Tag Archives: Mark Nair

Right idea on council selection; just need more ‘vetting’

social-media two

Amarillo City Councilman Mark Nair is correct to favor a new way of filling vacancies on the body on which he serves.

It needs to be more open, more accessible to the public. Nair helped design the new process for filling those vacancies, which he said used to be done in secret.

The new process also requires a good bit of tinkering and tweaking to avoid the embarrassment that appears to have developed in the search for someone to replace Councilman Brian Eades, who’s leaving the council this summer.

At issue are weird Facebook comments attributed to Sandra McCartt, one of the finalists being considered for the Place 2 seat. There are some doozies out there. The council didn’t see them coming.

According to the Amarillo Globe-News: “’Nothing in the process said if someone said something goofy or bone-headed in the past,’ it would determine their worthiness,” (Nair) added.

“Nair said in the past, council would have appointed a candidate in a back room and none of the conversation would have been public. He said he designed the current process because he wanted the community to be a part of the conversation, and things such as McCartt’s — and other candidates — comments on social media will be part of the discussion.”

Social media platforms are everywhere. Facebook is just one of them. People have Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr accounts. They are likely to say just about anything using any of these social media outlets.

This push for openness has created an opportunity for the City Council to work even harder to ensure they find the right people either to fill vacancies on the body, or select a city manager — which is another task awaiting the council.

Indeed, the city manager selection ought to include a thorough vetting of the men and women who make the list of finalists for that job.

The council said it was intent on invoking “change” in the way the city did business. That’s fine. The change, though, also seems to require a bit more care and attention to detail from the folks who are seeking to reform the way City Hall does its business.

A more thorough vetting of social media accounts is a reasonable place to start.

How do we define ‘organic growth’?

amarillo downtown

Amarillo City Councilman Mark Nair is a bright young man who speak at times in somewhat academic terms about public policy.

For example, I have heard the City Council freshman use the term “organic growth” to describe how he’d like to see downtown Amarillo grow.

I’m not sure how one defines “organic growth” as it pertains to commercial development. But here’s what I’ve witnessed in the city’s downtown business district since my wife and I moved here more than 20 years ago.

  • The transition of the historic Fisk building into a business hotel.
  • The development of several bank plazas: Happy State Bank and Wells Fargo come to mind.
  • The revitalization of the Potter County Courthouse Square.
  • Expansion and improvements at several downtown-area churches.
  • A new convenience store.
  • Development of the Eagle Center into downtown residences.
  • Several new nightspots and nice lunchtime eating establishments along Polk Street.
  • Returning the Paramount Building neon sign and the occupancy of the old structure.
  • Complete renovation and restoration of the Santa Fe Building for use by several Potter County offices.
  • Construction of a state-of-the-art entertainment center across the street from the Civic Center.
  • A higher education institution, which is moving soon from the Chase Tower to a new location in the downtown business district.

I no doubt have missed something. My point is that downtown Amarillo is in much better condition today than it was when my wife and I landed here in early 1995.

The vast majority of that improvement has been done with private money. The state kicked in historic preservation grant money to re-do the exterior of the county courthouse and the Santa Fe Building; Potter County issued certificate of obligation to do the rest.

The city has kicked in some public money for infrastructure improvements, such as sidewalks and curb cuts at street corners.

Xcel Energy has begun construction of a new office complex. Ground has been broken on a new convention hotel.

A multipurpose event venue — which Councilman Nair and others on the council apparently oppose — might be built next to City Hall. Then again, it might not … depending on how much foot-dragging and delay tactics occur at the City Council and Local Government Corp. level.

Organic growth?

It seems to this layman’s eyes that downtown has grown pretty organically already.

I also should point out that the city’s municipal tax rate is still dirt cheap at around 35 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation.

Yes, more needs to be done.

But my question today is: What on Earth has caused all these expressions of distrust, anger and suspicion at City Hall?


Amarillo: Dysfunction capital of America?


I like to think I’m careful when I read critiques about places from folks who don’t live in or near the communities they’re critiquing.

When something comes across my radar, it’s good to check the background of the author. I did that when I saw a pretty scathing critique on a website called Route Fifty. The author is a fellow named Michael Grass.

