Texas city in legal battle over funding for new city hall

Amarillo has been mentioned in songs by a wide range of musical artists, including Nat King Cole and Bob Dylan, and by George Strait, Jason Aldean and Neil Sedaka, among others.

It seems unlikely that an ongoing Amarillo legal battle will ever be the subject of song, though it might find its way into discussions of local geography.

This here, that there

Here’s why: A lawsuit filed by Amarillo (which is the seat of Potter County), was filed in Travis County, and a lawsuit filed in Potter County by an Amarillo businessman will be tried together in the Potter County Courthouse, after a recent ruling by a Travis County judge.

Both lawsuits involve funding for a proposed new Amarillo city hall building. (The current city hall is about a four-minute walk from the Potter County courthouse.)

A local publication reports that one Potter County judge has already recused himself, which makes it likely that a visiting judge will hear the cases. That likelihood was the reason why the city filed its lawsuit in Travis County.

Opposition to certificates of obligation

Regardless, the dispute is over the Amarillo City Council’s plan to move ahead with the construction of a new $35 million city hall, though a civic center project was voted down by city residents last year.

Businessman Craig Gualtiere aims to stop the city from issuing certificates of obligation (CO) a form of long-term debt that local governments can use to pay for local infrastructure without seeking the approval of voters.

Right to vote

In addition to his lawsuit, Gualtiere spearheaded a petition drive to force the project onto the ballot. “This petition is not about being for or against (the city hall project),” he said. “It’s just to have your right to vote on it.”

Last month, Gualtiere delivered his petition with what he said was more than 10,000 voter signatures. He said the city has been “unable to verify the 10,000 signatures,” which he calls a “blatant attempt to ignore” the voters who signed his petition.

The city’s side

The city’s lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment so that it can move ahead and issue legal COs to pay contractors for work on the city hall project.

The city says the proposed civic center that was defeated last year is completely different than this year’s city hall proposal.

City officials say the 55-year-old current city hall has “serious structural and mechanical issues” that must be addressed. They leave open the possibility that the issues could be resolved with a renovation, but that they need the funding to be able to make that determination.