ELLIS COUNTY

Since Feb. 12, several Ellis County residents have sought signatures to fight forced annexation. But, the group is falling short by thousands.

The petition has a life of 180 days, which means registered voters in Ellis County only have until early July to sign. The petition has roughly 3,500 signatures out of the necessary 15,000.

Pat O’Connell, a Red Oak resident who lives outside the city's limits, has been involved for a few weeks and is headstrong on arranging volunteers on board and putting pens in peoples’ hands.

“We are trying this massive push to get more volunteers and signatures to expand everyone’s awareness of what’s going on so when someone does come by with a petition they know what it’s all about,” she explained.

Chapter 43 of the Texas Legal Governmental Code states that Ellis County can become a tier-two county if 10 percent of registered voters sign a petition that’s approved by the commissioner’s court. According to the Ellis County Elections Office, there are a total of 104,048 registered voters — so about 15,000 signatures are needed to get the vote to become a tier-two county on the November ballot.

As of now, the group has about 20 volunteers. O'Connell explained they would like to have closer to 100 so that each volunteer would only need to obtain 115 signatures to meet the requirement.

Most of the volunteers are in Midlothian since residents there recently experienced annexation. This movement sparked after the Midlothian City Council finalized a pair of resolutions earlier this year that adopted annexation plans and initiated a new three-year annexation process.

The petitioners are focused on branching out in Red Oak, Ennis and smaller, surrounding towns.

“We desperately need volunteers to work events and walk blocks,” O’Connell emphasized.

“The main thing is that we just want a choice,” she added. “If the voters want to be in the city, so be it, but we want to have a choice, and we want people to know because they don’t know right now.”

O'Connell continued, “I’ve been in the county for 30 years and do not, do not want to be in the city, and I know that most of us out here like being out in the country and we want to stay here. We don’t want the extra taxes and rules and regulations.”

Lewis Ponder, a Midlothian resident who spearheaded the petition, was at the Polka Festival in Ennis over the weekend and netted over 800 signatures.

Ponder said his focus is to “make sure to protect the property rights of residents of Ellis County.”

In a previous Daily Light article, co-author of the petition, Kevin Ward made it clear that “[…] we are not against annexation, we are just against forced annexation." He continued, “So if you want to be annexed, you still can be. I refer to it as taxation without representation, the people that make the decision to annex you — you can’t vote in or out of office because you are not in that town yet.”

After the 180 days, and if all of the signatures are acquired, the commissioner’s court has to verify the names to make sure Ellis County registered voters signed. O’Connell also mentioned she needs volunteers to help validate the signatures before handing them off to the Ellis County Commissioner’s Court.

Precinct 2 County Commissioners Land Grayson explained, “If they meet the statute that is presented to us, it is our responsibility to authorize the election.”

Grayson also expressed he favors the petition.

“Number one, I absolutely support property owner's rights. The fact that if they are going to be annexed, their voice should be heard,” Grayson emphasized. “Though I may be disappointed there are less than 4,000 signatures, I’d like to think we have much more of an active community that would support that more. It will be disappointing if we don’t have more signatures than that.”

Once the petition is in the hands of the commissioner’s court for it to be on the November ballot an agreement of three is required, whether that be two commissioners and the county judge or three commissioners.

Grayson looks forward to the petitioners presenting the petition to the court and is happy to see residents rally together for their property rights.

If Ellis County becomes a tier two county, residents will have the opportunity to vote for or against any future annexations. Annexation is the process by which cities extend their boundary limits, implementing municipal services, regulations, voting privileges, and taxing authority to the extra-territorial jurisdiction.

According to Chapter 43 of the Texas Legal Government Code, a tier-two county is “a tier-one county in which a majority of the registered voters of the county have approved being a tier two county at an election ordered by the commissioners court on the request by petition of a number of registered voters of the county equal to or greater than 10 percent of the registered voters of the county.”

For more information, follow the Facebook Ellis County Annexation Reform and website http://stopinvoluntaryannexation.org/.

Related article: Ellis County residents signing petition to prevent forced annexation

Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450