Collin County Politics: Covid, Covid Everywhere

August 17, 2021

Covid Update: I don’t usually cover politics at the state level but what’s going on across Texas affects us here. The legal action brought by Dallas County Commissioner Judge Clay Jenkins continues. He won the ability to enforce a mask mandate before a civil district court judge, Democrat Tonya Parker, and again at the Fifth Court of Appeals, composed mainly of Democrats (elections matter, people!). However, the Texas Supreme Court (mostly Republicans) halted him temporarily. They didn’t strike down the face mask order but removed the stay on Governor Abbott’s Executive Order. Thankfully, Jenkins isn’t backing down.

Neither is North Texas’ own Jenna Royal. She represents Dallas parents seeking the end of the mask mandate ban. She also won at the Fifth Court of Appeals. The Texas Supreme Court stopped her momentum but she continues to prepare pleadings. The Southern Center for Child Advocacy’s lawsuit continues moving forward. Once we hear that mayors and county judges will be allowed to implement mask mandates, flood their emails, mailboxes, and voicemails with demands to do so. There’s power in numbers and, as someone wise once said, we’re stronger together.

Collin County currently has 102,433 active Covid cases, an increase of 543 from yesterday. This is 3,286 more cases than I reported last week. It’s terrifying, not just because of the increasing number of severely ill people but also because our hospitals are overwhelmed. Texas is suffering a shortage of nurses, largely due to burnout. The human body has limitations and we’re paying for our failure to recognize that.

Commissioner’s Court: The commissioners had their special budget meeting to determine what items they plan to add or delete in order to keep in compliance with the no-new-revenue tax rate. The Budget Finance Director noted that we do take out the money spent on indigent defense and housing indigent people in jail but there was no mention of taking out funds spent on indigent healthcare. No surprise there. After all, it’s difficult to take out money for something we barely spend anything on in the first place.

Throughout the meeting, it was crystal clear that healthcare – or anything other than law enforcement – isn’t a priority for these people. Cheryl Williams even felt called to state explicitly that her budgetary priorities are law enforcement and the jail. I’m sure glad we got that cleared up. It’s not as if we didn’t already know these commissioners can do nothing beyond keeping taxes low and investing in punitive programs.

They started off voting for a one-time lump sum of $14.5 million to the Texas County and District Retirement System Fund. Duncan Webb said this amount combined with the 9.5% rate in their budget should get pensions fully funded. Then he and Williams patted each other on the back about how Collin County, alone among counties and cities across the state, keep the pension funded. I spent a long time trying to figure out why the commissioners are doing this, especially if no other city or county is doing the same. It can’t be that they want their employees to have a secure retirement (that would involve caring about people). My conclusion? By placing so much money in the pension fund, they avoid having reserves they might have to spend on other services. We certainly can’t have that!

Sheriff Skinner got almost everything he asked for. When presented with a decision of whether to fund additional hours or do an increase in pay grade for detention officers, the commissioners decided to do both! It might sound excessive but why wouldn’t they? Law enforcement is their only priority. They also funded a $280,000 contract with Lifepath for 24-hour mental health support services for the jail. When Williams smugly commented that this is the most important item they’ll pass for this budget, I rolled my eyes.

While the jail does need mental health services, their priorities are misplaced. It’s clearly never occurred to them that if people had mental health resources within the community, perhaps they wouldn’t end up in jail. But these yahoos have no conception of prevention and service, only punishment. The commissioners did refuse to fund a Functional Analyst and Lead Clerk but those felt like positions Skinner asked for just to see if he could get them.

Other departments weren’t so lucky. They eliminated one Collections Clerk in the County Clerk’s office and both Collections Clerks in the District Clerk’s office. I was wondering how they’d clap back at Lynne Finley. These people are so petty. Williams actually said that since Lynne Finley provided them with no data, they have no evidence the clerks collect enough money to justify their salaries. Toward the end of the meeting, both Fletcher and Webb expressed hesitancy about their earlier vote. There’s a question as to whether the complete outsourcing of collections is legal and there are logistical concerns as well. It was odd no one brought up these issues when they were actually voting.

They added one Tax Assessor Title Specialist, not the two Kenneth Maun requested. Perhaps this is how they’re punishing Maun for saying they blackmailed him into accepting less funding last year. Again, they’re probably just being petty and we’re the ones suffering for it. They added two Felony Prosecutor positions. They were all in on adding one position but weren’t sure they could swing two. Darrell Hale actually asked if they could take some ARPA funding from the mental health contractors but was told the money cannot be used for recurring expenses. That should tell you everything you need to know about how Hale feels about mental health. After much discussion and pushing from both Webb and Fletcher, they found the funding needed for the second position.

If the budget discussions weren’t enough, Chris Hill found the time to let us know just how little he values our safety. Despite the delta variant running roughshod over the entire state, Hill refuses to order a mask mandate. He explained that his primary responsibility is to protect our liberty. No, it isn’t. Sheesh! Do we really want to give so much power to someone who doesn’t even have a good grasp on his job description?

