Parker County residents are celebrating a milestone in their months-long fight to do what state lawmakers failed to do: protect local property rights. Citizens have gathered enough petition signatures to force a vote on ending involuntary annexation in their county.
At a recent community meeting, local activists announced they had reached the required 8,926 validated petition signatures.
Parker will be the first county in the state of Texas petitioning for an “opt-in” vote to prohibit forced annexation countywide since the legislature passed a limited annexation reform bill last year.
“[This] was a small victory lap for us,” the petition drive’s leader Laura Hester told Texas Scorecard. “The whole county was invited, but we especially wanted the Zion Hill community, who fought so hard from the very beginning when we were fighting the city, to take time to celebrate.”
Hester and Courtney Butler have been driving forces behind the movement to stop forced annexation in Parker County. Their fight began last year, when the City of Weatherford moved to grab 1,300 acres in their unincorporated Zion Hill community without the landowners’ consent.
Weatherford’s annexation attempt came just after the Texas Legislature passed a weak version of municipal annexation reform during last year’s special session. Theirs was one of a flurry of land grabs around the state as cities sought to beat the clock on the new law’s December 1 effective date.
The watered-down version of Senate Bill 6 that lawmakers approved ended forced annexation only in the state’s largest counties, those with 500,000 or more residents. Unincorporated-property owners in the rest of Texas, including Parker County, were left unprotected from city land grabs – unless county residents vote to adopt SB 6’s property rights protections.
A provision added by State Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) lets smaller counties like Parker, which he represents, opt in to the new restrictions on forced annexations. If 10 percent of a county’s registered voters sign a petition, the opt-in question is put to a countywide vote.
At the event, King told the crowd, “This is the way things are really supposed to work. When you’ve got a grievance against government, we’re supposed to be able to come together and change things, get something done.”
Currently, cities in Parker and most other counties can annex property in their extraterritorial jurisdiction – unincorporated land adjacent to city boundaries – without owners’ consent. If Parker County residents vote to opt in to the new law’s protections, cities there will have to get owners’ approval before annexing them.
That’s all residents have been asking for – a voice and a vote in where they live.
Hester and Butler began organizing their small community last year via a Facebook group that would become Stop Involuntary Annexation in Parker County. The group held community meetings, brought citizens together to put pressure on city council, and enlisted support from local and state officials. That pushback convinced Weatherford officials to reverse course and temporarily halt plans for annexing Zion Hill until impacted residents could have a say in the process.
Since then, Hester and her group have been working with county officials on what is a new process for everyone. Hester says the county has been very supportive.
The group has actually surpassed the required number of petition signatures, with Butler verifying the validity of each along the way, but they set a goal of 10,000 just to be safe. Hester says they will keep collecting signatures until February 16, the date they’ve asked for all petitions to be returned to them.
“We feel really good about it,” said Hester, “but personally, I really want to hit that 10,000 mark.”
March 5 is the deadline the county set to receive the petitions. County elections officials will have 30 days to verify the signatures. The county’s commissioners court will receive the verified petitions 30 days after that and then authorize adding the issue to the November ballot.
Getting voters to approve the ballot measure is the final step – what Hester calls “phase 3” of the residents-turned-activists’ plan to stop involuntary annexation in Parker County. Hester’s group set up a PAC so they can accept donations. The money will help pay for signs, radio ads, and other efforts to educate voters and get them to the polls in November.
State Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Little Elm), who was also at Friday’s celebration, said Texans shouldn’t have to “opt in” to property rights protections and vowed to champion annexation reform that protects all Texans in every county. Fallon has been a vocal opponent of forced annexation and actively supported anti-land grab groups in Parker and Collin counties.
But Hester and others aren’t waiting for the legislature to act.
Residents of Bell, Johnson, and Wise counties are also actively circulating opt-in petitions. Parker County has served as an example for them, and Hester has willingly shared strategy advice with activists in other counties.
Looking back, Hester says she created that first Facebook group because she didn’t know what else to do. “I had no idea what just that one step would lead to,” she said.
One person’s action has mobilized a community, held a city government accountable to voters, protected property rights in her county, and inspired others across the state to do the same.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.


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