities to keep the cameras operating until their current vendor contracts expire. That means that while cities can terminate contracts for cause, they also can keep them operating for the length of the contract.

One city that has the cameras in place is Amarillo. I strongly supported Amarillo’s decision to use the devices to deter motorists from running red lights. I also strongly support the city’s apparent decision to stay the course until its contract with the vendor runs out.

Amarillo’s contract with American Traffic Solutions expires in September 2022. So, for more than three more years the city will be able to rely on the cameras to be on guard against lawbreakers when the police are looking the other way.

Unlike some cities knuckled under to some critics of the devices, Amarillo recently expanded the deployment locations, believing it had identified troublesome intersections; it did remove the cameras at some other intersections as well.

So, it’s a good-news, bad-news sort of thing. Some cities will get to keep the devices on duty for the length of their contracts; that’s the good news.

The bad news is that the contracts will expire eventually.

Then what? Will these Texas communities’ motorists and pedestrians be exposed to those who just don’t bother to follow the instructions to stop when the street signals turn red?

City turning into a form of ‘urban eye candy’

AMARILLO, Texas — We were walking this morning to an appointment we had with someone in her office at Seventh Avenue and Taylor Street when my wife spoke up.

“You know, the city certainly is a lot more attractive to the eye than it used to be, when we first moved here” in early 1995, she said.

To which I said, “Absolutely!” As we drove toward our appointment we couldn’t help but notice the appearance of Polk Street, Amarillo’s one-time “main drag,” the place where kids used to hang out, where adults did the bulk of their retail shopping.

Yes, the city’s physical appearance has leaped way past where it used to stand back when we first laid eyes on Amarillo more than 24 years ago.

The Potter County Courthouse square is all dolled up. They’re tearing the daylights out of the formerly rotting hulk called the Barfield Building. The Paramount Theater building remains full of activity. Polk Street is busy these days with lunchtime crowds deciding where to eat. A bit west of Polk we see that the West Texas A&M University Amarillo campus is all but complete inside what used to be called the Commerce Building.

I am acutely aware of the political turmoil that has accompanied the city’s work toward downtown revival. Some folks like it. Others dislike it. Some of the city’s power elite have been accused of feathering their own bank accounts.

We don’t get the chance any longer to watch the downtown district repurpose itself in real time. We only get to take a gander at where it is in the moment.

At this moment, therefore, we happened to notice that the city’s central business and entertainment district is looking much more appealing than it used to look.

How in the world is that a bad thing?

CAVE people: Eating their words?

A friend of mine — who communicates with me these days on social media — brought up an unofficial group of Amarillo-area residents who have had their heads handed to them.

He mentioned “CAVE” people. “CAVE” is an acronym for Citizens Against Virtually Everything. I commented briefly the other day about how the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the city’s new Texas League baseball franchise, are leading the league in average attendance while playing ball at Hodgetown, the new 7,000-seat ballpark in downtown Amarillo.

My friend noted that the CAVE folks were “against” the baseball team, against building the ballpark, against efforts to revive Amarillo’s once-moribund downtown district.

The CAVE folks aren’t an official group, such as Amarillo Matters, which has formed to promote downtown revitalization and other economic development efforts.

But they’re out there.

Sure, there has been healthy skepticism about downtown efforts. Some folks want he Herring Hotel to get a boost from City Hall. Others have lamented the absence — yet! — of any retail outlets springing up in that parking garage across the street from Hodgetown.

I do recall the CAVE cadre/cabal saying the multipurpose event venue would fall flat. I’m happy to notice, even from some distance these days, that the MPEV hasn’t done what the CAVErs predicted.

If anything, it is proving — and, yes, it’s still early — to be one of the wisest investments the city has made since, oh, the arrival in 1999 of the Bell/Textron aircraft assembly plant next to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

That project has worked out well. I believe the Sod Poodles, Hodgetown and the city’s effort to pump new life into downtown will work out, too.

It’s fine that minds change … but why not explain the shift?

I guess the Amarillo Globe-News has taken a 180-degree turn on the issue of red-light cameras.

The newspaper’s editorial page published an editorial today that all but sings the praises of efforts to unplug red-light cameras in cities all across Texas. The state House has approved a bill that takes away cities’ authority to deploy the devices.

The Globe-News used to favor the cameras. I know because I was editor of the opinion page at the time and we spoke quite fervently in support of the devices that Amarillo City Hall deployed to assist police officers in their efforts to deter motorists from disobeying traffic signals’ command to stop at red lights.

Well, the corporate ownership has changed. A new publisher runs the Globe-News. They have a new “director of commentary,” too. So today the paper has signaled the pending demise of red-light cameras.

The paper takes seriously the “Big Brother” concerns from opponents who contend that the cameras deny accused lawbreakers the chance to “face their accuser.” That, in my view, is pure baloney. Those caught running red lights can appeal the penalty; thus, they can “face their accuser.”

The paper doesn’t actually declare that it has changed its mind. It nearly does so, though.

