Tag Archives: Amarillo City Council

‘No!” on travel ban

Barry Goldwater, I am supremely confident in asserting, is spinning in his grave out yonder in Arizona.

The late Arizona U.S. senator and father of the conservative movement would no doubt be aghast at what might be transpiring in Amarillo, where the city council is preparing to vote on an ordinance that would ban women from using local roads and highways to obtain an abortion out of state.

Goldwater used to preach that conservatism, as he understood the principle, kept government out of people’s lives. He was particularly leery of religion being used to dictate public policy.

Amarillo is pondering whether to knuckle under to far-right conservatives’ call to ban women from using local rights-of-way to obtain an abortion. Amarillo Mayor Cole Stanley said he doesn’t believe the council will approve the ordinance, which is being brought to the council on the strength of petitions circulated throughout the city.

The city has validated enough signatures to call for a vote, the Texas Tribune has reported.

What now?

If the council rejects the ban the issue, then it can go to voters for a citywide referendum, as I read the Tribune story. That would give the anti-abortion fanatics room to persuade most Amarillo voters to endorse the ban.

Again, Barry Goldwater would come unglued at the notion.

The Tribune reports: The original ordinance supporters want to see passed in the city does not call for pregnant women to be punished for having an abortion out of state. However, anti-abortion legal crusader Jonathan Mitchell has filed legal petitions seeking to depose women he claims traveled out of state for abortions. Mitchell is working with anti-abortion activists pushing the travel ban on a municipal level.

Amarillo City Council must vote on abortion travel ban | The Texas Tribune

Limited government conservatism has given way to all-hands-on-deck conservatism … as long as the issue reflects a certain religious principle. Come to think of it, the nation’s founders would be appalled as well.

Interim manager now just an ‘assistant manager’

Amarillo, Texas, once had an interim city manager get too far ahead of himself and has paid the price for his, um, boldness.

Andrew Freeman, as I understand it, made some high-level administrative moves without first consulting with the people who hired him: the city council.

The result? Well, he’s been booted back to his former job title of “assistant city manager.” Were I a betting man, I would suggest that Freeman will not be around when the city decides to hire a city manager who will take the job for keeps.

Freeman’s hubris showed itself when he created a new public safety director and elevated Police Chief Martin Birkenfeld into that post, then appointed an interim chief of police to take Birkenfeld’s former job. One problem with that and other appointments: He didn’t seek the “advice and counsel” of the city council.

Freeman sort of sought to suggest that he did notify the council of his intent, but absent any consent, he seemed to believe that notifying council members of his desire qualified as seeking their “advice.”

That is not how most of the council members saw it. Or so I am led to believe.

A few of my social media acquaintances accuse the council of “micromanaging” city government. I don’t see it that way. I consider the decision to return Freeman to his old post as an assistant city manager as a demonstration that they believe in the letter of the city charter’s rules and regulation.

“Advice and consent,” as I understand the term, means that the governing body must grant its approval before a senior administrator makes his or her move. Andrew Freeman, it sure looks like to me, got too far ahead of himself to suit the folks who sit on the city’s governing board.

There’s a clear downside to all of this nonsense. Will any of this make finding a permanent city manager more difficult? Yep! It damn sure will.

Rein this guy in … now!

A story reported in a city I once called home had me laughing out loud this morning as I checked my email … which I do every morning.

Amarillo has an interim city manager, Andrew Freeman, who apparently got way too far ahead of himself — and ahead of his bosses on the City Council — when he announced several key management appointments and promotions. Freeman, who succeeded former City Manager Jared Miller, who was canned late this past year by the council, had announced several key management promotions. Some of them involved people I know fairly well when I lived in Amarillo. Well, Freeman had to rescind the appointments. Why? Because he failed to consult with the council prior to announcing them to the public. Steve Pair, the fellow I quoted recently as publisher of a weekly newsletter he posts from Amarillo, said he asked Mayor Cole Stanley why the city rescinded the appointments. “City Charter requires that the council be advised of all needs of the city and then give consent before staff can take action,” Stanley said. The manager, Stanley said, is able to “appoint all appointive officers or employees of the city with the advice and consent of the council … and remove all officers and employees appointed by the manager.” So, there you have it. The interim city manager, it appears to me, got a little too full of himself and acted without consulting with the folks who appointed him to the job. The council met in closed session to discuss the city manager’s job performance. Hmm. Do you think they might’ve frowned a bit on the manager’s actions regarding these appointments? I am not a betting man, but my trick knee suggests that Andrew Freeman might have erred enough to deny an appointment to the permanent city manager’s post … presuming he wants it. Oh, and where was the city’s legal counsel when all of this was occurring? Someone needs to call that individual on the carpet, too.

Why the big payout?

A whole array of things fly over my noggin, and the news out of Amarillo about the dismissal of City Manager Jared Miller happens to be one of them.

The Amarillo City Council effectively terminated Miller, citing some sort of lack of cohesion between the council and the city administration. Translation: Miller wasn’t leading the city in the direction mandated by the council.

So, what does the council do? It pays the former manager a ton of money as a severance.

