Words cannot explain the relief we feel that in four short months we, the residents of Atascosa County, were able to make Texas history and end the century-old practice of unfair taking of our lands into municipalities’ boundaries without our consent. The ripple effect of this big splash will be felt throughout the county for many years to come, noticeably, saving our agricultural heritage and holding governing bodies more ac- countable to their constituents. This is the story of
Standoffthis historical launchescoup: campaign
Less than a year ago, four farmers were vigorously fighting to keep their farm lands from being annexed into a municipality they did not want to be a part of. The show of citizen opposition at the city council meetings was enough to ward off the hostile takeover. The newly drafted Senate Bill 6 enacted in December 2017, armed us with the ammunition needed to safeguard our properties— albeit with a small caveat. The bill placed a demarcation line at 500,000 population to identify the still limited annexation reform. Counties with lesser populations (Atascosa County population: 48,981 (2017) were labeled Tier 1 and would still need to adhere to forced annexation. More populous counties were granted a Tier 2 status and gave a vote to property owners as to whether they wanted or not to be annexed. Atascosa’s saving grace was an opt-in option whereby Tier 1 counties could change status to Tier 2 counties with voter approval in a general election. A petition signed by 10% of the registered voters in the county, however, was a prerequisite to being placed on the ballot. And so, Stop Forced Annexation in Atascosa County—a non-partisan grass roots campaign was born.
We set our sights to be included on the ballot for the November 2018 general election. We set up a Facebook page, scurried to design a logo and format forms for our petition drive; and by July 11, 2018 our campaign was officially off and running. Our team members went out in full force, our home-spun literature in hand, to find locations that would help us promote our petition drive and business owners that would allow us to sign up county voters at their retail outlet’s front doors. It was a mad dash to sign up the required 10% of an estimated 28,000 regis- tered voters in Atascosa County in less than 30 days. Team members spent an endless number of hours collecting signatures at any location that would allow us to and block walking. We anxiously counted signatures as we went, praying to meet our goal. In the end, enough signatures were verified, it went on the commissioners’ court agenda and on August 13, 2018 county Judge Bob Hurley and the county commissioners unanimously approved our petition to be placed on the ballot to change our status from a Tier 1 county to a Tier 2 county thereby ending forced annexation in Atascosa County.
The wait for early elections on October 22nd seemed like an eternity, but we felt confident based on the positive response of the community to the petition. We believed that if we could only get the community out to vote we would not have any difficulties passing the referendum. That was until we saw the sample ballot. The wording was confusing legalese—correct, but confusing; and the format was even more so.
Reports from early mail-in voters confirmed our worst suspicion. The format and language were problematic. Voters were voting against our referendum believing they were voting against forced annexation. Our local media continued to back us blasting– on print, social media and radio– explanations between Tier 1 and Tier 2 and the language on the ballot. The Texas Association of Realtors stepped in to give us much needed reinforcements by way of sophisticated videos, mail-outs, and social media promotions. We flooded the county with yard signs and 4’ x 4’ signs also provided by TAR…and still confusion. People were not understanding the ballot. It was disheartening that voters were reporting voting “Against” because they did not want forced annexation.
The trend continued on election day, Tuesday, November 6, 2018. Desperate to get the word out, we manned the polls from sun up to sun down. Morris and Lana Cowley at the VFW in Poteet; Will Bates at Charlotte; TAR members, Brett Finley and Nita Martin, from San Antonio at the Civic Center in Pleasanton; Lauren Coleman at the Evergreen location in Pleasanton; and, I worked the Leming location. Caroline George was a judge at a poll location, and spent the day explaining to voters what “For” and “Against” meant on the Annexation referendum. But there were still 18 other locations left unattended by us.
At the close of voting, the early voting numbers were—4,194 For /2,124 Against. Mail in: 282 For /220 Against. And, finally, at 10:35pm the elections clerk posted the final count: 2,514 For / 1,465 Against, for a total count of 6,990 votes For /3,814 votes Against. We had won.