His background? His “about” page says he’s a former copy editor for Roll Call, a reputable political journal that covers Capitol Hill; he also has experience working with the Washington Post and the New York Observer.

Grass has posted a pretty sizzling analysis of Amarillo. The bottom line? If you’re looking for a local government job and you want to move to Amarillo to fill one of the many openings posted at City Hall … think long and hard before you take the plunge.

Amarillo, he says, might be the “most dysfunctional city” in the country.

The city manager’s exit has caught Grass’s attention.

City Manager Jarrett Atkinson is soon to be out the door. The City Council has to find another person to fill the job. Grass opines that the council is going to have a hard time finding a competent candidate willing to step into what he describes as “a municipal circus.”

He’s done some homework. Three new city council members — Elisha Demerson, Randy Burkett and Mark Nair — took office this spring. Nair then took the unusual step in calling for Atkinson’s resignation right away. Burkett demanded that the entire Amarillo Economic Development Corp. board be fired.

Nair and Burkett backed off their initial demands.

Still, City Attorney Marcus Norris quit; Assistant City Manager Vicki Covey retired.

The new three-member majority then engineered a citywide referendum on a project that’s been in the works for years. The multipurpose event venue will be on the ballot next Tuesday and voters will get to decide whether the $32 million project should include a ballpark.

Grass writes: “While Atkinson’s resignation, which is to take effect later in November, may have surprised some on the City Council—Nair said he ‘didn’t see it coming’—Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole said that conflict among councilmembers made it very difficult for the city manager to do his job, citing a handful of problems.”

The city is seeking to fill a number of senior administrative positions. The city attorney still needs to be hired. Same with an assistant city manager. The city charter gives the city manager the authority to make those decisions — but hey, we soon won’t have a city manager, either!

The council has been bickering over budget matters, the future of downtown redevelopment, the status of non-profit organizations set up to help the city proceed with its downtown growth.

You name it, the council has been fighting about it.

Grass’s article wonders: Who in their right mind is going to step into that maelstrom?

It’s a question many of us who live here have been asking.


Well, I’ll be; cooler heads win out … at least for now

My dear ol’ dad had a number of favorite sayings.

Dad would use one of them when something surprised him pleasantly.

“Well,” Dad would say, “I’ll be dipped in sesame seeds.”

Pass the seeds, will ya? I’ve just been surprised — along with quite a few other folks around Amarillo — by the actions today of the Amarillo City Council.

Council members voted 5-0 to take two items off their agenda; they dealt with the “status” of City Manager Jarrett Atkinson and the potential fate of the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation board of directors.

As I write this post, I don’t know what Atkinson has decided to do. Does he stay or does he go? City Councilman Mark Nair wants him to go. At least two of his colleagues, Mayor Paul Harpole and Councilman Brian Eades, want him to stay.

The tumult, tempest and turmoil all have contributed to considerable unrest at City Hall.

The city’s downtown revival effort has begun. Atkinson has been helping steer it forward. Councilman Nair, the newest of the five men who serve on the body, wants to replace him.

As for the AEDC board, they’ve drawn fire from another new council member, Randy Burkett.

This entire exercise over the course of the past few weeks has been unsettling in the extreme.

My sincere hope now is that all the principals can reflect on the changes they want and whether the man who’s running City Hall is the one to implement them.

At least for now, it’s good to know that the City Council isn’t populated by men with itchy trigger fingers.


One down at City Hall … how many more to go?

Amarillo City Attorney Marcus Norris has quit.

He’ll be gone in two weeks, leaving the city with either zero legal counsel or a new lawyer who’s got to learn the ropes the way Norris did when he became the city’s legal eagle.

There’s really no sugarcoating this resignation. Norris is a casualty of the new regime on the City Council. One of the new guys, Mark Nair, took the oath of office and barely put his hand down before calling City Manager Jarrett Atkinson’s resignation. Another new guy, Randy Burkett, called for the resignation of the entire Amarillo Economic Development Corporation board.

Oh, and today’s joint City Council-AEDC meeting? Neither Nair or Burkett were present.

That’s leadership, yes? Well, no.

That is the kind of chaos facing the senior City Hall staff. Norris would have none of it.


So, he’s out.

