Collin County Politics: Emphasize Care for Everyone

December 20, 2022

Covid Update: Collin County has 265,229 confirmed Covid cases. That’s 1,113 more cases than I reported last week and 1,598 of our Collin residents have died (no additional deaths). Our transmission remains Low although our test positivity rate is high and the numbers of Covid hospitalizations have risen. This is in addition to the increase in cases of flu and RSV. Everyone say it with me: WEAR YOUR MASKS!!

ICYMI: I was hoping we’d get through the holiday season without too much terrible news but leave it to Felonious Punk Ken Paxton to ruin that hope! He’s like a reverse Santa. In a terrifying development, he demanded that the Texas Department of Public Safety compile a list of individuals who had changed their gender on their Texas driver’s license and other department records during the past two years. Although his office is now denying they did any such thing, state employees at the driver license division were told the AG’s office wanted “the number of people who had had a legal sex change” as well as a “list” of names. This is deeply horrifying because there is only one reason to obtain such information and that’s in preparation for further discrimination and marginalization. This is Nazi-level stuff and cannot be allowed to continue.

The long-awaited report by the Texas Maternal and Morbidity Review Committee finally came out. The report covered pregnancy-related deaths in 2019, so this doesn’t include what’s sure to be an increase since SB8, the abortion bounty hunter law, was passed. The report found that most of the 147 deaths were preventable and disproportionately affected Black Texans. The deaths were primarily driven by hemorrhage, mental health conditions and blood clots during pregnancy and in the year after. Between 2016 and 2020, the rate of serious pregnancy complications rose for all women, the report found, but most steeply for Black Texans. In 2020, Black women were twice as likely to experience critical health issues in childbirth, including sepsis and preeclampsia. As they have since forever, the committee’s top recommendation is to extend Medicaid coverage to a full year post-pregnancy. Please alert your elected representatives that you want them to address this! It’s only going to get worse from here.

Now for a little bit of good news (just a wee bit). State District Judge Aaron Haas of Bexar County dismissed one of the lawsuits against Dr. Alan Braid (not all superheroes wear capes!) who openly violated the six-week abortion ban put in place by SB8. The law relies on private citizens to bring lawsuits against doctors or anyone else who “aids or abets” an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, in effect being bounty hunters. Judge Haas throw out the lawsuit filed by a dude from Chicago because he couldn’t show he was directly impacted by the abortion services provided (duh).  As such, he has no legal standing to sue. Damn skippy! Shut UP, Chicago dude!

Education: Is it just me or have some of the school districts in the metroplex lost their minds? The Carroll ISD School Board voted 5-1 (so there’s only 1 trustee who cares about all students) to remove gender identity, sexual orientation and religion from its nondiscrimination statement. I shudder to think why they deemed this necessary. With antisemitism and violence against those in the LGBTQ+ community on the rise, removing protections from already marginalized groups is dangerous. It’s also foolhardy since the U.S. Department of Education last year announced the opening of an investigation into allegations of discrimination at Carroll ISD schools. I don’t think this will help. I wonder if sex wouldn’t also have been included were it not a federally protected category.

Not to be outdone in the “are you crazy?!” category, Keller School Board trustees voted 4-3 (so there are 3 sane members at least) to approve a policy allowing teachers and other campus staff to carry guns. Because that worked so well at Parkland and Uvalde. Many in the community are rightfully concerned that having minimally trained people carrying guns in schools increases the likelihood of accidental discharge or mistaken shootings. Teachers have enough pressure on them to do what they were hired to do. Why do we think adding stress by encouraging them to carry deadly weapons is a good plan?

While I think both school districts have bitten off more than they can chew, the very fact that they passed these extremely poor policies is a big deal. It normalizes such things so that extremists on other boards may start agitating for policies like that in their own school districts. We can’t let that happen.

Commissioner’s Court: Neither Chris Hill (again!) nor Cheryl Williams showed up. How many meetings in a row has Hill missed? I guess his re-election emboldened him to just shirk his duties. Thanks, Republicans! I renew my question about how many commissioners are needed for a quorum. Given Hill’s reluctance to actually do his job, this question seems important. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

The only excitement during the meeting came when Duncan Webb pulled an item from the l-o-n-g Consent Agenda for them to discuss. Apparently, Judge Mike Missildine, Justice of the Peace for Precinct 3 wouldn’t allow an auditor to go over his procedures. He actually refused to participate in the audit and this item was on the Consent Agenda (“items of a routine nature”) to be passed quickly! This is one of the problems with the commissioners putting practically everything in there so they end up discussing mostly nothing. Thankfully, Webb was paying attention and pulled the item so they can go over their options. This is not a good way to run a county. We’re going to need to keep an eye on Judge Missildine.

