Tag Archives: Amarillo City Hall

Explain yourself, city council

The fecal matter is going to hit the fan in due course once the word gets out in Amarillo about what the city council has done regarding expenditure of vast amounts of public money.

Here is what I think ought to happen.

Mayor Ginger Nelson and City Manager Jared Miller need to conduct a press conference and explain themselves fully to the media and to voters about what is transpiring at City Hall. I am a distant bystander, but I would like to hear their side of the story.

The story is this: The city has embarked on the issuance of $260 million in “anticipation notes” to pay for a lot of construction work. The city wants a new entertainment and business complex and a new city hall. Voters said “no” to a bond issue in November 2020, but the city council decided in late May to issue those anticipation notes. It was done, according to a lawsuit being filed in the 108th District Court, without proper public notification.

I don’t know how you define “breach of faith” with voters in legal terms, but it is looking to me — sitting out here in the peanut gallery — that the city has breached that faith. I don’t yet know how the community is reacting to what is transpiring.

The best defense for the city would be to get ahead of this story before it runs off the rails, if it hasn’t already. How does it do that? By offering a full and thorough explanation.

The suit poses a lot of questions that need answers. Did the city violate any laws by enacting this measure with just a single reading? Did it post adequate public notice in advance of its action? Is it legal to spend “anticipation notes” in this manner?

Voters already have made their feelings known on this project. The city needs to explain how it can proceed against the will of its bosses … the individuals whose money pays for all of it.


Trouble is brewing?

If what I have read has legs, there might be a serious storm brewing on the Texas Caprock.

The Amarillo City Council, according to a message that one of my Amarillo spies has delivered to me, has decided to circumvent the will of the voters while seeking to build a new civic entertainment and City Hall complex.

Voters in Amarillo rejected a $275 million bond issue in November 2020 to pay for the project. More than 60% of them said “no.” That apparently didn’t dissuade the council from moving forward.

This past week, the council approved a proposal that piles on $260 million worth of debt on taxpayers. The money is intended to pay for the aforementioned entertainment complex and City Hall. It has been shoved through with something called Anticipation Notes. Those notes are supposed to be set aside for short-term repairs, not the kind of long-term projects envisioned by the City Council.

There appears to be a lawsuit in the making to stop this foolishness.

As one who generally supports Amarillo City Hall, I am left to wonder: What in the world are they thinking up yonder?

Voters have spoken their piece. The people who are supposed to do the voters’ bidding appear to be seeking to perform a bit of razzle-dazzle.

So, how does this work? It appears to my nearly blind eyes that we have a City Council that wants to break faith with the bosses. According to a message distributed on a site called “Inspire Amarillo”: When government leaders try to impose taxes without notice or a good-faith discussion, flashing red lights should be going off for every citizen, no matter which side of an issue you are on. And it’s especially concerning when elected officials contradict voters and potentially circumvent the law to do it.

Here’s the entire statement, as it paints a clearer picture:

Inspire Amarillo | City of Amarillo Lawsuit

I admit to a lack of knowledge of the particulars. I thought I would raise the issue here to call attention to what well could be interpreted as a serious abuse of trust in a city that has boasted over many years that residents harbor an implicit faith that City Hall works on behalf of the residents whose tax money pays the bills.

I have witnessed municipal recall efforts triggered for less than what might be transpiring in Amarillo.

Stay tuned … shall we?


City hall project put on ice

Every now and then you see evidence of local government listening to and acting on what it hears from the constituency it serves.

So it happened up yonder in Amarillo, where the city council has postponed any action on relocating its City Hall.

According to a statement published on Amarillo Matters’ site:

After listening to feedback from Amarillo residents, the City Council voted 4 to 1 to withdraw their intent to issue $35 million in certificates of obligation for a City Hall project. In the meeting, Mayor Ginger Nelson said, “There were enough citizens who reached out to say I still have questions.” Nelson added that, “We can take time; I do think it is diligent for us to take more time and spend time answering those questions…I think it’s important for us to listen to what the citizens are telling us and figure out what the best approach is.” In a flip-flop from his earlier vote, Councilmember Cole Stanley was the lone vote to continue the issuance of certificates of obligation and the project.

