Tag Archives: Potter County

Are there more deals to be struck?

Almost without fail, when I look at the Santa Fe Building in downtown Amarillo, I think of an innovative elected public official whose persistence brought the old structure back to life.

Then I wonder: Are there more deals like that to be had in rehabilitating other old structures in the city?

I moved to Amarillo in 1995 to take a job as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, which at the time published two newspapers daily. Almost immediately I became acquainted with Potter County Judge Arthur Ware, who at the time had been in office less than four years. The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve gunnery sergeant had been activated for service in the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91 — just after he was elected to for the first time — so he did his duty and came back to resume his day job as an elected public official.

Ware wanted to show me the Santa Fe Building. It was a vacant hulk in early 1995. It had been vacated by the Santa Fe Railroad many years earlier. The building, which was erected in 1930, was dark inside. Here’s the thing, though: It was built like the Bastille, which I told Ware when we walked through the building.

Ware wanted to purchase the structure and relocate several county offices in it.

Here’s the deal Ware struck: He managed to purchase the building and the property where it sits for $400,000. Yep, four hundred grand for a 12-story structure in downtown Amarillo! Then he applied for a historic preservation grant that would finance fully the exterior renovation of the structure. The Texas Historical Commission grant came through and so the county then went to work on the Santa Fe Building.

Over time, the building was finished. Yes, it ran into some hiccups along the way; the building had some cost overruns. The interior was restored, too. Indeed, many of the floors — under terms of the state grant — were restored to their original appearance. Other offices were completed with contemporary designs.

The building is a fabulous testament to Arthur Ware’s persistence and his love of the downtown district where he worked as county judge until 2015. A massive stroke slowed Ware down significantly in his final years as county judge.

If there is a legacy that Ware might want to stand the test of time, it has to be the Santa Fe Building. My hope is that there might be other opportunities on which city or county officials could seize as they look toward guiding the city and the county toward the future.

Tear it down! Tear it down!

I feel like revisiting an issue that has been discussed before on this blog. It’s the fate of Potter County Memorial Stadium.

The Amarillo Globe-News has put forward a notion that the stadium’s demolition ought to be an option. I’ll take it a step beyond.

Take the damn thing down!

Let me count the reasons for the venue known formerly as the Dilla Villa to be reduced to rubble.

  • It is in terrible physical condition. Drive by the dump/rathole and you see what I mean. The exterior grounds outside the fence look hideous. Potter County, which owns the place, is doing next to nothing to fix it up.
  • There is no practical use for it beyond it being the home field for San Jacinto Christian Academy’s baseball team. SJCA has a deal to use the ballpark for its home games.
  • Amarillo is going to welcome a shiny new sports and entertainment venue downtown in April 2019, thus removing Potter County’s ballpark from any consideration for future use. The MPEV will be home to a AA minor-league baseball franchise. They’ll play hardball next to City Hall, signaling the continued revival of the downtown district.
  • Potter County Memorial Stadium is the property of Potter County. As the AGN noted in its editorial, the county doesn’t have the money to fix it up. But even if it did, what would be the reason to throw money for a useless cause?

I usually get in trouble with some readers of this blog with these comments. They tell me about the “history” and the “tradition” associated with Potter County Memorial Stadium.

But … as the Globe-News noted in its editorial, they tore Yankee Stadium down to build a new ballpark with the same name. I’m quite sure that The Babe, The Iron Horse, Joltin’ Joe and The Mick all would have objected greatly. But the New York Yankees are still playing ball — and the city got over the demolition of The House That Ruth Built.

Potter County’s ballpark has outlived its usefulness. It’s time for it to go. Sooner, rather than later.

Gadflies have their place … but not always

I’ve known my share of gadflies in the communities where I have lived and worked.

You know what a gadfly is, yes? My trusty desk dictionary describes them as “persistent, irritating critics” and “one who provokes or goads”; the third definition describes a bug that bites livestock … which I guess is about as productive as the first two definitions.

Politics has its share of gadflies. Amarillo City Hall has had one among its City Council members for the past two years, but Randy Burkett has decided against seeking a second two-year term on the council.

Most of the candidates seeking spots on the new council are serious about public service. They are thoughtful and constructive in their approach to governance. I don’t claim to know all of them personally. I’ve met some of the candidates and I have a tiny bit of history with a couple of them.

