AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — The Amarillo City Council is back to square one on funding the Civic Center project after Tuesday’s court ruling.
On Tuesday, retired Judge William Sowder ruled in Potter County District Court that the Amarillo City Council’s issuance of $260 million in tax anticipation notes for the renovation and expansion of the Amarillo Civic Center was invalid and void.
In November 2020, Amarillo voters struck down Prop. A, a $275 million bond for the Civic Center project. Then, on May 24, 2022, the Council approved the issuance of $260 million in tax notes for the project, by a 4-1 vote.
“When voters said no, in 2020, that should have sent a strong signal to city officials that they needed to rethink their approach, and retool and come back at a later date for another voter approval measure,” said James Quintero, policy director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative, non-profit think thank. “Unfortunately, what the city did is it decided to devise a really deceptive way of getting this Civic Center project through.”
A spokesman for the City of Amarillo said on Wednesday that any statements made by individual city council members or other city officials on the lawsuit at this point do not reflect the City’s official position.
“I feel like the only way really to move forward would be with calling a general obligation bond and letting the citizens vote for it and if it’s something that citizens wanted to do, then we would do it,” said Amarillo City Councilmember for Place 1, Cole Stanley. “But without the citizens behind it, I don’t think it can move forward.”
Stanley voted against Ordinance 7985, which authorized the tax notes for the project, and said on Wednesday he is happy with the court’s final judgment in the lawsuit.
Stanley continued, “Wisdom would say you take a big step back, maybe you apologize to your public and you say, ‘Hey, it was a mistake. What we did was wrong. It was an overreach and with your permission, we would like to move forward with whatever is best for our community with our existing asset in the way of a civic center.'”
Quintero and the TPPF are applauding the court’s decision.
“The [state] legislature needs to step in, in the next legislative session, and close many of these loopholes that the city was utilizing to get its way,” said Quintero “And so, I look forward to the 2023 session, and working on some good government measures that will prevent this sort of anti-voter movement in the future, and really protect the democratic process.”
As Myhighplains.com reported on Tuesday, the City of Amarillo released a statement saying: “The City received the court’s final judgement this afternoon. We respectfully disagree with the judgement in this case, and we’re reviewing the decision with our legal counsel to determine our next steps.”
The City of Amarillo has not provided any other official statement and has not made other council members available for comment at this time.
Myhighplains.com has also reached out to the Texas Attorney General’s office for comment but has not heard back.