Tag Archives: Amarillo voting plan

Just wondering: When will this city reform its voting plan?

Amarillo, Texas, is a wonderful place to call home. I did so for 23 years. I have moved away but my interest in my former “home town” still burns hot.

Every so often the debate surfaces about the city’s municipal voting plan. I want that discussion to re-start.

Amarillo is governed by a five-member City Council. They’re all elected at-large. Four council members have precisely the same constituency as the mayor. I believe the city has grown enough to modify its governing system.

The debate I have heard over many years was whether the city should stay with its at-large plan or should it elect all four members from wards, single-member districts. I do not understand why no one has pitched a reasonable compromise.

Let’s look at this idea: Expand the council by two, from five to seven. Elect four of the six council members from wards; elect two of them at-large; and, of course, continue to elect the mayor at-large.

I saw this voting plan work quite well in Beaumont, where I lived and worked for nearly 11 years before gravitating to the Texas Panhandle in early 1995.

Beaumont’s demographic makeup admittedly is quite different than Amarillo’s. It is divided roughly 50-50 between white and black residents. Amarillo is much whiter than Beaumont, but it does have an increasing Latino population.

Amarillo also is considerably larger than Beaumont, with 200,000 residents living there now, compared to around 120,000 residents in Beaumont. Amarillo, moreover, has been on a steady growth pattern for many decades, while Beaumont’s growth has been stagnant.

I believe Amarillo is big enough, mature enough and diverse enough these days to look seriously at an important change in its municipal voting plan. There is no need at all to impede that debate just because it’s “the way we’ve always done it.”

I used to argue when I worked for the Globe-News that the current system works well enough. There was no need to change. I have changed my mind. I don’t believe a drastic change from at-large to strictly single-member districts is in order. There ought to be a compromise to be reached.

Why not debate it openly, seriously and with vigor?

Will there be a big change in city voting plan?

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For most of my time as an Amarillo resident — it now totals more than 21 years — I’ve been a fairly staunch advocate of the city’s at-large municipal voting plan.

All five members of the City Council represent the entire city. They all answer to the same constituent base. All four council members have as much political stroke as the mayor.

Then my attitude began to change. I posted a blog in 2013 declaring my change of heart and my belief that the time may have arrived to enact a hybrid single-member-district voting plan for the city.

Re-thinking single-member districts

The city’s population is about to exceed 200,000 residents and perhaps it will be time to consider a serious change.

Then again, the city is embarking on a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization project that city leaders hope will bring some infrastructure equality to a few of the city’s more depressed neighborhoods.

I understand that the North Heights neighborhood is going to get the first infusion of interest, and perhaps some much-needed money, to help improve its appearance.

This is part of a sweeping set of goals the city has set for itself.

The Barrio is likely to be next. Then the city will turn its sights on the San Jacinto neighborhood. Perhaps after that it could be The Boulevard.

Will the city stop seeking to improve its southwest quadrant? No. That work will continue.

The upshot of this might be to stem any possible momentum that could build in the short-term future to change the manner in which voters elect their City Council.

The three new fellows who got elected in 2015 all vowed to be agents of change at City Hall. I’ve commented before about the pros and cons of some of the change they brought.

Will there be a profound change proposed by one of the new guys that deals with the city’s voting plan? Or will the city’s neighborhood improvement plans be enough to forestall a new voting plan?

Time will tell if leaders deliver on their pledge to pay careful attention — and deliver much-needed resources — to all corners of the city.