Open records requests for the frack ban petition

A few days ago, I made an open records request for a document I don’t typically ask for: copies of open records requests.

It seemed germane in this case, given the expected tenor of the upcoming battle over a potential ban on hydraulic fracturing in the city: who has asked for a copy of the citizen petition? In other words, who is making it their business to have on hand the nearly 2,000 names and contact information on that petition?

We might, as a news outlet, care about the names on the petition. Did any elected officials sign the petition? Did anyone’s dog sign the petition? I considered it for a minute or two and realized that would be a lot of work and hardly be worth even a blog post. Then, I realized there might be people who would want all those names and addresses. So, I requested letters of all those who had asked.

The answer turned out to be pretty interesting. PETITION REQUESTORS

The same day the petition was submitted, Bill Paxton of the Eppstein Group, in Fort Worth asked for it. Browse their website, note their clients. Interesting choice of a hired gun, if that’s their role.

So did Denton’s own Devin Taylor, who sits on the city’s planning and zoning commission. Taylor asked the city also for derived documents, kind of a I’m-from-Missouri-so-show-me request of the list of qualified signatures.

A month later, on June 9, a Jourdanton council member asked for a copy. According to her cover letter, that city appears to be considering a ban, too, in order to protect the aquifer.

Also on June 9, Robert Flores, a lobbyist in San Antonio, requested a copy of the proposed ordinance and petition.

For now, I’m not planning a full story — which would involved calling all these folks in hopes of finding out what they intend to do with the list of names and addresses. But in the interim, I’m offering this blog post to help keep the lights shining brightly on this issue for our community.

And to that end, know that I have again requested copies campaign finance paperwork with the city secretary. No one else has filed besides “Pass the Ban” and “Denton First,” which is the liquor petition. The website, North Texans for Natural Gas, popped up between the time the petition was submitted and the council’s July 15 vote. For a time, it was unclear who was behind the online presence. It appeared to be well-funded, with many ads showing up in social media. Today, I noticed that the site listed Devon Energy, EnerVest, EOG Resources and XTO Energy as founders.



Ad hoc committee taking shape

Council members Greg Johnson, Kevin Roden and John Ryan all expressed an interest in working on an ad hoc committee that would take a fresh look at the city’s nearly 35-year-old ordinance on historic preservation.

The council discussed whether to form the committee during a workshop session over lunch today in the training room of the city’s facilities building.

Mayor Chris Watts sought reassurance that the council’s intent in visiting the issue was not to undermine the Historic Landmark Commission. He was not on City Council when many issues emerged with the commission and the prospect of an ad hoc committee was raised (see stories here and here and here and here and here), but he was on council when the body moved to disband its airport board. Past councils had earned a reputation of interfering with the work of its boards and commissions, he said.

Council member Kevin Roden said he believed a council committee could help the commission better get about its business of historic preservation by addressing issues in the old ordinance.

The council is reviewing a draft resolution that it expects to consider on a consent agenda next month. Then, the council and commission will gather in a joint meeting in September or October to set an agenda for the council committee.


Legal opinions

In my first report from the public hearing on the frack ban, I was able to write a few sentences about the legal opinions being provided to the City Council, one from former Texas Supreme Court Justice Tom Phillips and the other from Jordan Yeager, at Curtin & Heefner.

Grab a cup of joe and see for yourself how different legal minds see the city’s battle to police what happens in its boundaries.

Phillips opinion

Yeager opinion

Frack ban: Flyers, flyers everywhere

Residents both in and outside of Denton reported receiving flyers about Denton’s vote tomorrow night on the proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing. (This is in addition to reports that residents are being asked to sign a plebiscite petition that ostensibly opposes the ban, although an increasing number of residents tell us they were mislead by the petition workers about the meaning of the petition.)

Here’s a copy of what’s shown up on Denton doorsteps.

The website registration for Clean Resources has been made private, but the group likely has ties to the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council (BSEEC), a longstanding industry-funded effort. A handful of people from Fort Worth came sporadically to Denton City Council public hearings in the past few years and identified themselves as being from Clean Resources before stating their opposition to revised oil and gas development rules. The director of BSEEC, Ed Ireland, served on the city’s task force in the re-writing of those rules.