How about that?

The council had floated a notion of relocating its City Hall. The idea, as I understand it, took more than one form. There was talk about adding it to a bond issue proposal that included renovating the Civic Center. Then the council thought it would issue the COs, which do not require a citywide vote.

Now it has backed off altogether. I guess the current City Hall will have to serve the residents for the time being while the council wrestles with what to do, where to go … and how to pay for it.

That’s a satisfactory, if only temporary, outcome.


City delays election, gearing up for a major mandate from voters

The pandemic that has felled so many people around the world also is altering the way governments function.

Elections, for example, are being delayed.

One local election that has caught my eye is slated to occur up yonder in Amarillo, Texas. City officials had planned to stage an election in early May, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced a major postponement until, get this, Nov. 3.

At issue is a bond issue of about $300 million that the city is asking voters to approve. The money will go toward (a) expanding and renovating the 50-plus-year-old Civic Center, (b) sprucing up the old Santa Fe Railroad Depot just east of the Civic Center and (c) relocating City Hall to what I understand is a still-unspecified location.

A May election, which the city — along with the rest of the world — would put too many people in jeopardy of catching the coronavirus. Social distancing mandates that we stay away from each other.

So, now the city is looking at a Nov. 3 election, tentatively, that is.

This is a big deal. Why? Because voters all over the land will be casting ballots for president of the United States on that day. The turnout for Nov. 3 figures to be far greater than it would have been in early May.

Thus, whatever voters decide could be — and should be — considered a significant mandate, even if the results reflect a close tally.

My only concern about the bond issue election, though, rests in what I believe has been a well-kept secret: the location of the new City Hall operation. City officials should make damn sure they divulge where they intend to relocate and what they intend to do in order to make the new site amenable to the kind of government operation it will contain.

I have a few snitches in Amarillo. They do their best to keep me informed of this and/or that development. They tell me that the city is still negotiating a deal for a new downtown site for City Hall.

OK, then. Get the deal done and tell the public. Pronto, man!

Hello, City Hall relocation? Where will it be?

AMARILLO, Texas — This just in!

A panel assigned to study potential expansion and improvements to Amarillo’s Civic Center plans to present a $319 million bond issue election proposal to the City Council.

The proposal calls for expanding the convention space at the Civic Center, adding 75,000 of exhibit space. It also calls for a new arena seating 10,100 spectators, which is not quite twice the size of the Cal Farley Coliseum inside the Civic Center. The proposal also calls for renovation of the Santa Fe Railroad Depot next to the Civic Center and the addition of a parking garage.

Then we get to the City Hall relocation. The proposal that is attached to this blog post doesn’t mention a specific site where the new complex will be relocated.

I have thought for some time that the city needs to disclose to the public where it intends to place its new City Hall prior to submitting it to a public vote. Residents need to know for what they would be dedicating their number.

A friend of mine — who also serves as an occasional snitch on Amarillo-related matters — told me this week he thought the city would disclose the location of the new City Hall soon. I told him it had better come clean.

I remain generally in support of what the city wants to do. An expanded Civic Center would appease some concerns of critics of downtown revitalization. They have said the Civic Center should be Priority No. 1. It now appears headed to the front shelf, along with the coliseum complex and the railroad depot on the east side of the Civic Center complex.

I cannot overstate, though, the importance of disclosing in detail where the city wants to relocate City Hall. Voters are going to receive a request to shell out a lot of money. The city has pledged transparency at all levels. If I were King of the World, I would mandate a full disclosure on which existing downtown structure would house the place where residents do their business with city.

Check out the proposal here.

The artist renderings deliver a spectacular view of what the city has in mind regarding the Civic Center and the Santa Fe Depot.

What about the new City Hall?

Taking stock of a city’s changing face

AMARILLO, Texas — I thoroughly enjoy returning to this city, where my wife and I lived for more than two decades.

We arrived here in early 1995 and found a city with a boarded-up downtown, buildings were empty, there was little life to be found. The community had allowed its retail activity to vacate the downtown district to malls large, medium and small to points hither and yon.

We returned here on our latest visit to find — as we have noticed on previous visits to the Texas Panhandle — a city that is bearing a decreasing resemblance to the community my wife and I discovered when he first set foot on the Caprock.

