Group kicks off petition drive

By Racey Burden | Published Wednesday, November 8, 2017

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Wise County Citizens for Property Rights held its first official meeting Monday to kick off the petition drive for an election to end involuntary annexation in the county.

The non-profit group aims to gather 6,000 signatures on its petition, which would then trigger an election to decide whether Wise will be classified as a Tier 2 county as relating to municipal annexation under Senate Bill 6. SB 6, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott this summer, prohibits involuntary annexation by municipalities in counties with a population of greater than 500,000 people. Local representative Phil King filed an amendment to the bill that allows citizens in a county of less than 500,000 to petition for an election to be brought under the law as a Tier 2 county.

“This is a county fight,” said Wendell Wiggins, the secretary of the group. “It’s not just Bridgeport or Decatur.”

The group is also currently fighting the city of Bridgeport, which will vote on whether to annex 33 properties along Texas 101 and U.S. 380 at the Nov. 13 council meeting. Some of the members of Wise County Citizens for Property Rights, including founder and president Bryson Boyd, own land that the city might annex.

“Regardless of what happens on the 13th, now our bigger lookout is moving to Tier 2,” Boyd said.

County Judge J.D. Clark attended the group’s meeting at the Bridgeport Lion’s Club to answer any questions about the petition process. He clarified that the county’s role in the process is through the elections office, which verifies the signatures gathered to make sure they all belong to currently registered Wise County voters. Ten percent of registered voters in the county must sign the petition for it to be valid, so the group has to get 4,600 signatures by May 1, 2018, to be on the November 2018 ballot – they’re aiming for 6,000 to be safe.

“If [the petition] meets the 10 percent threshold, it triggers the commissioners court to put that on the ballot,” Clark said.

“It’s, ‘OK, you got the 10 percent of people; we’ll let the people have a say.”

The petition will not stop any annexation process completed between now and next November, regardless of its outcome.

Boyd encouraged those present to pick up binders with petitions in them and to get signatures everywhere they went, especially from those already in the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) of home rule cities like Bridgeport and Decatur, which can annex land already within their ETJ.

“If you’re in that ETJ, the city can do what they did to us and go, ‘Welcome to the city of Bridgeport, welcome to the city of Decatur,'” Boyd said. “Right now it’s just a free market essentially.”

State Rep. Pat Fallon, who is currently campaigning against State Sen. Craig Estes for his seat, also visited the meeting. He promised the room that if he was elected, he would fight to end involuntary annexation in all counties.

“Phil King did a fabulous job putting amendment after amendment on this bill [SB 6] to make it applicable to all of Texas,” Fallon said. “I want everyone in Texas to be protected. This is taxation without representation.”

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