as a kid I watched a lot of "B" westerns where the rich landowner bought the politicians to try and run a guy off his own ranch, too bad the same type of characters are still using the same playbook:
Gun range owner says he's unfairly targeted
By Sara McDonald
The Daily News
Published December 27, 2007
LEAGUE CITY — Records show that top city officials spent at least seven months discussing how to shut down a gun range, a move range owner Ernest Randall says is aimed at helping a developer build homes in the area.
City Attorney Dick Gregg’s billing records show he participated in a series of meetings about how to “characterize a gun range as a nuisance and ultimately have it removed.” The legal fees cost taxpayers more than $6,000 from May to November.
Involved in the planning were Mayor Jerry Shults, City Administrator Chris Reed, other senior staff members and developer Sam Boyd, who gave $4,000 to Shults’ campaign in August 2005.
The records show Gregg billed the city for gun range discussions with the mayor at least seven times and for conversations with Boyd at least five times.
For more than a week, The Daily News made phone calls and sent e-mails to Shults asking questions about the range. Shults’ assistant called to say he had “no further comment on any of the issues.”
Gregg did not return phone calls asking for comment. Randall, who has owned the Clear Creek Gun Range since 1976, said he thinks Shults is helping homebuilders who’ve been trying to buy his land for years.
In a July 31 e-mail, Gregg said that “many perceive the gun range ... to be a nuisance” and said he’d been asked to pursue its removal.
What makes the range near FM 1266 and state Highway 96 a problem isn’t clear. Correspondence between Gregg and Boyd shows that the developer’s attorney offered a list of possible issues the city could raise.
That e-mail, from Aug. 2, said that, if the range were contaminated with lead, it could be in violation of federal and state environmental laws.
In November, that reason was passed along to the city council in a memo from Gregg. It said lead shot had been found in a church parking lot on nearby property. Gregg didn’t answer questions about which church had problems, but New Hope Baptist Church is the nearest church to the range. Pastor Richard Sumner said he hasn’t found lead in the parking lot in five or six years.
“We haven’t had any problems in some time,” he said. “They made some modifications, and there’s been nothing since then.”
Randall said he built planks of wood over the targets to deflect shots after he learned of problems.
Another nearby church, Gloria Dei, bought property near the range but hasn’t built on it yet. Council members Tim Paulissen and Mike Barber, as well as Randall, said that Gregg claimed the church wasn’t going to build on the property because of the gun range.
Gloria Dei’s executive director, Vince Parks, said that wasn’t true and the church is in the process of raising money for the new building.
Neither the Texas Department of Public Safety or the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives regulates shooting ranges, spokeswomen from those agencies said. The federal bureau does license ranges that sell guns, a license Randall said he’s had since 1976. Larger ranges are required to register with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but Randall’s range isn’t large enough to require registration, commission spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said.
The commission is also the agency that would investigate complaints of excess lead in the area, but has never opened an investigation into Randall’s gun range or been asked to, Morrow said.
Compliance With Codes
City staff didn’t answer the following questions posed by The Daily News:
• Why were the city attorney and staff members meeting with a developer about a city business?
• Were representatives of this business invited to these meetings?
• Is it normal for a developer to be involved in these types of procedures?
• Why is the gun range considered a possible public nuisance?
•What attempts were made to contact Randall about problems with his business?
Instead, city spokeswoman Kristi Wyatt responded to those questions with a statement saying that the property was out of compliance with zoning regulations.
The business was registered with the city in 1991, but when zoning was adopted in 1999, the land was zoned office commercial. It was later rezoned for single-family homes in August 2005. Neither of the zoning designations would have allowed a gun range. The city sent a letter to Randall notifying him he could change his zoning without a fee in 2005, but he didn’t ask for a change.
Randall said a city staff member told him there would be no problems with the zoning changes when he left for a five-month trip to Alaska in 2005. When he returned, his zoning had changed.
But because the business existed before zoning did, it was grandfathered in.
The city statement says the property and business appears to have changed hands, which would nullify the grandfather statues.
But Randall’s attorney, George Kurisky, said the business has always been owned and operated by Randall.
Randall allows an instructor, Al Trug, to teach a course at the range required for people wanting concealed handgun licenses. Trug filed for a business permit for his classes after a city employee told him to, which may have been why the city thought the business changed hands, Kurisky said.
“I’ve had eight or 10 instructors use my range over the years,” Randall said. “It’s never been a problem.”
But Barber said he thinks the city is trying to find problems with the range.
“It’s not as if all the sudden at 8 p.m. he serves alcohol and has a strip tease,” Barber said. “There’s no change of use. Why the city would say your action isn’t permitted, I don’t know. I think they did that because they’re trying bully him.”
Future Home Sites
Randall said that, in the past five years, he’s had at least six meetings with Boyd in which the developer offered to buy his land.
The closest they came to striking a deal was when they discussed Boyd leasing a part of the small lake behind the range, but that deal fell through, Randall said.
Randall said developers told him they want the 60-acre lake to use as a detention pond if they build homes.
Randall also claims developers said they couldn’t get financing for building the homes with the gun range active.
Gregg’s memo said the land is slated for residential development but doesn’t elaborate.
About 20 acres of the lake was recently bought by home developer Bob Perry, Randall said.
The issue caused Randall to call on council members for help.
After that, Paulissen asked for copies of the city attorney’s bills, which detail seven months of meetings and research that Gregg said was part of “normal, behind-the-scenes efforts.”
“What is not normal is political interference in that process,” Gregg’s memo said. “Apparently, the two council members have already decided what they want to do, though it has not yet been on any public agenda.”
Meanwhile, it appears the city is continuing to pursue plans to shut down the range.
A city contractor e-mailed Reed and former city administrator Mike Clawson in October, documents released through an open records request show. In the e-mail, the contractor said he heard from Clawson that Reed needed help with ammunition cleanup at a gun range.
City staff, Gregg and the two councilmen met with Randall last week. After the meeting, Kurisky said it’s still unclear what laws the city thinks the range is violating. He asked that the specific allegations be given to him in writing.
Barber said it’s not just him and Paulissen who have gotten involved.
“The real story is that Sam Boyd has a relationship with (Shults) to make the deal work,” he said. “The mayor got personally involved to investigate ways to shut him down.”