Parrie Haynes Ranch bill seeks control of property left for orphans’ use

The Parrie Haynes Ranch is a 4,500 acre property located in Bell County just south of Fort Hood and not far from the new Texas A&M University-Central Texas campus.  It was left in a will to the state of Texas for “the use and benefit of orphan children” and in recent years has fulfilled this directive plus more.  Though 45 minutes north of the Texas State Capitol, few legislators have probably visited the facility whose future is now in question and fate may be decided through House Bill 244.

On Nov. 12, Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, pre-filed House Bill 244 which requests control of the trust containing the Parrie Haynes Ranch to be transferred from the Texas Youth Commission to the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Rep. Ralph Sheffield, R-Temple, has also been advocating a transfer of the trust, but believes the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is the appropriate designee, a point with which the Sunset Advisory Commission agreed and the transfer would have been completed except for the filing of Hartnett’s bill.

In a November 2008 report, the Sunset Advisory Commission recommended that “TPWD and TYC jointly seek representation by the Attorney General to pursue a modification of the Trust terms and purpose of the Parrie Haynes Trust that would designate TPWD as the state agency responsible for the Ranch and Trust.”  The Commission also directed TPWD to increase its use of the Parrie Haynes Ranch to be as consistent as possible with the will’s intent.

Other Commission key findings included that not only was TPWD well positioned to operate the ranch in accordance with Parrie Haynes’ wishes, but that in keeping the ranch at TYC, “Texas misses an opportunity to provide improved outdoor access to the state’s youth.”

The Commission found that as the ranch is held in trust, the Legislature cannot simply transfer the property to TPWD.  The Commission, citing the Texas Property Code, said the court can modify a trust to ensure that it conforms as closely as possible to the original intent.  Intervention by the Attorney General is appropriate both as that office has the primary duty of representing state agencies in civil cases and because state law also authorizes the Attorney General to intervene in a proceeding involving a charitable trust, on the behalf of the interest of the general public of the State.

The Parrie Haynes Ranch was left to the State Orphan Home of Texas upon Haynes’ death in 1957.  Haynes’ will was probated in 1962 and probate documents specified the following with regard to her residuary estate (which included the ranch):

To Have and to Hold above described residuary estate unto the said State of Texas for the use and benefit of orphan children as provided in the Parrie Haynes will, and its assigns forever.

While first assigned to the Corsicana State Home (originally known as the State Orphans’ Home), the Parrie Haynes Ranch was then placed under control of the Texas Youth Development Council which later became the Texas Youth Commission.

TYC operated various programs at the ranch throughout the years with mixed results.  In the early ’90s, an agreement with TPWD was brokered and the department assumed management of the ranch as well as the responsibility to host outdoor learning and recreational opportunities for all ages, but with an emphasis on youth programs.

Friends of the Parrie Haynes Ranch, a citizens volunteer support organization, helped facilitate this arrangement.  The group continues to support TPWD’s management saying the department provides both good stewardship of the land and strong program development capabilities.

The combination of these two factors appears to not just fulfill Parrie Haynes’ wishes regarding the “use and benefit” of her ranch for orphaned children, but perhaps would even have exceeded her wishes due to the wide range of young people impacted under TPWD leadership.

TPWD works with the Texas Game Warden Association to provide year-round adventure activities and educational programs for Texas’ youth. The Parrie Haynes Ranch Equestrian Center is routinely used by the Texas Equestrian Trail Riders Association for trail rides as well as youth outreach activities.

The Parrie Haynes Ranch hosts camps sponsored by the C5 Youth Foundation, formerly known as Camp Coca-Cola.  The C5 program provides selected youth five years of intensive leadership experiences in a summer camp setting, year-round leadership development programs and community service, and preparation for continuing education and career development.  With the Parrie Haynes Ranch as one of the summer camp settings, the Foundation invested $2.1 million in the property with the building of nine bunkhouses, two lodges along with a dining hall, office building and pool.