As for Atkinson, the council is set to meet Tuesday to discuss his status. I have no clue what the smart money on the street thinks will happen. My own hope is that Atkinson stays on the job.

And as for Norris, he’s had his fill already of the recklessness exhibited by at least a couple members of the city’s governing board.

There’s a lot more at stake than just a handful of public service careers. The city’s forward movement as it relates to its downtown revival effort might be in jeopardy if the “agents of change” seek to do too much too quickly.

Let’s not pussyfoot around this matter, either.

If Atkinson quits or is fired, the city’s top administration is left without a leader at a time when it needs leadership. The city is on the cusp of starting a bold effort that it’s never considered before. Yet the naysayers have gotten cold feet, their hands have gone clammy, they’ve hurled accusations out and about over alleged nefarious motives and a so-called “lack of public input” into this multi-faceted project.

And now some folks dislike the way the city runs?

One key city staffer is heading for the exit. Today was not a good a day at City Hall. I fear more bad days are coming.



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.


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.


City may become latest to join discordant chorus

Amarillo’s governing council long has prided itself on speaking with one voice, moving in unison toward common goals.

It’s been rather, um, boring at times to watch the city endorse this program or that with nary a negative voice being heard. Oh, I’ve heard some dissent, from the likes of the late commissioners Dianne Bosch and Jim Simms. But generally when the city voted, it marched off in unison.

That era may have ended, if only temporarily, with the election in May of three newcomers. They have vowed to enact serious change in the way things get done. How that change manifests itself fully remains a bit of a mystery.

It all reminds a bit of how Randall and Potter counties’ commissioners courts have run at times over the years.

Randall County elected Ted Wood as its county judge in 1994 and he proceeded to open the floor up to residents who could gripe until they went hoarse. Wood’s philosophy was that the county was there to serve them, and the Commissioners Court was obligated to listen to every word that residents had to say.

This incessant complaining from residents led to frayed tempers at times as commissioners occasionally lost patience with residents’ long-winded tirades.

After Wood left office, the new county judge, Ernie Houdashell, restored some order in the court and it’s been relatively smooth sailing ever since.

Across the 29th Avenue county line, in Potter County, there was another dynamic taking place. The late Commissioner Manny Perez was fond of gumming things up with occasionally intemperate remarks about individuals or projects. Then came fellow Commissioner Joe Kirkwood, who’d chime in with dissent that at times didn’t make much sense.

Then-County Judge Arthur Ware tried his best to keep the peace. He had limited success.

The Potter County Commissioners Court has a new county judge. It’s running smoothly these days … so far.

What’s in store for the Amarillo City Council as it moves forward?

I’ve never been shy about dissent. I prefer healthy debate and discussion over one-note sambas being played out.

My main concern as the new City Council starts to get its legs under it is the seeming headlong rush to make critical changes at the top of the administrative chain of command. It began with that startling announcement from newly minted Councilman Mark Nair’s request that City Manager Jarrett Atkinson resign; Nair’s comment came on the very same day he took the oath of office.

Does the young man really and truly want to toss out the city’s top administrator now, just as the city is beginning to implement a remarkably creative and forward-thinking strategy for reshaping its downtown business district? And the other two new councilmen — Elisha Demerson and Randy Burkett — are on the hunt as well for the city manager’s resignation?

Dissent and constructive criticism are good things to embrace.

Bulldozing a well-established government infrastructure right off the top? Let’s take a breath and talk this through.


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.


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.


Here comes that ‘change’ at City Hall

Mark Nair took his oath of office as the Amarillo City Council’s newest member and then asked for the resignations of City Manager Jarrett Atkinson, Assistant City Manager Vicki Covey and the five Amarillo Economic Development Corporation board members.

Isn’t there a “getting acquainted period” involved here?



So, here’s the change voters seemingly said they wanted when they elected Nair and two other new guys to the City Council. Randy Burkett joined the newest guy in calling for the resignations.

Haven’t heard yet if the third newbie, Elisha Demerson, feels the same way. I’ll assume for the moment he does.

The $113 million question is this: What would changes at the top of the Amarillo administrative municipal chain of command mean for its downtown redevelopment efforts?

I hope that rumble I’m hearing isn’t the sound of a train wreck about to occur.