By John Kanelis
Valentine's Day proved to be a somewhat fateful day for Amarillo's top municipal administrator — and for reasons that have nothing to do with the holiday.
That's when interim City Manager Terry Childers made a 9-1-1 phone call to the Amarillo Emergency Communication Center to report a missing briefcase at the Residence Inn hotel where he had just returned.
He got the dispatcher on the phone and ordered her to scramble police officers to the hotel to find the missing item. He said he wanted the hotel "shut down" while the cops looked for the briefcase. The dispatcher went through her pre-determined protocol of questions, which apparently upset the city manager. He demanded to talk to her supervisor. He told the dispatcher she didn't know "who you're dealing with here."
Well, a recording of the call — and also of two subsequent phone calls from Childers to AECC — have gone viral and have prompted a brisk community discussion throughout various social media about the manner in which the manager conducted himself.
Panhandle PBS' Karen Welch talked to three members of the Amarillo City Council — which hired Childers as interim manager in the wake of City Manager Jarret Atkinson's resignation — to get their feelings in a "Live Here" segment broadcast Thursday on where this story has gone and where it might be going.
It doesn't appear that this story is going away any time soon.
City Councilman Elisha Demerson told Welch that Childers was suffering from what he called a "SEE moment." SEE stands for "significant emotional event" and Childers apparently let his emotions get the better of him while he was reporting the missing brief case.
Indeed, there seems to be a bit of a difference of opinion among council members over the nature of the concerns expressed by residents and the manner in which Childers has sought to quell the concerns.
Demerson told Welch that some of the criticism leveled at Childers has been "racially motivated." Demerson, who — along with Childers — is African-American, told Welch that some residents have used "the n-word" to criticize the city manager's conduct during the controversial Feb. 14 phone call to the AECC.
Councilman Brian Eades, though, said in response to a similar question from Welch that he has "not seen" any evidence of race-based criticism of Childers.
In another matter, Demerson told Welch he doesn't believe that anyone on the City Council "coerced or coaxed" Childers into issuing a public statement. Eades, though, said that he believes at least two council members did precisely that.
OK then. Who's telling the truth?
If only this story would run out of steam. It doesn't appear to be losing much energy. At least not just yet.
Childers issued a statement of public "regret" at the March 1 City Council meeting. He has apologized personally to the dispatchers employed by the AECC.
There's also some chatter in the community about Childers possibly seeking a permanent appointment as manager.
Mayor Paul Harpole, who also spoke to Welch, said that Childers has fulfilled the two tasks Harpole wanted done to be considered for the permanent job: he's apologized publicly and to the affected AECC employees.
This tale provides a fascinating twist to the strange journey the city has been on of late.
A new City Council majority took office. The city manager and city attorney resigned; the assistant city manager retired. Then the city was named in a publication as having the "most dysfunctional city government" around.
After all that, the city's newly hired interim city manager — just four months after the dubious "honor" about Amarillo's municipal dysfunction became known — we have this tempest erupt over the handling of what should have been a routine phone call to a 9-1-1 dispatcher.
Is this story done? Is it headed for a quick trip to the dust bin?
It doesn't appear that way.
You can listen to Childers' full apology and calls to 9-1-1, including the 9-1-1 supervisor's call at PanhanldePBS.org/Live-Here.