The conspiracy theorists didn’t show up this week, so the only public speakers were Josh Murray and Sheena King. Sheena wanted to let everyone know that the Federal Communications Commission just put out a broadband map in November. This is very important because it allows us to see where the gaps in broadband coverage are. People can go to the FCC website to help improve the map.

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self- preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.

Audre Lorde

McKinney City Council: I’m rapidly losing patience with the city councils who either don’t understand the issues of affordable housing and homelessness or don’t care to. I suspect it’s the latter. Lower-income people aren’t a big voting bloc. The first strike for McKinney was this op-ed in the Dallas Morning News. I was excited when I saw the headline, “This North Texas city is addressing housing unaffordability” because I thought some surrounding city had figured it out. Imagine my surprise when I saw they were praising McKinney because I know for a fact we don’t have anything figured out. If you read between the lines of the op-ed, that was obvious. Our big “solutions” involve partnering with developers so they get tax breaks while we get a few apartments for those earning 80% or less of the area’s median income. The article gleefully says those who qualify will pay rent below the market rate. How much below the market rate ($50 or $350 less)? How do they judge income? How many families and at what income level will this help? None of this was addressed. I’d love to know who wrote the propaganda piece. Mayor George Fuller, was that you (doubtful) or did you direct someone on your staff to write it?

While this may seem like a good start to addressing affordable housing, it isn’t. It’s akin to putting a bandaid on a gushing wound. Affordable housing relates to employees being paid a livable wage. Many aren’t. The op-ed mentioned that half of all renters in McKinney use 30-50% of their income for rent. That isn’t sustainable and has definitely contributed to homelessness. And “affordable” is subjective since it lands very differently for a single 22-year-old versus a family of four. Plus, do we truly believe rewarding developers is the way to go? I trust developers just as far as I can throw them and I have tennis elbow! If it wasn’t profitable for developers, they’d never take the tax breaks and the McKinney City Council – who rarely meet a developer they don’t like – wouldn’t have suggested it. Who will be holding these developers accountable? Will anyone be monitoring and enforcing these price breaks and ensuring they remain past the initial few years? I also want to know how we as a city plan to evaluate these “solutions” to determine if they’re actually helping.

The next problem was where we spent all the federal money given to us by the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Readers of this column will recall that the Allen City Council recently did their report on this as well. I wasn’t impressed with their stewardship of these monies and I’m equally unimpressed with McKinney’s. The vast majority of the CDBG (60% or $600,000) went to housing rehab and $200,000 was used for community outreach, compliance, and training. What is the outcome of this training? Has it resulted in people being truly helped or do we even know? The percentage of the CDBG money going to Public Services was less than what we paid for grant administration. That doesn’t seem right.

If you add in the CARES Act money (thanks, Democrats!), McKinney had almost $2.5 million for housing assistance. And what did we do with that money? We assisted 8 homeowners with repairs and 12 families with housing. Yes, you read that correctly: 20 families. Lest we think that number is far too low (and we do think that; Allen showed equally low numbers by the way), the slide listing “accomplishments” stated the CDBG directly impacted 659 residents. Given the low number of people directly helped (20 families), I’m guessing the majority of those 659 got the “education and outreach” we don’t know is effective. Plus, the distribution of CARES Act money (thanks, Democrats!) came with all kinds of restrictions the county put on how it could be spent, making it almost impossible to help residents. I’ll never forget hearing the county commissioners talk about how they didn’t even need to spend all of it! Yet, there are parking lots full of people sleeping in their cars and homeless shelters are turning people away.

