Tag Archives: Amarillo City Hall

No messing with library hours

Amarillo’s new City Council is in the midst of budget discussions. It’s an annual ritual the city’s governing board must endure.

I got word the other day that the city was considering a reduction in a valuable service it provides to its residents. I’m talking about the public library.

Now I hear that the cuts are off the table. At least for now. I hope they stay off the table and that the city doesn’t mess with a service that, according to the library’s 2016 annual report, provides a tremendous return on the investment taxpayers make.

The plan, as I understood, was to close the North, East and Northwest branches on Saturday. The city was considering a return to its 2009 weekly schedule.

The savings? It is reported to be around $92,000 annually.

The council is now turning elsewhere to save some money. Good deal.

Let’s put the library expenditure $3.8 million into some perspective. According to the Amarillo Municipal Library annual report, the city received $30.5 million in ancillary benefit in return. The return on that investment? $26.7 million. Not a bad return, right?

As I understand it, the library provides a valuable place for Internet research for residents who might not have Internet services in their homes. They visit the branches around Amarillo and use the public computers to do research or to assist them in finding answers to myriad questions they might have. Indeed, the library reports that 72,215 persons used the Internet in FY 2016.

Thousands of children participate in the summer reading program; 6,985 residents logged on to the library’s Wi-Fi network; the library loaned out 57,643 audio books, CDs and other media; it loaned out 307,904 DVDs. All this occurred during FY 2016.

My point is that the public library provides a valuable public service. The City Council also serves the same public.

Surely, council members want to ensure that the public they serve — and which uses the library network — remains educated and informed on the world around us.

My hope is that council members continue to keep faith with the public, the people for whom they work and who they serve.

I also hope reason will continue to prevail at City Hall.

Older residents need to be heard, too

Once upon a time — not too many years ago — a so-called “movement” arose in Amarillo that purported to speak for young residents.

It was called the Amarillo Millennial Movement. Its mission was to promote a downtown entertainment venue that ostensibly would be a reason for young Amarillo residents to continue living here. The venue was put to a vote in November 2015 referendum — and it passed.

AMM then vanished. It’s gone. It was a flash in the pan.

Two years later, the city is now targeting the other end of the age spectrum. Older residents are getting to have their feelings known about what they want their city to provide. The old folks don’t have a catchy name, but they are being heard by City Hall, where staffers are beginning the process of developing an action to assist elderly residents in finding ways to spend their time.

The multipurpose event venue, by the way, will be built. Construction will begin soon. The AMM no longer exists, but the MPEV is likely to become a big part of elderly residents’ lives in Amarillo, too.

Don’t you love the symmetry?

There was a meeting this morning at the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission conference room downtown. It was called by Linda Pitner, senior services coordinator for the city. The meeting comprised a focus group of mostly retired men who live in Amarillo. Full disclosure: I was one of those focus group members.

The meeting was called to collect ideas, concerns and suggestions from these individuals on an array of issues, which included: what we do in our spare time; the city’s offering of activities geared toward “active adults”; what residents should expect of the city.

It was a lively discussion. It produced a lot of ideas for the facilitator, Jill Jackson Ledford, who came here from Charleston, S.C., to assist Pitner in the development of the potential action plan. The discussion covered bike trails, mass transit, the MPEV and other downtown improvements; it included discussion of the role of community churches in people’s lives and also included suggestions on how the city can develop more effective “clearing houses” to disseminate information to city residents.

One forum participant, retired Amarillo College President Paul Matney, told of how the Amarillo Senior Citizens Center offers the usual array of traditional activities for elderly residents. He cited bingo, quilting, line dancing and dominoes. Those “active adults,” Matney said, need more than that; they deserve more than those kinds of static activities.

Pitner told the group that men traditionally do not respond well to surveys. Amarillo’s female residents did respond to surveys sent to them, Pitner said. Thus, the men came together today for this focus group.

Where does the city go from here? What happens to the information gathered? The facilitator is going to compile a detailed report. She’ll present it to Pitner, who then will take it to the city manager, who will present it to the City Council.

It’s a long-term process. The current council might act on it. Or it could hand it off to the next council that will take office after the May 2019 municipal election. The decision ultimately will come from council members on how — or whether — to implement any and/or all of the elements contained within the report.

