Tag Archives: Ginger Nelson

Let the landscaping proceed! Woo hoo!

For a moment this morning en route to a meeting in downtown Amarillo, I thought my lyin’ eyes might be deceiving me.

I approached the Intersta te 40/27 interchange and noticed work crews doing something I’ve yammering about for, oh, seemingly forever.They were digging up the turf at the interchange. Some of the crew members were planting trees. I noticed some more site work as I made the turn onto the ramp.

Can it be possible? Can it be that the Texas Department of Transportation and the city have begun implementing the beautification agreement that Mayor Ginger Nelson said had been struck?

If what I saw is, indeed, what I hope it is, then we are witnessing a serious (in my view, at least) fulfillment of a campaign promise.

Mayor Nelson pledged to make public right-of-way beautification one of her goals while she ran for the office.

I won’t take a shred of credit for seeing this work being done, despite my stated — and repeated — exhortations toward this end.

However, I do want to join those who have said the same thing, which is that the highway rights-of-way through Amarillo present a terrible image to those who are just breezing through.

They need serious work. If my eyes aren’t deceiving me, then I believe we are witnessing an important step toward improving Amarillo’s image.

Is graffiti abatement still on the city’s agenda?

Paul Harpole became Amarillo’s mayor in 2011 after campaigning on a vow to rid the city of graffiti that was scarring private property.

He orchestrated the launch of a program aimed at cleaning up buildings that were being “tagged” by gang members and would-be gang members.

Then he left the mayor’s office earlier this year. The current mayor, Ginger Nelson, campaigned on a multi-faceted platform of issues ranging from economic development, to fiscal accountability, to beautification of our public rights-of-way. There are plenty of other issues, too.

I don’t recall reading about graffiti abatement as I pored through Nelson’s list of municipal priorities.

So, my question is: Did the graffiti abatement program vanish when Paul Harpole walked away from the mayor’s office?

I hope that’s not the case.

One mayor’s effort to rid the city of a nuisance should become part of the next mayor’s agenda as well. Don’t you think?

Harpole stays the course on graffiti battle

I thought Harpole had the right idea when he decided to take on the “artists” who deem it OK to deface other people’s property.

Mayor Nelson appears quite dedicated to her vision for making the city a better, more attractive place for its 200,000 residents. I believe part of her overall strategy needs to include her immediate predecessor’s aim to rid the city of graffiti.

This trash pickup plan works!

I stand before you — actually, I’m sitting — to testify in favor of Amarillo’s new municipal trash pickup regimen.

It works, I’m tellin’ ya!

My wife and I had a couple of large items we wanted to discard from our southwest Amarillo home. I called the city solid waste collection office, told them what we had and was told to put it on the front yard, near the curb.

A truck would come by in about 24 hours to pick it up.

Well, by golly. It did. The truck’s two-man crew picked up the items. They are gone, heading off to Solid Waste Heaven.

This is a beautification project announced the other day by Mayor Ginger Nelson. She said that residential alleys have become collection points for unsightly debris. Come to think of it, is there any other kind? Well, I reckon you know what I mean.

Amarillo is not what I would call a grimy, trash-laden community. In my travels around the country, even in our recent sojourns in all directions from the High Plains, I have seen many communities that present giant eyesores to the casual visitor/passerby.

However, any effort to doll the city up is OK in my book.

To that end, I applaud the mayor and her vision. Nelson campaigned on a lengthy platform of issues she said needed to be addressed. Beautification happens to be one of them.

Now … let’s get busy dressing up those highway rights-of-way.

APD returns to community policing

Terry Childers didn’t exactly distinguish himself during the year or so he served as Amarillo’s interim city manager.

Childers did, however, make one stellar personnel decision in 2016: hiring Ed Drain — an assistant police chief in Plano — as the interim chief of police when Robert Taylor retired as Amarillo’s top cop. Then he took the next step when he named Drain as the city’s permanent police chief. Not long after that, Childers quit and returned to Oklahoma City.

Drain, meanwhile, has distinguished himself in his few months on the job in Amarillo. Mayor Ginger Nelson brought out some key points regarding Drain’s tenure in her State of the City speech, noting some improvements that I want to look at briefly in this blog post.

One of them involves the return of community policing.

