Collin County Politics: Democracy is not a Spectator Sport

November 2, 2021

Covid Update: Collin County has 129,547 confirmed Covid cases. That’s 933 more cases than I reported last week and 1,130 of our Collin residents have died (an increase of 15 people who died since last week). The numbers are going down!

Collin College: Another professor is suing President Neil Matkin, Collin College, and the board of trustees for violating her First Amendment right to free speech. Dr. Lora Burnett’s lawsuit follows on the heels of a lawsuit filed by Dr. Suzanne Jones, also for violation of her rights. I wish the family of Iris Meda – the professor of nursing who came out of retirement and died of Covid after contracting it from one of her students – would sue them for failing to provide a safe working environment.

Apparently, Matkin wishes people would just forget about her. Back in January, the faculty council passed a resolution calling for the college to honor Meda, who was Black, by displaying her portrait, creating a scholarship in her name, and honoring her family during a school event. Matkin took 2 months to respond and essentially ignored the resolution, saying the council should find a way to honor “all of our fallen colleagues.” I’m sure his cruel dismissal of Professor Meda’s sacrifice has nothing to do with her race. Too bad you can’t sue someone for being a jerk.

Commissioner’s Court: Most of their recent meetings have been short, coming in under 30 minutes with most of the time taken up by public speakers. Cheryl Williams has missed 2 meetings in a row with no explanation. Susan Fletcher was absent last week. Apparently, she’s on vacation. Perhaps she’s exhausted from all her work redrawing the commissioner court redistricting maps alongside Darrell Hale (who used Excel instead of an actual mapping tool). I do so love having a distinct lack of confidence in the competence of our leaders.

Neither Duncan Webb nor Cheryl Williams drew any maps since both are on the ballot this year. But never fear, they’ve let their preferences be known to the others. Webb wants to represent only Dallas and Plano while Williams is insistent about getting all of Richardson. If you’re wondering if allowing the current commissioners to redraw their own districts is a conflict of interest, the answer is yes. Is it legal? Same answer.

Per the census, there are 1,064,465 people in Collin County, so there should be 266,116 people in each district. State law requires no more than a 10% difference between the largest and the smallest precinct, which is roughly 252,000 and 279,000. Hale and Fletcher both have too many people in their districts and must lose some voters. This is something Hale is very upset about as he has “the largest and most Republican precinct of the four” and hates to give up any of his supporters. According to Hale, after ensuring there’s no majority-minority area comprised of a single race, how they distribute cities and areas (and their voting patterns) is based on the personal preference and relationships of the commissioners. I’m not holding my breath for any attempt at fairness from these people, especially since most seem to believe they’re only there to represent Republicans.

During the meeting, Sheriff Skinner was asked to explain his request for Overtime Approval. He reminded them this was discussed in the budget workshops and that there’s still not enough staff. The funds for overtime will likely come from the Detention budget, as that’s where the majority of openings are. That may not seem like a huge deal but when you consider that the commissioners just signed a contract for $38 million to expand the detention center – yes, the same one that’s currently woefully understaffed – it becomes deeply problematic. Without any public input, they voted to use ARPA funds (intended to help problems caused by Covid) to expand the jail for “mental health” reasons.

Sadly, the commissioners aren’t the only ones who are criminalizing mental illness. Jails and prisons now house more people suffering from mental illness than psychiatric hospitals. It gets even worse when you realize that they’re housing many of our desperately vulnerable citizens in a place where employees aren’t trained to adequately deal with their needs. A 2015 Human Rights Watch Report uncovered a disproportionate use of excessive force against prisoners with serious mental illness (sound familiar?). Just expanding the jail without adding trained mental health professionals (law enforcement officers with minimal hours of training doesn’t count) won’t significantly help people with mental health issues.

There are better solutions. They could’ve chosen to give more funds to Lifepath and Grace to Change or tackled the huge problem of homelessness across Collin. They also could’ve created a Behavioral Health Court where defendants with mental illness and substance abuse problems are offered a treatment program in the community as an alternative to jail time. The commissioners did none of those things. Any of those programs would help combat mental health problems more than an expanded jail but then they wouldn’t get to say they’re tough on crime.

Allen School Board: The board continues to be horrible (this seems to be a trend in our Republican leadership). Instead of working with families to provide their children with the best education, Allen treat them disrespectfully. The district’s casual disregard towards families happens regardless of whether families are trying to keep their children safe from Covid, attempting to adequately handle medical concerns (IEP meetings), or trying to have their children’s learning issues addressed (ARD meetings). AISD already has one lawsuit due to their refusal to do what they’re supposed to do. During the last board meeting, one family tried to get a Region X facilitator at their ARD meetings because they didn’t believe they’d get treated well by Allen ISD. This was denied. It’s almost as if they want yet another lawsuit.

Johnny Hill, AISD’s Chief Financial Officer, gave a presentation of the Annual FIRST (Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas) Report. They scored 90 out of 100, which is a Superior or A level. Next year’s score should be a 94. While this seems like good news, a lot of people have doubts about the fiscal responsibility of the district. Hill made several direct statements about how transparent the district is with their finances, probably in response to the blowback they’re getting about the upcoming bond election. People aren’t thrilled with how money from the last bond was spent. Plus, Superintendent Robin Bullock’s entanglement with Hellas Construction and their many contracts with AISD is causing a lot of concern.

Transparency doesn’t seem to be AISD’s strong suit. No mention was made about the hacking, which they first tried to minimize but eventually conceded that personal data was stolen. They’re offering free credit monitoring for adults and identity monitoring for students. Sadly, this doesn’t help those who pulled their kids over lack of Covid mitigation policies or recent graduates whose data is still in the system. The Board also ignored the presence of an ambulance and EMTs at the Lowry 9th grade Homecoming dance (the dance ended early without notifying parents) or the recent incident of a student threatening to/possibly bringing a gun to a middle school. If the trustees hope parents won’t hear about these incidents if they don’t mention them, then they need to be introduced to the internet. Rumors are running rampant. And, of course, they continue to keep quiet about how many positive Covid cases they have in the schools. There are frequently over 100 openings for substitute teachers per week.

After months of multiple parents and community members speaking at the Board meetings, only one parent spoke at the last meeting. Allen parents know they’re not being heard and that the trustees don’t care what they have to say. They’re also wary of the incredibly confrontational opponents of mask mandates. Those representing the “We the People” PAC are particularly nasty. While I certainly sympathize with people being tired of running into the brick wall that is the Allen School Board, the silencing of dissent is exactly what they and the crazy extremists want. They hope we’ll give up and stop raising our voices. Although it’s hard, we can’t give in. Democracy requires participation and reasonable people have been silent too long. So, gird your loins Allen parents, and head once more into battle!

LWAN: If you enjoy reading these columns, please join LWAN. I can’t write these columns without a lot of help! If we want true change, we must know what’s going on. That means monitoring every city council and school board in Collin County. This is something anyone can do and it’s interesting work. Please let me know if you’re interested.

Share Your Thoughts