Let’s back up for just a second. If a chief municipal executive isn’t doing the job in accordance with City Council policy, does that mean he then is being let go for cause? If that is the case, how does the justify paying him a high six-figure severance?

The money reportedly is coming from a source other than the general fund; I understand it to be a sort of rainy day fund.

Miller spoke kindly of the council and wished it and his former City Hall colleagues well as they embark down some new path that was supposed to be led by the former city manager. It wasn’t. So … he was dismissed, let go, effectively fired.

The council surely softened his landing with a payout that, to my way of reasoning, seems to lack any sense.

No pleasure in criticizing good folks

Let me be crystal clear about something, which is that I take no pleasure at all in criticizing the fine men and women who serve on the Amarillo City Council.

I just believe the council messed up when it foisted on voters a $260 million debt obligation in the form of “anticipation notes,” despite the undeniable fact that city voters had delivered a resounding “no!” vote on a bond issue to pay for the projects sought by the council’s anticipation notes.

At issue is the Civic Center renovation. Does it need to refurbished, expanded, modernized and gussied up? Probably, yes. Had I been able to vote on the 2020 bond issue calling for the work, I likely would have supported it.

But … I also accept the verdict of a voting majority who said no to the project. Which also is why I reject the move that the council sought to pull off by passing those anticipation notes, in effect going over the voters’ heads.

I don’t need to remind anyone that in a representative democracy, the voters are the bosses, not the people who represent them.

All this is my way of endorsing a Texas Senate bill that aims to attach stricter regulations on the issuance of these kinds of financing tactics. The Senate puts a five-year minimum on cities; Amarillo sought to shove the anticipation notes down voters’ throats in two years. It prompted a lawsuit by a local businessman, who eventually won his court fight.

I want to stipulate that during my many years living in Amarillo I was generally supportive of most initiatives that came from City Hall.

Not this time.

Timing, as the saying goes, is everything. Amarillo’s council was too quick to pull the trigger on those anticipation notes. The voters of the city clearly had not forgotten the decision they delivered in rejecting the bond issue.

The result has been that the City Council has learned a tough, but necessary, lesson about the government they inherited. It is that the voters clearly deserve the last word when it comes to spending their money.


Back to beginning for Amarillo’s council?

Amarillo’s governing council has received a kick in the gut, thanks to a judge ruling that its issuance of $260 million in anticipation notes is “invalid” and “void.”

What is that all about?

Amarillo businessman Alex Fairly had filed a lawsuit seeking to block the issuance of the tax notes. A visiting judge hearing the case in a Potter County district courtroom agreed with him.

From my vantage point, the city has been the chance to do it right.

The city issued the tax notes after voters had rejected a $275 million bond issue the city had called to repair the Civic Center and to relocate City Hall to a new site. The city wasn’t about to be dissuaded, so it issued the notes that sought to circumvent the will of the voters.

I believe the judge’s decision in favor of Fairly’s suit should send a message that City Hall needs to honor.

It seems like a complicated outcome. The City Council says it disagrees with the judge’s ruling and it will consider whether to appeal it.

Judge rules that tax notes for Amarillo Civic Center are ‘invalid,’ ‘void’ | KAMR – MyHighPlains.com

Fairly issued a statement, according to MyHighPlains.com: “I’m thankful that a regular, ordinary, everyday guy can still raise his hand and say, ‘I don’t think this is right,’ and get a fair day in court and a voice,” he said. “I think we all have that voice. It’s too expensive, I know that. But I’m so thankful that the system is there and we were able to use it and that it worked.”

Fairly questioned whether the city decided to impose the tax notes with proper notification. I happen to side with those who believe the city’s decision so soon after a November 2020 bond issue election denial smacked of arrogance that just didn’t set well with a municipal electorate that is angry with government … at all levels!

The city issued a statement: The City received the court’s final judgment this afternoon. We respectfully disagree with the judgment in this case, and we’re reviewing the decision with our legal counsel to determine our next steps.

Well, here’s a thought. The city could craft a new bond issue proposal and take it back to the voters for yet another decision. Maybe it can persuade enough of them to back City Hall’s desire to improve the Civic Center and find a new site for its government office.

If not, well … then the city has some serious soul-searching to do.


Days of tranquility have passed?

Surely you remember when Amarillo’s city commission (that’s what they called it in those days) would enact an ordinance and there would be virtually no public discussion — let alone debate — about its effectiveness.

From my far-away perch these days, that era might have become a relic of Texas Panhandle history.

A group of citizens has filed a petition calling for the repeal of an ordinance that authorizes the city to spend $260 million in what it calls “anticipation notes” to finance construction of a City Hall and renovation of the city’s Civic Center.

The petition appears to have plenty of legs to carry it forward. Petitioners filed it in the 320th District Court in Potter County. Now we just need to know where it goes from here.

My ol’ trick knee tells me there well might be a municipal election on tap to repeal that ordinance and send the council back to Square One in its effort to modernize and upgrade its municipal convention and meeting spaces.

I’ve been trying to figure out what has changed in the city I once called home. Is it the anger that pervades so much of our government, that it has seeped into City Hall? Is there a legitimate call for greater transparency and accountability among our local governments?

