The following are the unedited responses from Tom Warren II, candidate for Amarillo City Council Place 3. Warren is facing incumbent Eddy Sauer and challenger Brad Torch in the May 4th general election.
Tom Warren II
What is your educational background? Please list any degrees earned, and institutions attended. You may also list any professional certifications.
Attended Amarillo Independent School District Schools (Bivins Elementary School, Austin Middle School, Tascosa High School)
Studied Business Administration at Amarillo College and West Texas A&M University
What is your occupation?
International businessman; Owner of Tom Warren Vintage Trucks
What is your age?
How many years have you lived in Amarillo?
Would you support raising taxes to pay for basic infrastructure improvements? Why or why not?
No. In many cases, the issue with paying for infrastructure improvements is not a lack of money, it is mismanagement of money. Every successful businessperson will tell you that you cannot spend your whole yearly budget in a week and expect to be able to operate efficiently.
Amarillo must be proactive about ensuring that tax dollars for infrastructure items like public safety, streets, and utilities remain intact in ways that actually show tangible results for taxpayers. Increasing overhead budget at the top may still allow politicians to claim they increased budgets, but it does nothing for the average taxpayer other than raise their bill.
Do you support repairing or rebuilding the Thompson Park pool, and if so, how do you plan to pay for the project? If not, why?
I support rebuilding the Thompson Park pool. At a time when our politicians are giving the city manager's office a major budget increase, there is no excuse for an inability to even consider paying for repairs to this important community asset.
I would be interested in taking a look at funding this project through the special revenues item in the municipal budget. This item has been described as "petty cash" by city officials before, so with a multi-million dollar cash flow, this item should be the first considered when looking at repairing the pool.
Do you support the current City Council's decision to change the regular meeting times to 1PM? If so, why? If not, what would be a better time to hold the meetings?
No. I have attended City Council meetings at all times throughout the day during the years I have been attending, but not all citizens have a schedule that is flexible. We need to look at moving the meeting to a time in the evening when citizens can easily attend and even consider holding meetings in rotating public locations on occasion.
Do you believe current petitioning requirements are too strict for citizens looking to place an item on the ballot? If so, what would be a better threshold?
As someone who has been involved with petitioning efforts, I can absolutely tell you that the petitioning requirements are too strict. Amarillo should greatly reduce the threshold for both ballot initiatives and recall initiatives to allow citizens to have an opportunity to play a more proactive role in their government.
As far as a new threshold, I would be interested in considering moving the threshold back to the pre-2013 petitioning requirement threshold, which was more obtainable. This threshold had a track record of actually being achievable for citizens, with several items placed on the 2011 ballot.
Do you believe more City Council oversight is needed for municipal departments? Why or why not?
The City Council's role is not to micromanage city departments, but rather to give direction for the municipal organization. Council members cannot fire or hire city staff other than the city manager.
What I will say is that I believe the City Council should be more proactive in managing and assessing the results of the city manager's performance based on the Council's goals for the direction of the city.
What should the future be for the Civic Center complex?
In 1984, the 'New York Times' described our facility as "modern." How long has it been since we've heard that?
If the citizens of Amarillo are serious about renovating and expanding the Amarillo Civic Center, then we must be deliberate about our plans to do so. As an elected official, it would be my duty to properly manage the tax dollars of the city in a responsible, accountable manner. I could not in good conscience sign on to approve an expansion of the facility that would do nothing more than put lipstick on a pig, while handing our taxpayers a bill for several million dollars.
We must reject renovation proposals like those from the 2016 bond which included nothing more than a facade improvement, small expansions of non-auditorium/coliseum facilities, and the addition of a kitchen. Any real renovation project would have to include work on the Auditorium and the Coliseum, with an expansion in the number of seats. Amarillo also needs an "ultimate arena" similar to the United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, but that is a project for which I would be interested in entertaining a partnership to reduce costs of the project and increase impact for local taxpayers.
Since 2017, major musical acts like Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton, Metallica, Thomas Rhett, and Chris Young have played concerts in Lubbock. Meanwhile, multiple artists have passed Amarillo to perform at venues in other cities. How can Amarillo attract major concerts, such as these, as well as conventions, and other major events?
This was mentioned in my answer above. I actually have been to Lubbock's United Supermarkets Arena twice - once in 2015 and once last year. The thing that struck me about the project is how, according to news articles, part of the project was funded by private dollars donated to Texas Tech University. If we were to consider an "ultimate arena," we would have to make sure it could be done in a responsible, cost effective manner. This is not a project for which I would support certificates of obligation or new debt.