Which I guess brings me to my point: If the newspaper is going to walk back its once-firm view on the use of certain mechanical devices to crack down on motorists who disobey traffic laws, doesn’t it owe its readers an explanation into why it has all but reversed course?

Check out the editorial here.

It saddens me.

Time to come clean, Amarillo Matters

I have been a vocal supporter of Amarillo Matters, a group of well-connected business and civic leaders who have formed a political action committee aimed at helping guide the city’s political future.

I endorse Amarillo Matter’s municipal agenda. I believe these individuals are motivated for the right reasons. I do not endorse much of the criticism that has been leveled at Amarillo Matters over the past couple of municipal election cycles.

As the saying goes, “When you insert the word ‘but,’ the next thing that comes out usually isn’t a positive statement.” So, here goes:

But . . . the group needs to be more transparent with the community about its membership and the leaders it has elected among those who have signed on to the PAC. The criticism of the PAC’s secrecy is a valid one.

I chatted the other day with one of the individuals who belongs to Amarillo Matters. I’ll keep his identity a secret here, because he doesn’t know I’m going to write about this matter on this blog.

However, I told this person that it’s imperative for Amarillo Matters to come clean. It’s critical that the group reveal who it is. Absent that total transparency, Amarillo Matters will expose itself to more of the cheap-seat criticism that others will fling at it.

This individual told me the members of the Amarillo Matters leadership are aware of the criticism leveled at the perception of secrecy. He said that those members have businesses they fear could suffer. They are concerned that residents might launch boycotts against them, this person said. The person with whom I spoke gave me some of the names of the PAC’s leadership. I know them all; I know some of them quite well. They are respected community leaders, indeed.

My response was clear: It all goes with the territory.

I still believe Amarillo Matters’ agenda is a noble one. Its mission statement and its vision for the community insist on high integrity and altruism. It endorses efforts to revive downtown; it is pushing hard for the proposed Texas Tech University school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo.

For the group, though, to keep its membership’s identity from the public it aims to serve actually undercuts its high-minded mission.

Hot buttons hit; now, produce some evidence

I must have hit a couple of hot buttons with a recent blog post about Amarillo Matters, wondering about the sniping at this group of individuals who seek to have its voice heard on the direction taken by City Hall.

My earlier post wondered why the sniping is occurring, given that Amarillo Matters’ mission and vision statements seem noble enough.

A couple of respondents challenged me for weighing in at all, given that I no longer live in Amarillo.

Amarillo Matters worked to re-elect the City Council; they were rewarded by voters who returned all five council members for another two years in office.

But some of these respondents have tossed out a few potentially explosive terms. They referred to what they called “corruption.” They accused members of Amarillo Matters of being interested only in “self-enrichment.” The criticism of the blog post implied that the rich folks who comprise Amarillo Matters somehow are interested only in fattening their own hefty bank accounts.

Is there evidence of malfeasance? Or double-dipping? What about back-room wheeling and dealing?

My comment aims only to draw attention to the positive direction I’ve seen occurring in Amarillo over the course of several years. Yes, that positive course even pre-dates the election of the City Council in 2017.

One critic sought to “shame” me for being “so dismissive” of concerns about Amarillo Matters. I am not dismissing anyone. My concern rests with what looks and sounds to me like an empty gripe.

I must ask: Is the city heading down the path toward oblivion?

I’ll answer my query: I believe it is moving toward a bright future.

Amarillo Matters taking shots … but, why?

Why is it a bad thing for a political action group to seek to guide the city into a future that well could lift everyone who lives there?

Amarillo Matters taking shots … but, why?

Election Day came and went across Texas this past weekend. In Amarillo, the returns were fruitful for those who like the direction City Hall has taken the past couple of years.

Among those who are gratified is a group called Amarillo Matters. The political action committee endorsed all five City Council incumbents; they all won re-election.

But as usual, I am hearing some bitching/griping/sour graping from afar, way over yonder in Collin County, where my wife and I now live.

Some folks think Amarillo has forked over enough money to get the City Council to do its bidding. They are unhappy about it.

OK, let’s take a look briefly at Amarillo Matters. Shall we?

It’s mission statement is simple. It states: Amarillo Matters will work to identify, articulate and facilitate positive opportunities for Amarillo and the surrounding area.

Sounds sinister, right?

Oh, then there’s this from its vision statement, which declares in part: Amarillo Matters will seek out and support leaders of the highest integrity. We will look for leaders who know what makes us great and have the desire and knowledge to make us better.

Nefarious, don’t you think?

Look, I no longer have a dog in that fight. We sold our home in March 2018. We have moved away. We have set up a new life in Collin County. However, I do take a great interest in the city where we lived for more than two decades. It is a city in which I was charged with the task of commenting on its direction during my nearly 18 years as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. Thus, it is hard for me to let go.

Amarillo Matters was right to get involved when it was founded in 2016. A group of leading civic and business leaders didn’t like what it saw when a new majority took control of the City Council in 2015. I shared their concern as I watched it during my final years in the city.