Yes, much work remains to be done. The Barfield Building — the once-rotting hulk of a structure at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Polk Street — is still under reconstruction. I hear the building will open this spring as a boutique hotel. All I was able to notice today were all the windows that had been re-paned and the construction crews scurrying around the grounds.

All along Polk Street — the city’s one-time main drag — I noticed storefronts that once stared at the street blankly that are alive with activity.

We had lunch at a new pub downtown, next to an after-hours spot that had relocated from across the street. Meanwhile, the former site of the after-hours joint is being remade into something else.

To be sure, I did notice a blemish or two in downtown Amarillo. The Family Support Services building on Polk has been destroyed by fire. The city has cordoned off the entire block.

The Globe-News building on the outskirts of downtown sits blank, vacated. The sight of that structure now devoid of life breaks my heart, as I spent nearly 18 mostly enjoyable years there pursuing my craft as the G-N’s editorial page editor.

On the north edge of downtown sits the Herring Hotel. It is still vacant. I cannot yet confirm this report, but I’ll offer it anyway: I have heard from two sources that the Herring might be given new life — possibly soon — with the purchase of the building by a hotel developer. This isn’t the first time I have seen this sort of glimmer from the once-glorious structure. Let us hope that it comes to pass and that the buyer — if the deal is consummated — is the real thing.

I remain hopeful that Amarillo’s future will continue to brighten as it keeps working to restore the heart of the city.

I don’t believe I am overstating what my wife and I saw when we first arrived. We saw a city with a downtown that need a sort of urban renewal life support. What we have seen on our most recent visit is a downtown district that is breathing on its own.

It makes me so very happy.

Memo to manager: Next chief should endorse community policing

Amarillo City Manager Jared Miller has a huge hiring decision to make soon. He needs to find someone to succeed Ed Drain as chief of the city’s police department.

Miller isn’t going to ask me for my advice, but I am going to give him just a bit of it here in brief form.

Mr. Manager, be sure the next top cop endorses community policing as a way to maintain the city’s relationship with the neighborhoods its officers swear to protect and defend.

Drain has been named the police chief of Plano, Texas, a burgeoning Dallas suburb. He went to Amarillo after serving for more than two decades with the Plano Police Department; he rose to the level of assistant chief.

Drain’s hiring in Amarillo was arguably the sole shining moment of former interim City Manager Terry Childers’ stormy tenure at City Hall. Childers took a hike and the city hired Miller from his city manager’s post in San Marcos.

Drain, meanwhile, reinstituted the community policing program that former Police Chief Robert Taylor let grow fallow during his years as the city’s top cop. I believe that was a regrettable policy decision on Taylor’s part, given the many miles the department had come under the leadership of his immediate predecessor, the late Police Chief Jerry Neal.

Community policing puts officers’ boots on the ground in the neighborhoods they patrol. They develop interpersonal relationships with residents. The policy is designed to build trust between law enforcement officers and the community … thus, the term “community policing.”

Drain has vowed to maintain the policy in Plano. As for Amarillo, I believe it is vital that it remain in force in that city.

I don’t know how Miller is going to conduct a search for a new police chief. He has some fine senior officers on staff already in the Amarillo PD. I actually have a favorite, if he’s willing to be considered for the post.

If Miller goes outside the department and looks far and wide, it would be my hope — no matter what he decides to do — that he insist that the next Amarillo police chief be as dedicated to community policing as Ed Drain was during his brief tenure there.

The policy works.

Amarillo Matters has come clean; good deal!

A political action organization formed in 2016 to promote Amarillo’s economic and political future has made a positive change in the way it presents itself.

Amarillo Matters has developed a new website. It continues to speak to its mission, its goals and its strategy. The site also has the name of the principals who are involved in the decisions that Amarillo Matters makes.

It’s the disclosure of the names that I find worthy of commendation.

I wrote on this blog more than a year ago that Amarillo Matters needed to reveal its individual and collective identities to the public. There had been some reluctance to doing so, according to one source close to the group, because of a fear of backlash by those in the community who opposed the agenda that Amarillo Matters is promoting.

