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Red Oak annexation ‘no laughing matter’

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Ellis County Press
RED OAK - It took only seven minutes for the Red Oak City Council to rubber stamp six ordinances to extend city boundary limits in a special meeting on Thursday, Dec. 28.

'It's no laughing matter,' said an annexed resident when her questions appeared to draw amused responses.

Mayor Todd Little waited until 7:10 p.m. to call the meeting to order, when Councilman Rick Ausmus' arrival established a quorum. Council members Charles Daubitz and Ron Wilson were not present. Uniformed police officers were posted conspicuously on both sides of the room, which was filled almost to capacity.

'I want to note this is not a public hearing,' Little said following the invocation and pledge of allegiance. 'This is a special meeting. There will be no public hearing.'

Little then jumped ahead to the third item on the agenda, and the council retired for executive session to seek legal advice related to the annexation.

The open meeting was reconvened at 7:45. After promising to stay after the meeting to hear questions from those citizens present, Little read out the parcel numbers and brief descriptions of the property to be annexed, called for motions, seconds, and votes. Council members raised their hands, but not their eyes, as the ordinances were unanimously approved one after the other.

'It is now 7:52,' said Little. 'This meeting is adjourned.'

Deer Creek resident Vickie Harris was the first citizen to speak.

'Who do I need to talk to about my existing business?' asked Harris, an independent businessperson who parks her semi truck at her residence, a practice she understands is prohibited by Red Oak ordinances.

'You may have a non-conforming use,' said City Attorney Elizabeth Elam. 'The city is not going to be taking any enforcement action until we look into it.'

A gum-chewing Elam appeared to find the citizens' comments humorous, chuckling under her breath, twisting her mouth and making no effort to hide the twinkle in her eye.

'It's not funny!' cried an exasperated Harris at one point. 'It's not funny. It's my livelihood and it's not funny.'

Harris and others said they were less upset by the annexation itself than by the manner in which it was handled.

'You came in the back door,' Harris said. 'You didn't come to us.'

Harris felt area residents should have been invited to attend meetings when parcels were considered for annexation. But Little said only Red Oak citizens could participate in those discussions.

'Now that you are in the city, you could participate,' he said, noting the city sent a letter to property owners on Oct. 18, allowing two months for public comment. 'We did everything the law requires.'

'The law, yes,' said Harris. 'But ethics.'

'I wish I could have knocked on your door,' said Ausmus. 'We don't have time to go out and knock on every door. That's why we have the public hearings.'

Shirley Miranda, another Deer Creek resident, said citizens didn't see council listening to their concerns during public hearings. 'All we saw was council members chewing gum and rolling their eyes,' she said. 'And the mayor's dad signed up to speak in favor of it.'

Ausmus reached across the desk with both hands and shook his head. 'I was disappointed in the whole proceeding,' he said. 'I was getting agitated.' Ausmus said some residents called council members names and made remarks about their children.

Fifty-year resident Red Womack said he had always known Red Oak would annex his property someday, but he too objected to the city's methods. 'Your notice to me just wasn't much,' said Womack. 'Not good literature. It was kind of railroaded through as far as the city was concerned.'

Womack, who owns the Red Oak Golf Course, spoke softly and respectfully and reminded the council of his long association with the city.

'I've always been a friend to Red Oak,' he said. 'I used to manage the ball team. I sold them their sewer at a reasonable rate, knowing I was going to have to quit dairying.'

Opponents of the annexation have retained a Dallas attorney, Jimmy Schnurr. 'He's just here to help us,' said Miranda. 'The questions come from him.' Schnurr said the city's annexation plan appears to have been designed to avoid certain legal requirements and questioned whether the plan was in the best interests of the city or the people affected.

Little said the annexation had nothing to do with tax revenue, as some opponents had charged, but rather was about the city council's desire to control the appearance of the city's frontages and eliminate 'undesirable' businesses. 

'Our image is an issue to the 5,000 citizens in Red Oak,' he said emphatically. 'Because of our frontages, (people) are stereotyping our entire town.' 

Although Little was never able to articulate his position well during the open discussion, he later said the law did not require the letter city officials sent out to property owners on Oct. 18.

'It was more than what the law required,' he said. 'The annexation committee recommended for us to send out an unrequired notice.'

The letter notified property owners of the proposed annexation and encouraged them to petition for voluntary annexation.

'But property owners couldn't agree to voluntarily annex,' Little said. 'Not without a condition.'

'I want tonight to be a stepping stone toward alleviating specific concerns,' said Ausmus.

Little agreed.

'This is the beginning of the process,' he said repeatedly. 'Ten years down the road you will see it as progress.'

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