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.”