Collin County Politics: Citizenship Requires Effort

February 22, 2022

Covid Update: Collin County has 202,137 confirmed Covid cases. That’s 1,772 more cases than I reported last week and 1,411 of our Collin residents have died (an increase of 37 people). Thank goodness, we’re still trending down.

Commissioner’s Court: Last week’s meeting was another simple one. Cheryl Williams was absent for the 3rd meeting in a row. There still wasn’t any mention of the inmate found dead in the jail and no further details have been released. Josh Murray didn’t mention this either but did point out the expansion of the jail means we’re going to need additional employees. However, we have no idea how they’re going to accomplish this when, over the last 4 years, Collin County only had a net increase of 9 employees.

Collin County’s population has increased 12% yet the staffing for county government has increased less than 1%. This is concerning. It’s especially worrying since the 2 previous meetings contained long discussions (seriously, they’ve dedicated hours to this) about the county’s difficulties in recruiting and maintaining staff, especially for the Sheriff’s Department. Their deliberations make it seem like it’s just a few logistical problems in hiring when it’s clearly so much more. Why do so few people want to work there? Why do so many people quit? That’s not about logistics, that’s about the workplace environment and pay. It’s so odd no one seems interested in figuring out what’s truly going on.

Perhaps Chris Hill is distracted by his primary opponent, Lee Finley. Lee is the husband of District Clerk Lynne Finley, with whom Hill has had a great deal of conflict. Local Republicans seem to be tearing themselves apart this primary and it’s getting ugly. Finley accused the Collin County Conservative Republicans of endorsing Hill and Lynne Finley’s opponent without even talking to either Finley. This seems like poor politics at best. There’s also a newsletter op-ed written by former judge John Payton claiming that Hill spent taxpayer money to shield himself from being sued for libel and slander, threatened elected officials, lowered bail and removed bond conditions, and tried to snatch magisterial duties for himself (even though he doesn’t have the necessary law degree) in order to increase his close to $200,000 salary. Given how terrible Hill is, it made for fun reading. Although NO Republican should be County Judge (they’ve had their chance and thoroughly mucked it up), be sure to encourage any Republicans voting in their primary to vote for Finley.

Collin College Board of Trustees: Last week, I wrote that four professors have been fired from Collin College. There actually have been five. English professor, Dr. Barbara Hanson, was also fired at the same time as Professor Audra Heaslip and Dr. Suzanne Jones. Hanson’s dismissal is interesting, both for the lack of publicity it generated and for the reasons she was terminated. Collin College insisted she was let go due to her applying for two administrative positions and three negative student evaluation comments (if she only had 3 negative reviews across 29 courses, she’s doing it right). According to Hanson, administrators said they interpreted these things to mean she was disengaged in her teaching. That’s bunk. The real reason is much more nefarious.

Dr. Hanson chaired a committee tasked with recommending whether English faculty should get paid for the extra lab hours they’re required to do. As a former academic, I can tell you that professors are asked to do a lot of extra work they’re not paid to do. It’s unfair and negatively impacts higher education overall. The English Department faculty absolutely deserve additional pay, especially since Collin College received money from the state for those very lab hours. Most of the English Department (60 professors) on the committee agreed they should be paid. Several months later, Dr. Hanson was dismissed.

It isn’t only faculty who’ve been let go because they dared to disagree or state opinions contrary to that of the Board of Trustees. A number of administrators have left or been forced out, including some high up in the food chain. Just what’s going on within the College? A lot of the upheaval seemed to start with the hiring of Neil Matkin and the passing of the bond in 2017. Perhaps it’s time to start questioning the rate of the college’s expansion and revenue compared to how many students it’s currently serving. Remember, these are our tax dollars at work!

While we can’t do anything about administrators being let go, tenure can protect faculty. I talked about the importance of tenure in an earlier column and now Lt. Governor Dan Patrick is proving my point. He recently became incensed when faculty members at the University of Texas Austin had the nerve to pass a non-binding resolution insisting instructors have the academic freedom to teach on issues of racial justice and critical race theory. But we certainly can’t have teachers running amok and actually teaching uncomfortable facts, can we? Patrick immediately suggested ending tenure for all new hires. I’m guessing he didn’t expect such a strong pushback but numerous individual professors and groups like the American Association of University Professors and the Texas Faculty Association all strongly criticized his stance.

UT Austin President, Dr. Jay Hartzell, issued a stinging rebuttal as well. “Removing tenure would not only cripple Texas’ ability to recruit and retain great faculty members, it would also hurt Texas students, who would not be able to stay in state knowing that they will be learning from the very best in the country.” He pointed out that granting tenure is an investment and resource for a university’s missions of teaching and research. It also builds stability because it allows professors to explore controversial topics without fear of repercussion for unpopular ideas. Damn straight.

