As the City Council is nearing consideration of the reappointment of municipal court judge Sonya Letson, I have a suggestion for the City.
Amarillo should follow suit with another area city in allowing for direct election of the presiding judge of the City of Amarillo municipal court. In El Paso, the city charter allows for voters to elect the municipal court judge at the same time as the elections for mayor and city council. While some may protest this, it is worth noting that a healthy field of candidates applied in 2017 for the office in El Paso and with the number of attorneys running for Potter and Randall County offices in 2018, a healthy field could be expected for an Amarillo election.
The office of municipal court judge would not be a volunteer role such as the city council. Candidates would not be running for a $10 per week salary, but rather for a full paycheck. As of 2013, Judge Sonya Letson received $133,560 per year. This salary is higher than the salaries of both Potter and Randall counties' judges. Certainly with this salary, many candidates could be expected.
There are real concerns about the impartiality and the functionality of the municipal court. Those are topics for another time, but it is worth pointing out that if residents have major concerns about these issues within the court of about the performance of the presiding judge, that the term limits called "elections" could be a major key in resolving problems.
In her responses to the Amarillo Pioneer candidate questionnaire in April, Councilmember Elaine Hays, when asked about reforming the court, said, "I do not have an opinion on this issue. I would be interested in hearing reasons for or against."
I certainly hope that Councilmember Hays gave her honest opinion to that question. It is time for reforms at the municipal court. And elections are the right place to start.