Tag Archives: Jarrett Atkinson

Keep it in the open, City Council

The Amarillo City Council agenda for Tuesday has been posted.

It’s in this link:


As you scan it you’ll notice that the council plans to discuss City Manager Jarrett Atkinson’s “status” and requests for his resignation. The item is posted as part of its open session. Not in closed, or executive session, which the Texas Open Meetings Act allows.

Here’s what I think ought to happen.

I believe the council should keep the item out there, to be discussed in full public view — if Atkinson agrees.

Why? Well, the call for his resignation came a few days ago in fairly dramatic fashion — and it was done publicly. The council’s newest member, Mark Nair, had taken his oath that day. Then he said, in public, that Atkinson should resign.

Nair is an agent of change, according to the election results for Place 4. So, by golly, he wants change and he wants it sooner rather than later.

So, why not allow a full public airing of the gripes against the city manager? State law allows it. It doesn’t require governmental bodies to meet in private; it merely allows them to do so. “Personnel” is one of those items that can be discussed in secret.

Nair and fellow new council members Elisha Demerson and Randy Burkett all seem to think a change at the top of the city administration is in order.

Why? Let’s hear it, gentlemen.

You’ve called for “transparency.” Here’s your chance to deliver the goods.

Oh, and be sure to let the city manager answer whatever assertions you intend to make point by point.


Hold on for bumpy ride at City Hall

My cell phone rang this morning. I answered it and on the other end was a friend of mine who works at Amarillo City Hall.

We chatted for a few moments about some blogs I’d written about the new City Council makeup, the potential fate of City Manager Jarrett Atkinson and a few other things.

I told my friend, “I don’t feel good about what I’m seeing happening at City Hall.”

My friend answered, “It’s going to get a bit bumpy around here.”

My final response to my friend was to “keep your head down.”

Later in the day, I visited with another friend who recalled when he first came to Amarillo, one of the things he had heard about city government was “how well everyone worked together.” He talked of the espirit de corps that existed among city leaders, the business community and just plain folks.

Is all of that gone now that we have a new City Council comprising three new guys who campaigned for “change”?

Three new council members have taken their oath and two of them have called for the resignation of the city manager, whose status will be the subject of a City Council meeting next Tuesday.

The stakes, though, go far beyond the fate of one man. Jarrett Atkinson might survive this tempest. If he does, then he’ll have a majority of the council — if not all five of them — watching his every move.

If he doesn’t survive, if he quits or is let go, what happens then to the grand plan that’s already begun its forward movement? The effort to revive downtown already has begun.

The Coca-Cola distribution center has been vacated to make room for construction of that multipurpose event venue; Xcel Energy has broken ground on its new office complex; the block that used to house the city jail has been cleared away to accommodate construction of a convention hotel.

Do we really and truly have the stomach to see all of the hard work that went into this proposal tossed aside?

If the need arises and we need to look for a city manager, the process is going to take months — perhaps many months. Is anyone going to rise up from within the ranks to take the job? You can stop laughing. I get it. Of course not.

My friend was trying to be diplomatic with the description of a “bumpy” ride coming up.

We’d all better hold on with both hands.

Oh, and that spirit of cooperation? Well, that’s a goner, too. I do not object to healthy dissent and debate — along with constructive criticism. I fear the potential for a¬†City Hall donnybrook.

Council member makes waves right off the top

Mark Nair might not like being called this, but he’s turned into a rabble-rouser.

The newest member of the Amarillo City Council stirred ’em up this week with a call for City Manager Jarrett Atkinson to resign. He did so just after he took his oath of office. He took his seat on the council, participated in a public meeting — then tossed the grenade right into the public’s lap.


This is not the fellow I understood was running for a spot on the council. His friends and allies call him thoughtful and deliberative. Yes, he said he sought “change” at City Hall. I recall reading a news report immediately after he won the runoff for the Place 4 seat on June 13¬†in which he said he didn’t even know Atkinson, but that he looked forward to seeking answers to key questions about the way the city administration is run.

OK, then. He takes the oath and immediately calls for Atkinson’s resignation?

I’ve met Nair once, at a downtown Amarillo coffee shop. He was running for the council. Some friends of mine introduced him to me. We exchanged pleasantries. That’s it.

So, I’m not going to scold Nair too harshly here. I just would caution the young man about the land mines that await him if he becomes too out front on some of this get-rid-of-Atkinson rhetoric without knowing (a) the man about whom he is speaking and (b) all the details of what goes on at the highest levels of city government.

As a council member, he and his colleagues have authority to demand the manager’s resignation. They set the policy and the manager implements it on their — and our — behalf.

However, he’s one of three brand, spanking new members of the City Council. None of them has serious management experience, although Place 1 Councilman Elisha Demerson¬†did serve a single term as Potter County judge — more than 20 years ago!

I was hoping for a go-slow approach when the new council members took office.

My hope has been dashed.

Those agents of change out there are happy, I reckon. Fine. Be happy.

Me? I’m hoping we can maintain some continuity as we move forward and start pondering our careful next steps in this downtown revival effort.


