A visiting judge ruled against Plano citizens and in favor of the city government in its years-long fight to block a referendum vote on the city’s comprehensive development plan.
Thursday’s ruling by Judge Henry Wade Jr. means city officials can ignore a referendum petition signed by 4,000 citizens. The petition calls for a vote on the Plano Tomorrow plan, adopted by city council in 2015 amid controversy over land use provisions that critics said encouraged too much urban-style, high-density development.
Plaintiffs representing the petition signers—more than twice the number needed to force a vote on the issue—filed a lawsuit in 2016 after Plano City Secretary Lisa Henderson refused to submit their petition to city council.
The city has since spent over three years and $400,000 of taxpayers’ money on a legal fight with its own citizens that has gone all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.
Thursday morning, the case was back in a Collin County district court. Wade, a visiting judge from Dallas who was just assigned to the case, granted the City of Plano’s motion for summary judgment, taking Henderson off the hook for failing to deliver the petition to council.
Plano’s outside attorney, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson, argued that ordinances enacting comprehensive plans aren’t subject to referendum and are too complex to “logically be relegated to a simple up-or-down vote of citizens.” Jefferson currently serves as treasurer of a new PAC created by former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.
Plaintiffs had filed a cross-motion for summary judgment in their favor, arguing the city secretary has a “ministerial duty” under the city charter to present their petition to council “immediately.”
“What is more appropriate for a general vote of the public than what your city should be like 20 or 30 years from now?” asked Jack Ternan, the attorney representing the citizens.
Ternan said he was disappointed with the ruling, and he plans to appeal.
The decision also disappointed Plano residents who simply want the city to act on the nearly four-year-old referendum petition.
But as they’ve waited on the city and courts, and watched high-density development encroach on their city’s suburban character, Plano citizens have elected four new city council members who listened to their concerns: Anthony Ricciardelli and Rick Smith in 2017 and Shelby Williams and Lily Bao this year. In the process, voters rejected candidates bankrolled by outside real estate developers.
The newly rebalanced council is already taking steps to create a new comprehensive plan. Following a council meeting earlier this month, Williams said the city will work with a citizen commission “comprised of a truly representative group of our residents” to create a plan “the people of Plano overwhelmingly support.”