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David Minton

‘Hot under the collar’

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer

Residents complain political ad lists their names without permission

Residents have complained about a full-page color ad on the back page of Wednesday’s Denton Record-Chronicle, saying they did not give permission for their names to be used in a political ad.

The ad claimed that 8,000 Denton residents do not support the proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing, a reference to the plebiscite petition Denton County Taxpayers for a Strong Economy submitted to the Denton City Council on July 15.

The ad listed 350 names of people urging residents to vote no in the upcoming election.

Neither Denton County Taxpayers for a Strong Economy nor the public relations firm handling its media buys, the Eppstein Group, returned calls for comment.

Elvis Stephens said he got a phone call a few days ago from a woman who told him she had information that he had signed a petition about the city’s proposed ban on fracking. Stephens, a retired University of North Texas business professor, said he recalled that day this summer when two women approached him about a petition in the parking lot of a Denton grocery store.

They asked him if he would sign a petition about fracking.

“It was poorly worded,” Stephens said.

Earlier this summer, Taylor Petition Management of Colorado Springs, Colorado, hired petition workers and paid them between $2 and $2.50 per signature for a plebiscite petition.

The company also paid the petition workers’ travel expenses and bonuses of increasing amounts at the end of the drive if they averaged a certain number of signatures per day.

Unlike initiative and referendum petitions, a plebiscite petition does not bind the City Council to any action. A number of residents complained at that time that the petition workers did not give clear information about the purpose of the petition, even when asked direct questions.

Stephens had a similar interaction, he said.

“They explained [that] it petitioned the city to allow an election on the fracking issue,” Stephens said.

He said he thought a vote on the matter was a good idea and added his name and address to the list.

He said he thinks the woman on the phone identified herself, but he couldn’t recall her name. She asked him whether he would allow his name to be put in an advertisement to allow fracking in the city.

“I said no,” Stephens said.

The woman asked again, and he said he refused for a second time for his name to be used in a political ad.

“I clearly stated it twice,” Stephens said.

When he opened up Wednesday’s newspaper, he saw the ad and thought it might be the one the woman was working on.

When he saw his name on the list, he got “hot under the collar,” he said.

He saw a friend’s name on the list, too, and gave her a call to compare notes.

Claralynn Barnes said she remembered the petitioners at the grocery store, too, but wouldn’t have given permission for her name in an ad, if asked.

“I did not receive a phone call from anyone asking me to use my name,” Barnes said.

Stephens said that after he cooled down, he composed a letter to the editor and brought his complaint to the attention of the newspaper’s advertising department.

According to the first round of campaign finance reports, Denton County Taxpayers for a Strong Economy had spent about $186,000 on advertising, direct mail, signs and other campaign materials. All the money was reported as an expense with the Eppstein Group, a public relations firm in Fort Worth.

The list includes some prominent names, including that of Glen Farris Squibb. Squibb ran unsuccessfully for City Council this spring against John Ryan in District 2.

Squibb said he doesn’t put his name on things like that, including the plebiscite petition. No one contacted him for permission to use his name.

“That’s insane,” he said.

Denton County Commissioner Hugh Coleman said he gave permission for his name to be on the list.

Dianne Edmondson, chairwoman of the Denton County Republican Party, asked him at a recent fundraising event for state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, he said.

He believes a ban on fracking was a contrivance that doesn’t address the community’s real concerns, he said.

“Our real concerns are air quality and reasonable setbacks,” Coleman said, adding that 200 feet from a residence or other protected use is not a reasonable setback.

Edmondson said that she circulated a sign-up sheet for the ad and worked with the plebiscite petition to call as many people as she could who had signed it. Some people she and others called said that they didn’t want their names used, and the group honored that. With others, they left a message and gave them a deadline to call back.

“Otherwise, we assumed it was fine to put their name in the ad,” Edmondson said. “We’re not trying to be deceptive in any way. These people need to understand that this is a public record. Anybody can look at that and print that.”

Cathy McMullen, president of Denton Drilling Awareness Group, said she felt sorry for the people whose names were used in this way.

“The signatures on that petition were obtained in a deceptive way in many instances,” McMullen said. “They are being used now without people’s permission by a group that seems to be pulling out all the stops to win at any cost.”

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.