Well, I guess those fears have been put aside.

Amarillo Matters has an “About Us” page on its site. It states the “focus” of the organization.

Amarillo Matters will primarily focus on elected positions in which the elected official has a direct governance responsibility to the citizens of Amarillo and the surrounding area. We will also focus on issues that have a positive benefit on Amarillo and the surrounding area. We believe the word benefit has many definitions. They include economic development projects, major investments in our local workforce and students, along with quality of life projects.

That all sounds benign. It’s a positive outlook. A positive outreach. There’s nothing nefarious. The board of directors contains the names of several individuals I know personally; I know a couple of them quite well. I know of the rest of them. They are all successful. Those I know are fine individuals who I believe have the community’s best interests at heart.

Check out the group’s mission statement here.

It is important that Amarillo Matters reveal its identity to the community it seeks to lead. Granted, this is not an elected body. It comprises individuals who seek to exert some influence in what the electorate decides. There’s nothing wrong in any group wanting to do what Amarillo Matters has pledged to do.

Amarillo, though, is no different from any community in the midst of change. Some residents endorse the direction where the community is heading; others oppose it. Everyone has a right to know who is seeking to call the shots.

Amarillo Matters now has revealed who is doing so within its board room. To which I say: Well played.

Amarillo PD chief about to come back home?

This must be said about a man whose name otherwise will live in infamy in the annals of Amarillo municipal government.

The one hire that former interim City Manager Terry Childers made that qualifies as a home run was when he brought Ed Drain in to become chief of police in Amarillo, Texas. Childers eventually resigned in disgrace after popping off publicly about a constituent and making an a** of himself over a misplaced briefcase at a local hotel and a run-in he had with a 9-1-1 dispatcher.

As for Drain, he returned the concept of “community policing” to the city. He instituted progressive police policies. Drain became a presence in the community.

Well, now he’s coming back home to Plano, or so it’s being reported. The Plano Police Department announced today that Drain is its sole finalist for the chief’s job; he had served as deputy police chief when Childers lured him to the Panhandle. Drain says his hiring isn’t a done deal. Well, OK, chief. Whatever you say.

Drain said he has to undergo the requisite background check and the Plano City Council must sign off on a hiring decision.

I’ll just offer an opinion that when a city as substantial as Plano names a lone finalist for a key administrative position, then it looks like a done deal to me.

Whoever becomes the next Amarillo police chief, whenever that occurs, must continue the community policing program that Chief Drain brought back after he succeeded former Chief Robert Taylor.

As for Drain’s apparently pending return to the Metroplex, I am certain he will do a stellar job for a department with which he is intimately familiar.

Memo to City Hall: Reveal location of proposed new site

Amarillo City Hall isn’t going to ask me for political advice, given that I don’t live in Amarillo, but I’ll offer it anyway.

If the city proceeds with a bond issue next year to determine whether residents want to re-do the Civic Center and relocate City Hall to a new location, the city needs to reveal to voters which site it has in mind to move its administrative offices.

One of my Amarillo spies has told me the city hasn’t yet made that decision public, if it’s made it at all. My spy believes the city might want to keep it secret while it negotiates with whomever owns whatever structure the city wants to acquire.

I believe the city needs to tell residents where it wants to go if it is going to ask them to pony up $300 million-plus on an array of public improvement projects.

To keep that information quiet would ring the death knell for the city’s efforts to vacate its current City Hall building for another existing building in downtown Amarillo.

Residents there, as I understand it, remain a bit skeptical of the city’s claim of transparency.

I also am willing to argue that the city shouldn’t ask voters to approve a relocation if it doesn’t have a site in mind. Part of the cost of that bond issue is going to include preparing a new building to become home to many city administrative functions. How in the world does the city spell out the cost if it doesn’t have an idea of where it intends to move and what it intends to do with whatever property it is considering for purchase?

A citywide bond election in 2020 is going to be a big deal. The Civic Center improvements appear to be warranted. The city also wants to revamp the Santa Fe Depot structure just east of the Civic Center.

A City Hall relocation remains a problem, particularly if city officials don’t reveal to the “bosses,” the voters who pay the bill, where they intend to put a new city office structure.