PLANO –- The claims are as sobering as the group’s name: ‘Save Plano.’
The group’s website and billboard warn residents of the danger that would arrive if liquor stores were suddenly allowed in Plano.
Yet, it is difficult to track down who created the ‘Save Plano’ movement and is leading it. It’s a troubling concern among the group’s opponents, who worry outsiders - with unclear motivations - are actively misleading citizens.
“The opponents - I can’t tell you where they’re from,” said Plano’s Mayor Phil Dyer, who supports the effort to allow liquor stores. “I can’t identify a single person involved with Save Plano, other than their consultant out of Austin.”
That consultant, Billy Horton, runs a company called Hard Count, Inc. that resisted liquor laws in other towns. He insists he is simply the hired help for the group, although he admits he’s never actually been paid.
“I didn’t form Save Plano. That’s a big myth,” he told News 8. “I was called on the telephone by them saying, ‘Hey, is there any way you can help us or advise on this? We don’t know what to do.’”
Horton said he was hired months ago by Mary Hernandez, Save Plano’s founder. Campaign records - filed just this week - list her as the group’s treasurer. Despite the fact the election is only days away, she is remarkably hard to find. Her phone number listed on campaign reports has been disconnected.
The address she provided on campaign records isn't hers. The home on Price Drive belongs to Deborah and Ronald Hernandez. When reached late Thursday night, Mr. Hernandez said he doesn't know anyone by the name of Mary Hernandez and has never heard of the group Save Plano.
"I don't know anything about this," he told News 8 by phone, adding he and his wife have lived in that house for nearly 20 years. "There's no Mary Hernandez here. I didn't even know there was a woman by that name."
When asked to speak with Hernandez, Horton claimed he doesn’t have a working number for her. He said he hasn’t spoken to her in weeks, and that she moved.
When asked how Horton could be following her guidance for the upcoming election, since he said she hired him, Horton replied, “I know what I’m supposed to be doing, and I’m doing it.”
Horton was not able to put News 8 in touch with any other leaders, although he did introduce News 8 to Carolyn Owens. She has lived in Plano for 17 years and considers herself a member of Save Plano, but she admits she has never met Hernandez, any other leader, or even attended a meeting.
“There’s no formal meeting or anything,” she said. “It’s very small.”
She found the group’s website online and has been simply calling neighbors herself asking for support, with no guidance from anyone formally associated with Save Plano.
“It’s been word of mouth going around,” she said.
Horton strongly bristles at the implication he is the one behind Save Plano and says his opponents, Plano Citizens for Economic Equality, have questionable motives themselves.
“There's not been one dollar contributed to the organization that’s promoting liquor stores in Plano that has come from anybody in Plano,” Horton said. “Nobody in Plano stood up and started screaming, ‘We want liquor stores in Plano!’”
The Economic Equality group got the issue started by collecting 22,000 signatures months ago to force the issue on May 11 ballot. The mayor, along with several other city leaders, has actively supported the group’s efforts by saying liquor stores would bring more jobs and money to Plano.
Yet, an Austin-based industry group, the Texas Hospitality Association, helped organize the foundation of the group.
It hired an outside consultant group called Texas Petition Strategies to do much of the campaign’s work, and was given nearly all of the $243,000 Equality has raised. Almost all of the donations have come from the Texas Hospitality Association and a Maryland-based liquor store chain.
The group declined an on-camera interview Thursday, but released a statement by the mayor:
“Citizens have come to me for years asking what it would take to allow fine wine and package store sales in Plano,” wrote Mayor Phil Dyer. “Last year, several people, including me, started an earnest discussion about having the current election. Input was gathered from civic and business leaders and financial support was offered from companies like Total Wine and the Texas Hospitality Association."