Piece of Mind: Princeton Charter Fight Might Resume

Oct 8, 2020

Princeton is in serious growth mode, with a population set to virtually triple in size from the 2010 census to the 2020 count of residents.

Still, the city does not govern itself under a home-rule charter. It relies on general law established by the Texas Legislature. Why is that? Because the city cannot persuade enough voters to approve a charter that would give the city considerably more flexibility in establishing municipal policy.

That might change sometime in 2021 if a certain candidate for the Princeton City Council has his way.

I became acquainted recently with Bryan Washington, a Princeton businessman who is running for Place 3 on the council. He was walking through our neighborhood with some supporters soliciting voter support. I asked him about the home-rule charter and whether he intended to make it an issue for the city to ponder. He said he would. I believe him. I also believe he needs to do whatever he can to ensure that Princeton residents take yet another look at a charter proposal that would enable the city to set its own rules for governance.

The city has tried four times to approve a home-rule charter. It has come up short largely on the basis of fear expressed by some residents about what I guess you could call “runaway annexation.” That fear came mostly from residents who live outside the city limits but within Princeton’s “extraterritorial jurisdiction.”

The fear fomented by opponents of a home-rule charter, though, is misplaced. The 2017 Texas Legislature wrote a law that requires cities seeking to annex territory to obtain permission from residents whose property would be affected.

Princeton needed to cross a 5,000-resident population threshold to qualify for a home-rule charter. It did so sometime prior to the 2010 census, which placed the city population at 6,807 residents. That number is going to increase dramatically once the Census Bureau completes its count in Princeton. City officials have told me they believe the city population today exceeds 16,000 residents. Indeed, in the neighborhood where I live, I see new homes sprouting like springtime weeds. What’s more, Realtors are selling the homes practically as soon as builders complete construction.

Carlos Cuellar, a lifelong Princeton resident and a recent appointee to the Princeton Independent School District Board of Trustees, worked on a city charter commission that presented the most recent (failed) charter issue to the voters. Cuellar, who was walking with Bryan Washington through our neighborhood, is optimistic about the chances that a city charter measure would have were it to go to a vote for a fifth time. “We have a lot of people moving into the community,” Cuellar said, indicating that with all the fresh faces and new voices moving into the city, there could be a momentum shift toward approval of a city charter.

“We need it,” he said of the governing document. “It makes us more accountable to the voters,” he said, and he acknowledged that a home-rule charter gives the city greater “flexibility” in making key policy decisions.

Cuellar also intends to visit with Michael Biggs, a member of a longtime Princeton family who had been a major voice in opposition to previous attempts at enacting a home-rule charter. He is hopeful that with the restrictions set forth by the Legislature and with the exploding growth that is occurring in Princeton that a home-rule charter isn’t too far in the city’s future.

I share Cuellar’s hope. The city needs to be able to govern itself without the state looking constantly over its shoulder.

John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.

Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.