The city has made tremendous progress since the 2017 election, when voters elected a brand new City Council. Is it wrong for Amarillo Matters to want a council that will lead the city toward a future that remains largely unknown, but which is taking shape in real time?

Amarillo appears to be moving forward. How is that a bad thing?

Good call, Amarillo voters, in re-electing City Council

To my former neighbors in Amarillo, I want to offer a bouquet and a word of praise for the wisdom they demonstrated Saturday in re-electing the five individuals who serve on their all-volunteer City Council.

They were returned for another two years in the saddle with healthy majorities, including the mayor, Ginger Nelson, who faced multiple challengers in her bid for a second term.

I say all this, of course, without casting a vote in the election. We don’t live there any longer, but I have been pleased with the progress the city has made in the two years since Nelson and her council colleagues took their seats.

Downtown’s redevelopment is continuing at a brisk pace. The Amarillo Sod Poodles are playing minor-league baseball in front of healthy crowds at Hodgetown. Yes, the city needs to fill some storefront space at the parking garage built across the street from the ballpark; I am not giving up on that venture.

What’s more, the city has thrown all in on the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine planned for its Health Sciences Center campus on the west end of the city.

Nelson, along with council members Howard Smith, Elaine Hays, Freda Powell and Eddie Sauer have sought to steady the municipal “ship of state” after a sometimes-rocky ride during the previous two years before they were elected the first time in 2017. From my vantage point, they appear to have done so.

Let us never forget: These folks get paid a “hefty” sum of $10 per public meeting, plus a reimbursement when they incur expenses while conducting city business.

They ain’t in it for the money.

My wife and I don’t get back to Amarillo — where we lived for more than two decades — very often these days. When we do, though, we enjoy seeing the change that occurs while we are away.

It looks damn good to my eyes.

Parking garage needs some paying tenants

They’re experiencing the hiccups at Amarillo City Hall, I venture to guess.

Why? Well, the city built this parking garage across the street from Hodgetown, the shiny new ballpark where the Amarillo Sod Poodles play hardball. Part of the selling points the city pitched with the garage would be the plethora of businesses that would pay rent and, thus, repay the expense of building the structure in the first place.

All the storefronts are empty.

The Sod Poodles are playing before big crowds at Hodgetown. They’re winning a few, losing a few. Fans are having a good time, as far as I can tell from my vantage point in Collin County.

According to the Amarillo Globe-News: “We’ve always known that space would come on line as soon as the ballpark opened up,” Mayor Ginger Nelson said . . . “We had almost 42,000 people attend ball games in the MPEV over the course of the last week and I think it’s important for that data to establish what  great location that is.”

Am I going to push any panic buttons? Am I going to declare that the parking garage, the ballpark and the downtown revitalization effort is for the birds, that it’s a loser, that all is lost?

Hah! No way, man!

However, perhaps the marketing gurus the city has employed — and I am quite certain there is no shortage of such “experts” — can ramp up the public-relations effort to lure more businesses into that parking garage.

I will say this much about the garage, Hodgetown, the gleaming Embassy Suites hotel on Buchanan Street: Taken together, they have remade the appearance, the ambience and the “feel” of downtown Amarillo.

However, there needs to be some signs of life along the ground floor of that parking garage.

Sooner rather than later would be so very nice.

Then the hiccups will subside.

Local PAC under fire once again

I try to keep an open mind. Really, I do.

However, I am baffled about why a group formed in Amarillo, Texas, to promote a certain agenda keeps getting sniped at by individuals and — please forgive me if I sound unkind — a few soreheads who cannot tolerate the influence this group has acquired.

Amarillo Matters is a political action committee with a stated mission to recruit individuals to run for public office. The PAC got involved in the 2017 municipal election, backed a slate of candidates for the City Council and then watched as all five of their endorsees won their seats on the council.

What has happened in the two years since then? Oh, a few things.

The city’s downtown revival has progressed. A new ballpark has opened downtown and the Amarillo Sod Poodles are now playing hardball at the AA level; they’re playing to thousands of fans each night. The Barfield Building, long abandoned and thought to be beyond repair, is being rehabbed and will open as a boutique hotel. City streets are being repaired and upgraded all over town.

The City Council is up for re-election next month. Amarillo Matters has endorsed them all. That’s no surprise, right? The folks the PAC endorsed are seeking another two years and Amarillo Matters isn’t going to abandon the council.

Is the city headed in the wrong direction? I do not believe so.

Check out Amarillo Matters website here.

I keep seeing social media posts from those who dislike Amarillo Matters. Why? Is it because its leadership comprises successful business and civic leaders? If so, why condemn them because of the success they have garnered? I believe we reward success in this country.

I have moved away from Amarillo but I retain an intense interest in the city’s future. I sat at ringside for more than two decades there and have watched it evolve from a moribund community to one that is on the move. Amarillo’s future has yet to be determined, but my creaky ol’ bones tell me it’s on the road to brighter days.

If a group of successful individuals can form a PAC and then push an agenda that enriches the community, then I offer a tip of the cap.

Go for it!