In addition, mineral owners in several nearby cities report receiving this letter in the mail, urging them to come to the Denton City Council meeting Tuesday.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. The city staff are preparing for a crowd. Here is an advisory to help if you plan to attend.

Call to local royalty owners

Denton resident Shirley Price called me to say that she’d received a letter from the Texas Royalty Council urging her to call her city leaders to oppose the proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing.

The public hearing on the ban is expected during the Denton City Council’s July 15 meeting.

Price called because she had not seen mention of the council’s letter in our story about the latest petition in town seeking support of fracking.

The letter, which is posted on the council’s website, suggests that Denton may not be legally able to hold the frack ban election under its city charter. The letter also suggests a court injunction against such an election was possible. Neither the Texas Oil and Gas Association, the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Associations nor the many attorneys I have visited with have suggested this possibility.

For the record, the relationship between the longstanding TIPRO and the royalty council is unclear. The oldest entries on the council website date to 2008 — a little post-Barnett Shale boon, and more at the start of the Eagle Ford rush.

Price thought Denton mineral owners were getting these letters regardless of where their holdings were. She has holdings in Montague County. As such, a ban in Denton wouldn’t affect her mineral income.

The way the letter is written also makes it difficult for the reader to keep other facts straight. Denton’s proposed ban is not on drilling, but on fracking. The recent Dryden decision shows the argument over a city using its local powers to regulate (zoning, public health and safety) as a “regulatory taking” is far from settled.

The connection between a frack ban in Denton and local job loss is likely tenuous, since no oil and gas companies are based here. The connection between a frack ban in Denton and higher taxes is also tenuous, since both the city’s and school’s property tax base are far more diversified. In many meetings, I’ve watched the city staff plan for the obsolescence in mineral wealth at the airport.

Given the lack of transparency in the state budget, a claim about the impact on tuition needs to be examined for its full effects. The UNT System doesn’t have property holdings like UT. Some of the state’s severance tax goes into the rainy day fund, the rest goes into the general fund, which helps fund higher education.

As a call to action, Price told me she could appreciate the letter’s stance. I found it interesting that she also said that she didn’t think there should be fracking in the city limits, especially with emerging science on its impacts to drinking water and earthquakes.

Troubling testimony about child, adult protective services

I listened to most of the testimony during the Sunset Advisory Commission’s public hearings Wednesday to prepare for today’s report on the state supported living centers.

I heard testimony about other facets of human services in Texas during the course of the day — testimony from families whose cases revealed a troubling lack of accountability in the Department of Family and Protective Services.

A woman and her two sons testified to their year apart when a caseworker removed all of the woman’s children after one of her adoptive children died. The woman told the Senate panel that she agreed to take in her sister-in-law’s young children, who she thought were neglected. After they came into her care, she learned the true extent of their abuse, but the caseworker and the department did not come to her aid, she said. When one of the children died from complications of the abuse, the caseworker returned to remove all the children. The sons testified to the sexual abuse they suffered in the care of foster families and the mother testified to spending all her savings in order to get her children back.

By the end of the family’s testimony, an agency representative was at the table with them and acknowledged the commission members’ call for an internal and criminal investigation.

Commission members also called for the Texas Rangers to investigate after hearing testimony from several families about guardians-for-hire. Those families testified that after a complaint or dispute with Adult Protective Services, a new guardian would be appointed, limit the family member’s access and, over time, drain the loved one’s estate.

Nelson called those rounds of testimony “discouraging.”

Both days of testimony were broadcast on the web and are available online at

Better Block project needs volunteers

A few months back, I reported on a new initiative in Denton to help boost neighborhood revitalization.

The city has selected the Sherman Drive neighborhood, around the old Piggly Wiggly store, for its first living charrette.

On his blog, Council member Kevin Roden called it a “great area with tons of eager neighbors nearby ready to see that area pop with creative neighborhood services, better streetscape, and improved biking and walking accessibility.”

Residents have planned the charrette for Saturday morning, June 28, and will be building the pieces they need for it on Thursday and Friday.