You see, voters rejected a similarly sized bond issue in November 2020.  The City Council decided, apparently, that the “no” vote was insufficient to guide its future decisions. So it sought the anticipation note funding mechanism earlier this year.

It didn’t go over well with at least one local businessman, Alex Fairly, who filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the process. He seems to be getting some traction. The petition? It drew 12,000 signatures in a blink of time.

This discussion could prove to be most helpful and perhaps even therapeutic for a city that long has placed implicit trust that its elected governing body will always do and say the right thing.


A referendum in the works?

Well now, it looks as though there could be an election in Amarillo voters’ future, according to a petition filed with the 320th District Court of Potter County.

It appears that residents of Amarillo are hopping mad at the City Council’s decision to essentially ignore the stated wishes of voters and proceed with something called “anticipation notes” to pay for renovation of the Civic Center and relocation of City Hall.

The petition was filed in the court and it sets the stage for another election to repeal an ordinance that empowers the city to issue the notes totaling $260 million to do the work on the public buildings.

Here’s the thing: the timing is horrendous.

You see, voters decided in November 2020 to oppose issuing $275 million in bonds to rebuild the Civic Center and relocate City Hall. The council’s action appears to give voters the finger. City officials want to proceed with this project no matter what voters have said at the ballot box.

This doesn’t look good.

I would be inclined to have voted for the bond issue were I able to vote in Amarillo. I also am inclined to side with the plaintiffs in this matter who are angry at what they perceive to be municipal arrogance. The city is talking past the voters by deciding to issue these notes regardless of what the voters already have decided.

I heard the petitioners gathered 12,000-plus signatures in virtually no time to call for this referendum. Doesn’t that — all by itself — send a message that ought to rattle the lamps at City Hall?

I intend to keep watching this matter play out.


Once more, what about that ‘no’ vote?

My cheap-seat perspective has me wondering once again about what is transpiring in Amarillo.

My mind keeps asking: If city voters said “no!” to a bond issue to spend $275 million for a new civic center and City Hall, what makes it better for the City Council to act without voter perspective on the very thing they rejected nearly two years ago?

The council has issued $260 million in something called “anticipation note” to pay for the project that voters rejected. A local businessman, Alex Fairly, has challenged the city with a lawsuit filed in 108th District Court. Someone sent me a copy of the lawsuit and I have looked it over. It’s pretty straightforward. It alleges that the city is acting illegally with those anticipation notes, contending they aren’t meant to be spent on this enormous project.

Back to my question about that earlier vote against this idea.

Mayor Ginger Nelson said she wants the city to act in a way that doesn’t overload taxpayers. Hmm. The city tax rate would increase 29.5% with the anticipation note. The municipal tax rate would increase from 44 cents per $100 valuation to 57 cents. Is that too big a burden? Some folks might think so.

Amarillo City Council vote to fund Civic Center; challenged in court

I don’t believe cities, when handed an electoral defeat of the magnitude that occurred in Amarillo, should conduct the kind of razzle dazzle we’re seeing taking place. Voters who take their roles seriously as the “bosses” of those they select to govern have good reason in this case to wonder: How can the city’s governing council believe it can get away with this?


That would be some pay raise!

Swallow hard, Fort Worth residents, if you intend to grant your city council the pay increase it is asking of you.

To be crystal clear, I don’t have a dog in that hunt, given that I live a couple of counties over, in Collin County. But, dang! That’s a hefty raise to accept. Voters will get the chance on May 7 to decide if their council members and mayor deserve what they’re asking.

Here’s the deal: Council members would get a bump from $25,000 annually to $76,000; the mayor’s salary would jump from $29,000 a year to $99,000.

Say it with me: Wow!

Newly installed Mayor Mattie Parker said the council has earned the big boost. “We want to serve well on behalf of the people of Fort Worth, the fastest-growing city in the country,” Parker said at Tuesday night’s council meeting. “I think we’re worth it, frankly.”

Parker believes that Fort Worth’s elected body deserves to be more on a par with neighboring Dallas, where the mayor earns $80,000 annually; council members earn $60,000 per year.

Fort Worth tried to boost the council’s pay in 2016, but voters rejected that measure. I don’t know what Cowtown’s residents are thinking today, except that they might be mirroring much of the discontent with government at all levels and, thus, could be reluctant to grant such a huge pay increase.

I remember a couple of years ago when Rockwall County commissioners granted themselves a gigantic pay increase while limiting raises for county employees to a fraction of what commissioners got for themselves.

What’s more, I moved to Collin County three years ago from Amarillo. Do you know how much that city’s council earns? Ten bucks per meeting! Plus expenses if they travel somewhere representing the city. I will add that Amarillo is a city of more than 200,000 residents, so it ain’t exactly what you would call a “tiny burg.”

It’s fair to ask whether Fort Worth’s municipal work force is going to see a significant pay increase, too, while the politicians at the top rake in the kind of dough they’re asking voters to give them.

Fort Worth city council puts pay raises on the May ballot | wfaa.com

What might be a better alternative? Perhaps an incremental raise would do the job, raising council members’ salaries a little at a time.

This all-at-once approach seems a bit too much to swallow.