The following are the unedited responses from Elaine Hays, incumbent running for re-election to Amarillo City Council Place 1. Hays is facing challengers Hayden Pedigo, Richard Herman, and Jay Kirkman in the May 4th general election.
Elaine Hays (Incumbent)
What is your educational background? Please list any degrees earned, and institutions attended. You may also list any professional certifications.
• Master of Science in Finance and Economics from West Texas A&M • BBA in Marketing from Texas Christian University (TCU) • Designation as a Certified Financial Planner from the College for Financial Planning, Denver, CO
What is your occupation?
As a private wealth manager through Hays and Hays Financial Services, I work with individuals to help identify, communicate and achieve their financial goals.
What is your age?
How many years have you lived in Amarillo?
As of this coming May, I will have lived in Amarillo 34 years.
Would you support raising taxes to pay for basic infrastructure improvements? Why or why not?
Any tax increases to pay for infrastructure construction or ongoing maintenance would be determined by voters. My support would be determined by the scope of the needs and the economic impact of not completing needed maintenance or new development.
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?
Based on structural review of Thompson Park pool, the current above ground pool cannot be repaired. The neighborhoods most impacted by closing Thompson Park pool need to be the key drivers of whether to rebuild a new pool or replace it with a different outdoor, water-related facility. All options for how to pay for the project need to be considered, including the possibility of a public/private partnership for raising funds. Currently, there is a movement by citizens to consider options and I plan to be involved.
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?
Various meetings times and locations for City Council work sessions have been implemented over the years. Any time or location is going to be a challenge for some and more accommodating for others. In multiple conversations with citizens over the past several months, the feedback has been that any of the times that have been previously used, including the current 1 pm meeting, would require special work accommodations, which they would be willing to make if they desired to address the council as a group over a particular issue.
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?
I do believe that current petitioning requirements make it more difficult for citizens to place an item on a ballot. I do not have enough information on this item, i.e. comparisons with other cities, to recommend a different threshold.
Do you believe more City Council oversight is needed for municipal departments? Why or why not?
Our current form of local government is City Council, City Manager. It is the city council's responsibility to oversee the city manager, the budget, set policy and cast vision for the community. It is the city manager’s responsibility to oversee the individual departments. However; I have found our current city manager to be very responsive in addressing questions or concerns I have regarding individual departments and included me in discussions whenever requested.
What should the future be for the Civic Center complex?
Our current Civic Center has served us well for 50 years but is not adequate to move us forward in the future. If we as a community want to compete for new trade shows and entertainment opportunities (as well as keeping current users), we must address the inadequacies of our current facility. City Council has appointed an independent, five members executive committee to meet with current users as well as evaluate requirements by new organizers we would like to attract. This process will identify the scope of an appropriate expansion. As one of the Council representatives to this committee, I have attended several days of meetings to gather information and discuss possible opportunities. As more information is gathered, additional community input will be requested and required before moving forward with a design plan that would eventually be presented to voters for approval.
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?
Event organizers have very specific venue requirements based on the individual entertainer. The convention center executive committee is reviewing the list of requirements to determine what scope of project would be appropriate for the community and surrounding area.
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?
During the previous legislative session, the state legislature amended the Texas Public Information Act to allow cities to establish monthly and yearly limits on the time city personnel spend producing public information without recovering at least some of the cost. Although the Amarillo City Council adopted an ordinance that would implement this authorization by the state, as to date, no requestors have been charged for what is identified as an excessive request. I voted against this ordinance. Although I did not anticipate that this would apply to many, if any, requests, my position was that it might discourage individuals that did not understand the ordinance from making requests.
Would you support moving Amarillo's City Council election dates to November of even-numbered years? Please explain.
The advantage for moving City Council dates to November would mean they are included on the ballot with federal elections, hopefully increasing the participation in local elections. The disadvantage would be that interest in local candidates and issues could be lost in the overall discussions when compared to federal 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?
To clarify, a citizen was not arrested for clapping but rather for refusing to comply with a police officer after being requested to leave due to disruption. In general, clapping has been allowed prior to and after this incident when it has been determined not to be an attempt at disrupting a meeting. There have been no ensuing events related to this singular incident. A change to Rules of Decorum was discussed but has not been adopted.
How would you ensure all citizens have an equal chance to serve on a municipal board, regardless of their political connections?
Political affiliation is not information that is gathered on our current application to serve on a municipal board. Experience and education are the two most important criteria for being appointed to one of the city boards, along with willingness to serve.
Would you support establishing a "no-kill" animal shelter in Amarillo? Why or why not?
Until we address some of the underlying issues with animal overpopulation within our community, a “no-kill” animal shelter is not a viable alternative. With the recent resignation of our Animal Management Director, a new director will be reviewing all of our services and making recommendations. Community input during this time will be very valuable in defining the goals for this department.
Do you support the City of Amarillo's curbside cart program? Why or why not?
As one of the customers of the new curbside cart program, I am very pleased with the new system. Living in an older neighborhood that does not have alleys, we placed trash in individual bags curbside. In between pick-up days, I had to choose between leaving trash in my home, walking it out to our detached garage, or placing it in the back of my husband’s truck to avoid animals digging through it. I am now able to place bags right outside my kitchen door inside the cart and move it twice a week curbside. We have had no issues with capacity. Our cart has blown over a couple of times but did not move beyond where it had been placed. For those physically unable to move the carts, the city is providing paid pick up. For those who want to avoid additional fees, the city has arranged with Meals on Wheels to provide assistance. Additional non-profit, volunteer organizations are anticipated to assist as well if the demand supports it.
What should the City of Amarillo's role be in preventing homelessness in Amarillo? How do you plan to implement that role?
We as a community can address how we want to respond to homelessness, but the city cannot prevent homelessness, any more than we can prevent mental illness or alcoholism. We currently have over 30 organizations that provide services for our sheltered and unsheltered homeless community. The city works with these organizations to provide guidelines to address public health and safety issues for them and the rest of our citizens. The city recently implemented the Coming Home program which provides vouchers for housing chronically homeless individuals. The program requires participants to be accountable and provides ongoing supportive care to help with their transition to housing in hopes of a permanent solution. This is a new program but I am very encouraged at the prospect of meeting numerous objectives that we have been unable to achieve through other programs.
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 purchase will provide relief for immediate storage needs but also opportunities for future needs. The city now owns the entire block which makes the previous land acquisitions made by former councils even more valuable.
Would you support reforming the Amarillo municipal court?
I would support enhanced efficiencies, as long as any reform is consistent with state and federal law.
In what cases would you support the issue of certificates of obligation to incur debt for municipal projects? Please explain.
I would consider issuing Certificates of Obligation for smaller projects where debt service is easily covered with our current structure.
Should any future municipally owned parking garages be constructed in the vicinity of City Hall and the Civic Center? Why or why not?
The need for any additional parking facilities will be difficult to determine until we have a history of demand and supply with the implementation of new attractions downtown.
How would you ensure public meetings allow maximum public engagement? Please explain.
The current forum Amarillo City Council is using for public comments is fairly standard across the state and nation. In general, this forum is helpful for highlighting issues of concern to all the council at one time but not for addressing underlying causes or allowing for interaction between council members and citizens. My personal experience is that direct contact through phone calls, meetings, emails, etc. is a highly productive way to communicate with council.
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.
To determine your tax bill, you must take into account both your tax rate and your property valuation. If either of those increases, your overall tax has increased.
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.
There are more needs than funds available in every budget discussion. Setting priorities is a challenge but vital to allocating taxpayer dollars. Every department is evaluated annually, and needs and priorities are determined at that time. Revising budgets for the library system in general or individual locations specifically would be based on city-wide needs and usage at the time.
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?
Adding additional red-light cameras in the city did not require any upfront investment. Fees collected from violations are shared with the operator and the state, and any remaining collections are strictly required to be spent on traffic safety. If the state determines that red light cameras are unconstitutional, the city would implement the exit clause provided in our contract, which simply requires notice.
Do you believe the City of Amarillo has neglected certain areas of Amarillo? Please explain.
While sitting in on a recent neighborhood planning session, I heard a citizen say “For years we have been asking city government to listen to us. Now we have a city council that is listening, so we need to be sure about what we want to ask for.” I am excited about how we are engaging with all neighborhoods across our city to support and assist meeting their needs and vision. Encouraging economic development and providing incentives to private developers, as well as handling much needed infrastructure and outdoor facilities improvements and expansion continues to be a priority as we move forward.
How would you propose attracting new business to Amarillo, if elected?
One of the primary challenges to attracting new business to Amarillo is the ability to provide a skilled workforce. This is a challenge not only for Amarillo but for the entire nation. It is important that we take on the responsibility for developing our own workforce and not expecting new businesses to provide that for themselves. This is one of the reasons why I am a strong supporter of our new Thrive program, providing 2 years of education for all graduates of Amarillo Independent School District (AISD) that meet basic requirements. In addition, continuing to develop trade programs through AISD and Amarillo College (AC) that train workers for jobs in our local area will be important to expand. Coordinating efforts between Buy the Way, Amarillo Economic Development Corp., AISD and AC to effectively hire, train and maintain workers will be important going forward.
Would you support the establishment of single-member districts for Amarillo City Council elections? Please explain.
Prior to our current at-large election process, Amarillo had a “ward” system, which was a form of single-member districts. Amarillo was one of the first cities to pioneer a change due to the issues related to single-member districts. One of the largest complaints of the former system was that it created ongoing divisions as neighborhoods competed with each other for resources. With a single-member district system, you are in effect giving council members that do not represent your specific neighborhood permission to overlook your needs. With an at-large system, every council member and the Mayor must answer to any citizen in the community regardless of where they live, and therefore I believe it is a superior form of local government.
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.
The current council has worked very hard to create a tone of civility. At times, we may disagree on an individual issue; however, we operate with respect toward each other.
What letter grade would you give the Amarillo City Council for its job performance over the past two years? Please explain.
What letter grade would you give city manager Jared Miller for his job performance over the past two years? Please explain.
Are you supported by Amarillo Matters or any other special interest groups?
I have been endorsed by the Amarillo Realtors Association Governmental Board and Amarillo Matters. In the previous election, I was also endorsed by the Amarillo Police Department and hope to regain their endorsement in the current election cycle.
Why should voters choose you on election day?
One of our greatest needs going forward is going to be economic development. To be able to provide services that our community needs is going to require expanding our local economy, attracting new businesses, supporting our local businesses and developing a skilled workforce. My background in finance and economics makes me a key voice in working to enhance our economic opportunities. As one of the leaders of the Buy the Way, Keep It Local campaign, I have applied my understanding of economics and ability to communicate economic principles in engaging our community to support of our local economy. In addition to the past work that has been accomplished, there is much to be done, including engaging businesses more fully in redirecting their purchases to local providers. My understanding of budgets and establishing financial priorities has been vital in helping keep our tax rates at current levels for the past two budgeting sessions. My involvement with the convention center committee allows me an opportunity to apply my financial expertise to developing a project that fits our community. I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to citizens and working to make Amarillo an even better place to live. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to continue the initiatives that I have started and continue to move Amarillo forward. I am asking for your vote, May 4th. Thank you.