Homelessness is a huge issue for all of Collin County and the metroplex but you’d never know it from the minimal attention it gets from local government or the media. I don’t think I’ve heard any of the county commissioners even say the word. It sure seems like Plano is the only city in the county that’s at least trying (see below). But wait! On one of the slides for the CDBG presentation, it said that Mayor Fuller has a Taskforce on Homelessness. He does? This is the first I’m hearing about it. I’m sure that isn’t because there’s been no media attention and I had to dig through the city website to even find mention of it. I have so many questions! Who’s on this task force? What are their goals? Given the terrible nature of homelessness, I’d expect a vibrant, active task force generating lots of solutions. Sure. That’s definitely going to happen for people who don’t contribute to campaigns.

Given my low opinion of Fuller, I suspected the task force would be bad but it was even worse than I thought. I couldn’t find any information on who’s on the task force or how they were chosen (shocker) but I did see that they meet once a quarter although there isn’t a date or meeting place provided. Well, that’s sure to bring a lot of momentum to the issue. Although, given their “strategies,” perhaps the lack of momentum is a good thing. One strategy is increasing accountability for people who refuse services and engage in illegal behaviors. That’s totally going to cut down on homelessness! And who do you think enforces this accountability? If you guessed the McKinney Police Department (which, they take pains to point out, includes A mental health professional because we only need one), you’d be right. Another strategy is the “Have a Heart/Give Smart” anti-panhandling program which emphasizes the importance of donating to social service providers within McKinney rather than directly to panhandlers. It doesn’t say so but I’m guessing the McKinney Police are involved in this initiative as well. Suddenly, I feel like I know exactly who’s on this task force and how they were chosen.

The city website insists we’re “actively engaged in various efforts to prevent and address homelessness in our community.” Uh-huh, totally believable. No wonder we have so many people living in their cars. Fellow Democrats, we need to do something about this since it’s clear our city elected officials aren’t going to unless we make them.

Plano City Council: Housing issues continue to dominate city council meetings across Collin County. At the most recent meeting, the council considered an ordinance to rezone 36.5 acres of land located on the north side of Legacy Drive, 1,168 feet east of Alma Drive. The developer wanted to add more units, thereby increasing the number of units above the recommended percentage. They also proposed extending density and height beyond current zoning laws. The Planning & Zoning committee voted 5-2 in support while city staff recommended denial.

Mayor Muns pointed out that the council claims they want revitalization but rarely does anything to support it. True story. He worried that if they turn this application down, there will be no motivation for owners of multifamily buildings to try and upgrade the property. Yep. He noted that Plano has lost some of these properties to the Plano Housing Authority because they couldn’t get renovations approved. This means that their tax base is lost to the city.

It was immediately clear that the application was in trouble from the “We Hate Apartments!” crowd. Although all of them were effusive in their praise of the developer and bent over backward to express their agreement with the mayor about the need for revitalization, their dislike of the request was evident. Anthony Ricciardelli practically collapsed on his fainting couch at the thought of how increasing density would undo the 1995 deal in which projects got multifamily units as long as they had single-family density. That’s a stupid argument because the city has grown a great deal since 1995 and people need housing. But when has a stupid argument ever stopped Ricciardelli? Kayci Prince (our deal with the devil) was against the application but said she agrees with Muns about the need to revitalize and believes the council must have conversations about how they do that. Talk is cheap, sweetie. This has been an ongoing problem for years but you’re not any closer to solving it. Do you want to give a date for when the council will have that discussion? We’ll wait.

The others yammered on about caring about resident concerns (Tu), housing type diversity (Williams), parking, and green spaces (Grady) until it was Julie Holmer’s turn to speak. Although her speech was long, it was worth watching because of her casual snark and how she owned the naysayers. I loved it! Unlike the rest of them, she’d clearly done her due diligence by speaking with those against the application and even visiting the property. She mentioned the 40+ emails the council received the night before, pointing out that many of them were incredibly similar and that the majority of the objections came from landowners who don’t live anywhere near the property under consideration. Huh. I wonder who alerted them to this situation. Holmer then systematically dismantled all of their objections. It was beautiful.

She pointed out that multifamily properties are considered commercial and, as such, pick up more of the tax burden than single-family homes. This is an excellent point that we need to hammer home to people who keep objecting to multifamily dwellings. Make their opposition about classism instead of letting them hide behind economics. If her fellow council members truly cared about doing the right thing instead of pandering to their base, they would’ve voted for the application. Instead, the motion to deny passed 6-2, with only Muns and Holmer voting for the future.

The last part of the meeting was taken up by a report on how Plano used the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds during the 2021-22 grant year. Shanette Eaden, