Tag Archives: City Hall

Downtown: Priority No. 1

Almighty God did not bestow on me the power to act as King of the World, but I did get a brain that enables me to presume the impossible … and, thus, offer a suggestion on how to conduct the people’s business.

Princeton, Texas, at this moment does not have a city manager. The City Council must look for someone to replace Derek Borg, who this past week resigned his office. He’s out. The council named Leisa Gronemeier as interim manager.

What should the new manager list as his or her top priority? Here goes: He or she should place the development of a “downtown Princeton” at or near the top of the municipal agenda.

I put the terms “downtown Princeton” in quotation marks for a reason. It’s because Princeton does not have a downtown district worthy of the name. The city built a municipal government office complex. Where did it go? Into what passes for a downtown area?

No. It was erected on the eastern edge of the city on the north side of US 380.  I like the complex. It is a fine piece of construction. However, it suggests to me that the city hasn’t bought into the notion that a vibrant downtown district really matters.

It damn sure should!

I get that the city manager doesn’t set policy; that task belongs to the elected council. The manager, though, does have a bully pulpit from which he can lobby council members and the mayor to plot a certain course.

In my humble view, the next city manager has it within his or her power and authority to try to move the council to put downtown redevelopment at the top of the council’s agenda.

Practically every single American city — from its most bustling metros to the smallest of communities — has at least one thing in common as they reap the benefits of economic revival.

That would be a downtown district that bustles with life.

Individual representation … anyone?

CHARLESTON, W. Va. — My friend who I’ve been visiting here told me something I found almost impossible to believe, but it’s true: this city of about 48,800 residents is represented by (gulp!) a 26-member city council.

Twenty of them are elected from specific districts, or wards; six of them are elected at-large, along with the mayor.

Oh, and get this: They run for office on partisan ballots, as Democrats, Republicans and whatever other party they choose.


I do not know what to make of this form of government. They call it a “strong mayor” government, meaning the people invest tremendous power and authority in its elected mayor.

What astounds me is the number of wards from which the council is elected and which they represent. I figure each council member is elected by a tiny fraction of the electorate, given the number of districts vs. the entire population of the city.

Moreover, the partisan nature of the governing council appears to be a bit out of the ordinary. I never have considered pothole repair, sewer service, police and fire protection and garbage pickup to be determined on a partisan basis.

My friend tells me, too, that many council members also miss many meetings. No kiddin’, man! With that many council members with places at the table, who would miss you if you decide you didn’t want to attend?

And how in the world do they ever reach a consensus on a major municipal issue?

Well, this trip has been an eye-opener for sure.


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.


Let the landscaping proceed! Woo hoo!

For a moment this morning en route to a meeting in downtown Amarillo, I thought my lyin’ eyes might be deceiving me.

I approached the Intersta te 40/27 interchange and noticed work crews doing something I’ve yammering about for, oh, seemingly forever.They were digging up the turf at the interchange. Some of the crew members were planting trees. I noticed some more site work as I made the turn onto the ramp.

Can it be possible? Can it be that the Texas Department of Transportation and the city have begun implementing the beautification agreement that Mayor Ginger Nelson said had been struck?

If what I saw is, indeed, what I hope it is, then we are witnessing a serious (in my view, at least) fulfillment of a campaign promise.

Mayor Nelson pledged to make public right-of-way beautification one of her goals while she ran for the office.

I won’t take a shred of credit for seeing this work being done, despite my stated — and repeated — exhortations toward this end.

However, I do want to join those who have said the same thing, which is that the highway rights-of-way through Amarillo present a terrible image to those who are just breezing through.

They need serious work. If my eyes aren’t deceiving me, then I believe we are witnessing an important step toward improving Amarillo’s image.

Why run on partisan labels at City Hall?

A headline in today’s New York Times caught my attention and gave me a moment’s pause.

It reads: “Bill de Blasio — the best Democratic choice for mayor.”

It has occurred to me on more than one occasion during the many years I reported and commented on politics wherever I have lived and worked that it makes no sense for municipal candidates to run on partisan tickets.

Why in the world does it matter if a mayor or city council member is a Democrat or a Republican? Someone has to explain to me the validity of forcing these folks to run under the banner of any political party. Do elected municipal officials tend to the needs of constituents based on their party affiliation? They had better not.

I get that NYC is a heavily Democratic city. But if someone calls City Hall with a complaint about, oh, a barking dog or a troublesome pothole or a street light that needs repair, does the city staffer ask the caller whether he or she is a Democrat or Republican?

I realize these are issues to be settled within each community. Sitting out here in Amarillo, Texas, I shouldn’t really care about the politics of New York City. And, in fact, I don’t … not really.

It just sticks in my craw a little bit that some cities in America actually elect municipal officials on partisan ballots.

