Two recently registered voters in Montgomery County approved almost $175 million in bonds for newly created Municipal Utility District 145 in the May 6 election. The two temporary voters also voted to levy taxes on future residents.
The district is the creation of State Rep. Will Metcalf (R-Conroe), who authored a bill last session to set up MUD 145. Metcalf has created many other MUDs and special purpose districts in the past.
Located in an undeveloped area just outside the City of Cut and Shoot, MUD 145 is gerrymandered to exclude voters. However, in February and March, two voters registered to vote in the district ahead of the May 6 election.
The two voters proceeded to approve $174.9 million in bonds to be paid off in taxes by future residents who move into the district once it is developed. A board of five directors, none of whom actually live in the district, was elected unanimously and will have the authority to levy taxes on the district.
In addition, the two voters also implemented three taxes on the district: two property taxes of $1.50 per $100 in valuation, and another tax of $0.10 per $100 in valuation for “park and recreational facilities”.
Such “rent-a-voter” schemes – whereby developers pay voters to register in a district and pass millions of dollars in bonds to fund infrastructure for their developments – have become fairly common. The process avoids the risk of a “real” election where the electorate might not be inclined to vote in favor of new taxes and debt.
Due to the vagueness of Texas residency requirements, developers and local governments are able to get away with using temporary voters. However, Tea Party activists who tried to use the same tactic to oppose debt and taxes in a special purpose district were prosecuted for voter fraud.
Conservative activist Adrian Heath is currently serving a three-year prison sentence in Huntsville State Prison after he and several other activists took up residence at a hotel and registered to vote inside a district gerrymandered to include only two voters back in 2010. Heath and his companions then voted themselves in as the new board of directors with the intention of shutting the district down and ending the debt and “taxation without representation”.
Although told they were within the law by the Texas Secretary of State’s office and the local elections office, and despite the fact that the local district attorney declined to prosecute the case, Heath was eventually prosecuted by the State at the behest of former State Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) and convicted.
Bizarrely, while the appeal of Heath’s companion, Jim Jenkins, was granted, Heath’s appeal was denied and he was sent to prison, even though they were found guilty of the exact same offense.
A petition by community leaders for Heath’s appeal to be heard garnered over 300 signatures, and was supported by over a dozen Republican precinct chairs. A number of precinct chairs have also written to the Board of Pardons and Paroles on Heath’s behalf, including Montgomery County Eagle Forum President Betty Anderson.
“I don’t think any of us here actually believed that the extremely flimsy accusations against these good people could possibly end up with a prison sentence for any of them!” said Anderson. “But here we are.”
Unfortunately, while well-connected developers and their rent-a-voters have armies of lawyers to navigate the intricacies of election law, ordinary taxpayers and activists are not always as fortunate.