Update (5:53 p.m.)

In a video posted to the Inspire Amarillo organization’s Facebook page, Amarillo Businessman Alex Fairly said he is happy, thankful and humbled by the decision.

“I can’t say how thankful we are for the support that we’ve gotten,” Fairly said in the video. “…This feels like a long fight. It’s been a hard fight, some bumpy days. We’ve lost a few friends. We’ve lost some business. But those are minuscule compared to what we’ve gotten in return.”

Fairly went on to say that he is thankful for the system in general.

“I’m thankful that a regular, ordinary, everyday guy can still raise his hand and say, ‘I don’t think this is right,’ and get a fair day in court and a voice,” he said. “I think we all have that voice. It’s too expensive, I know that. But I’m so thankful that the system is there and we were able to use it and that it worked.”

At the end of the video, Fairly said he will have more to say as his team looks at the judgment and he thinks there is more work to do on this outside of Amarillo.

MyHighPlains.com has reached out to Fairly for comment on this decision and have not heard back.

Update (5:31 p.m.)

Officials with the city of Amarillo provided the following statement on the judgment in the Civic Center litigation:

The City received the court’s final judgment this afternoon. We respectfully disagree with the judgment in this case, and we’re reviewing the decision with our legal counsel to determine our next steps

City of Amarillo

Original Story:

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — According to a final judgment, posted Tuesday afternoon in Potter County District Court, Retired Judge William Sowder ruled in favor of Amarillo Businessman Alex Fairly in the litigation surrounding the funding mechanism for the Amarillo Civic Center Complex, ruling that the city of Amarillo’s use of anticipation notes for the project is invalid and void.

This comes after the parties gathered for a two-day trial in Potter County District Court in early October, presenting their respective cases to Sowder on whether or not the approach that the city of Amarillo took to fund the improvements to the Amarillo Civic Center Complex was illegal.

This began when the Amarillo City Council voted to adopt Ordinance 7985 during the May 24 meeting, authorizing the use of $260 million in anticipation notes to fund improvements and the expansion of the Amarillo Civic Center Complex. After that vote, Fairly filed a lawsuit against the city surrounding the legality of the notes, which was eventually combined with the city’s own lawsuit, asking for a judge to validate the legality of the notes’ use for the project.

What documents came out before the judgment was made?

Earlier this month, Sowder requested that the legal teams for both the city of Amarillo and Fairly provide a summary of the declarations each of the respective teams seeks as a result in this case. Each of the legal teams also provided Sowder with a respective unsigned order that Sowder can choose to use.

City of Amarillo’s requested declarations

According to the document from the city of Amarillo’s legal team, filed late Thursday afternoon, the city is requesting an order indicating whether or not the following proposed declarations are accepted or rejected by Sowder:

  • The city qualifies as an issuer of public securities as defined by Chapter 1205 and Chapter 1431 and was authorized to bring this action;
  • The city was authorized to issue the Notes;
  • The city complied with the statutory requirements of Chapter 1205, including timely and proper notice of trial;
  • The Civic Center Complex is a ‘public work’ within the meaning of Chapter 1431;
  • The City Council approved Ordinance 7985;
  • The City Council’s actions in approving Ordinance 7985 were legal and valid;
  • The notes are legal, valid and incontestable;
  • Ordinance 7985 is legal, valid and incontestable;
  • Repayment of the notes would not increase property taxes above the cap set forth in the City Charter;
  • The referendum provisions of the City Charter do not apply to Ordinance 7985;
  • Although not technically a ‘declaration,’ the city also requests that if the court decides in Intervenor’s (Fairly’s) favor, the court should exercise its discretion and not award either side attorneys’ fees. To the extent Intervenor might be entitled to any fees, it would be those incurred before the city filed its Chapter 1205 lawsuit, which fees are relatively minimal.

