Tag Archives: Elisha Demerson

Amarillo mayor’s race produces a fascinating dynamic

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Let’s focus for a moment on two individuals who might run against each other to become mayor of Amarillo.

One of them is Elisha Demerson, a member of the Amarillo City Council who is generating some community chatter about his apparent desire to be mayor. He might have a decision to make, given the announcement that came this week from the other individual I want to discuss.

That would be Ginger Nelson, who has announced her mayoral candidacy. Nelson is quitting her post on the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation to focus entirely on running for mayor.

Nelson also is producing a lot of buzz around the city. The business community appears to be rallying behind her. A banker friend of mine told me today that Nelson is the real deal: “She’s articulate, smart and has the city’s best interests at heart,”¬†my friend¬†said. Others with whom I am acquainted have said the very same thing about her.

Understand this, too. I don’t know Nelson. I haven’t met her. I’d like to visit with her at some point prior to the election. So, I just might do that.

Oh, and what about the current mayor, Paul Harpole? I’m hearing he’s going to call it a public service career and will make room for Nelson.

Where does all this political intrigue leave Demerson?

I believe it forces him to seek to retain his council seat rather than mounting a futile campaign to defeat someone with Nelson’s chops.

You see, much of the support for Nelson comes from those who believe the City Council’s dysfunction is unacceptable. That dysfunction began appearing immediately after¬†three new council members took office after the May 2015 city election. The city manager and the city attorney quit. The assistant city manager retired.

One of the new council members was Elisha Demerson. Coincidence? I think not.

I know Demerson only a little. We’ve been acquainted for a number of years. His years on the Potter County Commissioners Court predate my arrival in Amarillo, but I’ve learned about the rocky time he had as county judge.

His brief tenure on the City Council also coincides with additional rockiness. Is there a pattern here … or what?

So, with the municipal election about six months away, we’re already getting set to view a bit of political drama.

As if we haven’t had enough of it already for the past two years.

Councilman puts on his booster hat … and it fits!

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Elisha Demerson spoke today about how “great it is to be in Amarillo” these days.

He mentioned a couple of things that deserve attention.

One thing the freshman Amarillo City Council member told the Rotary Club of Amarillo is that downtown Amarillo is progressing nicely. He took particular note of the convention hotel and parking garage that are under construction.

Downtown is being reshaped, reconfigured and revitalized.

The other thing Demerson said is quite instructive. He said the city has the “second-lowest tax rate” of any city in Texas. It’s less than 40 cents per $100 in property valuation.

What does that mean?

It means to me that the city’s intense push toward public-private partnerships is paying off.

I’ve noted before how so much of downtown’s progress in recent years has come with the help of private investment. Banks have spent their own capital to expand operations downtown; the historic Fisk Building was converted into a hotel, again with private money. Storefronts that once were dark now are full of life.

Is there more work to do? Certainly. That’s why the progress we’ve seen shouldn’t be derailed.

It makes me wonder yet again: What was all that anger during the 2015 municipal election campaign all about?

The city retains a ridiculously low municipal tax rate while its downtown business district is showing palpable, tangible, observable signs of progress.

Issue of race creeps into 911 discussion

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An ugly element might be seeping into the Amarillo community discussion over the interim city manager’s handling of a 911 telephone call.

I pray it doesn’t go any further. I also hope the community is prepared to deal with it head-on if it reaches a full boil.

The element is race.

Terry Childers’ phone call on Feb. 14 to the city’s 911 dispatch center has become the source of plenty of talk around town. He didn’t handle himself well when he called the center after misplacing his briefcase at a local hotel. He became agitated with the dispatcher. He wanted to shut down the hotel to search for the missing item.

In short, Childers seemed to blow a fuse. Over a briefcase!

He has apologized to the call center staff. He’s expressed “regret” in a public statement at a City Council meeting. He has¬†vowed it won’t happen again.

Some of the social media chatter — and criticism — about the incident has included some derogatory language.

Childers is African-American.

The potentially troubling element might have revealed itself this week when two city councilmen — one white and one black — offered differing perspectives on whether race has become a talking point.

Councilman Elisha Demerson told Panhandle PBS’s Karen Welch that some of the comments¬†have been racial in nature. Demerson is African-American. He said he’s heard of critics using the “n-word” when referring to Childers.

Watch the “Live Here” segment here.

http://www.panhandlepbs.org/panhandle-local/live-here/

Councilman Brian Eades, who’s white, said he hasn’t heard it. He hasn’t heard¬†about it, either.

