Tag Archives: Amarillo City Hall

Texas Senate sticks it to Amarillo

Wow! What does one say about the Texas Senate’s approval of a bill that is in direct response to an action taken by the Amarillo City Council that, according to the bill’s sponsor, flies in the face of the will of the voters.?

Senate Bill 2035 would restrict city governments from enacting “anticipation notes” sooner than five years after voters reject a spending proposal. Sound familiar?

Amarillo City Council members voted to enact anticipation notes in 2022 just two years after voters in the city rejected a $275 million bond issue to renovate the Civic Center and build a new City Hall complex. The council decided it wanted to proceed anyway, so it acted … prompting a lawsuit filed by local businessman Alex Fairly contesting the action.

Senators voted 20-10 to approve the bill. One of those voting in favor is the newly installed senator from District 31, Kevin Sparks, who lives in Midland but represents the Panhandle in the Senate.

“The City of Amarillo should never had gone behind their voters’ back to finance a project that their voters overwhelmingly voted down,” Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. “It’s an appalling example of an Elected City Council and Mayor thwarting the will of the voters!”

A friend of mine calls this “Ginger’s Law,” named after outgoing mayor Ginger Nelson, who spearheaded the anticipation note idea. Nelson isn’t running for re-election this year, so this could remain as her most visible legacy during her term as mayor.

It’s a shame, given all the good she was able to accomplish during her time as the city’s presiding officer.

But you know … I cannot blame the state Senate for taking this action. Now it heads for the House of Representatives, where I am certain the city’s two lawmakers, John Smithee and Four Price, are paying very close attention.


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.


It’s in the timing

Amarillo city officials are going on trial very soon in which they will have to defend the legitimacy of a multimillion-dollar effort to deliver a new municipal complex of offices and convention space.

The lawsuit comes from businessman Alex Fairly. The trial will be in a Potter County district court. Fairly believes the city acted illegally in issuing $260 million in “anticipation notes.”

I am not going to assess whether the city’s actions broke the law. I am, though, in a position to comment on the timing of the issuance.

You see, voters already had spoken decisively in November 2020 when they rejected a $275 million general obligation bond issue to — that’s right — revamp the Civic Center and relocate City Hall. The City Council didn’t seem to care about what voters decided.

So, it acted without voters’ approval by issuing those anticipation notes. The debt load carried by the notes is virtually identical to the load that voters rejected.

I hate saying this, because for years I was a staunch supporter of City Council initiatives, but the decision to supersede voters’ rejection smacks too much of municipal arrogance.

It’s the timing of the issuance juxtaposed with the rejection of the bond issue that ought to rankle residents. Fairly has intimated, further, that the issuance of the debt notes was done without adequate public notice, giving residents a chance to comment publicly on what they thought about the project.

To be sure, if I still lived in Amarillo and had a chance to vote on the bond issue in November 2020 I likely would have voted “yes” on the city request. I can argue all day and into the night about the need for the city to upgrade its Civic Center and find a new site for City Hall. Most voters, though, said “no” to the proposal.

For the city to then come back and issue the anticipation notes — which do not require voter approval — well, plays right into the righteous anger that fuels a lot of voters’ interest in government.


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.


City faces stern test

Amarillo City Hall is going to court against an individual who is angry enough at the city to file a lawsuit that says what the city did to incur a mountain of debt is illegal.

I won’t contest the legality of it, but from my perspective from the Metroplex it looks as though it might have been seriously ill-advised.

Amarillo businessman Alex Fairly has sued the city over the council’s decision to levy $260 million in debt through what it calls “anticipation notes.” To be candid, I never had heard of that type of municipal funding until I heard about that decision.

The reason I am questioning the wisdom of this move is its timing. The city put a $275 million bond issue up for a vote in November 2020. The voters offered a resounding “no” vote on whether to renovate the civic center and relocate City Hall. So, what did the council do?

It said, in effect, that it didn’t matter what votes said, that it would proceed anyway. Anticipation notes don’t need voter approval.

Boom! Just like that the city started turning the wheels on a project that voters had just rejected.

Can you say “pitiful timing”?

A visiting judge from Lubbock County decided recently to combine two lawsuits into one, which I presume means the matter will be settled with a single judgment.

If Fairly wins and the court determines the city acted illegally by not providing sufficient public notice in advance of its decision, then the city will have a serious legal matter to clear.

If the city wins and then proceeds with the plan to act over its constituents’ objections, then the city faces a larger political obstacle. I hope to keep watching this matter play out.


City facing stern court test

My cheap-seat perch has enabled me to weigh in on a matter involving a community where I lived for 23 years and remains a place where I maintain a deep affection.

Amarillo City Hall is going to trial Tuesday to face a lawsuit filed by a local businessman over a city effort to foist a $260 million debt on property owners to build a new Civic Center. I use the term “foist” understanding what it implies.

The city is foisting the debt on taxpayers because those very city residents said “no” to a bond issue in November 2020 that would have done what the city wants to do without voter approval.

There is something fundamentally wrong with that approach.

Businessman Alex Fairly wants the 108th District Court in Potter County to slow the process down just a bit to enable all parties — I’ll presume Fairly intends for the city to be included — to present their cases more thoroughly. The city, according to Fairly, wants to fast-track the decision to a quick verdict.

Fairly is contesting the legality of the decision to issue those “anticipation notes.” He argues that the city didn’t give proper advance notice to residents and did so without going through the entire process he says is required.

I won’t argue that case. What does seem wrong is the timing of this effort by the city.

To be clear, if I had a vote in the matter, I likely would have voted “yes” on the money to build a Civic Center; the one they have is no longer adequate. However, most voters turned thumbs down on the project. I tend to respect the view of the majority … you know?

The City Council’s response has been tantamount to sticking its finger in the eye of electorate, telling them: We don’t care what you think. We need to do this anyway and we’re going to go around you … no matter what.

Therein lies what I believe is the crux of the argument that Fairly is trying to make.

This legal challenge represents a significant departure from the way city government has operated in Amarillo for practically as long as I have been acquainted with the city and its leadership.

This can be a healthy challenge to the city’s power structure. I want it to be a constructive one as well.


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!