Drilling Opponents: Plan Commish Chair Pushed Commissioners to Support Fracking

Categories: City Hall

shame.JPG
Commish can probably expect more of this...
Opponents of Trinity East's plan to drill for natural gas inside the Trinity River floodplain say Plan Commission Chair Joe Alcantar of pressing his fellow commissioners outside of public meetings or lawful closed-door deliberations to reconsider the permit.

In a complaint filed with the District Attorney's public integrity division Wednesday, they claim Alcantar violated open meetings law. What's more, the complaint says three members of the commission independently confirmed that "prior to the reconsideration of the denial of three gas drilling specific-use permits on Jan. 10, 2013, Commission Chair Joe Alcantar telephoned most, if not all, commissioners to discuss the merits of the reconsideration motion."

Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders at Risk, Marc McCord of FracDallas and Zac Trahan with Texas Campaign for the Environment, who filed the complaint, declined to reveal which commissioners confirmed the allegations. "We don't think they were the parties responsible for the illegal activity," Schermbeck said. "It was the Chair and the Chair only."

Unfair Park reached out to both the DA's office and a number of commissioners, including Alcantar, but has not received a response. We'll update accordingly if we do.

Trinity East's application to drill in a floodplain also zoned as parkland -- both of which are prohibited by city code -- has put the Plan Commission in an awkward position. The City Council so far hasn't taken action to amend the law, allowing Trinity East to drill. Nor has it updated city ordinances, despite drilling task force recommendations submitted some months ago.

It gets weirder, though. As Schutze reported earlier, City Manager Mary Suhm signed an until-now secret agreement with Trinity East, promising lobby the Council on its behalf. Trinity East must have been comfortable with that promise -- $19-million comfortable, in fact. Meanwhile, the City Council was assured that nobody would ever spud parkland.

Stay tuned to Unfair Park. Today, the Plan Commission will reconsider its denial of the permits. We've been told there won't be a vote, but the way this morning's going, who the hell knows?

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8 comments
schermbeck
schermbeck

Section 3.101(d)(1) of Chapter 51A provides that all meetings of the CPC are subject to the Open Meetings Act.  The “daisy chain” issue for Open Meetings Act violations is found in AG Opinion GA-0326 (2005) as follows:

The OMA does not require that governmental body members be in each other's physical presence to constitute a quorum. See Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 551.001(6) (Vernon Supp. 2004-05) (defining "quorum" simply as a majority of a governmental body). As such, we construe section 551.143 to apply to members of a governmental body who gather in numbers that do not physically constitute a quorum at any one time but who, through successive gatherings, secretly discuss a public matter with a quorum of that body. In essence, it means "a daisy chain of members the sum of whom constitute a quorum" (4) that meets for secret deliberations. Under this construction, "deliberations" as used in section 551.143 is consistent with its definition in section 551.001 because "meeting in numbers less than a quorum" describes a method of forming a quorum, and a quorum formed this way may hold deliberations like any other quorum, see id. § 551.001(2).

Tom434
Tom434

Unless I missed a change in state law it is a violation of the Open Meeting Act to discuss public business outside of a public meeting only when a quorum is present.  Nothing bars one on one meeting unless the government body only has 3 members

bbetzen
bbetzen

Yes, at least two speakers were thrown out of the meeting.  The Committee Chair had clearly stated that everyone would get to speak but after an additional 10 minutes he stopped the speaking and these two, of the probably 20+ more who wanted to speak, voiced protest and were escorted out of the City Council Chambers by guards at the command of the Chair.  The chair did not allow everyone to speak. I was going to be the next speaker when he ended the testimony. 

I had wanted to add to the discussion that Dallas was doing this exceptionally dangerous and potentially deadly drilling at a time when natural gas has the lowest well head price in over a decade.  It is down to $2.59 per thousand cubic feet today.  The average annual price for the past decade has always been higher, as high as $8 in 2008.  Why not wait 5 years?  The price will probably rise and research will make the process safer, or help us to better identify the dangers, before we risk the safety in our city.

WCGasette
WCGasette

@darrd2010 Speakers have been thrown out of the meeting?? KERA just reported that a few seconds ago...what's going on???

director21
director21

@heart_and_soul @bbetzen It does not make ME wonder! The rush is because Trinity East leases expire next year and the Mayor has already told them the leases will NOT be extended, so if they do not get pipe in the ground, then they lose those leases and their bonus money.


THAT is why they are rushing to get this past the CPC and to the City Council without a CPC denial that would then require a supermajority 12 votes on the Council, a level the Mayor cannot achieve.

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