Tag Archives: Jarrett Atkinson

Karma reveals changing municipal fortunes


You’ve no doubt heard the saying: Karma’s a bitch.

As such, it works in the strangest ways one can imagine. Consider the fortunes of two leading West Texas municipal government operations.

Amarillo is now looking once again for a city manager to replace the interim manager the City Council appointed to navigate the city through some rough water. Interim manager Terry Childers is out after he muttered a profane epithet into an open mic at a constituent. Childers resigned his temporary job and is slated to depart no later than Dec. 16.

City Hall is roiling yet again in controversy at the highest levels of its municipal administration. Sheesh. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

B’bye, Mr. Manager.

Meanwhile, down the road about 120 miles in Lubbock, the man Childers succeeded as city manager, Jarret Atkinson, reportedly is about to be named that city’s new city manager. The announcement is likely to be made public on Thursday.

Atkinson was drummed out of office in Amarillo because — it has been reported — he couldn’t work with the new majority elected in May 2015.

Atkinson has become a superior water development expert, and he brought his valuable expertise to bear during his years as Amarillo city manager. Now he gets to deploy his vast knowledge of water management and development in Lubbock.

The former Amarillo city manager has done well for himself and Lubbock has likely done well for itself if it selects Atkinson as its next chief administrator.

Amarillo’s municipal future? It has been thrown into doubt once again. Karma does have this way of biting back … hard!

Calling all city manager applicants: Step right up


This story will need some fleshing out, but I cannot help but offer a quick-hit comment.

Amarillo interim City Manager Terry Childers has submitted his resignation. It appears he got angry with a resident and called him an SOB during a City Council meeting on Tuesday.

Mayor Paul Harpole asked Childers for his resignation and Childers delivered it today. The city is going to appoint Assistant City Manager Bob Cowell to the interim post.

This is big news for an important reason. The city needs a permanent city manager. City Hall has been the picture of dysfunction since the May 2015 election of three new council members. Former City Manager Jarrett Atkinson quit –and now is about to be hired as the city manager in Lubbock; good for him! The council was looking actively for a new manager, then suspended its search; then it renewed it only recently.

The issue facing the City Council now is simple: How does it present a city government that is functional, efficient and cohesive to the next band of city manager candidates willing to assume the awesome job of running a city of 200,000 residents — and more than its share of soreheads?

Let’s all stay tuned. This might get real good.

Atkinson needs to get back into the game


I am pulling for Jarrett Atkinson.

The former Amarillo city manager is now in the running to become the chief administrator down yonder in Lubbock, Texas.

He was run out of a job he was doing well here. There’s no way to sugarcoat what happened to him in Amarillo. Voters elected three new City Council members in reaction to some sense of municipal “anger.” I’m still puzzled by the source of that alleged anger and angst.

Was he the perfect city manager? Did everything he touched turn to gold? No, but if you look at the big picture, you see a city that was on the move in the correct direction. Amarillo enjoyed steady growth, maintained a low tax rate, kept its debt obligation to a bare minimum. The city manager deserves a huge chunk of credit.

Atkinson quit his job not long after the new council took office.

Now he might be on the cusp of getting back into municipal government game.

Lubbock needs some help managing a priceless resource. I refer to water, something about which Atkinson is an acknowledged expert. On his watch at Amarillo City Hall, Amarillo was able to acquire vast water rights, setting the city on course to remain viable for the next century or two.

I didn’t like what happened to Atkinson here. I don’t have any inside information on how the Lubbock City Council will go with this key appointment.

I just want to put it on the record that I hope for the best for Jarret Atkinson … and for the city that might be about to hire him to do a difficult and demanding job.

If you have to … do it, just don’t tell me


WICHITA FALLS, Texas — Drinking potty water isn’t exactly to my liking.

But that’s what they’re doing in this Wichita County community. They’re processing waste water and turning it into potable water … the stuff you can swill with allegedly no discernible after taste.

The officials in Wichita Falls swear by what they’re doing.

For one thing, it is reducing by a considerable amount the volume of fresh water the city’s 100,000 or so residents are consuming.

The city had to do it back when so much of Texas was enduring the punishing drought. They developed technology to turn — pardon the intentional pun — crappy water into fresh drinking water. It’s my understanding that the locals aren’t complaining about it.

Given that Wichita Falls has a limited supply of drinking water — with it all coming from surface-water reservoirs — the city felt it had no choice but to find a way to convert the waste water into the drinkable liquid.

When I first got wind of this initiative, I approached then-Amarillo City Manager Jarret Atkinson — a well-known expert on water development and conservation — and said the following:

If you have to develop this kind of technology for Amarillo, fine! Go for it! Just don’t tell me.

Welcome to the arena, Lisa Blake


Well, that didn’t take long.

Amarillo City Council members interviewed five finalists today for the vacancy on the body that will occur when Dr. Brian Eades hits the road.

Then the council chose the head of Leadership Amarillo, Lisa Blake, to fill the seat that Dr. Eades will vacate.

It wasn’t a unanimous vote. Councilman Randy Burkett voted “no” to appoint Blake.

