The state is being asked for permission for the state to sue the state so the state can sit down with itself to try to settle a land boundary dispute involving the state and the state.
This, in addition to why half of Major League Baseball has the designated hitter and the other half does not, will be added to the list of things it’s going to be tricky to explain to the Martians when they land.
This is a turf war (a real one) between one arm of the state and another. And it’s kind of a battle, albeit an amicable one, between one of Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson’s functions and another of his functions.
I’m not sure if this kind of stuff finds Patterson or he finds it. Either way, part of the weirdness of this deal stems from the fact that he is chairman of the board that oversees the leasing of university lands and another board that manages Permanent School Fund land.
Background: Under sovereign immunity, nobody can sue the state without the Legislature’s permission. Not even the state can sue the state without the Legislature’s permission.
That’s why the state Senate Jurisprudence Committee on Tuesday heard San Antonio Sen. Carlos Uresti’s Senate Concurrent Resolution 30 seeking permission for the state to sue one of its arms — the University of Texas System. The controversy is over whether future mineral revenue from about 157 acres of state land in Pecos County should go to the Permanent School Fund, which benefits K-12 education, or the Permanent University Fund, which benefits UT and Texas A&M schools.
“This basically is to get myself out of a fiduciary jam by allowing myself to sue myself to determine where the boundary lies,” Patterson told the committee, adding something about how it’s “kind of like having two wives.”
The dispute involves an 1879 survey of the property, a 1936 resurvey and a former land commissioner’s 1944 letter questioning the 1936 resurvey. Everything was OK, I guess, until 2008 when, as SCR 30 says, the UT System board “began removing a fence located on or about the true boundary of the university lands and began constructing a new fence west of the true boundary of the university lands.” The move, about 1,000 feet, was based on a 1936 survey by Frank F. Friend, who was working for UT.
In 1944, J.H. Walker, who had been land commissioner from 1929-37, wrote a letter about the 1936 survey to then-Land Commissioner Bascom Giles. At the time, Walker was “land officer” at UT’s University Lands division.
“Dear Bascom,” he wrote, “For some years I have been making occasional investigations on the ground and in the record regarding the correctness of the Friend survey of the West Escondido System of University land in Pecos County.” The letter, heavy on surveyor-speak, makes it clear Walker was being sarcastic in a comment about Friend’s survey being “a marvel of mathematical exactitude.”
Patterson told me that he became aware of the boundary dispute when somebody out there told him about the UT fence move. Scott Kelley, the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for business affairs, told the Senate committee this is “an honest dispute. We need some impartial direction, and therefore this remedy seems appropriate.”
Patterson says there’s not a lot of money at stake because, to date, there’s not been much mineral production on the land. Nevertheless, he believes it’s important to get this settled. And settled is what he expects. The lawsuit, if approved by lawmakers, would put all parties in position to try to negotiate a settlement without a real trial, according to Patterson.
Kind of weird, right? But there are worse ways to settle land disputes. Anybody remember a 2003 release from Patterson headlined “Showdown at the State Line?”
“Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson today challenged his New Mexico counterpart (Patrick Lyons) to settle a land dispute brewing between the two states for more than 140 years with an old-fashioned duel.”
Best I can recall, the duel never happened. On the other hand, I haven’t heard anything about Lyons in a long time.