As the University of North Texas seeks to take property that for decades has been home to a Sack & Save grocery store, the chorus of voices questioning government’s ability to confiscate private property in order to grow government is mounting.
A recent column discussed UNT co-opting a “green, mean spirit” after the Board of Regents green lighted acquiring property located on I-35E via eminent domain should the property owner decline a “fair market price” offer as determined by the university.
Eminent domain is government’s ability to seize private property for public use and without the property owner’s consent. Though the 2005 Kelo v. New London ruling seemed for a while to deter its use, that trend is now reversing.
While recognizing I-35E expansion could consume a portion of the store’s parking lot, the university’s announcement came as a surprise to Sack & Save owner/operator Gary Shelton and his employees.
“A lot of students walk here to buy groceries,” Shelton said of the store which for about 30 years has provided students – those with and without transportation – a competitively-priced food outlet located within safe, sensible proximity to numerous dorms and other UNT facilities.
In citing a “pressing need for facilities during the highway reconstruction process and into the long term right at the mouth of our campus and the face of our campus,” UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson indicated the property could become home to a new community services center and long-term, perhaps student housing.
A recent North Texas Daily article detailing the university’s planned action aptly linked this move with another ongoing UNT controversy – a current Texas State Auditor’s Office recommendation to the legislature that UNT be required over the next 10 years to repay at least $75.6 million related to accounting manipulations, a practice that may date back to the 1970s.
Jackson downplayed any connection. “A university with 36,000 students in a growing region is going to grow regardless of the ups and downs of state budgeting,” he told the paper. “Nobody wants to cripple the university or prevent it from serving students. I expect that the university will continue to have the necessary funds for necessary expansions.”
A SAVE Sack N Save Facebook page signals student opposition to the university’s action.
On Thursday, the UNT Young Americans for Liberty chapter was on campus raising awareness of the issue. The group issued this statement:
Today the UNT Young Americans for Liberty chapter held an activism event in direct response to UNT’s recent policies of attempting to take Sack & Save property using eminent domain. This is the only grocery store in walking distance to many college students who don’t have access to transportation. The policy will hurt the students just as much as the property owners of Sack & Save. We feel that the decision, approved by the Board of Regents, does not accurately display the will of those who attend the university.
“Incorporating topics that hit home with the student body is always important when it comes to our activism projects,” Activism Coordinator Alex Anderson added. “With just this week the Sack & Save issue receiving North Texas Daily front page coverage as well as being the focus of our event, hopefully UNT is facing backlash they can’t easily bury.
And poor ham sandwiches! Isn’t being perpetual targets for impressionable grand juries bad enough? Evidently not as Electric Eagle News describes the plight of “a UNT student and his crusted companion” in UNT Uses Eminent Domain to Seize Student’s Lunch.
After the University of North Texas announced last month that it may use its right of eminent domain to acquire the Sack & Save grocery store property adjacent to the campus, the university’s administration has announced a plan to again use eminent domain to seize the lunch of freshman student Diego Greene.
UNT Facilities Manager Jim Hull said that utilizing the university’s legal right to the student’s lunch, which is allegedly an “amazing looking” ham sandwich, is a necessary step toward the goal of becoming a top-tier research institution.
“This acquisition requires a rapid timeline of execution, keeping in mind the close proximity of lunchtime,” he said, glancing hungrily at his watch. “We feel that we know best how to use this sandwich, which might have been wasted in the hands of a student, as a tool to satisfy the university’s hunger for growth.”
Click here to read the full article.
This issue has brought forward some noteworthy quotes. Electric Eagle News’ Jackson “quote” in which the chancellor assures students that while “seizing Greene’s lunch may not directly benefit them now, it will undoubtedly serve untold numbers of hungry students in the years to come” is priceless.
The NT Daily provided an even more interesting perspective in reporting Jackson’s reference to the potential repayment of $75.6 million or more of taxpayer dollars as part of “the ups and downs of state budgeting.” While the chancellor’s position, a more fiscally-sensitive view suggests those dollars as fraudulently, even criminally, diverted from public coffers. And that such acts are thought to have been occurring for the same number of decades Sack & Save has been providing students with competitively-priced groceries? That’s irony, and if true, nothing short of epic negligence.
Most troubling, however, is the first of these quotes is satire, the second – per the campus newspaper – is Jackson’s view.
The bottom line
The future the Sack & Save remains undetermined, but this property poaching effort hopefully reminds how government’s theoretical pursuit of public good deserves much scrutiny as the results often are anything but good for the public.