Who’s hearing it correctly?

It’s quite clear that people of different racial backgrounds hear things differently. I am not going to presume to know whether one man is correct and the other is wrong.

I’ll offer this personal note: I had heard about the alleged racist remarks, although I personally haven’t heard them directly with my own ears or read¬†them with my own eyes.

Does that mean the racially tinged comments are not out there? Hardly.

The community discussion about the interim city manager’s conduct regarding a botched telephone exchange with emergency dispatchers is worthwhile and should be constructive.

But oh, man, it must not become poisoned by what one elected city official has said he has heard.

However, if it does …

 

Manager’s 911 tempest might not be quite over

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It turns out that Amarillo interim City Manager Terry Childers’ expression of “regret” hasn’t quite buttoned up the controversy surrounding his ill-fated phone call to the Amarillo Emergency Communication Center.

Childers offered his “sincere” regrets Tuesday at a City Council meeting over the way he acted during a 911 call he made to report a missing briefcase at a local hotel. He was brusque with a dispatcher who was doing her job. To be candid, he bullied her over the phone while demanding that she send police officers to the hotel to find the briefcase. He said he wanted the hotel “shut down” while the cops looked for the missing item.

The briefcase was recovered shortly after Childers made the call.

His call has prompted a lot of conversation around the city.

So has his expression of “regret,” which technically falls a bit short of an apology.

Panhandle PBS is going to broadcast a “Live Here” segment Thursday to examine the potential fallout from the event. The public TV station is going to visit with Mayor Paul Harpole and councilmen Elisha Demerson and Brian Eades to discuss what happens next.

See the promo here

Oh, but there’s a good bit more to this episode.

Terry Bavousett, the former head of the AECC, has issued a lengthy public statement about his views of what happened. He has announced his retirement effective next week.

But the statement goes into considerable detail about what Bavousett said happened when Childers made the call and how the dispatcher handled it.

It’s not a flattering portrait of Childers, to say the least.

Where does this matter go from here? That depends on the City Council, which hired Childers as the interim manager after Jarrett Atkinson resigned — under apparent pressure from some council members.

If I were on the council, I would be inclined to accept Childers’ mea culpa at face value. He vowed never to do it again. Take the man at his word, OK? But make damn sure¬†he remains faithful to his pledge to treat city staffers with the respect they deserve as professional public servants.

Then I would be inclined to get moving rapidly on finding a permanent replacement. I’m not privy to the expressions of interest the city has received regarding the city manager’s position. Maybe it has a lot of qualified people interested in coming to work here; maybe it has only a few. Whatever the circumstance, the city should accelerate the search.

Childers well might want to return to Oklahoma City to resume the life he had before coming here. He might want to retire and move back home to Abilene. Or, he just might want to go fishin’.

The city is embarking on an ambitious downtown revitalization effort as well as equally ambitious street and highway infrastructure improvements being done by the state; it needs a permanent chief administrator on hand to take charge.

Incidents such as this have this way of taking on lives of their own. That appears to be the case with the city manager’s phone call to a 911 dispatcher who was doing the job she was trained to do.

Maybe we’ll get an idea of what the immediate future holds for Terry Childers when the three council members talk to Panhandle PBS. More importantly, though, is what’s in store for the city as it continues to move forward.

This fallout from this unfortunate event will recede eventually. My hope is that it does so sooner rather than too much later.

It’s your move, City Council.

‘Transparency’ becomes the new city mantra

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Elisha Demerson got elected to the Amarillo City Council in May while calling for a more “transparent” city government.

That’s fine. I’m all for it. The more proverbial “sunlight,” the better.

Then this past week¬†he trotted out a significant set of proposals he said will “reform” the Amarillo Police Department. On paper and at first blush, the proposals look pretty good — starting with a re-emphasis on “community policing,” in which officers work more closely with neighborhoods and their residents.

Back to the transparency thing …

I’m wondering how transparent Demerson was in formulating this set of ideas. Did he conduct public hearings? Did he consult with what’s left of the city’s legal counsel office? Did he talk privately with, say, the now-lame-duck city manager? Did he meet with his colleagues on the City Council?

Here’s my idea for a more transparent method for¬†formulating such a proposal:

Meet in public with the entire City Council. Toss the ideas out there. Debate them with your colleagues. Seek advice — in public — from city legal authorities. Talk among yourselves. Argue these ideas point by point. Seek a consensus. Once you get there, ask all your colleagues to coalesce around a single idea.

Then you make your pitch to the public — which, by then, will have been up to speed already on the process that got us to this point.

