Former mayor leads lawsuit against city of Wimberley

The controversial Wimberley wastewater saga is now heading into the court system. 

On May 17, Wimberley resident and former Mayor Steve Thurber filed a lawsuit in Hays County District Court against the city, alleging a potential quid pro quo, or favor, and Texas Open Meeting Act (TOMA) violations. Those accusations relate to Wimberley’s acquisition of an easement needed for Aqua Texas to provide wastewater service to town.

The suit also comes after investigations by the Hays County District Attorney’s office fizzled.

At the center of the lawsuit is the de-annexation of Sabino Ranch, a 96-acre tract of land that was effectively removed from the city’s municipal control after council approval on March 21.

The property, owned by Scott Johnson, is adjacent to the proposed boring site under Cypress Creek. Pipeline installed via the boring would transport raw sewage to Aqua Texas, a third-party wastewater provider, for the city’s wastewater services, pending approval from the Texas Water Development Board.

Without the easement, the city could not send raw sewage from its new collection system to Aqua Texas’ treatment plant, according to the lawsuit. Because the city council did not notify the public of discussion on the easement, or take a formal vote on the matter,  the suit alleges Wimberley’s City Council violated TOMA rules.

“We’re alleging that the discussion in executive session included that discussion about the easement, which was not presented to the public,” Thurber said. “Although we don’t know what happened in the meeting, documents tell the story of what could have happened.”

Thurber said the alleged favor was made apparent in Wimberley’s contract with Aqua Texas. Thurber argued city leaders granted the Johnson de-annexation in exchange for the Johnson easement in order to facilitate the plan to contract with Aqua Texas.

His argument centers on a section of the agreement with Aqua Texas, where language was changed a day before the de-annexation took place. Language shifted from Aqua “plans to obtain” an easement on March 20 to Aqua “has obtained an easement” on March 21.

“If so, council’s engaging in those easement dissuasions violated the TOMA,” Thurber said.

The de-annexation of the Sabino Ranch property was controversial from the start. City leaders approved the move March 21 by a split 3-2 vote. Former city council member Allison Davis and current council member Craig Fore voted against it.

Both argued de-annexing the nearly 100 acres in the center of the city would limit the city’s ability to regulate development.

But Davis worried about a potential quid pro quo on the de-annexation to secure the easement for Aqua Texas.

Those concerns were shut down by Mayor Susan Jaggers, who said Davis’ statement was accusatory, derogatory or threatening in nature.

“This is not about private property rights; it’s about a very obvious attempt to pull off a quid pro quo as part of the Aqua Texas boondoggle he (Scott Johnson) helped orchestrate,” said Michael Bachers at the March 21 meeting. “And it should raise red flags for every citizen of the Wimberley Valley.”

At the meeting, Johnson did not specify why he wanted to de-annex his land. His first attempt for de-annexation failed in 2011.

In August 2018, Johnson, a donor to Mayor Susan Jaggers’ campaign, emailed current and soon-to-be city leaders the day after the May 5, 2017 election, according to documents obtained by the News-Dispatch. Johnson demanded city leaders stop the “sewer project immediately,” and amend the collection system to connect to Aqua Texas.

City officials did not respond to comment regarding the lawsuit at the publication of this article.

“All I’m asking for is good government,” Thurber said. “If the mayor and council understand that, they should say a mistake was made and do the right thing.”

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