Former Police Chief Jerry Neal introduced to the city the notion of police officers making themselves more visible in the neighborhoods they patrol. He deployed bicycle patrols and instructed officers to engage in greater outreach to the communities they serve.

Then Neal retired. Taylor assumed command. Community policing disappeared. Then Taylor retired. In came Drain. Community policing has made a return.

As Nelson said Tuesday morning, the police department has instituted community policing programs in five neighborhoods. The program includes police substations where officers are able to do paperwork and perform other duties required of them.

The city has transformed the old North Heights YMCA into a community center now called the Charles Warford Center. It will include a police presence and will, according to Nelson, “provide a safe place for neighborhood children.”

It’s interesting to me that all this has occurred during Chief Drain’s time as head of the Amarillo Police Department.

I happen to be a big fan of community policing. It has worked in cities all across the nation. It puts police officers in more direct contact with the neighborhoods they serve. It helps remove the Us vs. The Man stigma that occasionally infects police relationships with the communities they serve.

Crime statistics suggest the city has work to do, according to Nelson, who said Tuesday that she intends to remove Amarillo from the list of “most dangerous cities in Texas.” She intends to make Amarillo known as one of the state’s “safest cities.”

I believe the mayor has a tremendous resource at her disposal in the form of Police Chief Ed Drain.

Mayor delivers on State of the City address

I had this gnawing feeling in my gut when I ventured this morning to the Amarillo Civic Center.

My gut was warning me of a possible happy-talk recitation from Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson who pledged to offer her view of the State of the City.

To her great credit, the mayor in effect told my gut to settle down. No need to worry about that. Instead, Nelson proceeded to tell a Grand Plaza Ballroom packed with attendees that the city has made great strides already, but has a good bit more distance to travel as it is “Getting it Done” for the city’s 200,000 residents.

Indeed, Nelson today put quite a Getting it Done-themed agenda looking forward on the record. She laid down a terrific benchmark to take forward next year — and for years after that.

This is the kind of speech that residents need to hear from the City Council’s presiding officer. Granted, under Amarillo’s voting plan, the mayor represents precisely the same citywide constituency as the other four council members; everyone on the council is elected at-large. The mayor is given what Theodore Roosevelt used to call the “bully pulpit” and this morning I heard Amarillo’s first-term mayor use that pulpit with effectiveness.

Much is going well in Amarillo, Nelson said. The city maintains a low municipal property tax rate; the city’s downtown district is moving forward and soon construction will begin on a $45.5 million downtown ballpark that will be home to a AA minor-league baseball franchise.

Amarillo’s police department is reinvigorating its community policing program under the guidance of Police Chief Ed Drain. The city is opening police substations in minority neighborhoods and putting officers in closer touch with the neighborhoods they are patrolling.

The city is working to improve North Heights living conditions and plans to focus soon on The Barrio and San Jacinto, Nelson said.

But we haven’t reached nirvana, the mayor cautioned.

Response times from police and firefighters need to improve, she said. The city needs to boost its educational level; only 22 percent of Amarillo residents have earned a bachelor’s degree or better, Nelson said. The city is ranked by the FBI as one of Texas’s “most dangerous cities,” according to Nelson.

“We have an epidemic of illegal dumping in our alleys,” Nelson said. There needs to be “better planning” between the city and the Texas Department of Transportation as it regards the enormous amount of road work that’s under way, the mayor said.

The city must do a better job of improving the physical appearance of Interstates 40 and 27 as they course through Amarillo, she said, although she noted that the city has instituted a new schedule for mowing the rights-of-way.

She urges residents to “buy local,” noting that business and sales tax revenue has slipped a bit in recent years. She laid the blame for the sale slippage on “online shopping.” Nelson said buying local ought to be an “easy” goal for residents to achieve if they intend to support their community.

It’s easy for elected municipal officials to tout the good news and give the challenges the short shrift when speaking to a public audience. Mayor Nelson did not do that this morning.

My major takeaway from her State of the City speech is that she set the table for more speeches that will communicate where the city continues to fall short … and where it is “Getting it Done.”

How does downtown revival boost an entire city?

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson will get a chance soon to explain — I hope in some detail — an important question facing the city’s civic, business and political leaders.

How does downtown improvement ripple its benefits across the entire city of roughly 200,000 residents?