Mayor Paul Harpole is critical of what Demerson has proposed. I don’t know yet if Harpole dislikes the ideas themselves, or the way in which his council colleague came up with them.

Either way, the transparency mantra hasn’t been served as well as it could have been before Councilman Demerson dropped this police reform idea on our collective laps.

 

 

 

Let’s not pussyfoot around: Atkinson was forced out

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Every single time I add 2 + 2, I get the same answer.

Thus, every time I try to figure out what’s been happening at Amarillo City Hall — and the destructive relationship between the city manager and most of the members of the City Council — I keep drawing the same conclusion.

City Manager Jarrett Atkinson could no longer work with the controlling bloc of council members. So, he has tendered his resignation.

Atkinson’s upcoming departure doesn’t bode well for what has been happening in Amarillo over the past, oh, half-dozen years or so.

The city has marched forward on some ambitious plans to remake its downtown district. Atkinson has been a key player in that effort.

But then along came the three new council members, two of whom ousted incumbents, and the dynamic has changed.

They called for the manager’s resignation right out of the chute. He didn’t quit. He stayed on — for as long as he could.

And yet we hear from one of the new council members, Elisha Demerson, seeking to put a positive spin on Atkinson’s departure.¬†Demerson told the Amarillo Globe-News: “I disagree with the naysayers who would like to turn this into a political decision. This was a decision by Mr. Atkinson for the betterment of himself and his family and I respect that.”

Please excuse my candor, Councilman Demerson: That is pure crap!

Sure, he sought to better “himself and his family.” Why? Because he likely was sick and tired of being hassled at every turn.

I’m not privy to what went into Atkinson’s decision to quit at this time. But none of it adds up to anything other than maddening frustration and an inability to work constructively with most of those who comprise the City Council. How else does one explain why a city manager would throw in the towel in the midst of all the hard work that still needs doing to improve the city’s future?

The council faces the most important task it ever will undertake. It must hire a new city manager. My hunch is that the council will not find a successor within the ranks of current administrative staff. They’ve been party to what has transpired since the May election and the takeover of the council by its new majority.

The alternative? Conduct a nationwide search. Oh, and be sure you tell every candidate who applies precisely — and in detail — what he or she will face if the council selects them.

That would be a ringside seat from which the new manager will get to witness more turmoil and bickering.

Spread the love around the city

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Amarillo City Councilman Elisha Demerson may be about to initiate an important conversation about the future of the city he helps govern.

Demerson says he favors efforts to revive downtown Amarillo, but thinks the city should look beyond the central business district to revive blighted neighborhoods.

He toured one of them this week: San Jacinto.

Demerson speaks out

He told NewsChannel 10: “I’m concerned about these older established communities that are being lost to blight and to disarray.¬†San Jacinto use to be a¬†vibrant community at one time and now when we look around it’s no longer a vibrant community.”

OK, so what does the city do about it? Does it invest public money? Does it redirect money from other neighborhoods? Is there enough money to go around to take care of all the city’s needs?

The city’s public investment in downtown involves public infrastructure. The downtown hotel is being funded by the developer; the proposed multipurpose event venue will receive hotel-motel tax revenue.

A downtown revival, if and when it arrives, is a lead-pipe cinch to provide more money for the city to invest in neighborhoods, such as San Jacinto, which well could be a noble long-term goal for the city to pursue.

One more point is worth noting: Councilman Demerson is using his office — to which he was elected on citywide vote — as a bully pulpit to call attention to neighborhoods that need it.

MPEV or no MPEV

Oh, I really and truly dislike doing this, but I’m going to do something that goes against my grain.

I want to call out my former employer on a key political matter.

The Amarillo Globe-News today published an editorial that was spot-on. It said that a vote — if it comes — that opposes the multipurpose event venue planned for downtown Amarillo would scuttle the city’s progress for years to come.

It’s in the attached right here. Take a look.

http://m.amarillo.com/opinion/editorial/2015-07-04/editorial-vote-against-mpev-vote-against-redevelopment?v#gsc.tab=0

OK, having endorsed the paper’s editorial policy on the city’s downtown redevelopment proposals, I have a question to pose to my former employer.

Shouldn’t you to come to grips publicly with the recommendations you made in the May 9 municipal election that well might have helped elect three new members to the City Council, two of whom you’ve criticized roundly since they took office?

I ask that question with some trepidation. If the role was reversed — and I had¬†survived a company “reorganization” scheme in the summer of 2012 — I might not care a damn bit what a former editor would have to say about the job I’m doing. Now that I’m on the outside looking in, well, I feel compelled to pose the question¬†to my former colleagues.