Here comes that ‘change’ at City Hall

Mark Nair took his oath of office as the Amarillo City Council’s newest member and then asked for the resignations of City Manager Jarrett Atkinson, Assistant City Manager Vicki Covey and the five Amarillo Economic Development Corporation board members.

Isn’t there a “getting acquainted period” involved here?



So, here’s the change voters seemingly said they wanted when they elected Nair and two other new guys to the City Council. Randy Burkett joined the newest guy in calling for the resignations.

Haven’t heard yet if the third newbie, Elisha Demerson, feels the same way. I’ll assume for¬†the moment he does.

The $113 million question is this: What would changes at the top of the Amarillo administrative municipal chain of command mean for its downtown redevelopment efforts?

I hope that rumble I’m hearing isn’t the sound of a train wreck about to occur.


City Hall ‘change’ beginning to take shape


Mark Nair may becoming a sort of “swing vote” on the Amarillo City Council.

Just as Justice Anthony Kennedy helps determine which direction the Supreme Court tilts on key rulings, so might City Councilman-elect Nair be — in the words of a former president of the United States — a “decider.”

He’s one of three new guys to join the five-member council. He won a runoff election this past Saturday to win his spot on Place 4.

And he’s sounding like someone intent on changing the way business has been done at City Hall.

I remain a bit confused, though, regarding his intentions.

A lengthy newspaper interview published Monday noted a couple of things.

Nair said he doesn’t want to “undo” downtown redevelopments that already are under “contractual obligation.” He does, though, want to rethink the multipurpose event venue and plans to argue that it go before the voters for their approval.

Suppose, then, that voters say “no” to the MPEV. What happens next? Nair referenced the “catalyst projects” that already are under contract: the convention hotel and the parking garage. If the MPEV is torpedoed, does the hotel get built anyway? It’s always been my understanding that the hotel developer’s plans for the Embassy Suites complex is predicated on the MPEV and without the event venue, there’s no need for a parking garage.

It’s all tied together, correct?

Nair deserves congratulations for winning his initial elected office. He presents himself as a thoughtful young man. He said he wants to talk with City Manager Jarrett Atkinson — who he said he doesn’t know — about the problems that have beset the city. Things have to change, Nair said. The water bill SNAFU cannot go uncorrected, he said and he asserts that the manager, as the city’s CEO, is responsible for ensuring the place runs smoothly.

But the folks in charge of it all — the policy team — sit on the City Council. They have to operate as a team, along with the senior city administration. That was the mantra prior to the election.

We now shall see if the new guys can play well with each other — and those who do their bidding.

Mark Nair, the newest of the new fellows, vows to “work for the common good.”

Get busy, gentlemen.


Might it be time to examine flood control?

flooded street

Is it just me, or are others out there wondering about the quality of our storm-drain system in Amarillo?

My wife and I have lived here now for slightly more than 20 years. My memory at times is a bit foggy, but I’m pretty sure this is the worst rain event we’ve seen since we moved here from the Gulf Coast — where we used to get a lot of rain in a very short period of time.

The city has its hands full this Memorial Day weekend. We just came back from a grocery run and discovered water had flooded from McDonald Lake, across Coulter. Motor vehicles were stalled as motorists tried to slosh their way through the muddy water.

Us? We were OK, as we drove our big ol’ 3/4-ton truck through it without any difficulty.

In our two-decades plus here, this is the first time we’ve seen that much water across Coulter.

The other traditional trouble spots I’m quite certain are disasters this morning.

Well, once City Hall gets through this situation, I’m hoping the city’s senior administrative staff sits down and has a serious after-action meeting to discuss ways to improve matters for the next big rain event.

It also might be good for City Manager Jarrett Atkinson and Mayor Paul Harpole to conduct a press conference to explain — in detail — what happened out there and whether the city has any plans afoot to try to correct it. You know, things like drainage construction or perhaps fine-tuning its emergency response — if it’s needed — to help folks cope with what this most unusual weather event.

It’s been a long time coming. Most of us are quite grateful for the moisture (a term that seems quaint, given the volume of water that’s fallen from the sky).

Residents of a modern¬†American city, though, shouldn’t have to worry about flooding every time¬†it pours.

Or is this what we can expect — all the time?

Perception meets reality, Mr. Mayor

Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole is a good man who I believe is motivated by the best intentions.

However, for him to dismiss concerns about whether a new town-hall policy somehow isn’t driven by politics leaves me wondering whether he truly understands how some people can perceive what looks so patently obvious.

The mayor is facing a re-election fight next month. So, on the eve of that balloting, he announces a series of town hall meeting with constituents. He wants to hear their concerns. He wants to act on them, if possible. He is all ears. He’s an open book. He’s receptive to people’s gripes. He wants to let people talk for as long as they want, without the restrictions they face during regular City Council meetings.

Roy McDowell, who’s running against the mayor, isn’t buying it fully. He thinks Harpole is doing this as some sort of political stunt.

Is that how he and some others around the city perceive it? If they do, does that become some form of reality in their mind? Yes and yes.

Which brings me back to my initial point. Is the mayor tone deaf?

