Amarillo is a very unique place. Separated by two counties, in the heart of the Texas Panhandle, the “Yellow City,” as some call it, is home to nearly 200,000 residents on the high plains. With this type of population comes the need for proper representation.
Today, Amarilloans are supposed to be represented by a mayor and four City Councilmembers. It is commonplace across the nation for a mayor to be elected at-large, which makes the four City Councilmembers the relative oddity. All four Councilmembers are elected on an at-large basis, each commissioned to represent all four quadrants of the city as a whole. But, as some have stated in the past, it seems that some neighborhoods are rather neglected by the politicians who tout grand promises. Places like the Barrio and North Heights have gone ignored by many elected officials, with certain areas of town prioritized instead. This has been a recent talking point at Council meetings, with residents stating they feel not every area of Amarillo is being effectively represented. This should bring up the question, is it time to revamp the way Amarillo is represented?
This article is not about Mayor Ginger Nelson or any mayors, for that matter. Mayors across the nation are elected on an at-large basis. The concerns of this article deal more with the four seats on the Council. From documents filed with the city secretary in 2017, and from property appraisal records, it appears three of the four current members of the City Council live in what is considered the Southwest portion of Amarillo, with the traditional quadrant boundaries of Polk Street and the downtown BNSF railroad tracks. One Councilmember lives in what would be considered the Northeast quadrant of Amarillo. This means, as of today, two quadrants have absolutely no representatives on the City Council who reside in those areas. These quadrants pay property taxes just like the rest of the city, but don’t have the privilege of having a local representative. Why is that?
I am not saying in this article that a member of the City Council living in Southwest Amarillo will absolutely not care about those in the other three quadrants. This is quite to the contrary. Because, all four Councilmembers are charged to represent all four quadrants, it seems all four would have that duty. And some past Councilmembers have done so. Within this Council, this duty of representation does not seem to be a priority.
So, is the solution single-member districts? Potter and Randall Counties both operate within single-member districts and seem to have a better grasp on representation for the most part. Some Commissioners seem to treat their seats as more representative of the whole county rather than their areas, but there is no denying in Potter County that North and East Amarillo residents have strong advocates in Commissioners Alphonso Vaughn and Mercy Murguia.
For cities alone, municipalities all over the state currently use the single-member model. This is the case in Lubbock and other major cities all over the state. Cities smaller than Amarillo even use this method to decide their representatives.
Single-member districts have been considered in previous elections, but today, the factors seem right for this type of discussion. Amarillo’s population continues to rapidly expand and citizens continue to raise concerns about proper representation. At this time, single-member districts seem to be a discussion worthy of taking place.
It should also be worth noting that single-member districts would only be effective if the boundaries of the districts were drawn in a proportional, fair manner. For example, if three districts were placed in one section of Amarillo, with one district left for the rest of town, this would not be effective. But, the traditional boundaries I cited above may not be a proper way to divide four seats. It would take long studying to ensure all four districts (or more) would be proportional and representative of neighborhoods throughout Amarillo.
I will not tell residents how to think about single-member one way or the other. However, I will encourage all residents to consider having the discussion about this change and whether it would benefit their respective neighborhoods.
-Thomas Warren III, Editor-in-Chief