My education into the community my wife and I call home has taken a major step forward, courtesy of an assignment I completed for KETR-FM radio’s website.
I wrote a story about Princeton, Texas’s struggles to enact a home rule charter, and how four ballot box failures have kept the city functioning under laws established by the state of Texas.
Read the KETR-FM story here.
It is, to say the very least, one of the more peculiar municipal conflicts I have ever seen.
The city, dating back to 2007, has had four municipal elections that sought a city charter. It has fallen short every time. The opposition to home rule comes from a group of residents with specific bones to pick with City Hall. They express concern over tax policy and over annexation.
One of the leaders of the opposition, Michael Biggs, doesn’t even live within the city limits. He resides just south of the city, which means he cannot vote in these elections. Still, he is able to persuade enough of the city’s voters to go along with his opposition to enacting a city charter.
The city assesses a municipal tax rate of 68 cents per $100 assessed property valuation. A charter would enable the city to levy a tax of as much as $2.50 per $100. City Manager Derek Borg told me that possibility is a complete non-starter; it won’t happen, not ever!
Annexation is the bigger bogeyman for the anti-charter folks. They don’t want the city to envelop their property. What fascinates me, though, is that the city cannot do it without property owners’ permission, which apparently doesn’t assuage the concern of those who oppose the charter idea.
I am perplexed, indeed, that the city cannot seem to muster enough electoral support within its corporate limits to overcome the opposition that stifles City Hall’s effort to establish a home rule charter. The election returns I’ve seen reveal abysmal voter turnout in a city of several thousand residents.
The most recent measure, which failed in May 2014, went down to defeat by a vote of 260 to 151 ballots. The 2010 census put the population of Princeton at roughly 6,800 residents, which means that half of those residents were eligible to vote in the municipal election. Most of them weren’t interested enough to cast their ballots.
State law places plenty of restrictions on how cities can govern themselves. They surrender a good bit of “local control” to legislative fiat.
In my view that is no way to run a city. Maybe one day — and I hope it is soon — Princeton will be able to write its own rules for how it charts its own future.