(Cross posted on minds.com, @AmarilloExposed)
For those that missed last Tuesday's City Council Meeting, you really should take a look at the video. Skip past the work session to the opening of the regular meeting. Pay careful attention just past the invocation and the pledge of allegiance. You'll see and hear City Councilman Howard Smith fawning like a smitten teenager over Mayor Ginger Nelson. So much for independence. This video should be exhibit 1 the next time single-member districts are put before the voters. What an embarrassment.
(Cross-published on Minds.com, @AmarilloExposed)
The week after Amarillo Globe News publisher Les Simpson announced his sudden and nearly immediate resignation, a sign appeared on an electronic billboard visible from westbound I-40 in Amarillo just past Bell Road. The sign simply said "Goodbye Les!"
Rumors have swirled that Simpson's clock was ticking from the time Gatehouse Media purchased the AGN from Morris Communications. According to one rumor floating around the media world in Amarillo, a female executive who held particular animus towards Simpson, had left Morris Communications and gone to work for Gatehouse prior to the sale. Simpson's days were numbered from the time the sale was completed, according to the rumor.
Former Councilmember and founder and co-owner of the company which owns the sign on !-40 which contained the parting farewell, Randy Burkett, apparently was pleased to see Simpson go. It seems he's not the only one.
Simpson used his newspaper to carry water for downtown development for years, while actively keeping key facts from his readers. Long-time AGN columnist Jon Mark Beilue even wrote a column celebrating Simpson's myriad conflicts of interest regarding downtown development in a farewell column. Obviously, unethical behavior was something to be celebrated at the AGN. Despite his serving the monied downtown interests, it does not appear as though Simpson was afforded a soft landing like other key players in the ongoing shenanigans,. Former City Attorney and current candidate for 320th District Judge Marcus Norris landed a nice position at Underwood Law Firm.
Simpson, on the other hand, appears to have few friends. Despite the fact that he had also used his newspaper to cover up for a multitude of questionable activities at Amarillo College (to be detailed in future articles), Simpson apparently doesn't even have a friend at AC.
Even though Simpson had covered for the dubious process in which Russell Lowery-Hart was named a replacement to outgoing president Paul Matney, it appears Simpson's penchant for making enemies caught up with him.
According to an anonymous source, who's name is being withheld out of fear of retaliation, after Simpson "resigned" from the newspaper, he went to Lowery-Hart to ask for a job. According to the source, Lowery-Hart stated that he made Simpson wait outside his office for 45 minutes just to watch him squirm before telling him there were no positions available.
That's the only conclusion that can be drawn from an article that was recently published in the Amarillo Pioneer. That article can be read here.
If the reporting in the Amarillo Pioneer is correct (and there is no reason to doubt it), this continues a pattern of deceit, threats, secrecy, misinformation, outright lies, intentional violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act and other actions to conceal and hide information from the public the misuse of taxpayer dollars. The most recent reporting is consistent with the pattern that began with the first inkling of downtown development and continues to this day.
On January 23rd, 2018, the Amarillo City Council voted on awarding a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone rebate to Dubs Development LLC. The vote raises a number of concerns. This article will focus on one.
The vote was 4-0. Council member Sauer recused himself. By recusal, Sauer was admitting to a conflict of interest, ie he stood to gain some benefit from the vote.
Amarillo City charter Article V, Section 4, Subsection (b) states, " The Mayor, Councilmembers and other officers and employees shall not be indebted to the City; shall not hold any other public office of emolument and shall not be interested in the profits or emolument of any contracts, job, work or service for the municipality, or interested in the sale to the City of any supplies, equipment, material or articles purchased. "
Furthermore, Article V, Section 4, Subsection (e) states, " Any violation of this section shall be a misdemeanor, and on conviction of such violation, such office or employment shall be forfeited. "
By his own admission (recusal) Council member Sauer stands to gain from this action. The City charter specifically forbids anyone who stands to gain from a contract (TIRZ agreeemnt) with the City from holding office and any such person is guilty of a misdemeanor.
The requisite elements that must be established to demonstrate the formation of a legally binding contract are (1) offer; (2) acceptance; (3) consideration; (4) mutuality of obligation; (5) competency and capacity; and, in certain circumstances, (6) a written instrument.
Amarillo's very own Richard Ware was recently featured in American Banker magazine.
The article begins as follows:
You could say Richard Ware took up banking at a very early age.
