Cheers erupted from more than 150 residents, most of them past and present railroad workers and their families, at the news the city will fight Union Pacific in court.
Following a one-hour closed session, Palestine city council members unanimously moved to direct the city manager to, along with Anderson County, hire Allison Bass & Associates of Austin to file an initial response to UP.
“Thank you,” a voice called out above the din, as council members left the room. “You made the right decision.”
Prior to the council's vote, Texas House Rep. Cody Harris (R.-Palestine) pledged his support.
“I'm ready to get in the trenches with you,” he said. “I grew up here. Anything I can do, I am ready, willing, and able to do.”
Allison Bass & Associates specializes in representing local governments in state and federal court, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Former Palestine Mayor Carolyn Salter called the council's decision “a good first step.”
Union Pacific filed a lawsuit against the city the day before Thanksgiving to abrogate its 150-year-old contract with the city of Palestine.
The contract, originally a handshake-deal between leaders of a 23-year-old city and a burgeoning railroad, guaranteed a railroad presence in the city, as well as jobs for local workers.
The agreement was updated in 1954. Today, the contract calls for the railroad to employ at least 65 Palestine workers – or 0.52 percent of UP's national workforce.
Harris Lohmeyer, who retired from Union Pacific after 41-years – all in Palestine – urged council members to fight.
“We've beaten them before,” he said. “The Supreme Court voted in our favor twice. I speak on behalf of thousands of past and present workers … when I say, Get up to the plate and take a swing.”
The city was served with the UP suit Dec. 9. The city had 21 days to respond, or the railroad would win by default. Legal experts said the council's action Tuesday marks the first step in what is certain to become a lengthy legal process.
“All we can do is hope,” Salter said. “If the railroad goes, the nail in [the city's] coffin would be if we lost the hospital. We have to fight and make sure that doesn't happen.”