Allen Public Library: The city is working on its City of Allen Parks and Open Space Master Plan. The plan has taken three years longer than usual due to Covid. They received 1,500 surveys but the needs analysis poll is open again so they can ensure the plans still meet the needs/wants of residents. Please take the survey. The library is moving forward with the Library Expansion Process. They plan on addressing issues with the drive-through book return which is much needed! A 14-month timeline is currently estimated for completion. However, this isn’t a done deal just yet.  The board encouraged everyone to email/contact the city council to encourage them to approve ( Even though the expansion plan was approved in the 2016 election, they’re worried some council members may not endorse it. Huh. I wonder which council members those might be. The plan should be presented to the council on March 8th and, if approved, the bond monies will be released in April.

Allen School Board: Nothing much occurred during the public part of the workshop meeting. However, the executive portion is where they discussed legal issues, including cyber security (I hope) and student concerns. Remember when I reported that the appeals from families of students with disabilities were just now being heard? Well, they’re off to a great start with their first denial. Sadly, this isn’t a surprise because, if you’ll recall, only 10% of parents win cases in Texas through due process and the current judge for the 504 students (those with learning disabilities) has ruled in the district’s favor for the last three years. For 504 cases, the school district gets to pick the judge although, for IEP cases (those with medical conditions), the judge is chosen via a lottery system. While the ruling against the student may not be unexpected, it’s disappointing, to say the least. Shouldn’t everyone be trying to ensure all children receive a good public education? Why are they making it so hard?

McKinney City Council: During their work session earlier in the month, the council heard about the city’s Pavement Management Plan because we need a long-term funding strategy. Although the city spends $9.3 million on existing roadways, the Pavement Condition Index score decreased from 87 (Good range) to 71 (within Satisfactory range but barely above Fair). With the current funding for roads, we can’t keep up even though fixing roadways early is much more cost-effective. The presentation included a color-coded map of the current condition of our roads. Holy cow! If you want to see systemic racism on a map, check it out. The green and yellow streets (Good to Satisfactory condition) were all west of Hwy 75. The streets east of Hwy. 75 were all red (Serious or Failed range.) City staff pointed out that the rate of deterioration for our roadways exceeds the rate of reinvestment.

It was vastly entertaining to watch all the Republicans on the dais squirm when they realized they’re going to have to raise our taxes. If they don’t raise taxes, they’ll have to take money from MEDC and MCDC, thereby defunding Economic and Community Development. Future city council candidates: are you paying attention? McKinney is $312 million in the hole when it comes to fixing streets which is the clear result of Republican leadership choosing not to invest in infrastructure. This is what Josh Murray means when he calls them “Cheap-o Conservatives,” a phrase that clearly should go viral.

The head of the MCDC begged them not to take money from that program. Her presentation was interesting as well. Since its formation in 1996, MCDC has spent most of its funding on parks ($125 million). They’ve only spent $5 million on affordable housing but managed to shell out $1 million to bring the Bryon Nelson Golf tournament to town. Their priorities explain some things. The council voted to split the baby in two by having city staff look into a small tax increase, a lower MCDC/MEDC budget, and a higher tax increase on corporate services. I doubt that “solution” will work out well, so I’m sure this issue will be revisited soon.

Another part of the meeting concerned possible term limits for seats on the city’s boards and commissions. The current policy is three consecutive 2-year terms. Justin Beller (aka Stellar Beller) pointed out that 4-year terms would allow new council members to appoint more members from their districts and bring in new ideas. He added that there are still 4 boards (down from 9) with no representation from District 1. This led to an uncomfortable discussion as to what kind of representation we should have on our boards.

Mayor George Fuller dismissed the lack of District 1 residents saying the council should always choose the best candidate. This has long been the excuse of those seeking to maintain the status quo of preventing women and people of color from reaching positions of power. Who gets to decide what qualifies as the best candidate? Fuller also needs to understand that geographical representation is important because people living in different areas have divergent needs; allowing for district representation is one way to promote the voices of marginalized communities. Stellar Beller argued that the boards and commissions should be a better representation of the community at large – in race, gender, and district. He gave reasons such as recruitment, the timing of board meetings, and recommendations from the council as possible reasons for lack of engagement. Despite his emphasis on equity and democracy, Fuller and Rainey Rogers continued to disagree.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Patrick Cloutier piped in with, “Maybe it’s just Maslow’s hierarchy of needs!” because people in a different season of their life, whether they’re raising children, working long hours, or aren’t interested in city government. I’m not loving this comparison. It feels yucky in general and is a handy way to excuse the lack of diversity on boards. If we’re going to eliminate people based on the age of their kids or how many hours they work, then our boards would consist solely of retirees, probably of a specific gender and race (white men). Also, he called a woman sitting on a board “gal.” That’s sexist and unacceptable. Do better, Cloutier!

Rogers also was terrible. He dismissed the lack of District 1 representation on the MEDC board by saying it needs engaged citizens because that’s a money board. Get that man to a racial sensitivity training, stat! I wasn’t thrilled with Fuller or Cloutier either. Their comments felt entitled, dismissive, and like they just wanted their BFFs to sit on boards. Basically, Stellar Beller wanted a policy or procedure change to ensure fairer representation and no one else did. He brought it home by saying we all get better results when our board’s representation looks like our community. Amen.

