Texans are speaking out against forced annexation, but city governments don’t seem to be listening.
Mesquite city officials admit that they’re rushing plans to forcibly annex unincorporated land, mostly in Kaufman County, to beat a new state law that will require cities to get owners’ consent before absorbing their land into city limits – and taking control of how their land is used.
Landowners targeted for forced annexation have also been clear – and vocal – from the outset that they oppose any efforts by Mesquite to force them into the city without their consent. They don’t want to be forced into any city, and they don’t want officials they didn’t even vote for subjecting them to city taxes and regulations.
They also feel pressured by the city’s short annexation timeline, which started in mid-September when they were surprised to receive notices that Mesquite intended to annex them.
“When we received that letter a few weeks ago our lives changed,” said one Kaufman County resident whose property is targeted for forced annexation.
Yet city officials have now made the timeline even shorter. On Friday, they surprised targeted landowners again by offering brand-new 45-year development agreements, posted online October 30. The city also moved the deadline for signing the agreements up a week, to November 10 – leaving landowners less than two weeks to sift through the new contracts, consult attorneys, and “attempt to negotiate a development agreement on terms acceptable to you and the City.”
Mesquite’s notice said that the accelerated timeline was due to “schedule changes and the desire to complete negotiations well before passage of the annexation ordinance” – suggesting that the outcome of city council’s final annexation vote on November 20 is a foregone conclusion.
Frustrated landowners aren’t sure what to make of the city’s new offers.
Throughout the process, city officials’ actions have created frustration, distrust, and confusion.
Last Thursday, Mesquite City Council changed the location of a public hearing at the last minute, saying the place they’d originally selected canceled on them just two days ahead of the hearing date. Rather than reschedule and allow ample time to properly notify residents of the change, the city said it was an “urgent public necessity” to hold the hearing at the new location, that night.
Only two people showed up Thursday night to speak at the relocated hearing.
Some who had petitioned the city to hold the extra hearing weren’t sure if the change was legitimate and worried it would cause their neighbors to miss the hearing. Some thought the city ought to take the time to schedule another hearing.
What’s the rush?
The city’s “urgent necessity” is to avoid delays in the process so it can beat a December 1 deadline. That’s when the state’s new annexation reform law, Senate Bill 6, goes into effect, preventing cities like Mesquite from annexing property without first getting the landowners’ consent.
What the city is in a hurry to secure, council member Greg Noschese plainly stated at Thursday night’s hearing, is “the ultimate control of any development that might occur in the future.”
Thursday’s hearing was a sharp contrast to earlier meetings, where crowds of people impacted by the land grab have shown up to speak – all against the city’s forced annexation plans.
“Please do not annex. Wait and let us have a voice and a vote,” Kelly Crawford pleaded with council members at a public hearing on October 23.
“People that live in unincorporated Kaufman County should be given a vote on or after December 1,” Randall Smith told city officials at that same hearing.
Another resident went even further, reminding council that the legislature has already spoken on the issue:
“As soon as the legislature passed that law, you forfeited your moral right to annex without a vote. The legislature’s intent was to allow the people to vote… You have a legal right; you no longer have a moral right. You need to delay and let the people vote.”
Council member Robert Miklos’ response to those citizens added more confusion. Miklos, who served as a Democrat state lawmaker in 2009-2011, wrongly claimed that legislators intended to give cities time to complete more forced annexations by purposely delaying when the new annexation law takes effect. In fact, laws passed by the Texas Legislature don’t take effect until 90 days after adjournment of the session in which they’re enacted, unless passed by a two-thirds majority. SB 6 was enacted during this year’s special legislative session with less than a two-thirds margin, thus the December 1 effective date.
At Mesquite’s first annexation public hearing, State Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), who represents Kaufman County, also called out council members for “ignoring the spirit and the intent” of SB 6, which he helped pass to protect Texans’ property rights.
“Property rights are fundamental to the principles of liberty on which our country was founded,” Hall said.
City officials say they’re responding to landowners’ concerns by eliminating many residential properties from their annexation plans and offering the extended 45-year deferments. But the process is still involuntary, and landowners are still being forced to decide between two options they don’t want – in a very short period of time.
Mesquite’s continuing rush to beat the clock on forced annexation shows Hall’s words and those of citizens impacted by the land grab have so far fallen on deaf ears.
One more public hearing is set for November 6 at 7:00 p.m. at Mesquite City Hall, with city council’s final vote expected on November 20.