“Liberty Cities” Spring Up in Texas

In 2014, residents of Sandy Oaks, Texas, voted overwhelmingly in favor of limited, local governance — for a Liberty City — and to stave off annexation. (City of Sandy Oaks)
In 2014, residents of Sandy Oaks, Texas, voted 75 percent in favor of limited, local governance — for a “Liberty City” — and to stave off annexation. (City of Sandy Oaks)

EspañolNew municipal jurisdictions are on the rise in Texas, and their objective is to protect against the overreach and annexation of local government. The initiative’s lead proponent is the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), which on March 3 released a policy paper titled “The Liberty City: A New Concept for Self-Governance,” to espouse a streamlined model of incorporated cities.

The paper, written by Center for Local Governance Senior Policy Analyst Jess Fields, explains that a Liberty City “is a town that incorporates for the express purpose of maintaining limited government, pro-free market policies, and protecting the rights of its citizens.”

“The Liberty City stands in stark contrast to many local governments that attempt to manage their economies and regulate the lives of their citizens,” and it prevents forceful annexations to “higher-tax and higher-regulation larger cities.”

TPPF asserts that what makes these municipal jurisdictions distinct is not a rigid set of guidelines, but the principles by which they are incorporated: “the unifying factor is that the city seeks to protect its citizens from undue government regulation, taxation, and spending, as opposed to enacting it.”

“The city purposefully seeks to protect the Constitutional rights of its citizens in how it governs. One means of doing so is a citizen bill of rights, guaranteeing that citizens will not face regulations on, for example, their freedom of speech or assembly.”

The document states that Von Ormy, a small suburb of San Antonio, was the first Texas town to merit the Liberty City label.

“Von Ormy incorporated in 2008 to protect the rights of its citizens from the higher tax and regulatory burden of San Antonio … to provide basic, but important city services to its citizens, such as police coverage and infrastructure maintenance.”

In addition, the city avoided instituting common regulations, such as a permitting fee, and even eliminated its property tax in 2014.

Following Von Ormy’s lead, a small community south of San Antonio called Sandy Oaks, successfully incorporated last year with 75 percent of voters in support. The just over 1,000 residents aim to achieve a higher level of services, and avoid the possibility of annexation from San Antonio.

An Ancient Philosophical Concept Returns

In an interview with the PanAm Post, paper author and Liberty City advocate Jess Fields explained that despite the fact that Liberty Cities are new in Texas, the concept behind them isn’t: “it has been reflected by some local governments in Texas recently, but the idea of self governance is a very old philosophical concept in which America and Texas were founded on.”

According to Fields, cities such as Von Ormy start with “the intention of avoiding high taxes and creating an environment conditioned to individual freedom.” Furthermore, he states that other communities are increasingly embracing this new strategy for local governance.

“For this current election cycle in May, there is a small town in Guadalupe County, called Kingsbury, that received the permission of the county judge to have an incorporation election, and it is potentially the next Liberty City,” Fields asserted. “They are literally incorporating to avoid annexation by a larger city … and pursue a low tax, low regulation concept, intended to protect the rights of their citizens.”

When asked why these are necessary, Fields touted the responsiveness of jurisdictions nearer to the individual: “These will be able to ensure that free speech and the Second Amendment right to bear arms are protected, that you are able to operate your business without undue regulation or taxes … [while they] still [provide] basic services.”

However, Fields states that at any level there remains the risk that “government will do things it is not supposed to do,” and he points to the risk of poorly defined plans for municipal incorporation.

Regarding the Texas legislature, Fields is pushing for the Liberty City movement to be promoted through a new chapter relating to the general law of cities. Their policies “would be, by law, limited to policies that only protect the liberty of their citizens, and that is a really unique idea.”

He also hopes that the idea will go beyond small communities, which can be role models for larger cities and even state governments: “I would argue that talking about state government, the best model to look at is the state of Texas, which is, without a doubt, the freest state in the [United States].”

Edited by Fergus Hodgson.

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