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Monday, May 4, 2015

How the City of Kerrville Began

Capt. Joseph A. Tivy,
Kerrville's first mayor
Since the Kerrville city council and city manager have been front page news over the past few weeks, I thought it might be a good time to revisit the history of the founding of city government here.  Here's what I found in my files:
Over 120 years ago, if you take the long view, the "City of Kerrville" began in a law office.
On August 23, 1889, a group of Kerrville citizens met in the law office of Robert H. Burney and "definitely started the plans for incorporation." A petition was soon presented to the county judge, W. G. Garrett, signed by fifty "resident citizens and qualified voters of Kerrville, Texas" stating the "desire to incorporate said town of Kerrville for municipal purposes, in accordance to the laws of the State of Texas."
Since the court was not in session, Judge Garrett granted the request 'in vacation' -- and an election "to determine whether or not said town of Kerrville shall be incorporated" was scheduled for September 7th, 1889.
Consider that for a moment: from the first meeting in the lawyer's office until the election was held, only about two weeks passed. There were no lengthy studies, public hearings, prolonged debate. I wonder if the full 1889 commissioners court would have approved the election.
There was not a lot of voter turnout, either. The petition stated Kerrville was a "town of more than one thousand inhabitants," yet only 98 votes were cast in the election. The results: 95 for incorporation and 3 against.
The election for the new city's first mayor and aldermen was set for September 26th, where Joseph A. Tivy (yes, the same Tivy for which the high school is named) was elected mayor; A. C. Schreiner, W. W. Burnett, Ed Smallwood, B. C. Richards and Nathan Herzog were chosen as aldermen. If my memory local people is correct, Mr. Herzog was an employee of Mr. Schreiner. Ed Smallwood was the editor of the newspaper.
Ironically, the very first city council meeting in the City of Kerrville was held on Halloween, 1889, about two months after the process began.
At the first meeting Richards and Smallwood were named as a committee to draft ordinances for the city; at the second meeting, Richards was appointed to "devise ways and means for operating the city government;" Richards and Schreiner were named as the finance committee.
Taxes followed. Property taxes were 1/4 cent per $100 valuation; a dollar poll tax for all men aged 21 to 60; various occupation taxes were also levied. A dog tax was proposed, but failed to receive the necessary 2/3 vote to make it into law until it was proposed again the following year, putting a $1.50 tax on all dogs aged three months and older.
Some of the taxes and regulations of the new government seem rather quaint now. There were ordinances covering "fights between men and bulls, between dogs and bears, between dogs and other animals, and menageries or wax works exhibitions and concert where a fee was demanded or received." Between dogs and bears was specifically mentioned; I'm thinking the spectacle must have occurred here at least once.
There were ordinances against "immoderately riding or driving on the streets," leaving your steed or wagon unhitched on city streets, vulgar language was illegal, and the "raising, hatching, or breeding of pigeons" within the city limits was also outlawed.
All able-bodied men "between the ages of eighteen and forty-five were required to give five days' work on streets during the year, and city officials were empowered to summon them as needed."
Things have certainly changed.
I suppose in ages hence the things concerning city government about which we're all talking about today will also seem rather quaint.
With all of the new taxes and regulations discontent blossomed in the hearts of many Kerrville citizens and a new election was called in 1890 to dissolve the new city, though the question failed, and the young city survived.
No one knows if the current city government could prevail in such an election, but I would wager the vote would be close.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who once was involved in city government.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 2, 2015.

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