Grimes County officials and activists are considering resurrecting their now inactive sub-regional planning commission to combat an ill-devised high speed rail project threatening the community.

At a recent meeting of citizens at the American Legion hall in Anderson, a presentation was given by the non-profit American Stewards of Liberty on 391 sub-regional planning commissions and what the new proposed Grimes County commission would look like. The event was put on by the Grimes County Citizen Advisory Group, a coalition of local activists.

The bulk of the presentation was given by ASL CEO Dan Byfield, who detailed the history and purpose of 391 commissions. Waller County Judge Trey Duhon also spoke on his experience as chairman of Waller County’s 391 commission.

391 planning commissions come from Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code, which authorizes local governments to coordinate in order to create commissions that can, “make studies and plans to guide the unified, far-reaching development of a region, eliminate duplication, and promote economy and efficiency in the coordinated development of a region.”

In order to create a 391 commission, two local government entities would need to pass resolutions to create a commission. In the case of Grimes County’s original 391 commission, which was formed in 2008, it was Grimes County and the City of Iola who teamed up to pass the resolutions creating the commission.

Once the commission is formed, the original two governmental bodies can invite other local governments to join the commission and appoint representatives to its board. State law requires 2/3 of the commission’s board to be composed of elected officials, the rest can—and should— be comprised of citizens.

A 391 commission must adopt bylaws, and is required to abide by the Texas Open Meetings Act. All meetings are open to the public, which gives the citizens an opportunity to be informed and involved. Once formed, the commission can adopt a region plan.

391 commissions cannot request funding or appropriate funds. Instead, most commissions rely on outside non-profits to finance studies and lawsuits. For example, Waller County’s commission is supported by an associated non-profit, the Waller County Advocacy Group.

While 391 commissions can be used to coordinate plans for a region’s future development, they can also be used to coordinate fights against state and federal projects. A 391 commission was used by some small central Texas cities several years ago to oppose Gov. Rick Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor.

Waller’s 391 commission was recently involved in a lawsuit against TxDOT which was the culmination of a fight against the Federal Railroad Administration which refused to cooperate with the commission regarding the Houston to Dallas Texas Central High-speed Rail. The judge ultimately ruled in favor of the commission, which Duhon said set a precedent confirming the legal authority of 391 commissions.

The plan for those seeking to resurrect the defunct Grimes County 391 planning commission requires Grimes County and the City of Anderson to pass joint resolutions reactivating the commission in early 2018. The commission would then create two citizen committees, one to rewrite the bylaws and another to create transportation and infrastructure plans for the commission. They hope to start holding open meetings by mid 2018.

While opposing the high-speed rail would be a major goal of the commission in the near future, Grimes County Citizen Advisory Group president David Tullos sees it as serving a larger purpose:

“The planning commission is much more important than just being a vehicle to oppose high-speed rail,” said Tullos. “In Grimes County we have so many needs, and we are on the verge of a huge population explosion… with the population increase there are things that we need to plan for.”

Reagan Reed

Reagan Reed is the East Texas Correspondent for Texas Scorecard. A homeschool graduate, he is nearing completion of his Bachelor’s Degree in History from Thomas Edison State College. He is a Patriot Academy Alumni, and is an Empower Texans Conservative Leader Award recipient.