Tag Archives: Amarillo City Manager

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.

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?

Maybe the ‘outsider’ can mix it up at City Hall

Jared Miller has been called the “outsider” at Amarillo City Hall.

As the Amarillo Globe-News noted in today’s paper, he is the first such individual to be named city manager in many decades.

Going back to the days John Stiff, then to John Ward, to Alan Taylor and then to Jarrett Atkinson, the city has deemed it appropriate to move men up from the ranks into the top job administrative job at City Hall.

Let’s see, Stiff took over in 1963; Miller was hired just this year. That’s at least 54 years before the city reached outside its own municipal government family to find a new manager.

What kind of manager will Miller become? Let’s wait for the answer to that one. I’ve already commented on the outreach he has demonstrated by seeking input from all City Council and mayoral candidates in advance of the May 6 citywide election. He wants to hear their priorities, their goals, their aspirations for the city; he wants them to ask questions of the manager, and I presume for him to ask questions of them.

Miller, who served as San Marcos city manager before taking the Amarillo job, appears to be a good hire. What awaits, though, is for the public to determine whether his outsider status will enable him to make constructive change in the way policy is carried out.

I am not privy to the nuts and bolts of the strategies his predecessors employed at City Hall. I have watched city government operate for the past 22 years as a resident of Amarillo and have been generally impressed by what I’ve witnessed.

I’ve seen the city maintain steady population and economic growth over the years; I’ve watched the city expand and diversify its economic base; I have watched how the city has managed to secure its future through the acquisition of water rights at a time of diminishing water supply.

I also have seen some hiccups along the way. The city has invested in some economic clunkers through its use of sales tax revenue managed by its Economic Development Corporation; the city did hire a downtown redevelopment general management firm that went belly-up amid a big fight between its two principal owners.

What will Jared Miller bring to the table as he makes his imprint on the city’s future?

I shall await eagerly to see how this outsider uses his fresh approach to running a government enterprise worth a few hundred million bucks each year and which has a direct impact on 200,000 lives.

I like what I see … so far.

City manager shows serious class

I like Jared Miller’s style.

The Amarillo city manager has been on the job for just a few days and he already is serving notice that he is in the business of learning about the municipal government he is now administering.

Miller has told all candidates for the City Council and for mayor that he wants to hear from them. He wants to know their objectives, their goals and their aspirations. Miller wants to sit down with all them and, I am going to presume for a moment, listen intently to what these individuals have in mind if they get elected to the council.

They, after all, will be his bosses. Two incumbents are running for re-election. Three new council members will take their seats after the May 6 election; one of the newbies will be the mayor, the presiding officer of the governing body.

Yes, it will be a consequential election with the second consecutive new majority taking over from the previous group. The size of that new majority, of course, is yet to be determined.

Miller’s role will be determined by how well he and the new council work together.

The part of Miller’s style I find appealing is his proactive approach to determining how that relationship should develop. He’ll learn about all the candidates, who in turn will learn about the city’s chief executive officer.

Moreover, Miller is likely to learn about this community and the amazing change that’s occurring at this very moment.

I have encountered a tiny handful of individuals over the years who have come to communities such as this one, assume positions of importance and power — and never ask a single question about their new city of residence. They come here believing they have all the answers and aren’t interested in learning anything new.

An individual such as that, simply, doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

Jared Miller looks to me as though he is intent on learning.

I am heartened by what I am sensing early in the Miller administration at City Hall.

Manager gets strong statement of support

So, the Jared Miller era at Amarillo City Hall is off to a rousing start.

The City Council has voted unanimously to hire Miller as the next city manager. I am heartened by this news. I do not harbor concerns that the new manager has nowhere to go but down after this.

It’s been a rocky time at City Hall. Two city managers have quit under duress. The first one to go, Jarrett Atkinson, couldn’t work with the new council majority; the second one to split, interim manager Terry Childers, couldn’t control his big mouth and resigned after cursing at a constituent.

I’m going to hope now for a smooth transition — which is kind of in the news these days, you know — as Miller gets set to grasp the reins of municipal government.

City Hall is in dire need of some stability.

Not only did Atkinson quit, but a number of key senior staffers bailed about the same time. The city attorney resigned and an assistant city manager retired. A new council member called for the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation board to quit. The interim city manager realigned downtown development operations and moved many of the AEDC functions into City Hall departments.

I guess the concern Miller needs to address is how he’s going to calm the occasionally stormy waters at City Hall. I take heart in the unanimous vote by the council, which hasn’t always spoken with a single voice since this council bunch took office in the spring of 2015. The manager needs to know he has council support for the big job that awaits him as he moves from San Marcos to Amarillo.