Ware was a fifth-grader at Wolflin Elementary in Amarillo, Texas, when he started making lunch-money loans to classmates. Lunch cost a quarter at that time, and Ware expected his borrowers to pay him back with a nickel in interest the next day. He reckons he made about $2 before the principal shut the operation down.
"I guess he thought it was usury or something," Ware said.
No, Richard. He didn't think it was usury. He thought it was immoral that the child of a wealthy banker would take advantage of kids who couldn't even afford to eat.
This anecdote is very telling about not only Richard Ware, but also about banking in general.
Richard Ware apparently sees nothing wrong with taking advantage of the poor. He obviously has not learned a thing in the intervening 5 or 5 decades. In fact, not only did he attempt to take advantage of his poor classmates (which his principal put a stop to, but not his parents), he is now laughing at his own disgusting behavior and making the poor kids the foils of his story. He has victimized them for a second time.
In the broader context, the fact that the author and editors of this story felt that this story is illustrative of a budding future successful banker says everything about what you need to know about the banking industry's attitude in general. Screwing over poor children who can't even afford to eat is considered "banking" by American Banker magazine. Absolutely disgusting.
This is the perfect lead-in to investigations on the current state of Amarillo and the so-called down-town development. Stay tuned.
Tuesday's City Council agenda contains the following:
B. City Council may convene in Executive Session to receive reports on or discuss any of the following pending projects or matters: (1) Section 551.074 - Discuss the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, and qualifications of a public officer or employee, in accordance with the Texas Open Meetings Act. (a) Discussion regarding Municipal Court Judge.
This agenda item appears once every two years. Sonya Letson joined the municipal court in 2008, according to published reports. She has been re-appointed every two years since 2009. In 2013, she became presiding judge.
All of Judge Letson's previous experience has been as a prosecutor. According to publicized accounts, Sonya Letson began her career in 1986 at the Potter County Attorney's office, eventually serving three terms as Potter County Attorney's office. She retired in 2004, and endorsed her protege, Scott Brumley, who became her successor and remains in that position.
Ms. Letson then spent 3 years in the 47th District Attorney's office under Randall Sims, before becoming a municipal court judge.
The incestuous relationship between the Letson family and the Potter County attorney's office was solidified when Ms. Letson's husband, Tad Fowler, was named to replace long-time Potter County Attorney's office second in command, Dave Kemp. Dave Kemp departed after his little-publicized retirement announcement in 2016.
Combine the aforementioned incestuous relationship with Ms. Letson's sole prior experience coming as a career prosecutor with the fact that Amarillo's Municipal Court adjoins the Amarillo Police Department Headquarters, and you have the makings of a civil rights nightmare.
Indeed, the Amarillo Municipal Court (and other local courts, but that is for a novel at another time) has apparently become a civil rights free zone.
Early this year, a bailiff from the Municipal Court was dispatched to make threats against this publication. Those threats are detailed elsewhere on this web site. The City has refused to investigate those threats.
This was not the first time the Amarillo Municipal Court violated this author's rights. The Court violated it's own publicly stated policies on at least three occasions in reporting me as guilty of traffic violations that resulted from the APD's refusal to investigate reported criminal activity. (Again, the whole story would fill a novel. ) The end result was thousands of dollars in fines and damages. As per usual, the City Council refused to address the issue and re-appointed Ms. Letson.
As bad as my experience, was there have been worse. The Amarillo Municipal Court was accused of running a debtors prison, according to a lawsuit that was dismissed last year.
But, by far, the worst violation of civil rights was told by a citizen who will remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. According to the source, his wife was in a deteriorating mental condition. She would leave the home for long periods of time. At the times she returned home, it was constant chaos. Their children began to suffer. Eventually they became estranged, primarily for the benefit of the children.
The mentally ill wife had a number of outstanding traffic tickets. A warrant was issued. The estranged husband was concerned for his wife well-being should she be arrested and jailed. He was aware that the mentally ill were not given proper treatment in local jails.
The husband took it upon himself to go to the Municipal Court to explain the situation. ASTOUNDINGLY, after he explained the situation to the judge, the judge (Sonya Letson according to the source) ordered the bailiff to place the husband in a locked room until she could determine what course of action to take. The husband was rightfully in a state of panic. He was being detained for tickets that were not his to pay. He still had his cell phone with him, so he called his father who came and payed the tickets, at which time he was released.