But he didn’t stop there. When a constituent posted concerns about students doing online learning, Hill responded, “Hell, yes, freedom is more important than education!! WTH is wrong with you?” He actually talked to a constituent in that manner! He also showed his incredible ignorance. Freedom comes with responsibility; it isn’t just an opportunity to be selfish. Only someone with an adolescent mindset ignores the responsibility part.

Collin College: I was hoping they were done being terrible but nope. They still have it in for professors but now don’t care if students get hurt too. At a recent faculty meeting, professors were informed they cannot encourage students to wear masks in any way, shape, or form. They can be fined if they’re caught doing the cardinal sin of actively caring about their student’s health and the health of the community. Faculty also aren’t allowed to move sessions online at the last minute. If they’re sick and scheduled to teach in person, they must take sick leave rather than teach online.

Students, you heard it here first: your college administrators care more about scoring political points than they do about your health or education. Professors, for those considering starting a new job at Collin College: don’t.

Plano City Council: It seems like they’d have other business to contend with (like how to keep their citizens safe from the delta variant) but instead, council members chose to grapple with ethics. First up was repealing campaign finance limitations. When Lily Bao was still on council, the Republicans passed an “ethics” ordinance mandating members recuse themselves if a donor who gave more than $1,000 has an issue that comes before the council. Those arguing against say it’s unconstitutional, no other city in Texas has such a bill, and if someone is really corrupt (like Richardson Mayor Laura Maczka), the money isn’t going through the campaign anyway. The motion was tabled until after the next council work session. I’d love to know why the Republicans are so eager to keep it in place.

Next up was an item about endorsements by council members. Some want to add a prohibition against council members using their position or title in an endorsement of city council candidates in city elections. This was adopted 6-2. Once again, I’m puzzled by the rush to pass this, especially by Republicans. After all, they’re the ones who usually demonstrate corrupt and unethical behavior, so it appears they’re shooting themselves in the foot. Weird.

The motion to amend zoning at the Rowlett Creek treatment plant in order to allow new outbuildings to be built was discussed. There are several problems with this. It would tear down the barrier trees between the plant and the residential properties, violate the 1984 agreement with residents, and residents are overwhelmingly against it. The zoning amendment was denied 5-3 with Holmer, Tu, Williams, Ricciardelli, and Smith all voting in support of residents.

Plano School Board: The board held a special meeting to go over Covid revisions and allow community members to be heard. The vast majority of public speakers asked for the same safety measures from last year and for Plano ISD to implement a mask mandate (Abbott be damned). Most notable were the students who showed up to express their fear about returning to school with subpar safety measures. One middle school student who isn’t old enough for the vaccine begged the board for stricter Covid measures because he’s scared for his safety at school.

The board decided to offer a temporary virtual option even though the Texas Education Agency is still withholding funds for kids not in physical seats (about $7,500 per student per year). This isn’t because we don’t have the money as TEA received federal funds to distribute to school districts. While the virtual option is a good start, it’s basically homeschooling. The TEA doesn’t allow any co-teaching (face to face and virtual at the same time) even for quarantine virtual learning.

As the parent of a child who did remote learning last year, I understand how difficult it must’ve been for teachers to try to teach both virtually and in person and I agree it shouldn’t be done again this year. However, they could task some teachers to work solely with virtual students. There are options other than what we tried last year but the TEA just doesn’t want to find them. They’re truly horrible.

Covid cases will be required to quarantine (that should be a given!) but close contacts won’t be required to quarantine. They can voluntarily quarantine if they want. Yeah, that’s going to go well. Superintendent Bonser mentioned they have a teacher shortage. Gee, I wonder why. It’s almost as if teachers don’t believe Plano ISD or the TEA are committed to preserving their health and well-being. If that’s not bad enough, lower enrollment could cost millions. This shouldn’t be surprising given how many parents are terrified their children will get sick. I’m tempted to smirk and yell, “Consequences!” at the Republican “leadership” but I’m afraid this is all part of their plan to decimate public education.

Speaking of terrible leaders, Heather Wang actually said mandating masks can cause mental distress (tell me you’re a Republican without saying it). She claimed she’s had heart palpitations and others have had panic attacks while wearing them. If people who weaponize mental health actually cared about funding it, our society would be so much healthier. But no, it’s just a useful canard to continue their awful ways. That was such a stupid thing for her to say. If people think they’ve had panic attacks just wearing masks, imagine how they’ll feel on a ventilator. It’s truly embarrassing to have someone with such low critical thinking skills on the school board. We need to do better.

Comments 6

  1. Yes, Misty, I was both impressed and shocked by the volume of the report. Could we please just elect some leaders who actually accomplish something worthwhile instead of just getting political points for their lack of public responsibility?

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  2. You have to write so much because many awful things are happening in this state. Thank you for the report.

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