Nelson is going to deliver what’s being billed as a State of the City speech on Oct. 3 at the Civic Center Grand Plaza Ballroom. It’s a breakfast event that lasts an hour beginning at 7:30 a.m.

There has been a lot naysaying going on around Amarillo for the past, oh, half-dozen years or so ever since the city began getting serious — finally! — about reviving its downtown business/entertainment district. I keep hearing the bitching about non-downtown neighborhoods being “neglected” for the sake of downtown improvements.

The mayor, newly elected this year along with the entire City Council, has a chance to offer a serious explanation of just how downtown revival can — and will — deliver benefits to neighborhoods in all directions.

Amarillo will break ground shortly on a new downtown ballpark, which is being touted as the crown jewel of the city’s downtown revival. In April 2019, they’ll throw out the first pitch for a minor-league AA baseball game to be played at the venue. That’s not the only type of activity planned for this venue. Many folks have designs of it being a place for community events featuring music and assorted forms of entertainment; it’ll be a gathering place for folks to sell their wares.

Already the downtown area has been improved and gussied up far beyond what it was two decades. What in the world is wrong with that?

I know this only anecdotally, but my experience has told me as I’ve traveled around the country over many decades is that thriving, lively cities generally have a single thing in common: a thriving, lively downtown district. Is Amarillo a shining city on a hill — to borrow President Reagan’s phrase — devoid of problems? Of course not. The mayor will need to deal with that, too, as she talks to us.

Explaining all of this is what Mayor Nelson faces as she delivers her first State of the City speech. My hope is that this is the first of many such conversations that our city’s presiding elected official has with her constituents.

My hope, too, is that it continues well beyond the time Ginger Nelson wields the gavel at City Hall.

Tell us about the ‘state of the city,’ Mme. Mayor

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson seems to get it.

I hope …

The first-term mayor has announced a State of the City speech planned for Oct. 3 at the Civic Center Grand Plaza Ballroom. It’s a breakfast event set to begin at 7:30 a.m.

What this means for Amarillo remains to be seen, of course. Nelson ran this spring on a multi-plank platform that included a pledge to increase transparency and accountability.

Here is her chance.

I once called for a State of the City speech. That was years ago. Then-Mayor Debra McCartt took part in a Panhandle PBS program in which she discussed the state of affairs with Buzz David, then head of the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation and the city’s cheerleader in chief, Chamber of Commerce President Gary Molberg.

McCartt did it one time. That was it.

A State of the City speech gives the City Council’s presiding officer a chance to provide realistic, unvarnished and fulsome analysis of the state of affairs. These speeches should include areas that need improvement as well as where the city is shining brightly.

I don’t know how Mayor Nelson is going to present the State of the City.

Here might be some topics to cover: tax rate projections; the progress of downtown redevelopment; the myriad street improvement that are ongoing; the status of the red-light cameras and whether they’re doing the job they were advertised to do; the status of the curfew for juveniles; Amarillo emergency service response times.

So, she’s got a potentially full plate of issues to cover. Many of them will require a hard look.

Make no mistake, there will be a fair share of soreheads and perpetual skeptics/cynics who will dismiss any such speech by the major as so much trumped-up happy talk. I am not one of them.

I look forward to hearing what the mayor has to say.

More frequent mowing? It’s a start, City Hall

Amarillo City Councilman Eddy Sauer posted an encouraging message on Facebook, which reads in part:

At Tuesday’s Council meeting we signed an agreement with TXDOT to increase mowings and weed control on I-40 and I-27. Improving curb appeal is a huge priority for me and the Council. While I’d like to take the credit, this is the result of hard work by city staff and our local TXDOT engineers and coordinators. I am very pleased and proud of how hard our staff is working to embrace the new council’s vision of moving our city forward. We are truly blessed and will continue to work hard to fulfill the commitments we’ve made to our residents. 

It’s a start, councilman.

The city is setting aside some additional money to cover the cost of the increased mowing. But to those who have expressed concern about the appearance of the interstate thoroughfares coursing through the city — such as yours truly — there remains a good bit more work to do.

Mayor Ginger Nelson laid out a detailed platform that included a highway beautification plank in it. I believe she intends to follow through on that pledge.