But likely the worst legacy of Ms Letson, is the cesspool that is the Potter County Attorney's office, where she, her protege, and now her husband have been a part of for over 30 years. Much more to come on this topic, including the disastrous indigent defense system Potter County has in place.
This is what happens when you have incestuous relationships between judges, prosecutors; and police and a complicit bar that refuses to report unethical behavior combined with an ethically challenged City Council (the latest in a long series)...Amarillo becomes a civil-rights-free zone for non-politically connected individuals.
Oh, and by the way, Ms. Letson also served on the Tax Increment Reinvestment Board.
The City Council has shown no inclination towards changing business as usual. Don't expect any changes come Tuesday.
In an article in today's Amarillo Globe News, Mayor Ginger Nelson admitted that the event that was presented as a "State of the City Address" was paid for, at least in part, using campaign funds . The Mayor had previously claimed that the event has cost taxpayers nothing. It would appear that the Mayor has confirmed that this was, by definition, a campaign event..
From the Texas Ethics Commissions Campaign Finance Guide for Candidates and Officeholders Who File With Local Filing Authorities: A campaign expenditure is a payment or an agreement to make a payment in connection with a campaign for an elective office.
In plain English, campaign expenses are for use for elections of campaigns only. The Mayor can't use campaign funds for anything other than a campaign expenditure..
Ms. Nelson utilized City employees and City resources for her campaign event, including the event itself as well as the video presented during the event. City Council members and Amarillo National Bank employee/State Representative Four Price also appeared in the video and were present at the event.
Despite the revelations in the article, the official propaganda arm of/apologist for the political bosses of Amarillo did not mention anything about the laws that govern the participation of City employees in/use of City resources for campaign purposes.
A quick Google search reveals the following from the Texas Ethics Commission:
(3) When viewed as a whole and in the proper context: (A) is informational rather than self promotional; (B) does not advocate passage or defeat of a measure; and (C) does not support or oppose a candidate for nomination or election to a public office or office of political party, a political party, or a public officer.
The video that accompanied the address clearly appeared to be in support of the current slate of candidates. Regardless, the Mayor's admission that campaign funds were used is all the proof one needs to conclude the event was self-promotional.
The guidance from the TEC further states:
The prohibition applies to any “officer or employee of a political subdivision.” In other words, if an officer or employee of a political subdivision makes a decision to use political subdivision resources in violation of the prohibition, the employee could be fined by the Ethics Commission or held criminally liable. Ì The prohibition applies to “spending or authorizing the spending of public funds” for political advertising. Not only does this mean that the political subdivision may not purchase or authorize the purchase of new materials for use in creating political advertising, it also means that an officer or employee of a political subdivision would violate the prohibition by using existing paper and machinery to generate, display, or distribute political advertising. Also, it is not permissible to use or authorize the use of the paid time of an employee of a political subdivision to create or distribute political advertising. Ì The prohibition does not apply to “a communication that factually describes the purposes” of a measure election. In other words, it is permissible to use the resources of a political subdivision to produce explanatory material about what is at stake in a measure election. Violations of the law often occur, however, because someone finds it irresistible to wrap up a factual explanation with a motivational slogan such as: IT PAYS TO INVEST IN THE FUTURE. or IT’S TIME TO MOVE AHEAD.
As repeatedly noted, this event was at least partially paid for by a campaign. Therefore, it appears that any employee that participated on paid time (such as distributing tickets, appearing in the video, staffing the event, etc) was violating the law and any City resources that were used were used in violation of the law.
Clearly, we have a Mayor and City Council who have no trouble violating ethics laws. So much for the claim by Amarillo Matters that they would only support ethical candidates.
This appears to be an ongoing and continuing problem. It has a long history in this town, and it appears to be getting even worse with the current slate of officeholders. According to one political insider who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, "Elected office in Amarillo has become a business opportunity rather than a service responsibility." If he/she only knew the half of it.
According to news reports, a teen was killed early this morning in a one-vehicle accident in which speed may have been a factor. According to reports, another teen had life-threatening injuries. Three others were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
This accident comes just months after a local residents was repeatedly rebuffed by the Potter County Sheriff's office and Potter County Commissioner Leon Church when he implored them to take further action to address the pervasive problem of speeding in this VERY neighborhood.
When the citizen suggested speed bumps, Commissioner Church cut off communication, demeaned the resident, and copied the Sheriff's office in an apparent attempt to intimidate the citizen into silence.
