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HOUSTON — Three years ago, Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil and now President-elect Donald J. Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, was probably the man least expected to show up at a town council meeting in North Texas to oppose a local construction project.

His complaint: A proposed water tower in Bartonville, Tex., meant to help use hydraulic fracturing to coax natural gas out of a shale field, would decrease the property value of his nearby ranch. He joined a suit to halt construction.

Mr. Tillerson dropped out of the suit after a judge threw out his complaint — and after news media reports implied he was hypocritically pursuing his backyard interests in opposing a project of a sort that Exxon Mobil has engaged in around the world. Admirers might cite Mr. Tillerson’s willingness to change course as a sign of being nimble when necessary.

Depending on the circumstances, Mr. Tillerson has shown toughness or flexibility, whether in international negotiations, or on climate change policy and with gay rights — when he quietly lobbied for reform in the Boy Scouts.

 

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