Tag Archives: Amarillo City Council

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.


Mayor pitches for a private business?

I might be the only person on God’s good Earth to feel this way, but I’ll express it anyway.

I was driving around Amarillo in Big Jake, my big ol’ pickup, when I heard a voice on the radio; I am going to paraphrase what I heard. “I’m Ginger Nelson,” the voice intoned, “and if you’re going to receive friends and family here, I recommend that they stay” at a certain hotel.

The ad took me aback. Why? Well, Ginger Nelson is Amarillo’s mayor. She never revealed that she occupies that highly visible public office in the commercial. But … c’mon! Everyone in Amarillo knows she is the mayor. It struck me as a bit odd that a mayor would serve as a pitch person for a private business, particularly a business in the midst of heavy competition with other private businesses providing the same service. In this case, it’s the hospitality industry.

This might not stick in anyone else’s craw, but it sure stuck in mine. It runs afoul of my perception of fair play, that the political leader of a community would play favorites, selecting one private business over all the others that do business within that city.

It’s worth wondering out loud: How would the owner of a competing hotel feel about the head the city’s governing council soliciting business for a competitor? My guess: He or she probably wouldn’t like it one little bit.

Admittedly, I haven’t done any research into the matter. I am merely reacting to something I heard on my vehicle radio.

I mentioned it to my wife and she reminded me that former Mayor (and City Commissioner) Trent Sisemore did some pitch work while he held public office for his own business, which happened to be an RV dealership … which since has been taken over by new owners. That seemed wildly different from what I heard from the current mayor.

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t know Mayor Nelson well. However, I believe she has done a good job as mayor of the city she loves. The economy is thriving and (oh brother!) there is work being done on streets and highways all over the city.

Someone might have to explain to me that this really is OK. To my ears, it just doesn’t sound right — or proper.


Hodgetown earns honor, sending Center City director ‘over the moon’

Beth Duke is beaming with pride … and why not?

The Amarillo Center City director nominated Hodgetown, the city’s new downtown ballpark, for recognition as the best downtown construction project in Texas. Hodgetown then got the honor.

Duke, a lifelong Amarillo resident and a big-time promoter of its downtown revival, should be proud. So should the city for this latest honor granted to the shiny new ballpark that is home to the city’s championship-winning Texas League baseball team, the Sod Poodles.

The award comes from the Texas Downtown Association. It honors the ballpark’s look, its ambience, the attraction it proved to be for baseball fans and other Texas Panhandle residents.

As Duke told the Globe-News, where she worked for more than 30 years before taking over the Center City directorship: “I think you all know how proud I am of every building and the progress we’ve made in our beautiful downtown. I nominated Hodgetown for Best New Construction in a Texas (city) of more than 50,000 people. I was so gratified to be a finalist and the night we won, I was just over the moon.”

She should be over the moon.

I have taken great joy in applauding the city’s effort to build this structure, formerly known as the “multipurpose event venue.” It is a gorgeous home field for the Sod Poodles. More than that, it is a fabulous addition to downtown’s urban landscape.

Hodgetown came to fruition after a sometimes-rocky ride. I am more than willing to acknowledge harboring a doubt or two that the city could complete the project. There was turmoil on the City Council relating to the future of what was called the MPEV. Top-level city management went through a wholesale change with resignations of key personnel, including the city manager.

Despite the occasional ruckus at City Hall, the ballpark was completed. Hodgetown opened this past spring. The Sod Poodles played some great Class AA baseball in a ballpark full of cheering of fans.

Now comes a high honor from a downtown group that bestows honors that cities can use to their marketing advantage.

Beth Duke is the perfect advocate for Amarillo’s downtown district. She is a happy woman today. I am proud of her and of the city for the steps it has taken toward rebuilding its downtown business and entertainment district.

Well done.

Might the Herring have a future, too?

The Barfield Building renovation is proceeding toward a spring opening of the one-time rotting hulk of a structure. It will be reborn as a “boutique” hotel.

By all means, downtown Amarillo, Texas, has much more work ahead of it. I am going to wonder aloud whether there might be something in the wind regarding the Herring Hotel Plaza, which sits a few blocks north of the Barfield.

This isn’t an original thought. I heard it from a little birdie/Amarillo snitch the other day, but I want to share it with y’all.

Amarillo city officials are looking around for someplace to relocate City Hall. They say they want to find an existing structure where they could move what’s left of the city administration still operating at the current City Hall into another location. Much of the administrative work is being done at the Jim Simms building, leaving City Hall with essentially a skeleton crew.

So, here’s a thought: Might there be any interest in relocating City Hall into the Herring Hotel site, along with a mixed-use development that could occupy the rest of the once-grand structure?

City officials are maintaining a code of silence on what they’re thinking, or so I have been advised. They are pondering whether to present a bond issue proposal to voters next spring that would total more than $300 million. They want to renovate the Civic Center, dress up the Santa Fe Railroad Depot and, oh yeah, relocate City Hall.

The Herring Hotel has been dark for a very long time. Its owner, a retired academician named Bob Goodrich, has sought to find a suitable developer; he has come up empty. Goodrich pays the taxes annually on the building and tries to keep it secure against trespassers and transients who seek shelter from the elements.

The Herring used to be the place to go, to see and to be seen. It played host to lavish parties and once was a first-class hotel.

Downtown Amarillo does not lack suitable locations for City Hall. I understand there’s some interest in some bank structures scattered around the downtown district.

However, would it not be a masterful public relations stroke of genius to identify a way to convert the Herring into a usable office building, combined with housing and perhaps a smattering of retail business?

I believe there remains a significant bit of nostalgia for the Herring around Amarillo. Heck, I even have changed my mind about the building. I used to believe it needed a wrecking ball; I no longer hold that belief. Surely there can be some use for the structure.

If City Hall is committed to relocating into an existing downtown structure, officials have a grand building looming a few blocks away.