7/15/2005

Commissioners limit eminent domain: The Herald-Zeitung (New Braunfels TX), 7/15/05

By Ron Maloney

Anyone concerned by the June Supreme Court decision upholding New London, Conn.’s right to use eminent domain to condemn land for a shopping center can relax if they live here.

It’s not going to happen in Comal County.

Commissioners voted 4-1 Thursday to repudiate any new power the ruling might offer Comal County to seize land for economic development or commercial purposes.

The June 23 decision that extended eminent domain from public to private use in support of economic development sent shockwaves across the country that reverberated in the very fabric of Texas, a state where property rights are still regarded as paramount to all but the most important needs of the public.

The Texas Legislature is working to define or limit its impact here, and Comal County officials decided they wanted to spell out their view for their own constituents so there is no doubt.

“The bottom line from my perspective, and I hope from this commissioners’ court’s perspective, is that this resolution demonstrates to the public that this court doesn’t plan to expand the limited authority to exercise eminent domain granted us in 1925,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Jay Millikin said. “This is a proactive statement of the intent of this court. In my mind, we do not need to wait for the state or federal Supreme Court or legislatures to tell us what to do.”

Millikin acknowledged the irony of throwing away an opportunity for increased county authority after fighting for years for it in other areas.

“We will not go beyond the authority granted us in the Texas Local Government Code in 1925,” Millikin said.

Millikin made the motion to approve the resolution, which was seconded by Precinct 3 Commissioner Greg Parker.

“We’re taking a symbolic action to show the public that we regard taking of private property in this kind of way is not good for our citizens,” Parker said. “I think it is prudent for us to be proactive in this fight.”

County Judge Danny Scheel told the court that the Texas state Senate had passed a bill just Wednesday prohibiting taking of private property for economic development purposes.

“I don’t think it’s ever been the intention of this court to exercise this kind of power,” Scheel said. “When we were considering the (Mission Valley Mills) TIF [tax increment funding] project, we stated we did not support the taking of any private property to support that development down there.”

Scheel argued that Comal County didn’t need to get involved in the issue — that it would be dealt with by legislators at the state and national levels.

“I don’t think this is something this court needs to get into,” Scheel said. “The Legislature is handling it.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Jack Dawson strongly disagreed.

“I don’t like what the Supreme Court did, so I’m going to support it,” Dawson said.

The resolution passed 4-1 with Scheel’s being the “no” vote.


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