Whatever the case, I guess we’re getting used to split votes on the governing body, which saw its makeup changed dramatically after the May 2015 municipal election.

This council member selection process was an interesting and enlightening exercise. The five individuals spoke to the council in full public view. They all answered the same set of 10 questions. I wasn’t there today, so I cannot comment on the quality of everyone’s answers.

I did visit today, though, with a community leader who did listen to the interviews and he came away quite impressed with Blake’s presentation, her background and her potential as a city leader.


What happens now? How will Councilwoman-designate Blake work with this new council?

The City Council has been a contentious group at times. Indeed, it took power amid some fairly shrill rhetoric, which included calls for then-City Manager Jarrett Atkinson to quit and for the dismissal of the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation board.

It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride — at times — for the past year.

So now, we have a fourth new member of the council about to take office.

I am heartened to know that the new council member has a strong record of civic involvement. Leadership Amarillo has been a stellar organization for a long time and Lisa Blake represents the good work that the organization has done to promote a new generation of civic leaders.

Let’s see now what she can do on behalf of her new constituents.

She’s got 200,000 of them out here who need steady, strong and civil leadership at City Hall.

Amarillo council sets down rules of conduct

ama city council

Does a governing municipal council really need to be told — in writing — how to behave when it’s conducting the public’s business?

I guess the Amarillo City Council needs such rules spelled out.

Whatever. It’s good to know the council has accepted the rules on how to behave in public.

The council adopted a set of rules that requires council members to, um, act like adults. Interesting, yes?

The new rules require council members to: maintain order and decorum at council meetings and obey the mayor’s edicts; treat each other and city staffers with courtesy and respect; refrain from using their position to obtain special privileges; and refrain from condoning illegal or unethical behavior.

It fascinates me in the extreme that the council felt the need to adopt these rules and codify them in writing.

Every single one of those guidelines seems as though they always would be understood from the beginning.

A lot of things changed when the City Council took office this past spring. Three new guys joined the five-member council. They promised “changed,” and delivered it in spades. Some of it was good. Some of it was, well, not good. One of the not-good elements emerged quickly as at least one of the new council members began arguing publicly with Mayor Paul Harpole about this and that policy matter.

What’s more, the call for former City Manager Jarrett Atkinson to resign right out of the chute was seen as, well, far less than respectful  . . . not to mention the demand that the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation board be fired summarily.

Change? Yeah, we got it, all right.

Now, though, the change that voters said they wanted has been tamped down a bit to require a level of decorum.

The Amarillo City Council is acting like a collection of grownups — even as it puts its rules of behavior in writing.


Some of Amarillo’s ‘change’ has been good

ama city council

Change came to Amarillo City Hall this past spring with the election of three new City Council members.

Some of the change wasn’t so great, such as the call from two new members immediately upon taking office for City Manager Jarrett Atkinson’s resignation and the firing of the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation board.

Atkinson, realizing that he couldn’t work constructively with the new council, eventually did quit; the AEDC board is still there. Atkinson’s departure was a definite downer for the city, but the council has hired a capable man, Terry Childers, to serve as interim city manager.

One or two of the new guys got into public spats with Mayor Paul Harpole. That wasn’t good, either.

The council, though, has implemented a new procedure that I find quite appealing. It moved its regular Tuesday meetings to 5:30 p.m., rather than at 3 p.m.

The idea was to enable more residents to attend council meetings after work hours. The 3 p.m. meeting time was inconvenient for a lot of residents. They expressed their displeasure many times over the years.

The council did begin meeting occasionally later in the evening; it took its meetings into neighborhoods, giving council members a chance to hear residents’ concerns while sitting in their constituents’ own back yard.

I like the notion of meeting at 5:30 p.m. I also like the idea that more residents will be able to attend these sessions, to see and hear their elected representatives and to engage them personally during the “public comment” portion of the council meetings.

Perhaps with more people getting engaged in these proceedings we can stop hearing the constant carping — from the vocal minority of gadflies — about the bogus “secrecy” that allegedly shrouds so many of the council’s actions.

Now … let’s get busy.


City still needs water expertise


Jarrett Atkinson brought some rare knowledge to his job as Amarillo city manager.

He’s no longer in that spot, but the need for that knowledge remains.

Atkinson is a highly regarded expert on water management and acquisition. Prior to taking over as city manager he served as an assistant to the then-manager Alan Taylor; and prior to that he served as the chief water-planning guru for the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission.

In a six-minute interview with my friend Karen Welch at Panhandle PBS, one gets a sniff of Atkinson’s expertise on water issues as he and Welch talk about some of the challenges facing city government.

Take a look.

Atkinson was essentially forced out of his job by a dramatic change at the top of City Hall’s governance. Three new City Council members were elected in May and they brought a brand new approach to governing. Atkinson is too much of a gentleman to have said it out loud and directly when he tendered his resignation, but it’s fairly clear he couldn’t work with the new council majority.

The city’s downtown revival is going to proceed. Where it will end up remains anyone’s guess at the moment.

It’s that water issue that also must remain at the top of the city’s agenda. Without water, Amarillo cannot function. Atkinson speaks with easy eloquence about the technical issues relating to drilling for the water, pulling it out of the ground and quenching the city’s thirst for well past the foreseeable future.