But the city doesn’t need any gadflies sitting on the council, which is why I continue to support a particular slate of candidates and hope they get elected one week from today. Thus, I am hoping for a council that comprises Ginger Nelson as mayor, Elaine Hayes in Place 1, Freda Powell in Place 2, Eddy Sauer in Place 3 and Howard Smith in Place 4.

Political gadflies do perform a useful function in communities. They help officeholders stay focused on the issues. The tactic they employ is to gripe about what they consider to be wrong about certain public policy. Governing at every level — from City Hall, to the county courthouse, state capitol, the nation’s capitol and, yes, the presidency — require solutions. They require constructive — as well as critical — thinking.

That’s my hope for the next City Council. I want it to comprise individuals who are far more interested in pushing forward solutions than in looking exclusively for the things they believe need repair.

I want the council to comprise individuals with a demonstrated record of civic involvement.

Amarillo voters in 2015 experimented with significant “change” in city governing policy by electing three new guys to the council. One of them, Elisha Demerson, came to the job with prior governing experience, with service on the Potter County Commissioners Court. The other two were government novices.

But the council had a gadfly in its group. That would be Burkett. His presence on the council didn’t always work out. At least one of the challengers running this year qualifies as a gadfly. James Schenck, running for Place 2, keeps saying he knows what’s wrong with city government. I haven’t heard any solutions from him.

There need not be any more gadflies taking the oath of office after the ballots are counted next week. We need forward-thinking individuals who know how to govern as a unit.

I remain cautiously hopeful, moreover, in the collective wisdom of the city’s voters.

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.

Let’s hope big early vote equals big overall vote

early-vote

Texas elections officials are beside themselves.

Early voting is setting records throughout the state, they say. In the part of the state where I live — the Panhandle — Potter County elections officials also report record turnout for the early vote.

Now, the question: Does the big early vote translate to a larger overall vote? My concern is that record-setting early vote means only that more Texans are voting early … period!

We hear similar reports around the country, where state and local elections officials are crowing about all this early-vote interest.

What in the world is driving it?

Well, I suppose it might have something to do with the news of late this past week, with FBI Director James Comey’s announcement that he might have some more information to reveal about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton’s e-mail controversy. Legal experts across the spectrum do not anticipate any penalty will come Clinton’s way. The focus now appears to be on Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her estranged dirtbag husband — Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner and his hideous sexting scandal.

Democrats want voters to cast ballots early — perhaps before they change their mind. Republicans are seizing on it, too, before more stuff comes out about their nominee, Donald J. Trump.

As for the Texas turnout, the Lone Star State generally ranks among the poorest turnout states in the country.

I thought early on that because of the two major-party candidates’ low esteem among voters that this year’s presidential election turnout might set an all-time low.

I would be delighted to be wrong about that prediction, too.

Humans tinker with ballots, not machines

vote1

Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner has put the kibosh on a social media rumor about ballot integrity.

“There is nothing wrong with any of the machines we use for voting,” Tanner said in a statement. “They do not flip your vote. They do not flip parties. Humans do that.”

At issue is a complaint filed by a voter in Randall County who said that after voting for a straight Republican ticket her ballot showed a vote for the Hillary Clinton-Tim Kaine Democratic ticket for president and vice president.

Tanner said it didn’t happen, apparently consulting with her colleagues in Randall County.

The maddening aspect of this episode is that it comes in the wake of repeated allegations by GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump about “rigged elections” at the precinct polling level. Quite naturally — and this is of zero surprise — Trump hasn’t provided a single snippet of evidence to back up his specious contention.

That hasn’t stopped — in my mind, at least — the Internet trolls from promoting such nonsense in the GOP-friendly Texas Panhandle.

I’m glad to hear Judge Tanner weighing in with her assertion that her county’s election system is working as promised.

Indeed, about the only way to suspect actual voter fraud would be if the Clinton-Kaine ticket actually won in Randall County.

http://amarillo.com/news/local-news/2016-10-25/potter-county-judge-nothing-wrong-voting-machines

 

Could a single sign be the catalyst?

downtown ama

A friend of mine made a social media observation this morning I want to share here.

Wes Reeves of Amarillo is a big-time preservationist. He loves to save old buildings and to see old structures brought back to life. He’s a former colleague and we’ve been friends during the 21-plus years I’ve lived in Amarillo.

He notes that 10 years ago, Amarillo’s Center City flipped the switch on a sign in front of the Paramount Building on Polk Street in downtown Amarillo. The sign lit up, the crowd gathered in the street cheered mightily; I was one of them doing the cheering.