Harpole says he’s got meetings scheduled through the rest of the year and that whether he continues with them will depend on how responsive residents are to his outreach.

The mayor and City Manager Jarrett Atkinson conducted the first town hall meeting this week. They answered questions about city issues ranging from downtown improvement plans to street repair. I applaud them both for making themselves available to residents.

However, as the great Boston Red Sox slugger the late Ted Williams used to say about hitting a baseball, “Timing is everything.”

So it is with politics.


Retirement in name only

Let’s call Mike McGee’s departure as head of the Amarillo Animal Control operation what it is: a “retirement” in name only.

McGee didn’t “retire” the way most of us understand the term. He was shoved out, asked to leave, perhaps told to hit the road.

By my way of seeing things, he should have gotten the boot when allegations erupted over mistreatment of animals that were being euthanized at the shelter.

City Manager Jarrett Atkinson put McGee and his chief deputy, Shannon Barlow, on “administrative leave,” meaning they were getting paid while letting someone else do their job — and while a Randall County grand jury investigated whether to indict anyone for criminal wrongdoing.

Well, McGee is gone. His “retirement,” announced Thursday, is effective today. Interesting, eh?

The fact that the city implemented serious changes in the euthanasia methods for unwanted animals carries the implication that the former way was wrong, if not illegal. Who was responsible for that? The guy in charge … McGee. Let’s throw Barlow into that category as well.

And when the guy in charge is running a publicly funded operation in a way that cries out for change, that suggests he isn’t doing his job. Isn’t that correct? Thus, he and his top assistant both should have been canned.

Now he’s “retired.” McGee’s troubles might not be over. The grand jury is supposed to decide perhaps by June 11 whether to indict anyone for crimes involving the Animal Control Department. McGee and Barlow appear to be the individuals on the hot seat.

This story appears to be far from over.

Ready for tougher water-saving measures

It’s been reported that Amarillo residents haven’t yet subscribed to the water-conservation memo that’s been circulated.

We’re using water as if there’s no tomorrow. Oh yes, we’re in the middle of a drought that’s about four years old now and there’s no apparent relief in our immediate future.

What to do? Keep those “voluntary” restrictions in place? I’m beginning to think we need to get some orders from City Hall: Use less water or else.

I know that utility experts at City Hall are acutely aware of what’s happening around here. City Manager Jarret Atkinson happens to be a water expert in his own right. Still, the city keeps sending mixed messages. It says we should conserve water and then it says the city is in good shape, that it has enough water to last for, oh, about another 200 years. I sense that many of us are hearing the second part of that message more clearly than the first part.

The city has set monthly maximum water-use goals. Residents are exceeding those goals every month. Let’s remember, too, that summer isn’t even here yet.

The city has drafted a Stage 1 water emergency plan that calls for voluntary measures, such as watering lawns on certain days depending on whether you live at an odd- or even-number address; what’s more, you shouldn’t water your lawn more than three days a week.

That’s all fine. What happens, though, when you don’t comply? Nothing.

What should happen? Some fines might be get folks to stop using water. A more enforceable method might be to boost water rates, which is another way of hitting folks in the wallet.

It absolutely goes without saying that water is — hands down — the most precious resource we have. We cannot live without it. Nor can we continue to keep using it at the current pace.

If we cannot — or will not — comply with voluntary measures, it’s time for our local government to take the next step by ordering us to use less water.

The rain likely will return. No one on Earth can predict when that will happen. It might happen soon, maybe later, maybe sometime in our lifetime. Then again, maybe not until a lot longer after that.

What in the world are going to do until — or if — that day arrives?

On the agenda at Amarillo 101: water

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of being invited to attend an upcoming primer on Amarillo City Hall.

It’s going to last eight weeks and it will cover a lot of ground. I’ve seen the agenda for the next several weeks and I’m struck by the amount of time we’re going to spend on water issues — which for my money rank as the most critical long-term issue facing the city.

One session will take place at the Osage Water Treatment Plant. It’s going to cover water production, treatment and transmission, wastewater treatment, surface water treatment and the ever-important conservation program called “Every Drop Counts.”

I’ve toured the Osage plant. About two years ago, City Manager Jarrett Atkinson — no slouch on water management issues — and Utilities Director Emmitt Autrey took me on a comprehensive day-long tour of virtually the entire city water infrastructure. We looked at new wells under construction as well as the water treatment plant.

I was amazed then at how much water is processed each day. I can’t recite the amount at this moment, but the volume was simply staggering.

My hope during this early October session will be to get an answer to what I believe is the threshold question for the city: What circumstances would have to occur to require the city to mandate water conservation measures for every resident and business in Amarillo? A follow-up question would be: Are we getting close to that point?

The city’s water-rights-acquisition campaign has secured a lot of water for Amarillo. I keep hearing that we’re positioned well for the next 100 or so years. But then what?

I’m not inclined to spend too much time worrying beyond my own lifespan or even that of my kids and grandkids. The thought of Amarillo drying up because we weren’t far-sighted enough right now, however, does give me the nervous jerks.

I am hoping for some answers as to whether we’re looking that far into the future.