I prefer the way we do it in Amarillo, or in Beaumont, where we lived for a time before moving to the Panhandle, or in Portland, Ore., the city of my birth. They all elect their governing officials on non-partisan ballots.

I remember one year in Amarillo when a challenger to the incumbent mayor sought to urge “good Republicans” to vote for her. We slapped her down hard at the Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked as editorial page editor. She lost to the incumbent.

I’ve actually argued that county-wide offices need not be partisan, either. Someone needs to explain to me how a tax assessor-collector, or county clerk, or country treasurer, or district clerk, or a sheriff, or district attorney does his or her job on the basis of what’s “good for the party.”

We seem to elect everyone in Texas. We even elect constables — which in my view is the most useless public office any county can employ. I’ll save that argument for another blog post, though. Even constables, for crying out loud, are elected on partisan ballots.

And don’t even get me started on why we elect judges as Democrats and Republicans. I detest partisan election of judges perhaps most of all, given that so many good men and women are tossed off the bench simply because they belong to the “wrong political party.” It’s happened to stellar Democrats in Texas during the past two or three decades; and it happened to equally stellar Republicans back when Democrats were the party in power.

There. My morning rant against partisan politics is over. Nothing will change. I do feel better, though.

City Hall set for a big day

Amarillo City Council is going to have a lot of eyes on it.

Some of those eyes will belong to those who want the council to send a multipurpose event venue to a vote of the residents.

Other sets of eyes will belong to individuals who think the council needs to take a breath and not act rashly.

The MPEV is going to be on the council’s agenda Tuesday. At issue is whether it should be referred to voters in a non-binding referendum. It’s non-binding because the city has no legal obligation to do the voters’ bidding — but it surely has a political obligation.

A number of Amarillo residents dislike the idea of an MPEV. They think the city’s downtown revival strategy should include expansion of the Civic Center. They do not believe the MPEV will bring the kind of activity that will breathe new life into the downtown district.

I am one who believes in the MPEV. I also hope the council decides against sending this matter to the voters.

It’s going to be paid with private investment money. City planners call it part of a “catalyst” project that will spur construction of a downtown convention hotel nearby.

I hope that’s the case. I believe it is doable.

I have it on good authority that Mayor Paul Harpole will oppose any motion to put the issue to a vote. He’s already invested a lot of energy and sweat equity into the MPEV and related projects. My sense is that Councilman Brian Eades will join the mayor in opposing a send-it-to-voters motion. That leaves the three new guys — councilmen Elisha Demerson, Randy Burkett and Mark Nair — to decide how they’ll vote. Will they vote as a bloc? Or will one, maybe two of them, rethink this idea.

If it goes to a vote and residents say “no” to the MPEV, well, the deal is dead. Downtown revival momentum will be ditched.

Is that what we want to happen? I do not.

Yes, Tuesday is going to be a big day at City Hall.

‘Change’ set to present itself at City Hall

Amarillo downtown

Amarillo residents are likely to get a pretty good look at the “change” that arrived at City Hall with the election of three new City Council members this past spring.

It’ll occur Tuesday when the council discusses in public the fate of a proposed outdoor entertainment venue.

Will the council take the issue to a vote? Will it decide the fate of the venue by itself? Will it put the whole off for another day?

The change we’re about to see — as it relates specifically to downtown revival plans — is a divided council. Imagine that. We’ve seen a council — and before that a “city commission” — that spoke with a single voice on most issues large and small. Oh, occasionally we’d get a contrary vote from the late Councilman Jim Simms on, say, whether to ban texting while driving. But generally, the council voted as a bloc.

That’s not likely to happen with this multipurpose event venue matter.

The three new men — Elisha Demerson, Randy Burkett and Mark Nair — are speaking with a single voice among themselves. They were the agents of change in this year’s campaign. They could decide to send this matter to the voters in a November referendum: up or down on the MPEV. The other two council members, Mayor Paul Harpole and Councilman Brian Eades, are likely to vote “no” on a motion to send this matter to the voters.

There seems to be a good chance we’ll see more of these 3-2 splits on the council as it regards a whole array of tax-and-spend issues. Perhaps we’ll see it when the issue involves the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, which fairly regularly presents economic incentive issues to the council for its approval.

Suppose we get a tax abatement request from a business seeking to expand its operations. Will the council split on that as well.

There’s always been an unwritten rule at City Hall — and at the Amarillo Independent School District board — that when the governing board approves an issue, all members line up behind it.

“Change,” as presented by the winning candidates for this year’s City Council race, very well might not allow council members to abide by that rule.

City Hall once prided itself on its unanimity, unity and cohesiveness.

I’m betting something quite different is going to unfold this coming week.