Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the red state

Monday, April 27, 2015

Cynicism is justified

I have been looking around the Amarillo Municipal Code. I was trying to figure out if the City Council had a choice in scheduling the city election on May 9 on Mother’s Day Weekend. This arose because of a lot of local buzz that the council had set the election for Mother's Day Weekend to suppress turnout. The idea here is that a low turnout favors the status quo. It is a testament to how cynically a lot of people in Amarillo view their elected officials for the issue to arise this way.

I wanted to see for myself and found part of the code, but it isn’t helpful: “The regular municipal elections of the City of Amarillo shall be held on the date allowed by state law that occurs on or nearest to May 1 in each odd numbered year. If state law provides two election dates which are equally near May 1, the Council shall select one.”

I asked my Facebook friends if someone could point me to the state law that ties in with the city code on this. My friend, Bill McHugh, found the citation in the state election code that has settled the issue: the choice of date was unavoidable. The codestates that elections occur on “the second Saturday in May in an odd-numbered year … .” I don’t know why we need the ordinance in the Municipal Code when the state law is so specific, but there it is.

But I also found something else interesting. The Amarillo City Council has the power to conduct investigations and has subpoena power, the power to compel and power to charge those resisting providing information with contempt. Clickhere to see this part of the ordinance, but I call it to your attention because it provides a basis for one of the first things the new council should undertake.

What is that, you may ask?

It’s to launch two investigations of entities which operate on behalf of the city, the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. and Downtown Amarillo Inc. You might want to argue that these are not “any office or department of the City government,” but don’t forget The Amarillo Independent won a ruling from the Texas Attorney General that would apply here. The ruling the Indy won some years ago forced DAI to behave like a government entity, making it fully subject to the Open Meetings and Public Records acts. The basis was that DAI was funded by the government to carry out a governmental function. The same logic would apply to the AEDC.

Such an investigation might be the only way to learn what has really gone on behind the closed doors at these two entities. The public’s right to know that is long overdue. Given the track record of the City Council, Amarillo Economic Development Corp. and Downtown Amarillo Inc., wanting this investigation is not cynical.