There ought to be a strategy laid out that enables the city and the state to team up on a landscaping program that dresses up the I-40/27 interchange. I recall when the Texas highway department rebuilt the interchange, flipping the east-west bound lanes with the north-south lanes. It was a huge undertaking. The state decorated the overpasses with colors that mirrored Palo Duro Canyon’s walls.

Then it let the ground under the interchange to become choked by weeds.

I applaud the City Council’s decision to run the mowers more frequently along the interstate rights-of-way. There’s more to do.

Amarillo mayor is talkin’ baseball

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson is sounding mighty pleased these days, with good reason.

The city scored a big win this past week with an announcement that a minor league baseball franchise is pulling up stakes and relocating to the city she has helped govern for the past few weeks.

The San Antonio Missions will play ball at the new ballpark/multipurpose event venue to be built in downtown Amarillo. They’ll start their 2019 season in April of that year and the plan is for them to stay possibly for decades, depending on the number of contract extensions they sign.

OK, we don’t yet know the name of the new team, but a couple of things jumped out at me as I watched Nelson’s TV interview this past weekend.

* She credits the weather as being a big selling point for the Elmore Group deciding to move the Missions to Amarillo. That’s a bit of a surprise. Nelson said the weather from “April to September” is ideal for evening baseball. Low humidity, “downtown wind,” placid temperatures after the sun goes down all worked in Amarillo’s favor to luring the team here.

But … but … but what about those infamous spring winds, Mme. Mayor? Isn’t there a standing joke here about how, if you don’t like the weather, “just wait 10 minutes”? Let’s hope for the best on that one.

* Nelson also answered a valid question about the cost of the multipurpose event venue and how it’s going to cost more than that what the non-binding referendum in November 2015 called for. That measure pegged the price at $32 million; the current price tag is $45.5 million. “That’s an apples and oranges” comparison, Nelson told KAMR’s Jackie Kingston.

The referendum presumed an “independent baseball team” would be playing at the MPEV. The Missions are a major league-affiliated minor league AA team, which she said will provide a much better entertainment product for fans to enjoy.

See the interview here.

I am in the mayor’s corner in celebrating the pending arrival of this new entertainment feature to Amarillo. I’ve noted before, but I believe it bears repeating: I see no downside in the city’s effort to its downtown district.

About the aesthetics, Amarillo

We’re home.

It’s a good place to be. We love Amarillo, our city of choice for more than 22 years. My wife and I carved out a nice life here and whenever we leave the city for any length of time, we are happy to return. Our life is in flux as we prepare to resettle elsewhere — hopefully sooner rather than later.

Now that I’ve gotten the positive vibe out of the way, I want to register a minor quibble.

We returned home today via Interstate 40 westbound from points east and a little bit north. We logged 3,760 miles on our Dodge pickup and the fifth wheel RV we hauled behind it over the course of the past 17 days.

I was struck as we approached Amarillo’s eastern border, though, by something that troubles me. The community’s physical appearance looks, shall we say, seedy. It looks tacky. It’s unkempt and unattractive.

Is it the city’s fault? Frankly, I cannot remember if I’d seen the city limit sign prior to making our approach. If the abandoned rail cars near the airport sit in Potter County territory, then perhaps these remarks ought to be directed as well to the county. We noticed a few old vehicles as well.

Then we entered interchange where I-40 merges with U.S. Highway 287. What greeted us there? A non-descript sign that reads “Amarillo.” No mention of the big skies, endless opportunities, Palo Duro Canyon (one of the state’s true treasures) or that it’s the home of some notable native sons and daughters; the late astronaut Rick Husband came immediately to my wife’s mind; perhaps the reminder of another notable astronaut Gen. Tom Stafford’s roots in Weatherford, Okla., where we had passed through earlier in the morning brought Husband to my wife’s attention.

Mayor Ginger Nelson ran for office this spring on an extensive platform of ideas, issues and initiatives. One of them dealt with gussying up the I-40/27 interchange, about which I’ve written already on this blog. No need to belabor that point.

Perhaps Her Honor can expand her beautification vision to include some effort to make the westbound approach to our city more appealing to those who are laying eyes on The Big A for the first — or perhaps only — time.

Let’s get real. The Good Lord didn’t bless this region with purple mountain majesty, although we do have some mighty pretty sky. As we cast our eyes downward, toward the terra firma, we see that humankind has to do his and her part to tidy up the place.

We have some work to do.