UPDATE (11:31 a.m.)
In a response posted to his Inspire Amarillo Facebook page, Amarillo Businessman Alex Fairly provided the following statement on the city of Amarillo’s decision to file an accelerated appeal notice in response to the Civic Center funding-related lawsuit.
“The Mayor’s response to Judge Sowder’s decision is disappointing, and costly. Our Council doesn’t need ‘clarification’ on the rules; they simply need to follow them. Hundreds of Texas cities have figured this out; surely Amarillo’s City Council can, too. Our community is strongly united against this scheme. It is best now for Amarillo to turn our attention toward electing a Council next May that respects taxpayers, and Texas’ laws.Alex Fairly
AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — After the city of Amarillo filed its notice of accelerated appeal in response to the judgment in the Civic Center funding-related lawsuit, Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson provided some insight on the city’s decision to file the notice and how this process has impacted the Amarillo Civic Center Complex facility as a whole.
How did we get here?
According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, the city filed this notice of accelerated appeal on Thursday in Potter County District Court, giving the city’s legal team the chance to preserve its ability to proceed with an appeal in the Seventh Court of Appeals after Judge William Sowder ruled in late October that the city could not use $260 million in anticipation notes to fund the expansion and renovation of the Civic Center, citing the city’s violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act along with violations of the Texas Government Code.
The Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure states that in an accelerated appeal, a notice is required to be filed within 20 days after the judgment or order is signed. Since the judgment was brought down on Oct. 25, the 20-day deadline would be Monday.
Officials with the city of Amarillo said that the appeal notice is required to be an accelerated appeal because the original proceeding filed by the city, an expedited declaratory judgment filed in June, was an expedited proceeding by statute. However, officials stressed that the city will be able to withdraw the notice of appeal if needed, including if Sowder changes his ruling based on the city’s recent motion to “modify, correct or reform” the initial judgment.
What did Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson have to say about this notice?
In an initial statement provided to MyHighPlains.com from Nelson, she said that the appeal notice is not centered around the Civic Center Project itself but centered on how cities across the state of Texas can issue debt, based on the results of Sowder’s ruling.
“…This ruling creates confusion around several standard operating procedures and will interfere with the city’s ability to operate in the normal course of business,” Nelson said in the statement.
“We are seeking clarification on existing state law. We have a responsibility to clarify how debt can be issued going forward because, like every city in Texas, the city council will have to continue to issue debt to operate the city.”
With this ruling, Nelson said it created an “area of confusion” for the city of Amarillo on how they can issue future debt. She stressed they followed “the checklist” laid out in Texas law, which cities across the state have used to issue debt.
Nelson said that the city has used anticipation notes for multiple projects in the same exact process that were not challenged legally. Some of the projects that were mentioned during October’s trial included the City Hall renovation project and software infrastructure.
Nelson went on to say that during the May 24 meeting, the meeting where the Civic Center funding-related ordinance was passed, the council “carefully” proceeded and asked questions, making sure the project they were planning to use the anticipation notes for was “within the bounds of what state law provided for issuing debt.” At that point, Nelson said legal advice said it was legal and she felt, and continues to believe, that issuing that debt was the best business decision for the city moving forward.
“There were legal questions there but it was also a highly political situation,” Nelson said regarding the Civic Center funding-related trial in October. “It’s hard to keep politics out of even this, even though this was a legal decision. There was still a lot of politically motivated testimony and argument in the courtroom… I think that’s why the appeals process is there, just to allow us to continue going through the legal process to get clarification.”
Debt issuances that have already been started are under contract, Nelson said, and something the city cannot go backward on. However, the ruling does impact future debt issuances.
“As to looking forward, we don’t have clarification on how we should post a notice, how we should draft the agenda item for a debt issuance. We followed the same process and pattern that we had used in the past, that the Attorney General had approved in the past, that state law laid out the process for. We followed that process. Now, we have indication that that process might not have been what we should have followed,” Nelson said. “So, it conflicts with state law and that’s why we feel like we have a responsibility to follow the appeals process to get more clarification on how would a city issue debt. How would a city draft an agenda item on a debt issuance? How would they put an ordinance out that’s being negotiated right up until the minute of the council meeting? How would you define public use? All of these things are questions that cities going forward have to know and understand in order to continue operating because issuing debt is just a part of operating a city.”
What is the status of the Amarillo Civic Center Complex project?
With an increase in construction costs, along with increases in interest rates, Nelson said that the window to complete the expansion and the renovations to the Amarillo Civic Center Complex in the amount of debt approved through the ordinance passed by the Amarillo City Council on May 24 is no longer possible.
“The lawsuit was successful for the opposing party in that it created a delay to the point where the project isn’t feasible for the amount of money we authorized,” Nelson said in a statement provided to MyHighPlains.com Thursday morning.
As of now, Nelson said it is just business as usual over at the complex, having some of the same challenges the facility has had over the last 10 years. Nelson stressed that taxpayers continue to front the bill for subsidizing the facility, paying $6,300 a day to do so. Nelson said she expects that figure to rise, with more infrastructure and repair needs in the future, along with less revenue coming in as fewer users are interested in leasing the facility.
In a message to users of the Amarillo Civic Center Complex, Nelson said she hopes they stay, in the midst of the ongoing issues with the facility. At some point, Nelson said the city will have to figure out an answer to the problem.
“I hope you continue to choose Amarillo to do your event. I hope you’ll continue to do your event at the Civic Center,” Nelson said. “Those events drive a lot of activity economically for us locally and I’m thankful that we have them. So hopefully, we can continue to have them even in our facility that has challenges.”
According to Potter County District Court records, the entities in this Civic Center funding-related lawsuit, including the legal teams from the city of Amarillo, Amarillo Businessman Alex Fairly, who initially brought forward the lawsuit, and the Texas Attorney General’s office, are expected to participate in a virtual hearing surrounding the city’s motion to “modify, correct or reform” the initial ruling. This virtual hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Nov. 21.
MyHighPlains.com has reached out to Fairly in relation to the city’s decision to file a notice of accelerated appeal. This story will be updated if he returns the request for comment. For more information about the ongoing Amarillo Civic Center Complex situation, visit MyHighPlains.com.