It looks like a lot of fun: pallet furniture, a hay bale “splash park,” pop-up shops and a street repair workshop.

Volunteers need to sign up this week, so that organizers can better plan for the event. Go here to sign up.

If you want to learn more about Better Block in general, visit

Drowning victim’s body recovered

From staff writer Bj Lewis:

The body of 38-year-old Michael Quach was recovered early Wednesday morning.

Capt. Cliff Swofford, a state game warden, said the body was found at 6:20 a.m. west of the marina in Hidden Cove Park.

He had been missing since Sunday.

“The body rose last night and floated to the inner cove,” he said.

Swofford said the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office has taken possession of the body and everybody is clear of the lake now.

Quach, of Melissa, jumped out of a boat to help his nephew, who was panicking in the water. Quach wasn’t wearing a life jacket and never made it back to the boat.

Crews from The Colony and Lewisville fire departments assisted state personnel in the search.

Quach’s wife, Brianna Mann, and several other members of the family had been at Hidden Cove Park since he went missing. Quach had been on a Father’s Day boat outing with his wife, two children and other family members when he went missing.

EagleRidge re-working well at Acme Brick

We received this press release from the city at about 4:45 p.m. today (it follows several tweets from @DentonPD last night):

City staff has been notified that EagleRidge Operating, LLC will re-work the Acme Brick D 3H well. The work is being done to unplug a potentially clogged pipeline. Workover rig equipment and an enclosed flare unit will be set up to complete the short-term operation. EagleRidge estimates the work will take two to three days.

The Acme Brick D 3H well is included in the Standstill Agreement negotiated between the Denton City Council and EagleRidge.

Questions or complaints regarding gas wells may be directed to the 24-hour Gas Well Hotline at (940) 349-8GAS (8427).

Taking a stab at political media criticism through the lens of a fake Twitter account

On my desktop next to a well-worn copy of Webster’s, an English-Spanish dictionary and the AP Stylebook, I keep two books from journalism school. One is my first textbook on news reporting and writing that’s sweetly out of date (when you look at the photos), yet timeless in the fundamentals of our discipline. The other is Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage, to remind me that the “medium is the message,” “in the name of progress our official culture is forcing the new media to do the work of the old,” and other stuff like that.

I spend a lot of time on Twitter, which I know some of you who are reading this now may not follow. (I always keep that in mind, as well as the fact that scores of our newspaper readers and many of our website readers may never see this blog post either. Rest assured, non-Twitter-users, you don’t have to get an account to gain an understanding of what you can learn from this interesting and compact forum, you can simply read the messages on the “Twitter fall” in the middle of our website. But I digress.)

In early April, I stumbled on a fake Twitter account @johnryandenton (we’ll see how long this link lasts). The “art” is funny, and the satirical tweets made me laugh out loud more than once. Having been on Twitter for a while now, I knew they weren’t likely coming from Ryan or one of his supporters.

Ryan called today and we chatted about it. He confessed he wasn’t up on Twitter, and then proceeded to share what he’d figured out (who’s following, including who followed first, and who’s interacted with the anonymous writer), which I thought was plenty insightful for someone who had just waded in … and I think there’s a good reason for that which I’ll get into in a second.

I brought up the existence of this fake Twitter account to his opponent, Glen Farris, last night before the Denton Neighborhood Alliance forum and he did a good job keeping his poker face.

Ryan hasn’t lost his sense of humor over it, but he also told me he intended to contact Twitter and ask them to remove the account. The fake account may be harmless fun, or it may be an example of using the new media (Twitter) to do some old work (a whispering campaign).

Social media is supposed to be democratizing in its ability to give access to powerful communication tools that used to belong only to the elite. In j-school, we were reminded frequently and loudly and soul-searchingly about the responsibilities that come with access to barrels of ink. (Occasionally, I share cautionary Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, Lulu, et al, tales to my now-grown children to encourage them to be mindful of their decisions in those spheres, kind of like how I made them read the police blotter occasionally when they were teens. But I digress again.)

As McLuhan wrote, “the only sure disaster would be a society not perceiving a technology’s effects on their world, especially the chasms and tensions between generations.”

Some food for thought as this spring political season races to the finish line.