Just a month after Richland Hills voters decided to leave the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, a resident has filed a lawsuit alleging the election was improper and the results should be nullified.
Gerrit K. Spieker, who describes himself as a public transportation user, is asking the court to throw out the results of the Nov. 8 election and restore transit service to the city. The Fort Worth Transportation Authority, also known as the T, provided bus routes and mobility-impaired transportation services to the city of about 8,000 residents for more than two decades prior to the election.
The T also co-owns the Trinity Railway Express, which operates a popular park-and-ride train station in Richland Hills that remains open to regional commuters despite the Richland Hills election results.
55 Percent of Richland Hills voters who favored leaving the Fort Worth Transportation Authority Nov. 8
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Spieker contends that the Nov. 8 election should not have been held because it was too soon after the city’s previous transit election. On May 7, in an election called by the city, voters opted to remain with the T. Then, during the summer, residents circulated a petition to get the transit question back on the ballot in November.
Subsequently, in the November election, 55 percent of voters opted to leave the T, while 45 percent wanted to stay. The election results were canvassed by the Richland Hills City Council on Nov. 22 and transit service essentially ended the next day.
“An election to withdraw may not be ordered, and a petition for an election to withdraw may not be accepted for filing, more frequently than once during each period of 12 months,” Spieker wrote in his lawsuit, citing a state law.
The legal action was filed Monday in Tarrant County District Court.
The lawsuit was filed against Richland Hills Mayor Bill Agan, who in his official role oversaw the canvassing of election results.
Agan said on Wednesday he considered the lawsuit “a bunch of hogwash.” He said the city’s leaders relied upon advice from their legal counsel before setting the November election.
“We didn’t have any choice, to be honest with you,” Agan said in a phone interview. “The citizens presented a petition to the council and mayor that calls for an election, and within a certain period of time we have to call that election.”
The lawsuit also names former Tarrant County Elections Administrator Frank Phillips and T board chairman Scott Mahaffey as interested parties.
Phillips has since left his job for a similar position in Denton County. Stephen Vickers, Tarrant County’s acting elections administrator, said he had not received a copy of the lawsuit and did not wish to comment on it.
However, Vickers did say that, generally, an election administrator doesn’t have much flexibility in deciding what a city can place on its ballot.
“When a city asks if it can hold an election and can I contract with them, I have to say yes,” he said.