The Fate of City Hall: Lawsuits by City of Amarillo, business owner to be tried together in Potter County

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — A lawsuit filed by the City of Amarillo in Travis County and a complaint filed in Potter County by an Amarillo business owner regarding funding for a proposed city hall project will both be tried together in Potter County.

That ruling was handed down from a judge in Travis County’s 200th District Court on Monday.

Craig Gualtiere, the owner of Roasters Coffee & Tea, celebrated the ruling in his latest effort to stop the City of Amarillo from issuing certificates of obligation (CO) to pay for the city hall project.

“We believe that obviously, my lawsuit and my protest petition belong in front of the very well, people that it’s, you know, affecting and that being Amarillo, has no business in Travis County,” Gualtiere said. “It belongs in Potter County where the city of Amarillo is. So, we’re very excited. It’s just another ruling in our favor and so we’re excited about having our day in court.”

Gualtiere filed a lawsuit in Potter County in June, arguing the City of Amarillo has been pursuing CO funds to pay for “Proposition A,” a $275 million bond proposal that was intended for the Amarillo Civic Center and surrounding projects. It was voted down in 2020.

Gualtiere claims the city’s efforts to issue COs for the city hall project is illegal. In July, he delivered a petition to the city, claiming to have more than 10,000 signatures of voters.

Certificates of Obligation are usually backed by property taxes and other local revenues, according to a description from the Texas Comptroller. Unlike bonds like Proposition A, Certificates of Obligation do not require voter approval “unless 5 percent of qualified voters within the jurisdiction petition for an election on the spending in question.” The goal of Gualtiere’s petition, coming from that description, was to prove that at least 5 percent of Amarillo voters wanted an election to approve or reject the City’s pursuit of the certificates.

In his latest statement, Gualtiere said the city has been “unable to verify the 10,000 signatures.” He said prior to their delivery, he hired a professional verification firm which claimed more than 8,000 of the signatures were valid.

“This action is a blatant attempt to ignore Amarillo taxpayers who signed the petition and make an end-run around the Texas CO statute which gives taxpayers the right to vote on this issue,” accused Gualtiere.

The City of Amarillo’s lawsuit asked for an expedited declaratory judgment, as well as asking Attorney General Ken Paxton to examine the petition, in accordance with Texas Local Government Code.

The courts are now in the process of moving the lawsuits back to Potter County. One Potter County judge has already recused themselves, meaning a visiting judge will hear the case, which is one reason the City of Amarillo filed its case in Travis County.

The city’s lawsuit claims its issuance of certificates of obligations pertaining to paying contractors with the building of a municipal government complex, without the process of going through an election, is legal.

The city has also claimed the civic center project is completely separate from the city hall project.

On Monday, Gualtiere said he wanted to expose city leaders saying, “It’s sad that an ordinary citizen like myself, has to take on our government, make them comply with state law.”

Meanwhile, city officials have continued to say that the existing 55 year-old city hall building is failing, with “serious structural and mechanical issues” that need to be addressed, for which the annual budget has no funding.

If funding is secured, the council will ultimately decide whether to renovate the existing city hall, renovate and move to the Amarillo Hardware building, or knock down the building and start new construction.

The Amarillo City Council is set to meet on Tuesday, August 24. On the non-consent agenda, there is an item that, if approved, would withdraw the plan to issue COs for the city hall project.

“Them just pulling the COs doesn’t doesn’t answer the court’s question about the validity of my petition, or the validity of my lawsuit,” Gualtiere said. “I mean, if they just pull it off the agenda, or they vote to pull it off the agenda do they just bring it up at another time? You know, then do I have to go out there and get more signatures? Again?”

The full filing by the City of Amarillo, accompanied by evidence including Gualtiere’s lawsuit, can be read below:

This story is developing. Check with MyHighPlains.com for updates.

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