In 2017, the Amarillo City Council voted to increase fees for citizens seeking to obtain public information. Would you have supported this vote? If you were a member of the Council at the time of the vote, how did you vote on this item and why?
I would have absolutely opposed this vote. I have to give kudos to Councilmember Hays for voting against this item, but I have to wonder what the rest of the City Council was thinking. Essentially making more restrictions for citizens who want to access public information is not a way to foster transparency at City Hall. Citizens should ALWAYS have as much access as possible to the inner workings of their local government. As taxpayers, they pay the bills, after all.
Would you support moving Amarillo's City Council election dates to November of even-numbered years? Please explain.
I am the first candidate to bring this conversation to the table and absolutely support this issue.
First, moving our election dates to November would increase turnout substantially. Imagine if instead of 2017 and 2019, our elections were held in November 2016 and November 2018. Those elections would have seen record turnout for local elections in Amarillo and would give more taxpayers a say on what happens in their local government. It may also increase interest from prospective candidates who want to see a change in their local government.
Secondly, if we moved our elections, it would allow Amarillo to partner with the counties to ensure local voters choose their entire executive local government at one time.
Finally, moving our elections will allow us to make a better use of tax dollars spent on holding elections. Right now, Amarillo partners with several local entities to pay for our elections through the counties, but we have to take on the biggest burden of the election bill. Moving our elections would allow us to utilize a greater impact of the tax dollars we spend paying for our local elections.
The Amarillo City Council made national headlines in 2018, when a citizen was arrested after clapping in a public meeting. What are your thoughts on this incident, and do you believe the ensuing events were an overreach of the City Council's authority?
Simply put, the citizen in question should not have been arrested and the Amarillo City Council should have immediately apologized. Their irresponsible actions opened our local government up to new liabilities and we are lucky that our taxpayers are not having to pay the costs of defending these unconstitutional actions in a court of law.
How would you ensure all citizens have an equal chance to serve on a municipal board, regardless of their political connections?
I have served on non-profit boards for over twenty years. I have served on the Brumley Foundation Board of Directors and the Maverick Boys and Girls Club Board of Directors, just to name a few. My wife has served with Martha's Home and Yellow City Community Outreach. My son was on the board of the Amarillo Public Library. My family is well aware of boards and how they work.
Our citizens should always have the ability to serve in local government and provide their input through boards. However, when nearly a quarter of our recent board appointments made by the City Council have gone to campaign donors, you know we have a problem.
I would be interested in seeing our board appointment process reformed, with a possible amendment to the Amarillo City Council rules of decorum barring members from voting to appoint any campaign donor to a municipal board.
Would you support establishing a "no-kill" animal shelter in Amarillo? Why or why not?
In 2017, I was the only City Council candidate to talk about establishing a "no-kill" animal shelter, meaning a shelter with a real euthanasia rate of less than 10 percent. This has not only been called a sustainable model by Amarillo's city manager, but it has also been shown by other cities to be an affordable, cost effective method of managing an animal shelter.
Do you support the City of Amarillo's curbside cart program? Why or why not?
I am probably one of the only candidates running for the Amarillo City Council today who actually has a trash cart. In my experience, the wind has done damage to the cart and on severely windy days, some trash carts have gone missing on my street.
In saying all of this, I believe it is important to note that I do believe Amarillo is experiencing a trash crisis. However, I do not believe that the carts are the catalyst of the problem, but rather just a symptom of the overall issue. This does not mean that I support the trash carts, but I do believe the trash cart policy could be reformed in an effective manner for all citizens and taxpayers. I would suggest trashing the required payment for moving trash carts, and I would support allowing citizens to freely obtain additional trash carts. I would also support putting the dumpsters back on city blocks that would like their dumpsters back. I can tell you that I am sure my block would be one of the first in line to get our dumpsters back.
In looking at solving the overall trash crisis, first and foremost, Amarillo must start dumping trash again and picking up bulk trash items out of the alley. Secondly, we should create trash pickup sites at chipping sites in our community. Finally, we should accept and truly consider community input on how to solve this issue and actually get rid of the trash problems plaguing our community. The citizens of Amarillo have good ideas, but it's time for our local government to stop talking and start listening when figuring out how to tackle an issue like the trash.
What should the City of Amarillo's role be in preventing homelessness in Amarillo? How do you plan to implement that role?
