We all expect voters to have the final say in election questions. A solemn acceptance of the votes cast, win or lose, has been the bedrock of American politics since the inception of the nation—to ignore it would be to deny the very essence of democratic governance and embrace a type of tyranny that elevates an elite few over the masses.
Yet, that’s exactly what the city of Amarillo did recently.
In 2020, Amarillo asked voters to approve a $275 million bond to be used for the renovation of their civic center. However, it was ultimately rejected by almost two-thirds of Amarillo voters. The proposal should have been dead in the water—but a select few schemed to keep it alive.
Shortly after the bond’s defeat, Amarillo’s mayor and city council began devising a way to ignore the voice of the people and go ahead with the project anyway. Denied the bond they were hoping for, they developed a workaround: issuing Tax Anticipation Notes (TANs), a type of public financing tools used to overcome short-term cash-flow issues, with the expectation that, before a payment was ever due, the city would refinance into a traditional long-term loan.
There are so many issues with this move that it’s hard to know where to begin. From ignoring the voice of the people to abusing local public finance to causing people to lose faith in government, Amarillo’s workaround is a wild abuse of power and public funds.
Fortunately, Amarillo residents aren’t taking this issue lying down. Amarillo businessman Alex Fairly brought this to the attention of the House Ways and Means Committee last week and to the attention of the Senate Local Government committee this week. He’s also launched a lawsuit to fight this move by Amarillo.
Fairly’s efforts to combat this massive overreach are on-target. He’s fighting a system that failed him and his fellow residents—and he’s trying to stop a bad practice from spreading. If the city of Amarillo’s bad behavior isn’t checked, you can bet that other cities will take notice and follow suit.
Needless to say, Fairly’s fight is an important one.
Texans deserve local and state governments that listen to us, not ignore our votes and do what they want. It shouldn’t take an expensive lawsuit to get our government to do things the right way—they should be bound by ethics and the law. Texas lawmakers need to patch this hole in financial code next year before it becomes the norm in municipal and city finance. Otherwise, what’s the point of voting?