One more point about the council vote: I am glad that this council acted quickly, rather than waiting — as some have advocated — for the next election. The Amarillo Globe-News editorialized in favor of the council waiting until after the May 6 council election, apparently thinking that a potential wholesale turnover among council members could produce a set of councilors with vastly different priorities.

Nuts! The city charter empowers the current council to act. It chose to move forward. Besides, with just a two-year gap between elections, there’s never a perfect time for an Amarillo City Council to make such a critical hiring decision.

Here we go. The new city manager has unanimous support among the folks who hired him. Let’s get busy, Mr. Manager.

Amarillo council ballot is filling up … good deal!

Amarillo voters won’t lack choices when they troop to the polls in May to elect their five-member City Council.

This, I submit, is an early victory for the cause of representative democracy.

Three residents are running for mayor. I’ve got my favorite picked already, but I’m just one voter.

All five council seats are up, as they are every odd-numbered year. This year’s election could produce a unique set of issues for voters to consider.

You’ll recall that two years ago, the prevailing issue appeared to be some grumbling among voters about the performance of the council and the city’s top administrative staff. The anger, to my mind, seemed misplaced. Municipal property taxes remain low, the city is growing, downtown is improving, projects are getting done. But there was anger out there.

Two incumbents got bounced out of office; a third incumbent, who was appointed to fill a seat vacated by the death of Jim Simms, decided not to run for election. So the city welcomed three new guys to the council.

Then the trouble got serious. City Manager Jarrett Atkinson quit; the council picked a combative interim manager, Terry Childers, who quit near the end of 2016; and some of the new guys squabbled openly with Mayor Paul Harpole.

Ugghh!

Now the new guys’ seats are on the ballot. Another incumbent who was re-elected in 2015 resigned his seat. The council chose Lisa Blake to succeed Brian Eades. Blake says she’s undecided about running for election. I hope she runs.

As for Harpole, he says he’ll announce soon his intention. I quite sure he’s going to pack it in to pave the way for someone else.

I’m anticipating a full municipal ballot for voters to consider on May 6. That’s how it should be.

As for the issues that voters might have to ponder, they likely will include the occasional flare-ups that occur among certain council members. Is it good for the city for its elected council members to bicker as they have done from time to time? What about the most recent dust-up involving the mayor and someone on the council who allegedly “leaked” information from an executive session to the media?

This kind of open sparring has been rare, indeed, on Amarillo’s governing board.

Municipal governance has become a contact sport at times. I’m going to bet that harmony vs. conflict is going to become one of the issues that candidates will get to discuss among themselves.

Ah, yes. Choices. Won’t this election be fun?

Water management must remain a top city priority

Maybe I am preaching to the proverbial choir, but I’ll preach this “sermon” anyway.

Amarillo City Council members’ decision to hire Jared Miller as our next city manager came after a discussion of issues that lacked one critical component: water management and conservation.

I don’t know, of course, what council members discussed in executive session with Miller and the four other finalists for the city manager job. Perhaps they talked openly, candidly and freely with them all about an issue that had become a top priority of the man they succeeded, Jarrett Atkinson.

It needs to remain there.

I say this feeling a bit strange, given all the moisture that’s fallen on the High Plains during the past 24 hours. It’s only a drop in the grand scheme of our water needs.

Atkinson came to the city after serving as a water planner for the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission. He is an acknowledged expert on water resources and knowing how to conserve what is without question the most valuable resource we have in this region. I am quite certain he is going to bring that knowledge to bear in Lubbock, where he has just begun as that city’s manager.

The city — working with the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority — has done a great job of securing water rights to keep us flush with water (pun intended, I suppose) for the next couple hundred years. Atkinson played a big role in securing those rights.

The city’s aggressive water-rights-acquisition policy has helped us forestall many of the mandatory water-use restrictions that have been implemented in many cities throughout the state.

The city’s need to conserve and protect this resource doesn’t diminish even with the acquisition of those water rights and the relationship the city has with CRMWA and other water planning entities.

One of the Amarillo city manager’s many duties must be to keep both eyes focused intently on water we’re pulling out of the Ogallala Aquifer and from Lake Meredith.

I will anticipate hearing Jared Miller’s perspective on how we manage the one resource that gives life to the High Plains of Texas.

Downtown dining district taking shape

Some interesting news is coming forth about downtown Amarillo’s future … which coincides nicely with the City Council’s decision to hire a new city manager.

The two things aren’t necessarily related directly, but City Hall’s new top hand — Jared Miller — is going to oversee a development that holds tremendous potential for the city he is about to manage.