The paper backed the candidacies of Mark Nair, Randy Burkett and Elisha Demerson in the race for the City Council. It offered no recommendation for mayor, even though the incumbent, Paul Harpole, was far superior to his challenger. The paper backed just one incumbent council member, Dr. Brian Eades.

Two of the three new council members — Demerson and Burkett — have taken serious shots from the paper over what the Globe-News has described as uninformed comments and votes on public policy matters. Nair, meanwhile, has been praised for asking relevant questions about the downtown projects at an informational meeting the other day. Nair also has called for the resignation of City Manager Jarrett Atkinson, who’s been a critical player in the downtown revitalization effort.

So …

The paper backed the three “candidates of change” for the City Council. All three of them¬†made their intentions clear. They want change at City Hall and they want it now. Surely they informed the paper’s editorial board of their positions when they interviewed for the offices they were seeking. Indeed, having sat through many of those over more than three decades in daily print journalism — in Amarillo and elsewhere —¬† I know how that process works.

The newspaper has taken the correct position with regard to downtown revival efforts.

However, this resident of Amarillo — that would be me — is having trouble squaring the Globe-News’s backing of the three change agents with its view that the MPEV needs building and that it is essential to keep the downtown plan moving forward.

I don’t intend to diagnose anything here, but I am sensing a bit of editorial schizophrenia.

 

 

 

City faces serious fracturing

While we’re on the topic of the newly reconstituted Amarillo City Council, let’s discuss for a moment a serious result of what might transpire over the next couple of years.

We have a serious division of interests among the five members.

Three of the council members — Elisha Demerson, Mark Nair and Randy Burkett — want significant change. They want it now. They aren’t waiting.

The other two members — Mayor Paul Harpole and Councilman Brian Eades — don’t want it. They do not want to see the city manager leave office, which the others apparently want to see happen.

The three-member new-guy majority also is looking skeptically at the downtown plan as it’s been presented. They might want to gut the whole thing.

The other two? They’re all in with the plans for the multipurpose event venue, the downtown convention hotel and the parking garage.

One of the more fascinating back stories of all this drama involves the mayor. Paul Harpole, though, represents precisely the same constituency as his four council colleagues. They’re all elected at-large. That gives the mayor little actual political power. He doesn’t have veto authority. He cannot direct other council members to do anything. They all operate independently of each other, or at least have the potential for doing so.

All that unity, oneness of purpose and collegiality that used to be the mantra at City Hall?

It’s gone, at least for the short term.

What we’re likely to get is something quite different. Let us now see if this is the “change” that works for the city’s advancement.

 

Council member makes waves right off the top

Mark Nair might not like being called this, but he’s turned into a rabble-rouser.

The newest member of the Amarillo City Council stirred ’em up this week with a call for City Manager Jarrett Atkinson to resign. He did so just after he took his oath of office. He took his seat on the council, participated in a public meeting — then tossed the grenade right into the public’s lap.

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/29455295/what-do-potential-resignations-mean-for-downtown-development

This is not the fellow I understood was running for a spot on the council. His friends and allies call him thoughtful and deliberative. Yes, he said he sought “change” at City Hall. I recall reading a news report immediately after he won the runoff for the Place 4 seat on June 13¬†in which he said he didn’t even know Atkinson, but that he looked forward to seeking answers to key questions about the way the city administration is run.

OK, then. He takes the oath and immediately calls for Atkinson’s resignation?

I’ve met Nair once, at a downtown Amarillo coffee shop. He was running for the council. Some friends of mine introduced him to me. We exchanged pleasantries. That’s it.

So, I’m not going to scold Nair too harshly here. I just would caution the young man about the land mines that await him if he becomes too out front on some of this get-rid-of-Atkinson rhetoric without knowing (a) the man about whom he is speaking and (b) all the details of what goes on at the highest levels of city government.

As a council member, he and his colleagues have authority to demand the manager’s resignation. They set the policy and the manager implements it on their — and our — behalf.

However, he’s one of three brand, spanking new members of the City Council. None of them has serious management experience, although Place 1 Councilman Elisha Demerson¬†did serve a single term as Potter County judge — more than 20 years ago!

I was hoping for a go-slow approach when the new council members took office.

My hope has been dashed.

Those agents of change out there are happy, I reckon. Fine. Be happy.

Me? I’m hoping we can maintain some continuity as we move forward and start pondering our careful next steps in this downtown revival effort.