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City OKs petition to recall Hawkins

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

District 4 voters try again after previous one was ruled invalid

City Secretary Jennifer Walters started the clock Monday after finding a new petition by District 4 voters sufficient to recall their City Council member, Joey Hawkins.

Hawkins has seven days to resign his seat. But he said again Monday afternoon he will not resign.

“I’m OK; really, I’m OK,” Hawkins said.

If he doesn’t resign by Monday, the City Council must order a recall election. According to city spokeswoman Lindsey Baker, the council is expected to consider the recall petition at its regular meeting Jan. 5.

District 4 voters submitted their first recall petition in November, a few days too early. A Denton council member can’t be recalled until he or she has served for at least six months.

The city charter also prohibits petitioners from simply resubmitting their documents. Any “do-over” by District 4 voters needed to contain either all new signatures under the same grievances or a new set of grievances.

The petitioners did a little bit of both. Denia area resident Theron Palmer said the group changed the grievances on the new petition to better reflect concerns from people living in other parts of the district.

Many Denia area residents signed the original petition. Their three original grievances cited Hawkins’ failure to communicate with his constituents, his opposition to government transparency and his vote to lift restrictions on natural gas drilling in neighborhoods.

After Hawkins voted with four other council members earlier this month to grant Buc-ee’s more than $8 million in tax rebates to build a travel plaza on Interstate 35E, some Southridge area residents wanted to petition for recall, too. People living close to the project said they were worried about lights, noise, traffic and a negative impact on their property values.

“We wanted to be more inclusive of the interests of other people in the district,” Palmer said.

The new petition listed three grievances, only one of which was substantially the same as the original. The petition cited Hawkins failure to communicate with constituents, his vote to repeal the ban on fracking in city limits and his irresponsible votes on city funds and tax incentives.

Hawkins studied both petitions and noticed that many of the 131 signatures on the new petition came from people who didn’t live in his district.

The charter required only 75 valid signatures for recall, or 25 percent of the turnout in the last election. Voter turnout for municipal elections is typically anemic. Moreover, Hawkins was unopposed in his re-election and that inspired very few District 4 voters to cast ballots for him in May.

Hawkins said only six people on the petition voted last May.

A recall election is not expected to be called before May 7, the state’s limited uniform election date for spring 2016. If the recall is successful, the District 4 council seat would be vacant until the next uniform election date, which is Nov. 8.

Hawkins has already said he plans a vigorous campaign to remain in office.

Palmer said he expected the same committee that brought the petition to continue their campaign to recall Hawkins.

They have reached out to people about running in November, but no one has made any decisions yet, he said.

“It looks like it’s going to be a protracted process,” Palmer said, adding that the group plans to offer alternatives to Hawkins’ leadership for the district.

“We’ve talked to a number of people in the district to see if there’s a candidate to get behind,” Palmer said.