TPWD has also coordinated use of the ranch with Boy Scout troops as well as with the Killeen Independent School District.  A Temple Daily Telegram report indicated Gold Star families from Fort Hood as potential future users of the ranch.

Members of the Friends of the Parrie Haynes Ranch group are concerned that a transfer to the DFPS could lead to a sale of the property.  The land is believed to be worth perhaps $20 million and HB 244 clearly offers sale as an option.  The bill also lists transfers of functions, activities and property between DFPS and TYC while TPWD responsibilities cease.

The Temple Daily Telegram quoted Hartnett explaining the bill:

“it basically takes it away from Parks and Wildlife. We don’t need a state agency turning the trust into a state park.  Parks and Wildlife cares about parks, not orphans.”

Per the Telegram, filing of the bill was prompted upon the Center for Public Policy Priorities contacting Hartnett because of Hartnett’s background as “a successful trust attorney.”  “I’m the House member most knowledgeable about state trust law,” Hartnett said.

F. Scott McCown, Center for Public Policy Priorities executive director, is quoted saying “there is nothing in the legislation that says the property must be sold.”  He further says the property could be leased for significantly more than the $45,000 paid annually by Texas Parks and Wildlife.  And while also suggesting that anyone wanting the Parrie Haynes Ranch for a park should buy it for that purpose, McCown insists no buyers for the property have been identified.  Should the property be sold, however, McCown says its proceeds “could help orphans pay for things like summer camps, college, class rings, graduation announcements or proms.”

Hartnett says the Legislature is the proper venue for seeking the HB 244 transfer:

“What this bill is about is whether the state is going to honor its own laws and obligations or try to turn this property into a park,” Hartnett said.  “If the state does not handle this by the book, there will be no other charitable contributions like this to the state again.”

And regarding the Parrie Haynes Ranch issue:

“They need to look at this as if it was owned by the Salvation Army,” Hartnett said.  “It’s not the states’ money, and it’s not their money.  It’s the orphans’ money. If somebody wants to trample orphans’ rights, let’s do it in the public arena. I’ll take that debate any day.”

The Bell County Commissioners have weighed in with a resolution that supports keeping the ranch under management of TPWD.  Commissioner John Fisher termed the potential of selling off the property as “a travesty to the youth of Texas” while Commissioner Richard Cortese described TPWD’s oversight of the ranch as “a natural fit.”

The merits of House Bill 244 remain something of a mystery unlike the plan for TPWD control of the Parrie Haynes Ranch which was statutorily-based, fiscally responsible and practical in its assignment and utilization of resources.  It was a sensible approach to providing benefit for Texas youth while honoring Parrie Haynes’ final wishes.

Transfer of the Parrie Haynes Ranch away from TPWD and its successful operational model would be a blow to the many who enjoy and learn from the wilderness experience the ranch offers.  It would likely end up as an additional blow to rights Parrie Haynes believed she had in determining the final distribution of her assets.

Probate disputes are receiving increasing media attention and the battle over the Parrie Haynes Ranch is no exception.  Estate of Denial™ follows Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) cases in which probate venues and/or probate instruments (wills, trusts, guardianships, powers of attorney) are used to loot assets of the dead, disabled or incapacitated.  These cases often involve use – or abuse – of the legal system to divert assets from intended heirs or beneficiaries.  The Parrie Haynes Ranch provides important opportunity to highlight the unanticipated developments or challenges to one’s wishes that can occur with even the most properly prepared estate plans.

Rep. Hartnett talked of debating “any day” in a public arena those who would “trample orphans’ rights.”  House Bill 244 has been assigned to the Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence and and presumably, a public hearing is ahead.  Supporters of the Parrie Haynes Ranch likely join Rep. Hartnett in looking forward to that public discussion.

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture.  She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com, a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas Foundation and a Director of Women on the Wall.  Lou Ann may be contacted at [email protected].