I do not expect this effort to meet the same fate as the Amarillo Millennial Movement. That is, my sincere hope is that it doesn’t disappear into oblivion.

Thanks, Bob Cowell, for your service to Amarillo

Bob Cowell has long wanted a city manager’s job.

Today he got one. It’s in Roanoke, Va., where that city’s council has voted 7-0 to hire the Amarillo deputy city manager as that community’s next top municipal administrator.

I’ll stipulate up front that I do not know Cowell personally. I know only of him by reputation. What I have heard about Cowell is that he held the city’s administrative staff together during a time of tumult, which I suppose might be enough of a selling point to his new employers in Roanoke.

A friend of mine in Roanoke gave me a heads up earlier in the day about Cowell’s hiring and asked me about him. I only can speak around the edges about Cowell; I don’t have much intimate knowledge of how well he does his job at Amarillo City Hall.

But as I told my friend, the managing editor of the Roanoke Times — and a former executive editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, Lee Wolverton — I know that Cowell was near the center of power when all hell was breaking loose at Amarillo City Hall.

He was there when former City Manager Jarrett Atkinson resigned in 2015 after the City Council election produced a new majority that didn’t think much of Atkinson’s work as manager. He also was there during the tumultuous time when Terry Childers came aboard as the interim city manager; Childers ended up walking away after he called a constituent a “stupid son of a b****.”

Cowell can take credit for helping hold the city administrative staff together during all that trouble.

He continued to serve the city under new City Manager Jared Miller’s leadership — and was a finalist for the city manager’s job in San Marcos, where Miller was working when he took the Amarillo job.

So, with that, Amarillo will have to replace a valuable municipal government hand.

Good luck and Godspeed, Bob Cowell.

Patrick misfires on municipal government critique

Oh, that Dan Patrick. He needs a lesson in Civics 101.

The Texas lieutenant governor has now laid blame for “all the problems” facing America at the feet of mayors, the vast majority of whom he says are Democrats. Oh, did I mention that Patrick is a Republican? There. I just did.

Patrick told Fox Business News that Democrats have made such a mess of municipal government that cities’ woes are spilling over into other walks of life. He said citizens are happy with governments at the state level. The cities? They’ve gone to hell, thanks to Democrats, according to the sometimes-bombastic lieutenant governor.

Shall we offer the lesson now? Sure, why not?

I’ll concede that there are pockets of municipal dysfunction around the country that have occurred under the watch of mayors elected as Democrats. Is that an exclusively Democratic problem? No. It is not. Republican-run cities have fiscal and crime issues with which they must deal, too. They have potholes that need to be filled and street signals that need to function properly.

What’s more, many thousands of mayors and city council members are elected on non-partisan ballots. Partisanship has no place in municipal governance. Cities with home-rule charters are governed by those who set aside partisan differences and who seek to set policies based on community interests, not based on whether they have positive or negative impacts on certain neighborhoods based on partisan affiliation or leaning.

I’m reminded at this moment of an Amarillo mayoral race some years ago in which a challenger to then-Mayor Kel Seliger called on all “good Republicans” to elect her instead of the incumbent. Mary Alice Brittain sent out pamphlets imploring GOP voters to turn out that spring to oust the mayor.

I was working at the time as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News and we reminded our readers to turn their backs on the ignorant rants of that challenger, given that Amarillo is one of most Texas cities governed by non-partisan mayors and city council members.

Seliger won re-election that year by a huge margin; Brittain disappeared and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

Dan Patrick is entitled to espouse his partisan bias. I understand he’s a faithful Republican officeholder. He’s got a tough job running the Texas Senate, which is meeting at the moment with the House of Representatives in a special session of the Legislature.

But, c’mon Dan! Knock off the broad-brush blame game against local government officials who are doing their best to cope with the problems facing every city in America regardless of party affiliation.

As the Texas Tribune reports: But “the fact that city elections are nonpartisan is one of the greatest things about city government,” said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League. “We like to say that potholes aren’t Democratic or Republican… it costs the same amount regardless of ideology.” 

Patrick should know better. I fear he does not.

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.