By Andy Ross
Killeen Daily Herald
A Killeen ranch that was deeded by its owner more than 50 years ago to the benefit of orphans is the subject of contentious new legislation.
House Bill 244, filed recently by Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, seeks to transfer authority of the Parrie Haynes Trust from the Texas Youth Commission to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
The Parrie Haynes Ranch - a major portion of the trust comprising more than 4,500 acres near Maxdale - has long been the responsibility of the TYC. The TYC in turn has held a lease agreement since the early 1990s with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which manages the ranch and hosts youth programs and outdoor camps there.
Fear that the transfer could impact those youth programs - as well as potentially being a precursor to the land's sale - has become apparent in the bill's wake.
But Hartnett and other backers of the legislation say the current arrangement is problematic and does not fulfill the original intentions of Parrie Haynes, the late wife of Allen Haynes, a renowned Central Texas cattle rancher who died in 1953. Before her death in 1957, Parrie Haynes wrote that her estate "should go to the state orphan home of Texas to help orphan children," according to her last will, posted on the website, Friends of Parrie Haynes Ranch.
When asked this week about his bill, Hartnett said his intention is to ensure the state honors its obligations to the Parrie Haynes Trust.
"The state just like any other person or entity must follow trust law," Hartnett said. "The state is not the owner of the property and is held to the same standard of any other trustee. Neither the state nor the local community can impose their wishes on top of those expressed in the trust."
Because he is an attorney specializing in trust law, Hartnett said the ranch's management structure was brought to his attention by Scott McCown, the executive director for the Center for Public Policy Priorities. The other issue McCown raised as a problem, Hartnett said, was a recommendation made by the state's Sunset Commission in 2009 to transfer full authority of the Parrie Haynes Trust to the TPWD. That recommendation has not been acted on to date.
Questioning the bill
Despite the reasoning offered, the bill appears to be striking a deep nerve in and around Killeen. State Rep. Ralph Sheffield, R-Temple, whose district includes the majority of the ranch, said this week he disagrees with Hartnett's premise.
By Sheffield's account, the trust, specifically Haynes' use of the term "orphans" is not as clear cut as some would have it. The TYC assuming status as a trustee was in line with Haynes' will, Sheffield said, but the agency ultimately failed to manage the ranch properly. Such a development reportedly led to the lease with the TPWD, which has made youth programs and education a focal point of ranch activity.
"I am not happy about the bill," Sheffield said. "The bottom line is we worked really hard to get the land transferred over to TPWD. They are helping a lot of underprivileged children and it's really an ideal situation for that with great campsites and a lot of wildlife."
State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said this week he has become "acutely aware" of concerns from the community since the bill was filed. Chief among those concerns, he said, is the possibility of the land being sold off for development if the DFPS were to take over as trustee.
According to the text of the bill itself, the DFPS "may lease or sell any property of the Parrie Haynes Trust, including the Parrie Haynes Ranch, and use the proceeds from the lease or sale for the benefit of the trust beneficiaries." The bill also states the General Land Office would have the authority to negotiate and close any real property transaction on behalf of DFPS.
Friends of the ranch
Judy Parker is a Killeen resident who lives near Maxdale and serves as vice president of Friends of the Parrie Haynes Ranch. Parker said this week she and other members are strongly opposed to the bill. They believe it would thwart the work TPWD and the friends group have done to make the ranch a location for children.
"There are a lot of programs we are working on out there," Parker said. "If this bill goes through, all those will just go down the drain. They won't happen and the ranch will probably be sold off to developers."
Parker went on to say she believes Haynes would be happy with the direction the ranch has taken.
One of the primary programs under way at the ranch at present is the C5 Youth Foundation - formerly known as Camp Coca-Cola - which runs a summer leadership camp for at risk youth. Outdoor activities involving students from the Killeen Independent School District have also taken place there.
For such reasons, the TPWD should be the trustee, said Fred Morse, secretary of Friends of the Parrie Haynes Ranch.
"The people and the neighbors around the property are very concerned about this bill," Morse said. "We (the friends) support the Sunset Commission's recommendations."
Despite the local sentiments, however, Hartnett and McCown say they are pushing forward with the bill. McCown said the heart of the issue lies with the land wrongly being thought of as public property. He also said the TPWD's lease arrangement - a figure he cited as around $45,000 a year - is not in line with the land's worth, which he said has been estimated at between $10 million and $20 million.
"I understand people are upset about this," McCowan said. "But these are clear legal rules and when they understand it is not public property but trust property for orphans, they will understand that you have to use it for orphans and if you want to use if for something else you have got to pay the orphans."
Beyond the issue of the Parrie Haynes Ranch itself, Hartnett said his bill is designed to send a message that the state will enforce trust laws.
"It is very important to me to make sure the state fulfills its obligations, both in regards to this trust and with regards to other philanthropists who may want to undertake similar arrangements," Hartnett said.
Contact Andy Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468. Follow him on Twitter at KDHeducation.