By CHRISTIN COYNE | firstname.lastname@example.org
ANNETTA – Despite more than 500 petition signatures from Parker County residents requesting annexation into Annetta, the majority of the Annetta Town Council declined last week to take any action on the petition or schedule public hearings on the issue.
The group of Deer Creek water system users had hoped to have the council vote in favor of annexation prior to Feb. 7, in time for the water users currently in surrounding unincorporated areas to vote in the May municipal elections. A majority of water users currently live outside the town.
However, a motion Thursday by council member Chuck Sheridan to start the public input process on the issue failed for lack of a second.
A two-week door-to-door petition drive by a group of concerned residents – the same group that organized litigation efforts against Willow Park over ownership of the water system several years ago – garnered the support of more than half the affected Parker County residents. Additionally, on Dec. 13, the Annetta South council voted unanimously to release a portion of land within their ETJ so all Deer Creek residents could seek annexation by Annetta.
Deer Creek residents say they believe the Annetta council has managed the system well since purchasing it two years ago from Willow Park, including backing $1 million in bonds for needed improvements earlier this year.
However, the group has concerns about representation on the council and wants to make sure their voice is heard about the city’s potential future plans that would involve the water and sewer system monies, such as purchasing or renting a new city building or hiring additional city staff.
Some have also noted a need to combine the areas to deal with future growth in the neighborhood and address development issues.
Opponents of annexation say the city cannot afford to take on additional roads at the current time because the city does not assess a property tax.
Others say they believe the town cannot legally annex much of the property because of a legal issue between the two cities dating back to the 1980s.
Cynthia Harrison, representing the petitioners, asked that the petition be accepted and consideration given to their request to become citizens of Annetta.
“We ask for nothing more than the opportunity to go through the process so that all opinions and concerns may be heard publicly and with complete transparency of government,” Harrison said.
Together as a community, they can best accomplish common goals and end appearances of division in the town, Harrison said.
Two Annetta residents also spoke.
“I think it’s neat that they want to be part of the city and I encourage you guys to move forward with it in a judicious and proper manner,” Mike Brasovan said.
Initially for it, John Reding said he was hesitant about annexation because the town already seems to have trouble maintaining the roads.
“I just think it’s something that needs to be thought through carefully,” Reding said.
Council member Bruce Moore said a part of his concern is how the city is going to pay for the roads. Many are not up to standard, he said.
During another portion of the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Larry Wood noted that a recent $13,000 to $14,000 donation by the county for road repairs nearly doubles the city’s road repair budget.
That’s the type of question that should be addressed in a public hearing, Pinckard told Moore.
“Those are all valid questions. I don’t disagree with you. It needs to be discussed,” he said.
City Attorney Drew Larkin, a municipal law attorney with the firm Taylor Olson Adkins Sralla Elam, told the council that because Annetta South released their ETJ, it is automatically Annetta’s.
However, several in the room voiced disagreement.
Moore said it was his understanding that for the affected area to be in the Annetta ETJ, it had to be done by joint agreement.
Former council member and current zoning advisor Benny Evans said he’d researched state law and believed the area was not Annetta’s ETJ.
Sheridan questioned why the council would second-guess the city’s attorney on legal issues.
During a later agenda item Thursday, Moore made a motion to hire a new city attorney.
Moore introduced Michael Gray, a Granbury attorney, who told the council that he has practiced law for 32 years in areas that include real estate, public interest and, primarily, construction litigation.
Gray attended another city meeting earlier this year involving the issue of annexation and raised doubt about the current city attorney’s advice, according to Dennis Thompson, a Deer Creek resident who unsuccessfully sought annexation of his property shortly after the May municipal election.
Because of the economy, his construction law business has declined so he has the time to take on the town as a client, Gray told the council.
Gray said he has looked at some of the issues the city is facing and he has opinions that differ from the city’s current counsel.
He said he would be willing to provide services (minus litigation costs) at a flat $2,000 monthly fee or by an hourly arrangement.
Wood requested information on how much the city currently spends on legal services before voting on the issue and Moore withdrew his motion to hire Gray under a one-year contract.
The council’s lack of action on the annexation drew fire from the town’s mayor, as well as many of the 20 to 30 community residents gathered at the meeting.
“You have here 523 signatures from people in your community and every one of them is a customer of this city and if you think that by ignoring them, that that’s in the best interests of the city to deny them due process, that lies squarely on your shoulders,” Annetta Mayor Bruce Pinckard told council members Moore, Wood, Farrar Patterson and Richard Machak.
“I’m not here to give you advice politically speaking but if you want to be effective as a city council after stating publicly, especially in meet-the-candidate nights and so forth, that you were here to listen to the citizens, and now two meetings in a row you’ve refused to even acknowledge them, I’m afraid for what happens to this community,” Pinckard said. “And I will do my best to try to keep the community together as mayor but it is very disheartening when you won’t even allow this process to continue and people to be heard.”
“I’m afraid the court of public opinion will weigh heavily on each of you men and I’m sorry for that. That’s your choice. I’ve done what I can do.”
Several in attendance asked council members why they declined to hold public hearings on the annexation issue.
“Why don’t you want to learn the facts?” one man said. “We want to learn the facts.”
“Why did they say come, show up and ask us your questions and then they won’t respond to us,” Harrison said. “I hope that the council will be prepared for telephone calls and questions of that sort.”
“You own now the water system because the rest of this entire community surrounding you actually stepped up and fought for you,” Deer Creek resident Steve Barron told the council.
The petition will reside with the mayor and they will wait to hear direction from petitioners if they want to resubmit the petition at a later time, Pinckard told the group.