US Rep. Ronny Jackson weighs in on proposed use of COs to fund Amarillo City Hall project

13th Congressional District Rep. Ronny Jackson has weighed in on the proposed use of Certificates of Obligation to fund the renovation or relocation of Amarillo's current City Hall. Jackson let citizens know about a petition that would force city leaders to put the City Hall project up to a vote in a future election.

"Have been visiting with many constituents and Republican leaders in the Amarillo area this week regarding a host of issues. Although a local issue and not really in my lane, many are concerned with the new effort to use “Certificates of Obligation” for a multi-million dollar project that was defeated by the voters in the recent bond election. 

"I am and will always be a believer that the taxpayers should have a voice in how their money is spent. As such, just wanted to make everyone aware that there is a petition to allow the taxpayers to approve or disapprove this project. 

"If you want to sign, the petition signing times at Amarillo GOP HQ (4217 SW 21st Ave) are: Wednesday 21st July from 4-6 pm, Saturday 24th July from 10 am - 1 pm," Jackson posted on one of his Facebook pages.

Certificates of obligation are a form of debt allowed under state law that does not require a vote of the people to pay for projects.

Amarillo business owner Craig Gualtiere started a petition to override the Amarillo City Council’s recent decision to use COs to fund the City Hall project.  Gualtiere has also filed a lawsuit against the city.

“I don’t care if you’re for city hall or against city hall, I just want the taxpayers who are actually going to be writing the check for this thing to actually have a voice in it.

“If in a prior bond election, if any item on that bond fails you cannot use certificates of obligations to fund any portions of what was on the failed bond election for three years.

“If your new area is supposed to go right where your new city hall is it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out city hall was part of ‘Prop A,’ they can wordsmith it however they want.

“So, we need somewhere in the range of 5,711 signatures, if we get those qualified voters it has to go to special election,” Gualtiere said.

Gualtiere currently has around 4500 signatures on the petition. State law says that number must be met within 45 days of the initial filing, which would fall on Aug. 16.

The Amarillo City Council is looking at the options and possibilities for the future of City Hall, which was built in 1966.

“There are several options on the table as far as what our City Hall can be in the future,” said Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson. “What is a certainty is that our City Hall is a 55-year-old building with serious structural and mechanical issues that need to be addressed now rather than later to avoid larger and more expensive problems in the future. We want to have a conversation with the public on where we are and what options are best.”

The Amarillo City Council is looking at a possible move of City Hall to the old Amarillo Hardware building. With a 4-1 vote, council members recently approved the notice of intent to issue certificates of obligation for the $35 million project. Place 1 council member Cole Stanley voted against the issue.

“I have a concern for my city and the way it is moving legally through the issuance of a CO with a project that is so similar to the project that was voted down seven months ago.

“This is a large amount of money and it’s very specific to a certain need. I don’t want to close the conversation that would allow us to just totally ignore all of our other options," Stanley said. 

Amarillo City Manager Jared Miller notes the City Hall project was not actually a part of the Proposition A bond issue voted down by voters in November 2020. Proposition A was a $275 million bond issue that would have funded the expansion and renovation of the Civic Center.

“When we made the presentations, we presented everything that we were planning on doing because we wanted to be able to articulate the total tax impact of everything.

“We didn’t want to go out and say ‘the bond election is going to cost you this many cents’ and then raise the taxes a little bit more for all the other things that had to happen if we were going to do that big project. We went ahead and presented everything, out of an abundance of wanting to make sure everyone knew the full impact of what we were planning on doing.

"It did muddy the water. An attempt at clarity did also create some confusion," Miller said.

Mayor Nelson echoed Miller's comments about the legality of using COs to fund the move of City Hall.

“We were trying so hard to tell taxpayers exactly what the full scope, because what was on the ballot would demolish this City Hall, which meant we would need a second location for City Hall.

“So even though that second location was not part of what was on the ballot, it was the next logical step that if the ballot passed, we knew we needed that second location," Nelson said.