The City of Amarillo's role should be getting out of the way to allow individuals and organizations in the private sector tackle these issues. We have many great organizations that are being suffocated by additional fees, regulations, and discrimination. Let's allow the citizens to do what they do best and offer a hand-up to those experiencing homelessness in Amarillo.
The City Council recently voted to purchase a warehouse on Johnson Street for storage of Civic Center items. The purchase attracted controversy due to an alleged conflict of interest in the deal. Do you believe this purchase was a wise investment by the City of Amarillo? Please explain.
The price tag alone would have been a concern for me. The alleged conflict of interest would be just a cherry on top of the already troubling situation. I would not have voted at that cost to purchase the Johnson Street warehouse.
Would you support reforming the Amarillo municipal court?
Yes. Those who are unfamiliar with the issues facing the municipal court should take a look at Jeff Blackburn's 2016 lawsuit.
The most obvious reform I would support is making the municipal judge an elected position, much like the way Lubbock or El Paso selects their municipal judge. There are other reforms that are needed, but I would like to consult the experts before making any real decisions.
In what cases would you support the issue of certificates of obligation to incur debt for municipal projects? Please explain.
Never. All issuances of debt should be approved by voters. End of story.
Should any future municipally owned parking garages be constructed in the vicinity of City Hall and the Civic Center? Why or why not?
No. The current parking garage has already been a bust cash-flow wise, so additional parking garages make no sense to me. I would support leaving the existing surface level spaces alone, especially as removal of surface level spaces could jeopardize our already bleak prospects of recouping any revenue to pay the debt service on the ballpark.
How would you ensure public meetings allow maximum public engagement? Please explain.
Start recording of public comment again, restore pre-2016 public comment rules, remove the velvet ropes at City Council meetings, and record additional meetings such as budget discussions.
In your view, if a tax bill for a single piece of property increases from the previous year, while the tax rate remains the same, does this constitute a tax increase? Please explain.
Yes. An "effective tax increase" is still a tax increase no matter what the politicians say. I do not support generally raising taxes with no real plan for the additional funds, "effective" or otherwise.
In 2017, the City Council discussed cutting budgets for three libraries in Amarillo, while leaving the budget intact for the Downtown Library and the Southwest Library. Would you support cutting the budget for the local library system to allocate those funds for other projects? Please explain.
Absolutely not. Our libraries must have robust budgets to ensure that another valuable public resource is not lost. Citizens from all over Amarillo depending on the Amarillo Public Library. We cannot cut the budget, and we most certainly should never consider cutting the budget for libraries in the north and east areas of town, while leaving library budgets intact in the southwest part of town. Even considering those types of politically-motivated cuts smacks of discrimination and mismanagement by the City Council.
In 2018, the Amarillo City Council voted to add more red light cameras to Amarillo streets. At a time when Governor Abbott is pledging to ban the use of the cameras in the state, do you believe this contract was a wise investment? Why or why not?
No. I would not have voted for this project and believe red light cameras are a waste of taxpayer dollars. Studies have shown that the vast majority of cases stemming from red light camera tickets that go to trial in Amarillo are eventually thrown out. This means that taxpayers pay the bills for prosecuting cases on tickets for which we statistically are more likely to lose than win. It is also worth pointing out that out of all the citations issued, only about 25 percent are ever actually issued and accepted. That's a horrible rate, considering what our contractual service fees cost taxpayers every year.
As someone who has been involved in business and non-profit organizations for over twenty years, I have learned a thing or two about investments. Simply put, this wasn't just a bad investment, this was a horrible investment by the City Council.
Do you believe the City of Amarillo has neglected certain areas of Amarillo? Please explain.
Yes. Take a look at the infrastructure in North Amarillo then take a look at the infrastructure in Southwest Amarillo. You will easily see a problem.
My businesses are based out of east Amarillo, just across the railroad tracks from the heart of the Barrio neighborhood. I have seen how beautiful the Barrio neighborhood is and actually commented the same thing when recently driving through the North Heights. These two neighborhoods are rich in culture, heritage, and history, but are mostly ignored by our City Council until election time.
If I am elected, I promise that I will look out for all neighborhoods in Amarillo and will promote economic development in every quadrant of the city. Regardless of whether you live in the North Heights, the Barrio, the Colonies, Puckett, Wolflin, San Jacinto, or somewhere else, you deserve good infrastructure, good representation, and good economic development. I will work to make sure that no matter where you live, you will always have somebody at City Hall who understands and responds to your concerns and ideas. Our elected officials are supposed to work for the taxpayers. It's time we have elected officials who start acting like it.
