Amarillo has a curious form of government.
It invests a lot of power in its city manager. That’s not so curious. Strong-manager governments prosper all over the country.
The curiousness is derived in the City Council. All five of them are elected at-large. That includes the mayor, who under the city charter has little actual greater power than the rest of the council members.
They all represent the same citywide constituency. They all get paid the same whopping $10 per meeting.
The mayor cannot appoint anyone by himself or herself. He or she can’t issue executive edicts. The charter ties the mayor’s hands.
The mayor, though, does preside over the weekly council meetings and, better still, can become the face and the voice for the city — if he or she chooses to exercise that role. The mayor’s power is more or less implied.
I’ve watched several mayors up front in my 22 years living in Amarillo. They’ve all acted with varying degrees of effectiveness in using the office as a bully pulpit.
Kel Seliger didn’t strike me as being that out front on municipal issues; Trent Sisemore came along after Seliger and he was even less vocal in espousing city policies; Debra McCartt elevated the office’s profile quite a bit by (a) seeming to be everywhere at once and (b) promoting the city’s initiative to install red-light cameras at intersections to prevent motor vehicle accidents; Paul Harpole also has used the office to promote downtown revitalization and graffiti abatement.
Harpole more than likely is going to call it a career by declining to run for re-election this May. He hasn’t said so publicly, but the presence of a particular individual in the still-developing field of possible mayor candidates tells me Harpole has given his blessing to someone else.
Which brings me to Ginger Nelson, a lawyer and downtown redevelopment advocate. She currently is one of three individuals declaring their intention to run for mayor. The other two are businessman Jeremy Taylor and photo archivist Renea Dauntes. I don’t know the latter two and I only recently met Nelson, who I have determined to be a most impressive and engaging individual. She also has earned her civic involvement chops by virtue of her service on the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation board. My friends in the business community cannot speak highly enough of her commitment to the city and her experience in furthering Amarillo’s future.
What kind of trait should the next mayor exhibit, given the relatively weak nature of the office? To my way of thinking, it should be in the willingness to pound the bully pulpit and to speak eloquently — even loudly, when needed — about the direction the city is headed.
I recently heard Nelson make a pitch for the Amarillo Building, which she owns with her husband, Kevin. I was blown away, to be candid, by her enthusiasm for that project and the eloquence with which she spoke about the city’s future.
Do the other two candidates bring that kind of gravitas to the race? We’ll learn that in due course, correct?
The city has been through a relatively rough period in the past year or so. The city manager has quit; we welcomed an interim manager who, we found out, has a big mouth and he used it inappropriately a couple of times before he, too, quit abruptly; the council has selected five finalists for the permanent manager’s job and will present them to the public quite soon.
Voters elected three fellows to the council in May and June 2015. Their performance has presented a mixed bag of success and some grimace-producing embarrassments as they’ve clashed with the current mayor, Harpole.
The next mayor has to present a strong public profile and must be willing and able to make the office an even greater instrument for the city’s growth. I think Ginger Nelson would fill that need … but I will wait to hear also from any of the others who are willing to make the commitment to public service.
Every election cycle is important; that’s what they always say. This one, though, appears to be even more important than most.