McKinney School Board: Welp, I knew this was going to happen. The second President Amy Dankel said MISD didn’t have any ongoing book challenges (The Perks of Being a Wallflower having recently passed muster), I was certain the crazies would make sure there would be more. Sure enough, Paul and Rachel Elliott (citizens worthy of being in a Footloose movie) are challenging 282 books as being too sexually explicit for underage children. But that’s a dodge. The books in question (all taken from the list compiled by State Representative and authoritarian wannabe Matt Krause) also include books on race, gender, and LGBTQ topics. In fact, in their formal 500-page challenge, they said each book “Contains 1 or more of the following: Marxism, incest, sexual [sic] explicit material — in written form and/ or visual pictures, pornography, CRT, immoral activities, rebellious [sic] against parents, and the material contradicts the ISD’s student handbook.”

Part of the process involves them actually reading the books they’re challenging and they insist they have. I’m going to need proof of that because we all know Republicans are liars. Exhibit 1: if they’d truly done their homework, the Elliotts might’ve realized that a large number of the 282 books they challenged aren’t even on MISD shelves. Bill Konigsberg, author of The Bridge, (one of the books they’re challenging) agrees with me but was much nicer about it. In his delightful and informative open letter to the Elliotts, he points out that books are there for all students, especially those who could benefit from reading about topics their parents and teachers might not otherwise mention. If you believe banning books is unwise, dangerous, and terrible, please start speaking at school board meetings and contacting your elected representatives. We have to nip this one in the bud.

Plano School Board: This was a pretty relaxed meeting with not too much going on. There was only one public speaker, a woman who’s apparently making the rounds to complain about inappropriate library books. The CFO mentioned that they’re planning on a 5,000 drop in the student population. This is the result of fewer new homes being built and a lower birthrate. PISD has good retention numbers once students start in kindergarten. However, their numbers dropped about 1,000 students this year as compared to pre-Covid although there were similar drops in districts of Plano’s size.

They listened to updates on their new community engagement programs. There were 26 community members chosen from 120 applicants for the Leadership and Ambassador program. Those chosen will attend six informational sessions to give them a full picture of what PISD does and why they do it. Council members also heard about the Let’s Talk engagement platform where community members can ask questions and provide district feedback. Since they launched, they’ve had 925 dialogues with a response time usually within 24 hours. The highest inquiries concerned enrollment, transfers/withdrawals, early childhood, Covid, and substituting.

“He [sic] who is a citizen in a democracy will often not be a citizen in an oligarchy.”


Local Politics: We’re in our last week of early voting. True to form, turnout has been low. This means that your vote will have an even greater impact, so get out there and vote! And remember to vote in the Democratic primary, not the evil one! As I mentioned last week, your attempts to vote for the least worst GOP candidate won’t help their slide into authoritarianism but losing your primary vote will hurt Democrats, so please don’t do it! Give your favorite Democratic candidates some love instead.

We also need to be vigilant about mail-in ballots. Thanks to Senate Bill 1 which went into effect in early December, mail-in ballots are being returned in greater numbers than ever before. Both El Paso and Harris County officials are pointing out big problems with the mail-in ballot system. El Paso County had 48% of their mail-in ballots returned (this percentage usually hovers around 5%) while Harris County had 41% returned. Their mail-in ballot return rate for the last midterm election in 2018 was just 6.6%. Harris County officials are so incensed that they’ve asked the Department of Justice for assistance.

The new law requires that the ID voters use on their mail-in ballot envelope or application is the same as what’s on their voter registration record. This is ridiculous since voters who may have registered years or decades ago may not remember which ID they used to register. In addition, the fields for the newly required ID information are located beneath a flap on the vote-by-mail envelope. Harris County officials call this “a game of gotcha.” It most certainly is. SB1 is doing exactly what it was passed to do: suppress the vote, especially for Democrats. While I haven’t heard about this being a problem in Collin County yet (probably because we’re considered a reliably red county), we all need to be careful and make sure our votes are being counted.

As always, please start participating in our local governance. As Aristotle pointed out, citizenship requires that we work together for the common good. In his time, they gathered in the town square to debate issues. Today, those debates happen in city council and school board rooms and we desperately need to be a part of them. Please sign up to join the team covering your city council or school board. Everyone is welcome. All you need to do is contact me at and let me know you’re interested. Let’s do this!

Comments 7

  1. Can you add a link to John Peyton’s piece shining a light on Chris Hill’s vulgarity? It’s a gem.

    1. Post
  2. An unbroken record of truth-telling through local journalism. The only source in Collin County. The tip of the GOTV spear in the Rally. Nothing compares in the Blue world. Thank you Misty.

  3. We have relocated to the Texas Coast until May 1 and requested democratic primary mail ballots in Collin County. The state website indicates our requests were received and approved in January yet we have never received our requested ballots. Early voting ends tomorrow. It’s now obvious that we are not receiving a ballot for this primary election but no one is reporting this particular problem in this election.

    1. Post

      Thanks for bringing this up, Terri. If you’ve had problems, there’s no telling how many other people have as well. Please consider calling 1-844-TX-VOTES to tell them about this. We need to get the kinks worked out in time for the general election in November.

Share Your Thoughts