AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — The city of Amarillo is going to get a little while longer to respond to documents filed by Amarillo Businessman Alex Fairly and the Texas Attorney General’s Office in the ongoing Civic Center lawsuit appeal.
After officials with the Texas Seventh Court of Appeals officially determined late last month that the Civic Center funding-related appeal was ready to be set, the court has granted a motion for a time extension by the city to reply to briefs from both Fairly and the Texas Attorney General’s Office in this case.
According to documents filed on April 4 in the Texas Seventh Court of Appeals, the city’s deadline is now May 2, with the document limited to a maximum of 7,500 words.
Since the October 2022 ruling in the lawsuit, which stated the city of Amarillo’s use of $260 million in tax notes for the expansion and renovation of the Amarillo Civic Center was “invalid and void,” both sides officially appealed, filing numerous documents presenting their respective views.
According to previous reports, the city’s legal team argued each portion of the final judgment in the appeal, claiming that Sowder mischaracterized the tax notes used in his ruling and questioned the portions surrounding the city’s violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act. Meanwhile, Fairly’s team has only asked for a few changes to the ruling.
What is the city of Amarillo responding to?
With its response, the city of Amarillo’s legal team will be responding to both the “brief of appellee,” Fairly’s team’s argument in response to the city’s appeal, and the “brief for appellee Ken Paxton, Attorney General of Texas,” the Texas Attorney General’s Office’s argument.
Fairly’s team filed its brief on March 23, according to documents filed in the Texas Seventh Court of Appeals. In the brief, the team reiterated many of its arguments that were covered during the trial, either through documents or oral arguments, including the city’s “scheme” to use $260 million in tax notes and eventually refinance the notes for the Civic Center project, which was framed as going behind the back of the voters.
The documents go through the timeline, much of which was covered in the trial, including the involvement of the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, as well as what Fairly phrased as the ineffective notice for the ordinance itself and meetings between Amarillo City Council members and City of Amarillo staff.
“…The city used tax anticipation notes to abuse its taxing power,” the brief reads. “It saddled Amarillo taxpayers with generations of tax-pledged debt against their wishes while simultaneously attempting to avoid accountability to them under the protections afforded to them by the Texas Constitution, Tax Code and Government Code. The City believed it was more clever than the law and its citizens, but the trial court saw through its attempts to abuse its power.”
Ultimately, Fairly’s team stressed that Sowder “did not err with respect to its findings and conclusions the City appeals,” the documents read. This includes arguments presented in the trial including:
- The court properly invalidated Ordinance 7985, the tax notes ordinance, as well as the notes because of violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act;
- The court properly concluded that the ordinance violated chapter 1431.004 of the Texas Government Code because the Amarillo Civic Center Complex is not constituted as a “public work;”
- The court properly concluded that the city violated Chapter 311 of the Texas Tax Code, which invalidated both the tax notes-related ordinance and the TIRZ-related ordinance.
“The court should affirm the judgment of the trial court, save the exception of the interpretation of Government Code 1431.008(b), which is the subject of Appellee’s Cross-Appeal,” the documents read. “…The City has failed to establish that the legal and factual findings of the trial court were insufficient and its judgment improper… Mr. Fairly asks this Court to deny the City’s challenges to the trial court’s judgment and affirm the judgment of the trial court on all grounds except for those raised in his Cross-Appeal filed separately with this Court.”
This response from Fairly’s team is separate from Fairly’s cross-appeal which, according to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, aimed at Sowder also ruling that the city’s Civic Center funding-related ordinance did not comply with the Texas Government Code because the city did not impose a tax in the ordinance. In response to the cross-appeal, the city said that if Sowder ruled in favor of Fairly’s team’s reading of the code, it would lead to “absurd results” and ultimately “force the city to violate Texas law governing how and when taxing units assess and collect their annual property taxes.”
The brief from the Texas Attorney General’s Office, filed on March 23 in the Seventh Court of Appeals, called the approach by the city to approve the tax notes “egregious,” going on to say that the city “thwarted the will of the voters and abused chapter 1431 of the Government Code.”
Like Fairly’s brief, the Texas Attorney General’s Office also agreed that the trial court did not err in its judgment. The team also cited various arguments, including:
- The trial court properly declared that the notes violated Section 1431.008(a) of the Texas Government Code because the record showed the city’s plan to finance the project over 30 years and not seven;
- The trial court properly declared that the Civic Center project was not constituted as a proper purpose under Chapter 1431 because the city “failed to show that the arena portion of the complex would not be used for professional or semi-professional sports.”
- The trial court correctly voided Ordinance 7980, the TIRZ-related ordinance, because the city of Amarillo failed to show that the tax notes qualified as “debt” under Chapter 26 of the Texas Tax Code.
“The Court should affirm the district court’s final judgment,” the document read.