How would you propose attracting new business to Amarillo, if elected?
Local government cannot create new jobs, but can foster an economic environment that is favorable for the creation of jobs. Our elected officials must work to make sure that every action taken improves our economic climate and makes major businesses and corporations take Amarillo seriously when it comes time to think about a new home for their employees.
Would you support the establishment of single-member districts for Amarillo City Council elections? Please explain.
Absolutely. Potter and Randall Counties have single-member districts and it has worked out great for those two bodies. I would support expanding the City Council to six members elected to single districts and a mayor elected at-large. This would allow citizens in all quadrants of the city to have a direct, accountable representative for issues facing their communities.
In 2017, several current members of the Amarillo City Council promised to increase civility and "change the tone" at City Hall. Do you believe City Council meetings are more civil today than prior to this City Council's time in office? Please explain.
Watch meetings of the Amarillo City Council in 2016, then watch the City Council meetings in 2018. You will see different styles, but neither have worked.
Our local government must always prioritize the citizens of Amarillo first. One member of the City Council driving discontent among other members does not work when trying to run a city. Likewise, five members approving ill-conceived policies without any real discussion, then shaming citizens who disagree also does not work when trying to run a city.
So what can we do to make sure we get a robust discussion on public issues, while ensuring that our methods of approving policy don't devolve into chaos or a rubber-stamping session? It's actually quite simple.
Amarillo should have a local government that is unafraid of tackling the real issues facing the community. Amarillo should have a local government that puts citizens first and political agendas last. And finally, Amarillo should have a local government that is willing to disagree, but at the end of the day, comes together to move community forward for the good of everyone who lives here.
What letter grade would you give the Amarillo City Council for its job performance over the past two years? Please explain.
I have to praise Councilwomen Elaine Hays and Freda Powell for speaking up for citizens on some occasions. However, for the most part, I have been disappointed at the lack of real dialogue about issues facing our city. Our city government doesn't have to be dysfunctional, but it at least needs to be communicating about these issues instead of voting 5-0 on most issues then lashing out at citizens who disagree.
What letter grade would you give city manager Jared Miller for his job performance over the past two years? Please explain.
Mr. Miller has been more open with the press than other members of the local government, which earns him a slightly higher grade in my book. But, at the same time, I have seen things that trouble me as far as management of the organization.
Are you supported by Amarillo Matters or any other special interest groups?
No. I was opposing Amarillo Matters before it was cool.
Why should voters choose you on election day?
I was born in Amarillo in 1974. I graduated Tascosa High School in Amarillo in 1992, married the love of my life, Tamara, at the Salvation Army Chapel on South Van Buren in 1994. My son was born here in Amarillo in 1998.
I have been blessed to live my life in Amarillo. This is my hometown. You are my neighbor. We are Amarilloans. I have never wanted to leave Amarillo and, frankly, I never will.
Just last night, I was talking to my son, who is wrapping up his studies at West Texas A&M University. He has always had an interest in law school, but he told me he's not going anywhere. I asked him why and he answered succinctly, "because Amarillo is my hometown."
That phrase sums up the story of my life. I have spent years working with each and every one of you. I have been blessed to be a mentor through the Boy Scouts of America. I have been blessed to give back through organizations like the Brumley Foundation. I have been blessed to share my passion with you when founding the Amarillo Historical Museum.
My family came here to Amarillo 125 years ago. I still live in the family house that my great-grandfather built when they came to the Panhandle. Amarillo is more than just a city to me. It really is a part of me.
If you vote for me, I can't promise you that I will get everything right. I can't promise you that we're always going to agree, and I can't promise you that we are going to get everything done. But, what I can promise you is that I will always work for you. At the end of the day, when we walk away from City Hall, we have to remember that we are all neighbors. It's time for our elected officials to start seeing the residents of Amarillo not as numbers or nuisances but rather as friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors.
If I have the privilege and honor to represent you on the Amarillo City Council, I will put my decades of experience in international business, non-profits and management to work for you. I will always be a pragmatic voice for the citizens and will tackle every issue with a fiscally-responsible, community-minded approach. I will never lie to you about where your tax dollars are being spent, and will always do everything with the goal in mind of moving our city forward for every single person who lives here.
I would be honored to earn you vote on election day, but most of all, I hope to earn your friendship over this election. At the end of the day, whether we agree or disagree, we are all neighbors and we are all Amarilloans. That's what really counts.
My name is Tom Warren II and I would be honored and humbled to earn your confidence and vote this May 4th.