AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – In a roundtable discussion featuring members of the Amarillo media Wednesday afternoon, Amarillo Businessman Alex Fairly continued his efforts to get his message across surrounding the recent lawsuit he filed in the 108th District Court in Potter County.
According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, the lawsuit was filed in response to the Amarillo City Council voting to move forward to issue debt for the expansion and renovation of the Amarillo Civic Center Complex on May 24. Through this roundtable, Fairly answered questions regarding the lawsuit, including why he filed it and why he thinks it should go all the way to a jury trial.
What does the lawsuit entail?
In the lawsuit, Fairly is questioning the legality of the city using $260 million in tax and revenue notes to fund the project after 61% of Amarillo residents voted against a bond proposal for the project in the November 2020 election. Amarillo officials continue to stress that this is a legal way to use the tax and revenue notes for a project.
In comments made to the High Plains Republican Women organization on Tuesday, Fairly cited Texas Government Code Chapter 1431, the portion of the code which lays out the rules for “anticipation notes.” Fairly claimed at the time that he believes this portion of the code does not apply to the project the city wants to use it for, stressing that residents should not have their property taxes impacted by a project they voted down in the first place.
According to the code, issuance of the notes can be used to pay for the construction of public works, the purchase of materials, supplies, buildings, lands and other items for various needs, operating or current expenses or for a professional service, including those from an engineer, architect, attorney auditor or fiscal agent. According to the code, the notes can be paid from revenue, taxes, a combination of revenue and taxes or bond proceeds.
What did Fairly say on Wednesday?
In an interview with MyHighPlains.com following Wednesday’s roundtable, Fairly said that he believes the Texas Constitution says that taxpayers cannot be taxed without fair representation, voiding the city’s use of notes to raise the property taxes of Amarillo residents for the Civic Center project.
Fairly claims that Texas Government Code Chapter 1431 says that the entity issuing the notes is required to tell citizens what the tax increase will be if the notes are issued. Fairly said he believes there are other portions of the code that his attorneys do not think the city did right included in that portion of the code. However, when asked, he did not specify any additional portions of that code.
Fairly also said that this lawsuit does not have anything to do with his “Amarillo Plan” for the Amarillo Civic Center Complex, the plan Fairly and former Mayor Jerry Hodge put together in December 2020 after the proposition failed.
According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, this plan would have included updates to the Civic Center, a new arena, and talks of possibly bringing a Minor League Hockey team to Amarillo. At the time, Fairly and Hodge claimed that their plan would cost taxpayers as little as half of what was proposed in the bond election.
“This is just purely a principle issue. It’s why I made the point to say – it’s not even about if you want (a Civic Center) or if you don’t want one,” Fairly said. “I would say it has zero impact on it. I think it’s just a principle issue of ‘can a city government use that part of the tax code to impose a tax on us without us getting to have an adequate say in it?’ It’s as simple as that.”
When asked what he would do to fund a Civic Center expansion project, Fairly said it was a simple answer: go back to Amarillo residents and ask them in an election.
“We just have to do a good enough job and it’s got to make sense and it’s got to be the right price that they can be comfortable…If they won’t say yes, I don’t think we get to do it until we can talk them into it. I think it’s a steep hill but I think it’s the only answer, in my opinion – to go and get their opinion,” Fairly said. “…If you go to voters and they say no, voters get to decide. I think there’s a way to do it so that voters will eventually say yes. I think doing it this way makes that further off. I think there are ways to go about this that are much better of what I think could happen. If they say no and they say no and they say no, then you have to respect it.”
Fairly said he hosted Wednesday’s media event to respond to Nelson’s interview on Friday, giving his perspective on why he filed the lawsuit in the first place.
“We filed a lawsuit and I made the statement that I made. We’ve had an enormous response of people looking for more understanding of it,” Fairly said. “I felt like it was valuable to sit down and have a legitimate conversation about it. Many of the interviews like this, I’ll talk to you for 15 minutes and there will be 30 seconds on the TV tonight. I just think this topic needed like a more extensive discussion and was legitimate.”
Another city of Amarillo official speaks out on Civic Center Project decision
While officials from the city of Amarillo previously stressed to MyHighPlains.com that officials from the city will not comment on pending litigation, another official from the city is speaking out in support of the decision the council made on May 24.
In a statement provided to MyHighPlains.com on Wednesday, Amarillo City Councilmember Howard Smith continued to stress his support for the project and the way the council voted to fund the project. This comes after Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson spoke with MyHIghPlains.com on Friday expressing her continued support for the project.
Smith’s statement mirrored much of what Nelson said on Friday, defending the City Council’s decision and saying that it will save Amarillo residents money in the long run, citing future rises in construction costs and interest rates. Smith also said that tax notes are a “lawful tool” and the “best tool” for the city to use to help fund this project, citing the urgency of the timing for the project.
Smith said that while bonds have not passed on the project, the clear answer to him is that this project still needs to happen and that Amarillo residents want the project to happen.
“We’ve already spent money to build the ballpark and the parking garage. The continued success of those two projects is contingent on expanding the Civic Center and increasing the number of people using the Civic Center. If we want to protect what we’ve already built, we need to expand the Civic Center,” Smith said. “…We have seen several councils work on this project – for over a decade. And maybe we all disagree on the ‘perfect’ solution, but this solution has many of the components that we need to move forward. I believe we need to move forward on this project.”
What is the status of the lawsuit?
As of Wednesday (June 8), there have been no further documents filed into the 108th District Court in Potter County related to this lawsuit. Fairly told MyHighPlains.com that his legal team is still waiting on the city of Amarillo to respond to the lawsuit.