Mayor George Fuller wants to make it very clear that he is not opposed to forced annexations, and never was.
During public comments at a McKinney City Council meeting Tuesday night, Fuller was asked to honor a campaign promise to oppose forced annexations. Fuller responded by denying he’d made such a promise, saying he was only against involuntary annexation in one specific case.
Voters who took his remarks to mean he generally supported giving property owners a say in whether they get forced into the city and onto city tax rolls, he said, simply misunderstood him:
“Yes, I spoke out against that specific example of annexation that I believe was used in pursuit of, in abuse of authority I did not believe the city had in regulating what was being built in the ETJ, in that situation, in that circumstance.”
“If you watch the video without cutting from mid-sentence on, you’ll see what the context is. And I’ll stand by that today, I’ll stand by it tomorrow. But that’s not what we’re talking about with this annexation.”
The video Fuller referenced was recorded during a mayoral candidate forum hosted by McKinney Tea Party on March 14. Both the full forum video and a clip of Fuller’s response to a question have been posted on Facebook by opponents of the city’s involuntary annexation plan, who had expected Fuller to be on their side of this property rights debate.
At the forum, candidates were asked how they would respect private property rights of people within McKinney’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) – unincorporated land adjacent to city boundaries that can be annexed. The city was – and still is – involved in lawsuits with property owners outside the city over regulatory control within the ETJ.
Fuller told forum attendees that the forced annexation of one of those properties, Arch Resorts, was “not right.” At Tuesday’s council meeting, he clarified that his statement then did not apply to forced annexation in general, which he called an “obligation” and a “fiduciary duty” he owes to McKinney taxpayers.
Many local residents say they expected something different from Fuller.
Shannon Blake, whose property is targeted for annexation by the city, is one of those who apparently misunderstood Fuller’s position. “I’m disappointed in the Mayor,” Blake said. “He ran on private property rights and I think we all thought we would preserve those private property rights.”
“There’s a land grab going on here to try to skirt the Dec. 1 deadline,” Blake said, referring to the date Senate Bill 6 — which was passed during this year’s special legislative session — starts requiring cities like McKinney to get landowners’ approval before annexing them.
Fuller and other mayors are scrambling to beat the new law’s start date and complete a last round of involuntary annexations before they have to get approval. Fuller told a local media outlet that Collin County residents in the ETJ would be “very unlikely” to voluntarily choose to join the city of McKinney if allowed to vote on it.
Fuller also objected Tuesday to calling the forced annexations a “land grab.”
But opponents of involuntary annexation make the case that it’s a regulatory taking. A 2015 policy paper by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Ending Forced Annexation in Texas, calls annexation a significant regulatory taking that residents are unlikely to be aware of.
“At the very least, however, if property owners and residents were given the chance to consent to annexation, or if they decided to be annexed of their own accord, they would be providing the government with their consent to regulate them. Being annexed entails much more than services and taxes; this regulatory feature must be considered as well, because annexed property owners and residents may lose rights that they take for granted in an unincorporated area. If annexed involuntarily, this is an exceptionally unjust situation.”
Fuller disagreed as well with comparing the land grabs to “taxation without representation” because once annexed, the property owners will be able to vote in city elections. Yet the decision to force county residents onto the city’s tax rolls in the first place is being made by officials they didn’t have a say in electing.
And that’s what the debate is about: people having a say.
With the passage of SB 6, elected lawmakers determined that property owners should have a say in whether or not they’re annexed into a city. City officials like Fuller who are forging ahead with forced annexations anyway can expect continued pushback from people both within and outside their city limits who respect individuals’ property rights.
Public hearings on McKinney’s forced annexation plan are scheduled for October 16 and 17, with a final council vote set for November 7. If approved, the annexations would take effect immediately.