Naked City

CCOW Tipping in Webberville

The ongoing controversy over the incorporation earlier this year of the Village of Webberville heated up again on Aug. 12, when Mayor Hector Gonzales publicly announced the names of the 50 individuals who constitute Concerned Citizens of Webberville, which has sued Gonzales and other village leaders claiming that the February incorporation of the eastern Travis Co. hamlet violated several provisions of the Local Government Code and is therefore void. (The referendum to incorporate passed by seven votes.) "As it turns out," Gonzales said, "21 of the 50 [CCOW members] don't even reside inside the municipal boundaries." Some are absentee landowners, he said, and some, as far as village officials have been able to determine, don't have any real property connection to Webberville.

This public "outing" of the members of CCOW, -- or "C-COW, the stuttering bovine," as Gonzales refers to them -- is the latest salvo in an ongoing dispute over incorporation in Webberville, the oldest settlement in Travis Co. Residents have battled over the issue for more than a year. Concern about the continuing interest of mining giants like Texas Industries Inc. and Trinity Industries in strip-mining tracts of Webberville land prompted the 94-87 incorporation vote on Feb. 1; shortly thereafter, the village enacted a moratorium on development. But it wasn't long before state Rep. Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth, and Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, authored none-too-subtle legislation to grandfather land-use plans in municipalities incorporated after Jan. 1, 2003. Only Webberville and the village of Volente on Lake Travis, which also incorporated on Feb. 1, fit the bill. After an uproar and intervention by Webberville's own legislators, Madla ordered both sides into mediation earlier this summer.

But in the middle of mediation, lawyers for CCOW filed suit against Gonzales and village commissioners Ken Moon and Tom Trantham, says their attorney Monte Swearengen. According to the CCOW suit, Webberville didn't legally constitute an unincorporated town, and its "strangely drawn hodgepodge of properties" within the new village limits violates a size-requirement statute in the Local Government Code. Swearengen calls the suit "frivolous" and notes that CCOW failed to contest the election within 30 days of its certification, as state law allows. Since then, she said, CCOW has taken its case to Travis Co. Attorney David Escamilla, District Attorney Ronnie Earle, and even Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, all of whom declined to take the case. "And the individual land owners do not have standing to bring this suit," she said. "It's just sour grapes."

Swearengen said the recent public naming of the CCOW members has caused some dissension within the opposition group. "Someone decided CCOW was going to file suit," she said, "but didn't consult with the membership." As a result, several CCOW members found out they were parties to the civil action only after Gonzales announced their names at the Aug. 12 meeting, she said. But James Phillips, CCOW's lawyer, says it's irrelevant whether individual CCOW members were aware of their involvement. "That's like General Motors asking all its shareholders whether to file a lawsuit," he said.

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