AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — On Tuesday, the Amarillo City Council voted to withdraw its plan to issue certificates of obligation to fund a proposed city hall project.
The council approved the item on its non-consent agenda by a vote of 4-1. Place 1 Council Member Cole Stanley was the sole vote against that item.
Craig Gualtiere, the owner of Roasters Coffee & Tea, filed a lawsuit in Potter County in June, arguing the City of Amarillo has been pursuing CO funds to pay for “Proposition A,” a $275 million bond proposal that was intended for the Amarillo Civic Center and surrounding projects. It was voted down in 2020.
Gualtiere claims the city’s efforts to issue COs for the city hall project are illegal. In July, he delivered a petition to the city, claiming to have more than 10,000 signatures of voters.
“Their actions today, actually validate my petition,” Gualtiere said on Tuesday. “Without them even saying they have a valid petition, by them pulling the COs, they’re telling all the 10,000 people who signed my petition, that ‘We heard what you said…we’re pulling the project.’ So we’re very, very happy. It’s a win today.”
The City of Amarillo also filed a lawsuit regarding funding for the city hall project, in Travis County. On Monday, a judge in Travis County’s 200th District Court ruled both that suit and Gualtiere’s suit will be tried together in Potter County.
Gualtiere considered that ruling on Monday to be a win as well in his fight against local government agencies issuing COs, which he believes goes around the voters.
“At the end of the day, my whole lawsuit, along with my protest petition, was all about the funding of how they were doing this,” said Gualtiere. “They have every right to spend their money—our money however they want, just not with COs. They can do this exact same project by just pulling money out of our savings account and doing it.”
Although city officials have said in recent months there is no funding available for a city hall project at our current tax rate. The city has also claimed the civic center project is completely separate from the city hall project.
Now, Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said the council is back to square one on funding the city hall project.
“Today, we took a vote to step back and take a pause. We want to be able to answer the questions that we’ve had from citizens about the timing and how we move forward on City Hall,” Mayor Nelson said after the vote on Tuesday. “We want to be as diligent as we possibly can.”
She also acknowledged the needs in the current Amarillo City Hall haven’t changed saying, “…we still have repair needs that we are absolutely going to have to address. I think it will be good for us to pause for a minute, walk back through the options, look exactly what every one of them are, as of today, what do they cost and what’s the best way to pay for it.”
As for Stanley, he had been against the issuance of COs to pay for a city hall project.
“When they noticed the CO for $35 million, we were told that you know, time is of the essence. We need to go ahead and act and this is what we’re doing, and they’re all in favor,” Stanley said. “I was the no vote. So it’s interesting that today, I don’t want to remove the COs.”
When asked why he voted down the item on Tuesday, he said, “I was hopeful that we would have a valid petition, that would that would be validated where it would give the citizens their opportunity to have their full voice heard on this one particular issue and that we could call an election.”
Stanley said his vote was twofold, as the city hall issue is in pending litigation.
“Since it’s been taken to court, and we have a judge that is presiding over this, why would this end up in front of me and the council to make a decision on or an action on a CEO that that really does have some involvement in that case?” Stanley asked. “So, my action today is real simple. It wasn’t what I had hoped for. But I also just don’t see the legal side of it, where I’m confident in knowing that I should be taking action when it’s in litigation.”
It is unclear what will happen with the adjoined lawsuits after the council withdrew COs.
“Regardless of what they did today, we still have a protest petition on file. We have a joint lawsuit in Potter County,” Gualtiere said. “At the end of the day, the question is does this become moot? Or what the issue is? And, frankly, if they tried to issue COs, again? Well, you know, we’ll just have to see where it goes from that point.”
As MyHighPlains.com reported Monday, the courts are in the process of moving the lawsuits back to Potter County. One Potter County judge has already recused themselves and a visiting judge will hear the case, which is one reason the City of Amarillo filed its case in Travis County.
The full filing by the City of Amarillo, accompanied by evidence including Gualtiere’s lawsuit, can be read below: