Tell your Council member better transparency needed on $56-million windfall so Lubbock doesn’t make another mistake

Lubbock’s City Council is about to decide how to use a $56 million-plus windfall from the American Rescue Plan Act. The dollars will be used to stimulate Lubbock’s economy and can fund a broad range of initiatives. During the next Council meeting on the 13th, they will determine how much citizen input they’ll allow as part of the decision-making process.

Please reach out to your Council member before then and say you expect maximum transparency and citizen oversight on how those dollars will be used. For too long, decisions of critical importance to our city have been made behind closed doors and through informal “friends and family” consultations. Lubbock is too important to continue to be governed that way.

Lubbock has seen incredible growth in my lifetime. In just the past ten years, Lubbock has accounted for practically all the population growth of the High Plains region. According to the Texas’ Office of the Comptroller, between 2010-2019 the 41-county High Plains region covering an area about the size of Virginia grew by 32,509 folks. Lubbock’s population increased by 31,452 during that time representing 96 percent of the region’s total.

For better or worse, the fortunes of the High Plains are intimately tied with the success or failure of our metropolitan area.

From the perspective of economics, Lubbock is not just the “hub” of the region, but effectively serves as the Capital of West Texas. For better or worse, the fortunes of the High Plains are intimately tied with the success or failure of our metropolitan area.

Our current mayor refers to Lubbock as the Capital of West Texas in public speeches and if he truly believes that then it’s time for Lubbock’s government to behave like it. Too many times I’ve witnessed Lubbock’s part-time Council bungle through decisions of critical importance with multimillion-dollar taxpayer implications on the line.

A particular City Council meeting from last year sticks out in my mind. The Council included a last-second amendment to a road building program that none of them understood and has resulted in Lubbock citizens being on the hook for millions of dollars of new roads without a say in where they will be located. Even a mid-session 40-minute “bathroom break” recess wasn’t enough time to explain it. When the Council returned, the vote for the amendment began with one of the members lamely seconding, “that vague amendment.”

This can’t continue. The part-timism shoot from the hip approach to these issues has resulted in massive boondoggles and poorly thought out revitalization initiatives. We need to have the $45 million Citizens Tower project serve as the final symbol to that era of largess.

Before becoming Citizens Tower, the Omni building had aged so badly that deadly slabs of marble were falling off its sides. It was a building that should have been condemned and not taxpayer bought for more than $1 million. Its interior was so bad the structure had to be reduced to a concrete and rebar skeleton before renovation. The new floor plans had to accommodate ancient structural engineering so the space feels oddly cramped. The available amount of usable square footage required city departments to pretend they’ll never grow in size in order to say the building was large enough.

Lubbock’s taxpayers shelled out to renovate a derelict building that was known to be too small before the day it opened.

Rather than a built-to-purpose new city hall, Lubbock’s taxpayers shelled out to renovate a derelict building that was known to be too small before the day it opened.

Even when city hall attempts to do what it thinks Lubbock’s citizens want, its poor policy process results in wasteful spending. When Lubbock citizens voted for $20.75 million in bonds for 34th Street in 2009, those dollars could have been used for a lot more than just paving. That’s important because the reason 34th Street continues to experience a decades long decline is because the design of the road and its relationship to the properties along the street are known as design failures.

Officially, Lubbock’s city policy has acknowledged this since 2018 with the adoption of the new land use plan, Plan Lubbock 2040. The document discusses the excess glut of commercial zoning on our older major arteries like 34th Street, and recommends future developed areas of Lubbock abandoning that style for a modern “nodal” design.

Instead of using the bond dollars for right sizing, which would actually result in taxpayers getting a return on their investment because property values would increase from modernization, practically all of it was dumped into repaving the road and some minor alterations of the streetscape like oddly ornate street lights.

The result is a nicer drive on 34th Street, but terrible stewardship of our community’s limited resources for revitalization. Putting everything into just repaving makes a never-ending money pit. The roads will need to be repaved again one day, how bad will the economic decline of 34th Street be by then?

The list of issues caused by a lack of accountability and transparency is long.

The list of issues caused by a lack of accountability and transparency is long. Most Lubbock citizens don’t know they’ve paid for $124 million in new roads through fees on their LP&L bill. A sum of money larger than some bond elections, where citizens get to vote on projects.

For citizens living in the newly built South Lubbock neighborhoods scratching their heads as to why their neighborhoods have no green space or parks, it’s because we’re one of the largest cities in the state without a parkland dedication ordinance.

And now coming to the present, we are right in the middle of another one of these critical decision moments we can’t afford to get wrong.

Lubbock’s Council is about to decide how the $56-million-plus windfall will be used. What’s concerning is rather than setting up a formal and transparent citizen process, like a Blue Ribbon Committee, that would gather information about how to best utilize this windfall, the Council directed city staff to develop wish lists of projects their departments would like to see financed.

Whether these uses would ultimately be appropriate isn’t the issue, it’s about creating accountability in the process. Getting input from “friends and family” and allowing for 3-minute public comments on the day they intend to vote on this isn’t enough.

Please reach out to your Council member before the 13th and say it’s time for city leadership to start acting with the level of accountability and transparency a city like ours demands. If we’re calling ourselves the Capital of West Texas, we need to walk the walk as well.