Reeves writes: “We hoped it would become a symbol for downtown rebirth, and it has. Since that time, tens of millions of dollars have been invested in downtown. And this sign has been photographed thousands of times by locals and visitors alike.”

He’s a happy young man. I’m happy, too.

He poses an interesting theory as to whether a singular symbolic act could have such a tangible economic impact. It might be pure coincidence that the lighting of the sign — which formerly lit up the entrance to a downtown movie theater — could have played a direct role in the progress that has occurred downtown.

The city did have a Strategic Action Plan in the works when Center City lit the sign. Movement was beginning.

Potter County had renovated the Santa Fe Building one block over and installed government offices into the beautiful structure.

As Reeves noted, too, “tens of millions of dollars” in private investment has been spent downtown since the sign started blazing brightly on Polk Street.

Coincidence? Strategic planning? Divine providence?

Whatever.

The sign was lit. The city has come a long way in the decade since in its effort to revive its downtown district. It still has a ways to go.

I’m believing that all those cheers were worth it that night when they flipped the switch on the Paramount sign.

City takes an astonishing turn

downtown

Maybe I’m easily amazed.

Whatever.

My amazement is focused on what I have perceived to be a remarkable about-face at Amarillo City Hall. It involves the city’s focus on its downtown business and entertainment district. It has gone from a hands-off public policy to a definite hands-on approach.

I am utterly convinced the entire city will reap the benefit.

My wife and I arrived in Amarillo in early 1995 to start a new life — and to continue a life we started when we arrived in Texas 11 years earlier.

We saw a downtown district that was, to put it charitably, in a state of suspended animation. Downtown was in shabby condition. In addition to the Barfield Building and Herring Hotel — two significant structures that have been rotting ever since — the city had the vacant Santa Fe Building with which to contend.

Then the light bulb flickered on at the Potter County Courthouse. County Judge Arthur Ware finagled a deal to purchase the Santa Fe Building for $400,000. He then secured a state historic preservation grant to pay for a renovation of the magnificent 12-story structure. The project was completed — and the county moved some of its offices into the Santa Fe Building.

That might be considered the start of downtown Amarillo’s revival.

City Hall’s outlook, though, remained standoffish. Mayors Kel Seliger and Trent Sisemore seemed uninterested in getting involved directly with downtown revival. They preferred to let private business take the lead. The city might lend support — if it felt a project merited it.

Little happened over nearly a decade.

The pace has accelerated tremendously in the past decade. How did it come about? I believe it has been the result of a more activist City Hall approach.

The city launched a Strategic Action Plan, which produced a vision for the downtown district. It created Downtown Amarillo Inc. Center City became even more of a player. The city created the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. The Amarillo Economic Development Corp. invested sale tax funds to help some of these projects along.

Meanwhile, private businesses — apparently sensing the energy coming from City Hall — began a series of tangible improvement projects. New bank branches went up. A convenience store was built. The old Fisk Building was turned into a business hotel.

The momentum was building.

Then came the Embassy Suites hotel project. Plans took root to build a parking garage. And, oh yes, we have that multipurpose event venue/ballpark.

Along the way, some folks started expressing anger. They didn’t like the way the city was proceeding with some of these projects. They alleged “secrecy,” which I believe was a dubious accusation.

Sure, we had some serious misfires. Wallace Bajjali — the master development firm hired to oversee downtown’s resurrection — went kaput overnight. That, too, fueled the anger. Well, WB is long gone.

But the movement is continuing.

The City Council has gone through a serious makeover. There have been some more hiccups, mostly created by tensions among some of the council members.

Is all this amazing? Yes it is.

I do not want the city to turn away from its new course.

The city is going to ask voters to approve more than $300 million in infrastructure improvements, just as it asked voters to approve a referendum to build that MPEV downtown.

There are times when local government can step in — and step up — when it perceives a need.

Amarillo saw the need to boost its downtown district. Believe this: When this project is done — as every U.S. community that has taken this kind of proactive approach has learned — the entire city will reap the reward.

Next to zero interest in politics? Perhaps

horse race

Incumbent officeholders hate it when I say this, but that’s too bad. I’ll keep saying it.

Hardly ever do they deserve a free ride to re-election. However, that’s what happens with mind-numbing regularity in many of our local communities.

Let’s look at Randall County, for an example.

