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2016-01-28

Wanna unincorporate? Here's how!

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

It's not hyperbolic to say that nearly every day someone either walks into the Courier office or telephones with the question: "What in the hell is going on with the city?"
The stock answer is, of course: "We don't know. The Courier no longer covers the city on a regular basis. We haven't covered the city for (six, seven) eight months now." Lamentably, the state of city governance, which many considered in shambles last June, has now become even worse - if that can be imagined. And no one - not even the city's coterie of claques - can dispute that fact with a straight face.
So, in the interest of educating Courier readers, here are the rules as set down in the Texas Local Government Code-Organization of Municipal Government covering "Abolition of Corporate Existence." These steps are applicable to special-law municipalities with 10,000 or fewer inhabitants, which the City of Bandera certainly has - less than 10,000 residents, that is. The designation special-law municipality remains up for grabs.
Succinctly, a city mayor can order an election "on the question of abolishing the municipality's corporate existence if a petition requesting the election has been signed by at least 400 qualified voters and is submitted to the mayor."
Although provisions also address municipalities with less than 400 eligible voters, that shouldn't pose a problem in Bandera.
As reported earlier in the Courier, according to 2010 census figures, Bandera's population is 857; however, 139 of those counted were under the age of 18, leaving only 718 eligible voters. Of the city's 676 registered voters, approximately 87 appear to have been suspended - for a grand total of 589 registered voters.
Using these numbers, an incredible 82 percent of the city's population has registered to vote. This has to be some kind of record. Did anyone call Guinness?
However, according to Section 62.002 of Chapter 62, if a majority of the municipality's qualified voters is less than 400, the petition must be signed by at least two-thirds of the qualified voters of the municipality.
There's also another path to abolition, but one only to be taken by the most fiscally conservative of cities. "If the municipality has less that 400 qualified voters and has no municipal debt and does not provide services that would be otherwise provided by the county, the petition must be signed by at least one-fourth of the qualified voters in the municipality." Since the City of Bandera is burdened by municipal debt, this would not suffice as an option to dissolution of a municipality.
After receiving the petition with the requisite number of eligible signatures - and unlike in regular elections, no one living in Tarpley, Pipe Creek, or further afield in Houston, Angleton, Conroe, Lavon, Livingston or San Antonio can be considered eligible - the mayor orders the election.
This election must be held on the same date as the next general election at which the office of mayor is to be filled. And surely, voters signing this petition would no doubt be scrutinized more closely than the "eligible voters" who cast ballots in previous local elections.
Section 62.003 states: "The election shall be ordered, conducted, and canvassed in the same manner as is required for an election to incorporate the municipality, except that the mayor of the municipality shall perform all acts that would be performed by the county judge."
If the majority of votes received in the election favor abolishing the municipality, the mayor simply declares it "abolished." The vote must be certified in the county commissioners court, of course, as in, "The commissioners court shall enter the abolition order in its minutes, at which time the municipality ceases to exist."
For policy wonks, the remaining subchapters deal with receiverships, payments of indebtedness and disposition of assets under receivership, schools and public property and payment of indebtedness and disposition of assets by corporate officers or trustees.
And there, in a nutshell, is how one - or 400 or more eligible "ones" - rid themselves of a troublesome and increasingly dysfunctional municipality. Now, go out and collect those signatures.