AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — As 2022 draws to a close, MyHighPlains.com is taking a look back at what we consider the top stories of the past year, including significant stories regarding politics, local education and health.
Here are four of the stories from Your Local Election Headquarters that helped shape Amarillo politics in 2022.
Amarillo Civic Center Lawsuit
Nearly one year after a predevelopment services agreement was approved for the city of Amarillo’s Civic Center Complex project, officials gathered in May to discuss potential public/private partnerships along with a measure focused on the project’s funding, leading to a 4-1 vote with which the Amarillo City Council authorized the use of $260 million in tax and revenue notes to fund the project.
Days later, Amarillo Businessman Alex Fairly filed a lawsuit intended to prevent the city of Amarillo from moving forward with using the tax and revenue notes to fund the project. The suit, filed in Potter County, claimed that the measure that authorized the funding method was unlawful not only because it was not properly brought forward to Amarillo residents prior to the council’s vote but went against election results from 2020 that rejected a proposed $275 million bond for Civic Center renovations and expansion, a green space near Hodgetown, relocating Amarillo City Hall, and other projects.
In late June, the city of Amarillo filed its own lawsuit that requested a Potter County Judge declare the use of anticipation notes for the Civic Center Complex Project was legal and valid. The suit also asked for a bench trial to allow “interested parties,” along with representatives from the Texas Attorney General’s Office, to present their perspectives on the case. The goal of the city’s lawsuit, according to officials, was to be able to “proceed with confidence and certainty” regarding the funding method.
Both lawsuits were combined into one in July, and a final hearing for the suit was scheduled for October in Potter County District Court.
The weeks leading up to the Oct. 4 hearing were a whirlwind of developments in the case. For one, Fairly’s public promotion of the suit developed into his offering testimony on the subject of the suit and the use of anticipation notes to the Texas House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, along with the Texas Senate Committee on Local Government. Further, a group of Amarillo citizens began a petition process aimed at overturning the Civic Center funding ordinance, including the GOP chairmen for both Potter and Randall Counties as well as Amarillo City Councilmember Cole Stanley.
While the petition was in the process of being verified by the city, Fairly made and then canceled a request for the lawsuit to be nullified due to an expectation that the petition’s outcome would cause the lawsuit to become moot. A few weeks later, city officials did not ultimately authorize the petition on the grounds that it did not meet the requirements outlined in the city charter.
After the two-day trial at the beginning of October, the presiding judge sided in Fairly’s favor and ruled that Amarillo’s use of anticipation notes for the Civic Center Complex project was invalid and void.
In the wake of the judgment, both Amarillo and Fairly submitted motions to modify the final judgment. Amarillo’s motion centered around, according to officials, clarifying conflicts the city believed the ruling had with state law. Meanwhile, Fairly asked for a modification in the ruling to include a declaration that, “the city failed to impose the tax in Ordinance 7985 (the ordinance which issued the anticipation notes for the Civic Center project) as required by 1431.008(b) of the Texas Government Code.”
The presiding judge denied both motions to modify. After doing so, he released his “findings of fact and conclusions of law” for the lawsuit, going through specific details in various codes and laws that he used as a base for his ruling.
As of December 2022, both Amarillo and Fairly filed documents in the Seventh Court of Appeals in Amarillo, asking for a time extension to file opening briefs. This comes after both the city and Fairly filed official appeal notices in response to the final decision. At the time of writing, both Amarillo and Fairly were expected to file briefs before the beginning of February 2023.
2022 Midterm Election
In November, residents of both Potter County and Randall County made their voices heard in a number of federal, state and local races in the 2022 Midterm Election.
At the federal level, U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas District 13 won his reelection campaign after facing Democratic opponent Kathleen Brown. Jackson said at the time that during his second term in the U.S. House of Representatives, he would continue to focus on agriculture, defense and healthcare.
In New Mexico, U.S. Rep. Teresa Fernandez, D-New Mexico District 3 won her reelection bid. In Oklahoma, both U.S. Senator James Lankford, R-Oklahoma and U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma District 3 won their respective reelection bids as well.
For the Texas state races, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton were all reelected for their respective positions. Four Price, the Texas State Rep. for District 87, was also reelected.
While there were many individuals who were reelected to their respective positions, Kevin Sparks, a businessman from Midland, was elected to serve as the District 31 representative in the Texas State Senate after Kel Seliger announced he was not running for reelection in late 2021. Sparks, who won the Republican primary in March, won the seat in November after there was no challenger in the race.
In local races, Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner won her reelection bid while Blair Schaffer, a Republican, won the Precinct Two Commissioners’ race over Robert Ruiz, a Democrat who was sworn in as the replacement for Mercy Murguia in November 2021 after she stepped down.