(The article is second on the page.)
Or maybe your landlord has been particularly accommodating? Amarillo Exposed wants to hear from you!
Are you barred by your lease from posting negative comments on social media?
Are you at a loss as to where to turn for help in Amarillo?
Have you been treated poorly and or illegally by your landlord, past or present?
Good or bad, we want to hear from you.
Amarillo Exposed is compiling information on local landlords. One of the biggest landlords in the Amarillo/Canyon area is Llano Estacado Management Co, formerly known as Capital Income Properties. Regardless of whether your landlord is a big time operator like LEMC/CIP or a smaller one man operation, we want to hear from you. Identities will not be revealed. Use the contact form on the home page to submit your information.
I was not alone mistaking the "State of The City" address as a campaign event. Andy Justus thought so as well. In fact, his coverage of the event came in an "Election Coverage" segment. See it for yourself here, here and here.
The event was organized by Nobox Creative, PR company that did the PR work for both Mayor Nelson and Council Woman Elaine Hays. The event was announced on Mayor Nelson's Facebook page, not by a press release from the City where one would expect a City event to be announced. The event was also live-streamed, not by the City, but on the Mayor's Facebook page.
The Mayor's announcement included the following:
We extend a heartfelt thank you to the following local banks who are hosting this event at no expense to attendees or to the City. They are the foundational grid that supports the dreams and successes of Amarilloans.
Aim Bank | Amarillo National Bank | Citizen's Bank | FirstBank Southwest | First United Bank | First Capital Bank | Happy State Bank | Herring Bank | Interstate Bank
According to one attendee and video coverage of the event, many of those in attendance were business people in suits and dress clothes, which is to be expected at an event scheduled at a time and place that would exclude the vast majority of residents.
Another attendee described the event as costing someone a LOT with a huge breakfast and very professional with tv people, lighting, makeup, you name it. This attendee also described a couple of "extreme VIP tables".
In addition the Mayor fails to mention that she is a Board member of one of the sponsors, Happy State Bank. Fellow HSB Board member and former Mayor Trent Sisemore was also a participant at the event, as well as a number of other local and State politicians. It seems the only people excluded were the citizens.
As far as the Mayor's claim that the City went to no expense, that is complete and utter.......(insert word that describes the substance that gives rise to the smells that will be wafting over the MPEV on warm muggy nights). City staff participated in the event, staffed the event, answered phones, passed tickets that contained the City's logo.
Whatever this event was (and I remind you, Andy Justus thinks it was an election event) it was not an event on behalf of the citizens of Amarillo even though City resources were used for the event, despite the Mayor's claims to the contrary.
To be continued........
An unnamed source has confirmed many of my suspicions about the WT Enterprise Challenge. According to this source (name withheld out of fear of retaliation), one local business was awarded $100,000 after the owner won the support of a prominent local banker. He was a unanimous choice for the award. The owners promptly took a trip to Cancun and never used the money for its stated purpose. The source tells me that it's likely the recipient never really intended to use the funds as he stated in his presentation. Instead, the money was used to travel for other more lucrative "business opportunities".
It appears at first glance that the business may not have come close to the 75 percent requirement. More investigation is needed.
This is just one example that jumped out at me as I was perusing previous winners looking for information on Nobox (see story below). I'm not naming names......yet.
To be continued....
Below is the text of a letter sent today:
October 5, 2017
Potter County Attorney
500 S Fillmore
Amarillo, TX 79101
Dear Mr. Brumley,
I am writing to you at the urging of the Texas Attorney General's office (copy of letter enclosed) to file a criminal complaint against the City of Amarillo, et al, for suspected intentional violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act and any other associated violations.
The AG's office encouraged me to file the criminal complaint after I shared copies of two articles (copies enclosed) I posted on my web site, www.amarilloexposed.com. I also submitted supporting documents to the AG's office. For copies of those supporting documents, you may contact the AG's office.
Also as laid out by the AG's office, I reserve my right to civil remedies against the City of Amarillo.
Please keep me apprised of developments regarding your investigation. It goes without saying that I would expect you to ask for an outside INDEPENDENT investigation if you or anyone in your office have any conflicts with those involved in committing any crimes or any conflicts with the complainant. I am still awaiting an update on the investigation into the threats initiated by Amarillo College against me and an associate after we revealed questionable activities at Amarillo College.
