The Lewisville Mayor’s Corner
By Mayor Rudy Durham
Gov. Greg Abbott has called the Texas Legislature into special session that started this week. The agenda set by the governor includes multiple items that directly attack the ability of individual cities to operate, a truth verified by the governor’s own provocative words on multiple occasions.
It’s almost as if our state officials believe they own all the good ideas, and want all Texas cities and towns to look, feel, and operate the same as every other Texas city. I think we all know that what is good for some other Texas city might not be good for Lewisville, which is exactly why the Texas Constitution grants significant rule-making authority to local cities.
That authority is being threatened. Measures that will be debated by the Legislature include bills that would:
- Set an arbitrary and artificial cap on city spending, which would hinder or eliminate the chance to add new facilities and programs or to increase compensation for police officers, firefighters, and other employees. This could mean limited operations at the new multi-generational recreation center that was identified as a critical need in the Lewisville 2025 vision plan, and approved by Lewisville voters.
- Make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Lewisville to expand its borders and complete the long-planned Castle Hills annexation. If cities are not able to expand their borders, the economic base stagnates and all stakeholders lose. People living on the unincorporated fringes will be able to enjoy many of the city’s quality-of-life amenities at no cost while taxpaying residents of the city foot the bill.
- Create a massive loophole in development regulations that would exempt property owners from any requirements adopted after a piece of land is purchased, no matter how long ago that was. This could prevent the city from enforcing reasonable codes that significantly improve public safety and promote quality development, which in turn could allow some highly undesirable uses to be built in totally inappropriate locations.
- Limit or eliminate the city’s tree ordinance, which in turn could result in clear-cutting of heavily treed lots even when no development plans are in place. Lewisville’s tree ordinance has not prevented a single development from being completed, and has resulted in better developments while protecting your property value.
Some members of the Legislature like to talk about “voter choice” and claim that voters should have the final say at the ballot box. They try to work that into their most harmful bills. Don’t fall for the rhetoric. These same Legislators have approved bills in Austin specifically designed to overturn results of local elections with which they disagreed. Denton residents voted to block fracking in their city; overturned by the Legislature. Austin residents voted to require better background checks for ride-share drivers; overturned by the Legislature.
Talk about “voter choice” is a smoke screen designed to conceal the true motive of enforcing their own political views on all Texans, giving more power to the statehouse and striping power away from city halls and county courthouses. If you don’t think political power is at the core of these bills, their smoke screen is working. The ultimate result of these types of pre-emption bills would be elected city councils that are forced to act in the best interest of legislators instead of in the best interest of local residents.
Why would state officials want to push local elections to November? Because they believe the partisan voters who put them into office will block city efforts to generate revenue, expand borders, or adopt regulations. It is not about what is best for cities – it is an attempt to spread their own partisan politics.
The governor and some members of the Legislature seem to view cities as the enemy, and themselves as champions of the people. And yet, it is local cities that provide the majority of services benefiting Texans across the state, something they do while receiving virtually no money from the state. In recent years, cities also have had to help pay for projects that should be completed by the state but are not properly funded by the Legislature, such as highway construction and maintenance.
Cities continue to be the engine that drives the Texas economy. The vast majority of new jobs coming to Texas are coming because of the work of cities, not because of state office holders.
City halls are the hallmark of locally controlled democracy at work. City government is closest to the people being served because elected city officials are right here in the community, listening to residents in public meetings and grocery stores and church pews, responding to the expressed needs of residents and held directly accountable if those needs are not met. Your city council members do not answer to a controlling political party. We do not answer directly to the governor. We answer directly to you — our neighbors, friends, and family living right here in Lewisville.
State officials are elected to run the statehouse, to set and implement a budget that includes proper funding for public education and public highways. Both of those programs are badly under-funded. Do you really want those same state officials to start setting local priorities for your neighborhood?
Be skeptical. Be aware. And most of all, be active.
Rudy Durham is a lifelong Lewisville resident and a graduate of Lewisville High School and North Texas State University. He first was elected to City Council in 1994 and has served as mayor since 2015. He is a Registered Professional Appraisal and Real Estate Broker. He also is a member of the Regional Transportation Council through the North Central Texas Council of Governments.