In relation to issues raised by Fairly’s legal team, the city of Amarillo’s legal team is requesting that the Court sign a judgment indicating that the following declarations are accepted or rejected:

  • Ordinance 7985 ‘imposes’ a tax and, therefore, does not violate Texas Govt. Code 1431.008(b);
  • No voter approval was required under Texas Govt. Code 1431,008(a) because the Notes are not payable from bonds secured by ad valorem taxes;
  • Other than the notice provided pursuant to the May 24 Agenda and the public City Council meeting held on May 24, no separate notice and public hearing were required in passing Ordinance 7985;
  • The language in Ordinance 7985 meets the assessment and sinking fund requirements of Article XI of the Texas Constitution;
  • No voter approval was required under Article IV of the Amarillo City Charter because the Notes are not bonds;
  • The fact that Ordinance 7985 was passed in a single City Council meeting does not violate Article V of the Amarillo City Charter because a public security authorization takes immediate effect after a single meeting, pursuant to Texas Govt. Code 1201.028;
  • The city did not violate any provisions of the Texas Tax Code;
  • The May 10 Agenda and May 24 Agenda satisfied the notice requirements of the Texas Open Meetings Act as to Ordinance 7980 (which ordinance amended the project plan for TIRZ No. 1);
  • City Council did not violate the quorum requirements of the Texas Open Meetings Act in connection with the consideration and passage of Ordinance 7985;
  • The notes qualify as ‘debt’ under Texas Tax Code 26.012;
  • Ordinance 7985 is not void under the Open Meetings Act;
  • Ordinance 7980 is not void under the Open Meetings Act.

Alex Fairly’s requested declarations

Like the city of Amarillo’s document, Fairly’s legal team also provided Sowder a document, summarizing the requested declarations they sought from the ruling, along with an accompanied proposed final judgment.

The declarations that Fairly’s legal team seeks on their particular claims include:

  • That item No. 5 on the agenda notice for the May 5 Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 1 Board meeting did not provide the public with sufficient notice of the subject of the meeting;
  • That the actions that were taken by the TIRZ No. 1 Board during the May 5 meeting regarding Item No. 5, including the recommendation for the amendment of the TIRZ No. 1 project plan, are void;
  • That non-consent item No. 3(D), including consideration of including components of the Amarillo Civic Center Complex in the TIRZ No. 1 project plan, on the agenda notice for the May 10 regular City Council meeting did not provide the public with sufficient notice of the subject of the meeting;
  • That the actions taken by the Amarillo City Council on May 10 regarding non-consent item No. 3(D) are void;
  • That the Amarillo City Council violated the Texas Government Code by meeting and deliberating in a quorum outside of a public meeting with Amarillo city staff the week prior to the May 24 regular City Council meeting;
  • That consent item No. 2(E), including consideration for including components of the Civic Center Complex into the TIRZ No. 1 project plan, on the agenda notice for the May 24 regular City Council meeting did not provide the public with sufficient notice of the subject of the meeting;
  • That non-consent item No. 3(L), including the tax anticipation notes made the subject of this lawsuit, on the agenda notice for the May 24 meeting did not provide the public with sufficient notice of the subject of the meeting;
  • That the actions taken by City Council on May 24 related to Consent Item No. 2(E) and non-consent item No. 3(L) are void under the 551.141 under the Texas Government Code;
  • That ordinances 7980 and 7985 are void under 551.141 of the Texas Government Code;
  • That the Amarillo City Council violated Chapter 311 of the Texas Tax Code by failing to publish a notice in a newspaper regarding amending the TIRZ No. 1 project plan seven days before the May 10 and May 24 meetings;
  • That the Amarillo City Council violated Chapter 311 of the Texas Tax Code by failing to hold a public hearing regarding amending the TIRZ No. 1 project plan at the May 10 and May 24 meetings;
  • That ordinances 7980 and 7985 are void under Chapter 311 of the Texas Tax Code;
  • That Ordinance 7985 failed to impose (assess, levy and collect) the ad valorem tax in violation of 1431.008(b) of the Texas Government Code;
  • Because the city of Amarillo planned to issue refunding bonds to refinance the tax notes authorized under Ordinance 7985, the city was required to host a public election as required by chapter 1431.008(a) of the Texas Government Code and no election was held;
  • Ordinance 7985 is void under chapter 1431.008(a) of the Texas Government Code;
  • The proceeds of the tax anticipation notes authorized under Ordinance 7985 were not intended for authorized use under Chapter 1431.004 of the Texas Government Code as the new construction of the Civic Center Complex is not a public work;
  • The city violated Article VIII of the Texas Constitution because it failed to notify the public of the necessary increase in taxes required by the passage of notes in Ordinance 7985 and failed to hold a public hearing regarding the tax increase;
  • The city is equitably estopped from authorizing debt under Ordinance 7985 without voter approval because the electorate voted against the authorization of tax-supported debt for a substantially similar purpose as proposed in Proposition A placed on the November 2020 general election ballot;
  • That Alex Fairly should be awarded what the Court finds to be reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees and costs through trial in favor of Fairly and against the city in the amount of $527,426.11;
  • That Alex Fairly should be awarded what the court finds to be reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees and costs from the end of the trial through final judgment in favor of Alex Fairly and against the city in the amount of $25,000;
  • That Alex Fairly should be awarded what the court finds to be reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees and costs for the appeal of this final judgment to the Court of Appeals or direct appeal to the Supreme Court of Texas in favor of Alex Fairly and against the city in the amount of $50,000;
  • That Alex Fairly be awarded, in the event of an appeal, what the Court finds to be reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees and costs in the amount of $30,000 if after an appeal to the Court of Appeals, a petition for review is filed with the Supreme Court of Texas and the court requests a response, or briefing on the merits, from Fairly;
  • That the City of Amarillo, Texas, Tax Notes, Taxable Series 2022A are invalid and void;
  • That this final judgment is binding, conclusive and final;