I mailer came to my house this week. It’s from Paula Hicks, who’s running for the Precinct 4 constable seat occupied by Chris Johnson. She points out that her race is the only contested one in the county.

Wouldn’t you know it. The only contested race in the county where I live involves the one office I care next to nothing about. We shouldn’t even have constables in Randall County, but we do and this year the office is being contested.

What about the rest of the county offices? They’re all uncontested. Even the tax assessor-collector’s office, which is being vacated by a long-time incumbent, Sharon Hollingsworth, doesn’t have a contested race.

Why don’t candidates jump in? Why don’t incumbents get challenged by those who think they can do a better job?

Are they happy with the job being done? Don’t they want the publicity that goes with seeking public office? Do they fear offending someone?

That isn’t the case north of the county line, in Potter County?

The county attorney, Scott Brumley, has a challenger; the 47th District attorney, Randall Sims, has one too. A county commissioner, Leon Church in Precinct 3, is getting a challenge.

But that’s it. Just three incumbents from the entire slate of candidates have to fight to keep their office.

It’s not that I want all the incumbents to get tossed out on their ears. It’s just that I’ve long thought that incumbents build a public record and they ought to face demands that they defend those records.

The past few Amarillo municipal elections have been lively affairs. This past year saw two incumbent City Council members defeated and a third newcomer elected to a seat that had been vacated. I wasn’t happy with the outcome, but I did enjoy listening to the community debate.

Challengers who rise up from the masses need not be negative. They merely need to say how they intend to perform the duties differently from the individual who’s already in the office. Better? Sure.

I get that incumbents don’t like hearing that from folks like me. They think I sit out here in the peanut gallery just relishing the chance to toss the proverbial rotten tomato at them.

Not true. I just like a robust debate. Especially at the local level, where government — and the people who we choose to run it — make decisions that affect our lives most directly.

 

 

Constables: Who needs ’em?

Constable_Flag

Chris Johnson’s campaign signs are popping up all over southern Amarillo.

He is spending a good bit of dough seeking re-election to one of the more curious public offices I’ve ever seen.

He won’t get my vote. It’s not that I have anything against Johnson. I don’t know him. I’ve never had any dealings with him.

He’s a constable in Randall County, Texas.

Constable. What is that? He’s a politician/cop whose duties include (a) serving papers, such as subpoenas and summonses and (b) providing security for justice of the peace courts.

Let me stipulate a couple of things here.

One is that I’ve had a longstanding antipathy toward the very idea of electing constables. Why? We don’t need them. My wish would be for the Texas Legislature to propose a state constitutional amendment to do away with the office. The duties done by the constable can be done by sheriff’s deputies or municipal police officers.

But no-o-o-o-o! We’ve got to have another elected official assigned to do these things.

The other thing is that during my nearly 32 years living in Texas, I’ve voted for one man as a constable. Jeff Lester used to hold the office that Johnson now occupies. Lester, who retired recently from the Amarillo Police Department, ran for the office with one pledge: to get rid of it.

He held the title of constable, but didn’t do anything. He didn’t get paid. He referred all the duties to the sheriff’s department. He wanted to keep the office inactive long enough to enable the Randall County Commissioners Court to abolish the office, which state law empowers it to do after a period of time had lapsed.

Then came reapportionment after the 2010 census had been completed. The county had to redraw political boundaries based on shifts in population as required by state law. County commissioners then reapportioned Lester out of the precinct he had served as constable, meaning he couldn’t run for re-election.

That’s when Johnson ran — and won.

I must reiterate that I have nothing personal against Constable Johnson. It’s the office he holds that bugs the bejeebers out of me.

I get that some counties have a need for constables. The experience in Randall and Potter counties, though, has been spotty at best. We’ve elected constables who haven’t done anything while drawing their salaries. One Potter County constable — who’s since resigned — would suit up in all the gear and the requisite hardware just to serve legal papers.

I’m digging deep trying to remember a time I’ve ever heard of a constable in this part of the state making an arrest, or being involved in a high-profile criminal activity. Have I been asleep all these years?

So, I guess that Constable Johnson will get re-elected this year. Good for him. I’ll kick in my piddling portion to help pay his salary, although I won’t like doing it.

In this era when people say they’re sick of government inefficiency, I keep wondering: Where is the anger over paying for a superfluous law enforcement entity that — from my vantage point — need not exist?

We have plenty of county and municipal law enforcement personnel who are quite capable of doing the constables’ job.