The new annexation process
Throughout the campaign, we explained that the end of forced annexation does not mean an end to annexation. The difference now is that municipalities who want to annex parcels of properties within their extra territorial jurisdiction, will need to put the annexation proposal to a vote. To better understand the specifics, review the Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 43. Municipal Annexation. It is easily Googled online.
For those who were annexed before this referendum went through, there are some options such as if a municipality promised something “in writing” that was never realized, or they didn’t follow the state laws when they annexed you.
The big picture
One thing we know for sure, no matter how anyone voted, passing this referendum was a good thing for everyone.
Within the county, farmers and ranchers can continue to preserve the agricultural heritage of Atascosa County. Many overlook the impact these industries have on the county’s economy. The internationally popular annual Strawberry Festival whose featured product is raised by county farmers, for example, is arguably the largest grossing event in the county year after year. Most of the net profits are generously distributed back into the community. It produces the largest source of income for local nonprofits and is the largest continuous single donor to Poteet’s service industries such as the library, police and fire departments; and promotes higher education by providing scholarships for local high school students. The spillover effect also is huge for adjacent towns as visitors search for places to stay, eat and purchase essentials. Vendors outside of the festival grounds also bring additional revenue to Poteet through imposed vendor fees and collected sales taxes. The impact of additional taxes and restrictions by ordinances on contributing farmers, if annexed into municipalities, would have crippled many a farmer’s ability to continue producing strawberries and other crops.
Citizens who choose to live outside city limits to avoid the rat race can now do so without the threat of municipalities forcibly dragging them into the very city limits they wish to escape.
The onus will now be on elected city officials and executive level city employees to focus on economic development, employment opportunities for their citizens, and restoration of their internal landscape by introducing smart growth within their boundaries to create revenue, instead of resorting to urban sprawl for financial gain via property taxes. Now that the robbing Peter to pay Paul concept is off the table, it is up to the citizens to vote for and hire capable persons to run their towns. It is time to hold them accountable.
At the county’s gates, County Judge Bob Hurley says his focus will be on protecting the Atascosa County borders, particularly the one to the north. Seems San Antonio already has plans on expanding into the 37/281 corridor.
Moving forward, what happens is up to the citizenry. This election was a testament to the power of the vote.
We have many people to thank, county-wide, who helped spread the word to Stop Forced Annexation in Atascosa County:
Petition gatherers- Ann Bates, Mike Carter, Faye Jenkins, Connie Morrell, Claudia Reyes, Robert Martinez, Gabby Royal, Adrian Sanchez, Cyndee Simmons, Melanie Smith, and Mary of Mary’s Thrift Shop.
Poll workers— Lauren Coleman, Claudia Reyes, TAR representatives Brett Finley and Nita Martin. media team—Noel Wilkerson Holmes and the staff at Pleasanton Express and Charlie Morris of KSAQ 102.3 radio, Laura Hester, Association of Realtor’s team: Brandon Alderete, Brett Finley, Jaime Lee, , Nita Martin, Julia Parenteau, Jon the videographer and media consultant, Ron.
County officials—Judge Bob Hurley; Jeanne Burton Israel, Janice Ruple
Stop forced annexation in Atascosa county team— Will Bates, Linda Carter, Morris Cowley, Caroline George, and Marie Levy.
Finally, a huge thanks to the people of Atascosa County who came out in droves to sign the petition to Stop Forced Annexation in Atascosa County; and those who showed up to vote it in.
OUR RETAIL SUPPORTERS
These retailers helped us collect signatures for our petition to opt-in
and get the annexation issue on the
Ataway Feed & Seed
Maguey Jalisco Restaurant
Atascosa Wildlife Supply
Classic Touch Salon
Dornak Auto Parts
South Texas Farm & Ranch
Rick’s Drive In
Atascosa Livestock Exchange
Clearwater Pool & Spa
Dr. Ron D. Mixon’s Office
Friends & Family Hair Salon
MG Lumber Company
Royal Farmer’s Market
Sherry’s Convenience Store & Gas
The Good Health Store
La Mesa Restaurant
Poteet Country Winery
Strawberry Association Office
Tuttle Motor & Hardware
Valero’s Super Store