MCALLEN, RGV – McAllen Mayor Jim Darling says the state legislature’s decision to change the law regarding annexation has thwarted his city’s ability to grow.

Darling said the City of McAllen wants to expand to the northwest. However, he said the city has been “stymied” by a law that gives landowners the right to block annexation plans. Darling fears the legislation could have the unintended consequence of leading to more substandard “colonia” type development close to McAllen.

Darling made his views known at a McAllen Economic Development Corporation board meeting. Some of what he said was “off the record” because it included Darling’s political analysis on why there has been an “assault on cities” by the Texas Legislature.

“If you look at it, it is true (there has been an assault on the cities).” You cannot annex any more,” Darling said.

Legislation passed by state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, requires landowners to approve a city’s plans to annex. It was signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian after the MEDC board meeting, Darling said he has sympathy with Abbott’s view that “mom ’n’ pop farms” do not want to be “gobbled up” by adjoining cities.

“We are not interested in annexing raw land. For one thing, it is not a benefit. It is usually for Ag use so it is of no benefit in taxes. There is nothing to regulate. We want to leave those people alone.”

Darling pointed out that McAllen has not annexed in the last three years. “There are developments we would like to work on,” he said. Asked if McAllen’s growth has been stymied by the annexation legislation, Darling said: “Absolutely, sure.”

Now that landowners living outside of a city limit must approve an annexation, cities are trying to entice them to do so.

Darling told MEDC that the City of McAllen has passed one incentive to encourage landowners to agree to being annexed. “In order to get people to annex, we are not going to charge the park fee, that is $700 a lot. That is a detriment to someone wanting to come,” he said.

Another incentive might be on its way, he said. “We are probably going to do some sort of tax abatement on developed lots until the lots are built on, to encourage people to want to annex.”

On the possibility of more substandard development occurring on the outskirts of the city limits, Darling said: “We just think the possibility of being surrounded by substandard development is real. We could even go back to the colonia days.”

Darling said counties have a lot less power than cities to prevent substandard development.

“The county does not have any building permit authority. They have no zoning authority. Their subdivision regulations are not the same as those for a city. No fire protection, street lights, all kind of things. We are very concerned about that, the state isn’t.”

Darling reiterated that counties do not have the power to regulate development like cities do.

“They do not have the rules or the ability to enforce anything. They are capped at 3.5 percent like us. But they do not have sales taxes or other funds. They (the legislature) are laying all the responsibility for development in the state of Texas on an entity that has no rules or no money.”

Darling added: “We are sitting on a huge problem. It may not be this year or next year but ten years from now you are going to see the ramifications of these actions by the state.”

The Bonnen Tapes

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen

Before his discussion on annexation, Darling asked if any MEDC board members had listened to “The Bonnen Tapes.” He said those that had would know that he, Darling was one of the “dumb asses” Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen had referred to on the tape.

Darling later told the Rio Grande Guardian that his analysis of the political dynamics at play in Austin was “off the record.” However, in an interview with a reporter afterwards, Darling said the tapes showed that the “assault on cities” had been intentional.

“We had a nice meeting with him (Bonnen) during the session. We congratulated him and talked about some of the things we wanted to do. He did not say yes (to our legislative agenda), but he certainly did not say no. If you were taped all your life, you would have regrettable statements. I understand that.”

Bonnen is facing calls for his resignation after an audio tape emerged showing he and state Rep. Dustin Burrows making disparaging remarks about certain Democrats in the Texas House. Bonnen and Burrows also told the person secretly taping the conversation, Michael Quinn Sullivan of the conservative group Empower Texans, to target ten Texas House Republicans who were not supportive of legislation to stop cities hiring lobbyists.

If Quinn Sullivan would help defeat the ten Republicans in a primary, Bonnen and Burrows said they could help Empower Texans secure a media pass allowing access to the House floor during session. Burrows was chair of the House Republican Caucus at the time of the meeting – on June 12, 2019 – but has since quit this role. At least 12 House Republicans have called on Bonnen to resign as speaker.

Bonnen’s “assault on the cities” drive could be heard loud and clear on Quinn Sullivan’s recording.

“Any mayor, county judge that was dumb ass enough to come meet with me, I told them with great clarity, my goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the legislature for cities and counties,” Bonnen, said in the recording.

“I hope the next session is even worse,” Burrows replied.

Bonnen then said he was “all in for that.”

On Friday, the House Republican Caucus met to discuss the Bonnen situation. The caucus later issued this statement:

“We, the members of the Texas House Republican Caucus, condemn in the strongest possible terms the offensive language used and the statements made by Speaker Bonnen and Representative Burrows during the secretly recorded meeting which occurred on June 12th. Both members violated the high standards of conduct we expect of our members. Their conduct does not reflect the views of our Caucus membership. We completely and fully support the members mentioned in the recording. Further, the views expressed in the taped recording in no way reflect the high regard we have for our locally elected officials. Constitutionally, the Speaker can only be elected or removed when the House is in session. A process in our Caucus bylaws presently exists to nominate a Caucus-endorsed Speaker candidate, and we intend to abide by those provisions accordingly.”

As of Friday night, 33 of the 64 members of the State Republican Executive Committee had called for Bonnen’s resignation. The committee helps the party set its platforms for legislation.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.