Denton campaign finance: Specific-Purpose Committees, first round

Working on the story for you, Denton. But in the meantime, here are the reports:

Ban on fracking:

Denton Taxpayers-30 days.pdf

Pass the Ban-30 days.pdf

Bond proposition:

Building a Better Denton-30 days.pdf

Liquor proposition:

Denton First-30 days.pdf

Call for eminent domain reform

Recently, a Denton County couple was awarded $873,824 in their case against Crosstex Energy in a gas pipeline easement condemnation suit.

The company had originally offered Terry and Ossie Button $44,955, according to a press release from their attorney, Glenn Sodd and his firm, Dawson & Sodd, LLP.

The Fort Worth Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict that took into account the easement Crosstex Energy, now called Enlink Midstream, took across the couple’s undeveloped land near Lantana. Damages were awarded based on the reduced market value of the land caused by the pipeline. The pipeline’s placement limited development options for the land.

The company settled with the Buttons rather than appeal the matter to the Texas Supreme Court.

For many years, Texas laws and regulations have given energy companies wide latitude in establishing “common carriers” to move their product to market, latitude not seen in many other states. In the heyday of the Barnett Shale boom, many energy companies also formed pipeline companies to use eminent domain powers against landowners.

The Texas Legislature, through SB 18 last session, attempted some reforms to the state’s eminent domain laws.

Calvin Tillman, the former mayor of Dish, has called for more meaningful reforms. In an essay for the Texas Tribune, he underscores Texas’ low score on private property rights. He calls on the legislature to look to other states, such as Florida, which do a better job with private property rights.

Pre-filing begins Nov. 10. It will be interesting to see whether the Texas Legislature continues this important path of reform.

 

 

Frack ban: another legal discussion

Tuesday night municipal attorney Terry Welch (currently Copper Canyon and formerly Flower Mound) addressed residents at a meeting organized by Frack Free Denton.

I live-tweeted from the event, which included a short presentation by Welch on legal issues around the proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing in the city limits and a question-and-answer session with the audience. You can see the chain of tweets on the Twitter fall of our main page.

The topic was especially timely since the city was just sued by a mineral owner. Welch kept it simple, letting residents know that a ban on fracking was not the same as a ban on drilling and, as such, was legal.

First, there is no real state case law for oil and gas takings, which is why there has been reluctance to try such cases, Welch said. Unlike other property rights cases where it might be clear and easy to measure what is lost, oil or gas isn’t lost in a drill-but-no-frack scenario, he said.

“The gas is still there,” Welch told the crowd.

Second, a recent Texas Supreme Court ruling on an unrelated case could be brought to bear on recent claims of vested rights. EagleRidge Energy and Devon Energy have written the city claiming that permits issued long ago for leases they hold allow them to drill under old rules. Welch’s opinion was that rights that vest for development are quite specific and don’t extend to evolving business regulations.

Third, Texas cities, particularly home rule cities like Denton, have always had the authority to regulate oil and gas to some degree. There is no pre-emption.

Health and safety always trump property rights, Welch said.

However, he said it was possible that the Texas Legislature could introduce legislation that would forbid cities from banning fracking.

 

Voter registration update

Another 1,283 Denton County residents registered to vote in time for the November 4 election between Sept. 1 and Sept. 14.
A total of 305 of them are newly registered voters in Denton, bringing the total of new registered voters since July 15 to 1,361.
Again, young voters are driving those numbers. Of the newbies who registered in the first half of this month, 299 were between the ages of 18 and 25.

Campaign Finance Reports, July 15 mid-year

Note: Most candidates are continuing to carry balances, which could signal a willingness to run again. City staff tell me that mayoral candidate Donna Woodfork did not file a mid-year report.

Former candidates maintaining contributions:
Brendan Carroll
0340_001
David Zoltner
0341_001

Place 6:
Greg Johnson
0343_001

Place 5:
Hatice Salih
0337_001
Dalton Gregory
0345_001

District 2:
Glenn Farris
0339_001
John Ryan
0344_001

Mayor:
Jean Schaake
0338_001

Chris Watts
0342_001

Ice Bucket Challenge, Texas-style

Watch an entire backhoe of water rain down on the City Council, who was challenged by Mayor Chris Watts.

We don’t get to hear who they challenged here. I was told by Assistant City Manager John Cabrales they put out a long list before the backhoe driver was ready to go: county commissioners, the city manager, the assistant city manager.

 

Frack ban opposition files campaign paperwork

Bobby Jones was one of two people who said they represented Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy when they delivered the plebiscite petition opposing a proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing in the city limits.

He filed paperwork with the Denton city secretary last week appointing himself as the treasurer for the group.

Taxpayers SPC Filing

A quick look at property tax records shows that the Jones Family Trust is listed as part owner of five wells on the west side of town, all currently operated by EagleRidge. They are the Jones-Nelson Unit, the Mason Unit, the Jones-Sorrells Unit, and Mayday-Lattimore 1H and 2H.

UPDATE: Here are copies of documents on file with the Texas Railroad Commission which show who else pooled on those units with the Jones family.

0165_001 (Mayday-Mason Units)

0164_001 (Mayday-Lattimore Units)

Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy list their official purpose as to “oppose the drilling ban proposition.”

Just to be clear, the proposition doesn’t ban drilling, but hydraulic fracturing. When the City Council approved the proposition for the ballot, they added language beyond what the initiative petition had proposed, one that appears to further the distinction between drilling and fracking.

Another day, another open records request: Convention Center edition

We’ll have a story tomorrow about new rumblings in the community over the convention center. There may be another petition circulating, this time to get the convention center bonds on the ballot. Meanwhile, the Denton Chamber of Commerce has sent out an email urging its members to contact the City Council to express their support of the project.

It took a couple of passes at the city to get these documents I’m posting below. Writing records requests feels like an art form sometimes. Over the years, I’ve learned it helps to know the name of the document you want to see. That’s easy when you want something like a petition or a campaign finance filing.

But when you only know the law or rule that requires the report, or the general principle of a business transaction, the request becomes more difficult to articulate.

I’ve spent more time than I care to admit stumbling in the dark looking for the vocabulary that unlocks the government filing cabinets, to wit: notification letters, lien waivers, or, in today’s case “schedule of values.” (And thanks to all you unnamed sources out there that help us reporters with our vocabulary.)

20140730152924

RFP 5546 Convention Center Pricing Detail.6.30.14

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.