In the 2022 midterm, the election administration offices for Potter and Randall counties reported that more than 69,000 residents voted in the election, including 50.06% of Randall County residents and 37.48% of Potter county residents.
New Voting Machines in Potter, Randall Counties
As Potter and Randall County residents were participating in November’s midterm election, they got the chance to vote using the new “Verity Duo” voting equipment implemented by each of the counties this year.
According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, this new system gave voters the ability to see their selections on paper before they cast their vote, combining touch-screen voting with a thermal printing system. After reviewing the choices, voters print their ballot and insert the ballot into a separate scanner.
Through the implementation of this software, the counties fulfilled a requirement from the Texas Legislature stating that all counties throughout the state are required to have a paper audit trail for every ballot that is cast. This comes after some Potter County residents called for the March Republican Primary Election to be hosted with hand-marked and counted ballots, an approach that officials with the Potter County Republican Party stated would not occur in December 2021.
“What this does, it’s one more checks and balances (step) that we do,” Shannon Lackey, the Randall County elections administrator, previously said about the new system. “This is going to tell us at the end of the night, the number of people that have checked in that say that they’re here to vote, we actually have the paper backup, to prove that those numbers are the same. So we don’t have more ballots cast than we actually had people sign in.”
During the November election, Melynn Huntley, the Potter County Elections Administrator, said there was an issue with the printed vote record for one race on the ballot, Huntley said at the time that for some who voted in the county, individuals saw their paper vote receipt and the name for Texas Supreme Court Place 9 was not the name they voted for.
Huntley said at the time, they contacted the Texas Secretary of State and fixed the issue. Huntley stressed that the voting equipment worked the way it was supposed to.
“Since we have started addressing this, there is some misinformation that is out there. We have voters who are calling and they’re afraid that their vote didn’t count, or that, you know, it didn’t count as they had written it and that is not true,” Huntley said at the time. “We’ve substantiated this with the Texas Secretary of State with all of our records with both party chairs. So we just want to assure voters that it was a small issue, and it has been addressed.”
Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson announces she will not run for reelection
Three-term city of Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson announced in early December that she would not be running for re-election. According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, Nelson was first elected to the position in 2017.
During her time as the mayor, Nelson cited various accomplishments, including the opening of the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo, the creation of both the Coming Home program and the Amarillo Connected program as well as the economic growth of the city during her tenure, including 4,000 new jobs being brought to the city.
However, in Nelson’s conversation with MyHighPlains.com when she announced her intention to not run for re-election, she spoke about some of the things she wished she had done differently in her tenure, including handling the COVID-19 pandemic differently and how public address is conducted during public meetings.
Nelson also spoke about the letter she sent to church groups around the city of Amarillo in November surrounding the “A Drag Queen Christmas” program at the Amarillo Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts. In the letter, Nelson provided information about how events are hosted at city facilities and how she also had concerns surrounding “the possible messages and content of this show.”
“I am praying that this event will give our city an opportunity to engage with people who do not know Jesus and don’t share our beliefs,” Nelson said at the end of the letter. “I pray that our kindness and compassion will be attractive to them as they visit our city and that it will lead to questions and curiosity about our beliefs. Most of all, I’m praying that those who don’t know Jesus or His grace will meet Him in Amarillo and be changed forever. I hope you will pray with me for these things.”
Nelson said the letter was written in defense of hosting a show that people in the community that people may disagree with.
“So you know, just to be very frank about it, I believe God loves everyone. All of us are broken. So if you profess a certain thing or have a certain opinion, God loves you,” she said. “So for people who interpret that letter as saying that Jesus didn’t love you, or this particular choice that someone has made keeps you from being able to be saved in God’s eyes, that letter never said that. I don’t believe that and I grieve that someone could have interpreted it that way.”
Nelson said at the time that she aimed at announcing her intention to not run for re-election early to give other individuals the chance to start their campaigns for the position.
“If you think you might be interested, if you think you’re the best person for the city, for the job, then everybody would have a chance to begin putting a campaign together,” Nelson said at the time. “And I think that’s good for voters. I think that gives voters more time to think about the issues that they think are going to be important in the upcoming mayoral campaign.”
In late December, Amarillo City Councilmember Eddy Sauer announced in a Facebook post that he would not be seeking a fourth term on the City Council. According to previous reports, some of the highlights Sauer cited during his time on the Amarillo City Council included the addition of Hodgetown, the I-27 designation for the Ports to Plains project and the addition of businesses like the Amazon Fulfillment Center and Cacique Foods.
Amarillo voters will be able to have the chance to make their voices heard in regard to the Amarillo Mayor position as well as the seats on the Amarillo City Council in the May 2023 election.