In relation to issues raised by the city’s legal team, Fairly’s legal team is requesting that the court sign a judgment indicating that the following declarations are accepted or rejected:

  • That Article II of the Amarillo City Charter applies to Ordinance 7985;
  • That the city’s requests for declarations as to the validity and legality of the notes are denied.

What did the judgment say?

The judgment said that Sowder considered the pleadings on file, all evidence along with the respective arguments from the legal teams to determine the judgment. Sowder ultimately declared, ordered, adjudged and decreed the following:

  • Item No. 5 on the agenda notice for the May 5 TIRZ No. 1 Board meeting did not provide the public with sufficient notice of the subject of the meeting;
  • The actions that were taken by the TIRZ No. 1 Board on May 5 regarding Item No. 5, including the recommendation for the amendment of the TIRZ No. 1 project plan, are void;
  • Non-consent item No. 3(D), including consideration of including components of the Amarillo Civic Center Complex in the TIRZ No. 1 project plan, on the agenda notice for the May 10 regular City Council meeting did not provide the public with sufficient notice of the subject of the meeting;
  • The actions taken by Amarillo City Council on May 10 regarding Non-Consent Item No. 3(D), including consideration of and voting upon the inclusion of components of the Civic Center Complex in the TIRZ No. 1 project plan, are void;
  • Consent item No. 2(E), including consideration for including components of the Civic Center Complex into the TIRZ No. 1 project plan on the agenda notice for the May 24 regular City Council meeting did not provide the public with sufficient notice of the subject of the meeting;
  • Non-consent item No. 3(L), including the tax anticipation notes made the subject of this lawsuit, on the agenda notice for the May 24 regular City Council meeting did not provide the public with sufficient notice of the subject of the meeting;
  • The actions taken by the Amarillo City Council on May 24 related to Consent Iten No. 2(E), including the amendment of the TIRZ No. 1 project plan, and Ordinance No. 7980, are void;
  • The actions taken by the Amarillo City Council on May 24 related to Non-Consent Item No. 3(L) including the tax anticipation notes made the subject of this lawsuit, and Ordinance 7985, are void;
  • City of Amarillo Ordinance 7980 is void under 551.141 of the Texas Government Code;
  • City of Amarillo Ordinance 7985 is void under 551.141 of the Texas Government Code;
  • Amarillo City Council violated Chapter 311 of the Texas Tax Code by failing to publish a notice in a newspaper regarding amending the TIRZ No. 1 project plan seven days prior to the May 10 and May 24 City Council meetings;
  • City of Amarillo Ordinance 7985 is void under 1431.008(a) of the Texas Government Code;
  • The tax anticipation notes authorized under Ordinance 7985 were not intended for authorized use under 1431.004 of the Texas Government Code as the new construction of the Civic Center Complex is not a public work and therefore, Ordinance 7985 is void;
  • Article II of the Amarillo City Charter applies to ordinance 7985;
  • The City of Amarillo’s request for declarations as to the validity and legality of the public securities identified as City of Amarillo, Texas, Tax Notes, Taxable Series 2022A are hereby denied;
  • The City of Amarillo, Texas, Tax Notes, Taxable Series 2022A are invalid and void.

Sowder also ruled that Fairly will be awarded “reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees and costs” by the city of Amarillo, costing the city more than $376,000 through the final judgment and the potential of $70,000 more in costs if the final judgment is appealed.

MyHighPlains.com has requested comments from Fairly and the Texas Attorney General’s Office regarding the ultimate judgment in this case. This story will be updated if the entities provide comments.

This is a developing story. MyHighPlains.com will update this article as new information becomes available.

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