The city’s near- and long-term water needs will be met through the purchase of water rights, Atkinson assures Panhandle PBS viewers.

That’s fine. The city will miss his knowledge, though, on managing that priceless resource.

My hope is that the next city manager — whether it’s the current interim boss, Terry Childers  or someone else — brings water management knowledge to the job, even though Atkinson’s depth of expertise on the subject will be difficult to duplicate.


Welcome aboard, Mr. Manager


Let’s call it the “u-word.”

It stands for “unanimity,” and it symbolizes — one can hope — that Amarillo’s sometimes-fractious City Council has come to the collective conclusion that it’s time to speak with one voice.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to appoint former Oklahoma City Manager Terry Childers as the interim chief executive for Amarillo.

Oklahoma City’s website sings the gentleman’s praises, which is no surprise. It does contain an interesting feature in describing Childers’ tenure as Oklahoma City manager: It speaks to his reorganizational skills and his push — get ready for this — to “beautify and strengthen” the city.

Childers succeeds Jarrett Atkinson as Amarillo city manager; I’ll have more on Atkinson in a moment. He comes to a city that in recent months has become politically frayed. A once-harmonious governing body has been punching itself in the face since the May municipal election over disagreements regarding its own downtown revival — and beautification — efforts, its senior administration and, that’s right, the performance of the city manager.

Is Childers — who grew up in Abilene — the man who can restore unity to City Hall? Is he capable of working some of the magic he brought to his job in that big ol’ city to our east? The OKC website notes: “From the moment he stepped into office, Childers stressed the importance of beautifying Oklahoma City, not only improve quality of life for residents, but to increase citizens’ respect for their hometown.”

Well, all five councilmen have bought into Terry Childers’ credentials. They are unanimous in their decision. My hope in our city’s future has been restored … at least for the time being.


Childers’ emphasis on beautification and government efficiency is noted on the OKC website. It doesn’t mention “water management,” which is one of the strengths that Jarrett Atkinson brought to the job when he became Amarillo city manager five years ago.

There can be no more precious resource than water. Under Atkinson’s tenure at City Hall, the city has helped secure its future through the purchase of water rights that will quench our municipal thirst well into the next century, and perhaps for the one after that.

He served the city well, first as an assistant city manager under Alan Taylor’s wing and then as the head man.

I’m sorry to see him leave public service.

The city has continued to function well and it has continued to meet the needs of those of whose tax money finances this $200 million-a-year operation.

As for Childers, time will tell if he’s the right man for the permanent job, should he choose to seek it.

On this first day of his new job, though, the city manager at least enjoys the unanimity of support from the folks who have hired him that his predecessor didn’t enjoy.


Amarillo: Dysfunction capital of America?


I like to think I’m careful when I read critiques about places from folks who don’t live in or near the communities they’re critiquing.

When something comes across my radar, it’s good to check the background of the author. I did that when I saw a pretty scathing critique on a website called Route Fifty. The author is a fellow named Michael Grass.

His background? His “about” page says he’s a former copy editor for Roll Call, a reputable political journal that covers Capitol Hill; he also has experience working with the Washington Post and the New York Observer.

Grass has posted a pretty sizzling analysis of Amarillo. The bottom line? If you’re looking for a local government job and you want to move to Amarillo to fill one of the many openings posted at City Hall … think long and hard before you take the plunge.

Amarillo, he says, might be the “most dysfunctional city” in the country.

The city manager’s exit has caught Grass’s attention.

City Manager Jarrett Atkinson is soon to be out the door. The City Council has to find another person to fill the job. Grass opines that the council is going to have a hard time finding a competent candidate willing to step into what he describes as “a municipal circus.”

He’s done some homework. Three new city council members — Elisha Demerson, Randy Burkett and Mark Nair — took office this spring. Nair then took the unusual step in calling for Atkinson’s resignation right away. Burkett demanded that the entire Amarillo Economic Development Corp. board be fired.

Nair and Burkett backed off their initial demands.

Still, City Attorney Marcus Norris quit; Assistant City Manager Vicki Covey retired.

The new three-member majority then engineered a citywide referendum on a project that’s been in the works for years. The multipurpose event venue will be on the ballot next Tuesday and voters will get to decide whether the $32 million project should include a ballpark.

Grass writes: “While Atkinson’s resignation, which is to take effect later in November, may have surprised some on the City Council—Nair said he ‘didn’t see it coming’—Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole said that conflict among councilmembers made it very difficult for the city manager to do his job, citing a handful of problems.”

The city is seeking to fill a number of senior administrative positions. The city attorney still needs to be hired. Same with an assistant city manager. The city charter gives the city manager the authority to make those decisions — but hey, we soon won’t have a city manager, either!

The council has been bickering over budget matters, the future of downtown redevelopment, the status of non-profit organizations set up to help the city proceed with its downtown growth.

You name it, the council has been fighting about it.

Grass’s article wonders: Who in their right mind is going to step into that maelstrom?

It’s a question many of us who live here have been asking.