DEKORNFELD: But nothing would prepare him [James Massey] for what he would find in Von Ormy because all those classes were about building city government. And in Von Ormy, the sole goal seemed to be the opposite.

This is from “The Liberty City,” episode 945 of Planet Money, October 18, 2019.

The whole thing is interesting and, at times, hilarious.

How Von Ormy, Texas started as a city:

DEKORNFELD: Art [Martinez de Vara] told people, look; San Antonio is a growing metropolis. And in the near future, they are going to try to annex us, and that will come with big city taxation. And you know what it won’t come with? Representation.

FOUNTAIN: Or, Mayor Art says, we could see the writing on the wall and come together and do this our own way.

DEKORNFELD: He says people were into it. So he circulated a petition, brought it to a county judge, and the judge ordered an election.

FOUNTAIN: The vote passed. And just like that, they went from being this unincorporated stretch of land to being the city of Von Ormy.

Martinez de Vara wanted taxes and regulation to be as low as possible.

One of my favorite passages:

FOUNTAIN: For example, Mayor Art heard about a neighboring town that had a police car that they were about to decommission. So Von Ormy asked if they could have it.

MARTINEZ DE VARA: It didn’t last a full year.


MARTINEZ DE VARA: But it lasted long enough. And then eventually, I know they would park it on the interstate to let people know, and it would just slow people down.

Mayor Martinez de Vara refuses to raise taxes to pay for a sewage system (the locals use septic tanks) and so James Massey quits his job.

Liberty for me but not for thee

Here’s the bad news. Don’t tax locals; instead “tax” people passing through:

FOUNTAIN: You’re expecting that you guys are going to quadruple your traffic fines.

MARTINEZ: This is what we expect to get next. And that’s why we don’t borrow money unless we have to. And we don’t have to right now.

FOUNTAIN: Are you guys turning your city just into a speed trap, where you tax nonresidents, but you don’t tax residents? It seems like that’s…

MARTINEZ: OK, if you’re driving by here and you’re going too fast, you get a ticket. It happens everywhere, not just here.

HT2 regular reader Alan Goldhammer.