They’ve broken ground on a new restaurant at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Polk Street. An established eatery, Crush, is moving across the street.

What does this mean? From what I understand, it moves forward the development of what’s been called in recent days a new “dining district” for the city’s downtown area.

We’ve got that brew pub being developed nearby. We’ll see another new structure going in with a couple of other dining establishments also in the immediate area. Napoli’s does business at the corner of Seventh and Taylor.

All the while, work on the Embassy Suites hotel is ongoing next to the parking garage.

What appears to be taking shape, as I see it, is a fundamental remaking of Amarillo’s downtown personality.

My wife and I arrived here in early 1995. To be candid, the downtown district didn’t have any kind of identity that either of us could recognize. Polk Street was in a moribund state. The Santa Fe Building sat empty at the corner of Ninth and Polk; that structure’s fortunes changed dramatically later that year when Potter County purchased it for a song and rehabbed it into a first-class office complex.

Now, though, the city is going through an extreme makeover.

Think of it: Embassy Suites will open soon; Xcel Energy is finishing work on its new office complex; that parking garage will open as well; West Texas A&M University is tearing the daylights out of the old Commerce Building to transform it into a new downtown Amarillo campus; this new dining district is now beginning to take some form.

Oh, and we’ve also cleared out the former Coca-Cola distribution center to make room for a ballpark that many of us want to see built eventually.

It’s not all entirely peachy. Many floors in the 31-story Chase Tower are going dark when Xcel and WT vacate the skyscraper. But I understand that the leasing agents working to re-fill those floors remain highly optimistic that the building will get new life.

The pace of change is a bit mind-boggling. I am prepared to keep watching — and waiting — for it all to bear fruit for the city.

Welcome aboard, Jared Miller

So, it’s going to be Jared Miller taking his post as Amarillo’s next city manager.

I’ve spoken already about the process that brought Miller and four other city manager finalists to city residents’ attention. The process worked well and the City Council blessed itself with a good pool of five finalists from which to choose.

Miller is the current San Marcos city manager. The budget he handles there is a bit less than what he’ll manage in Amarillo; he supervises an employment payroll of a good bit less as well.

The council will pay him about a quarter-million bucks a year. He’ll earn it.

I’m going to make one request of the new guy: Find a way to keep Bob Cowell on your management team.

Cowell was another finalist for the permanent city manager’s job. He’d been named interim manager after Terry Childers popped off in November at a constituent and then quit abruptly. Childers had been brought in as an interim manager after City Manager Jarrett Atkinson quit a little more than a year ago.

Cowell knows the ropes. He knows the players, including the five people who serve on the City Council. He brings institutional knowledge of Amarillo’s recent political turbulence. He could be a valuable resource for City Hall’s new man of the house.

I am going to offer a word of trust that the council has chosen well as well as a word of hope that the council will allow him to exercise the administrative authority — without interference from the council — that the city charter mandates.

Welcome to Amarillo, Jared Miller.

You’ll need to get busy. In a big hurry.

City close to a new manager era

Amarillo appears poised to have a new city manager, perhaps not long after the sun rises Thursday.

It’s going to be one of five men who have answered the call by the Amarillo City Council for someone to become the city’s chief administrator, the go-to guy who will run a city government that answers to 200,000 residents. The council reportedly has tendered an offer to one of the men.

I’ve been thinking a bit about who the city should choose. I’ve come to a conclusion that involves one of the applicants: If the council doesn’t choose current interim City Manager Bob Cowell, then it’s my hope that Cowell remains part of the city’s top municipal management team.

I don’t know Bob Cowell, who came on board after I resigned my job at the Amarillo Globe-News.

All five of the candidates appear to have solid experience and backgrounds in municipal and county government. Any one of them — from what I’ve read about them through the media — would be good picks.

Why focus on Cowell? As someone with intimate knowledge of city government told me Monday night at the meet-and-greet session with the five candidates at the Civic Center, City Hall has a number of key positions to fill. A lot of top hands have left the city as a result of the tumult that has occurred at Seventh and Buchanan.

If the council has chosen Cowell to be the top man, then he would step in with a substantial bit of what’s commonly called “institutional knowledge.” He knows the lay of the land, the principal players and the direction of the political winds.

If the council goes with someone else, then perhaps Cowell could be persuaded to stay on as deputy manager, a post he held until assuming the interim job … again, according to my friend with all the knowledge of city government and politics. Cowell’s knowledge of the local landscape would be a valuable asset to whomever takes over as City Hall’s top hand.

So, with that … we shall see who the council picks. It’s a major decision that will have tremendous impact on those of us who live here and depend on the city serving our needs.