It appears someone has been reading my articles despite the fact that they refuse to answer my questions. Their chosen method of response to to go to the wholly co-opted Globe News to get their state approved messages out to the public.
The most recent example is the coverage of the Mayor's "State of the City" Address. But, as per usual, their attempts to quash any dissent only raises more questions than it answers. These are not the brightest bulbs.
In an article posted to the web on the evening of the event, the AGN reveals that the event was organized by a company called Nobox Creative and was paid for by nine area banks. The article makes the claim that no city funds were used for the event.
OK. So how was this a State of the City address when it was not sponsored by the City and the City did not pay for the event and it was held at a time when the majority of residents were unable to attend. The article further states that only 400 people attended. 488 original seats were offered as well as an unknown number of overflow seats.
But guess who was in attendance? Amarillo National Bank employee/State Representative Four Price and State Senator Kel Seliger.
Curiously, Nobox Creative has a history of offering campaign services including City Councilwoman Elaine Hays and none other than Mayor Ginger Nelson. And that's not the only connection to Ms. Nelson.
Nobox Creative was awarded $100,00 from the WT Enterprise Challenge in 2014. The prizes are funded by the AEDC. According to a picture of the check posted on Nobox's web site, the prize was awarded on March 25, 2014. Mayor Nelson served on the AEDC board from December 2010 until December 2016 when she resigned to run for Mayor. As previously reported, Mayor Nelson's time on the Board was marred by an FBI investigation into a transaction involving the Board and one of her business partners.
A review of the client list on Nobox's web site indicates that they also have done work for the Amarillo Area Foundation, the Amarillo Convention and Visitor's Bureau, and other Amarillo institutions and businesses. In fact, the vast majority of their work appears to be for Amarillo clients, at least according to those campaigns featured on the company's web site. The purpose of the Enterprise Challenge is purportedly to bring in outside money. In fact, one of the rules, according to published reports, is that participants must document that 75 percent of their revenue comes from outside Potter and Randall County. There appears to be no follow-up on the amount of outside revenue generated by the businesses AFTER they win the award. A cursory review of other past recipients also seems that some of the awards are given to businesses with dubious records of generating outside revenue.
The AGN article ends with this curious line: "The city did not know exactly how much the state of the city event cost the contributors but said a complete accounting should be available by next week." HUH? If the City was not involved, how would the city know anything about the accounting?
What was the purpose of this event? How much was City Hall involved in planning and promoting the event? The event was organized by the same company that handled the Mayor's campaign. State elected officials attended. Was this a campaign event? If so, why was the City involved in passing out tickets? How much was the Civic Center paid for the event?
Then there are questions about the AEDC and the Enterprise Challenge.
The attempt to quash the Amarillo Exposed's previous story has raised many more questions than it has answered. Questions emailed to Kim May, President of Nobox Creative's president were not immediately received. If a response is received (not expected) the web site will be updated.
(Note: Tellingly, although the AGN had one of their minions attempt to shut me down by claiming no City funds were used for the event, they did not deny that this was an event designed to raise Mayor Nelson's profile in her goal of running for governor. MAYBE this event didn't cost the City any money, but how many trips/other expenditures have been used by Mayor Nelson in her attempts to raiser her profile?)
Mayor Ginger Nelson is planning to address supporters tomorrow morning at a 7:30 breakfast. According to published reports, the Mayor claims to be trying to bring this City together. But the timing of the address brings that claim into question. Most students nor average working persons will be able to attend an event scheduled on a weekday morning.
So what is the intent behind the address? Amarillo Exposed has learned that Mayor Nelson has her sights set on running for governor. This information came from a well-connected source that Amarillo Exposed is not naming for fear of retaliation.
The announced "State of the City" address follows the campaign support by well monied Amarillo Maters which falsely claimed to be a grass roots organizaiont, and a press conference announcing the ballpark deal that was stacked with the Mayor's supporters (previously reported on by Amarillo Exposed). By all appearances, the Mayor is using city funds to boost her profile. No surprise considering the Mayor has also refused to answer questions about her investment in the downtown hotel and her time on the AEDC Board which sparked an FBI investigation.
Despite the Mayor's efforts, it appears most of the citizens of Amarillo are not biting, or cannot attend, which appears to be by design. According to published reports, only 488 seats were available. As of last week, free tickets were still available for the event. As of 2 pm today, overflow seating (consisting of chairs lined against the wall) was still available for tomorrow morning's event.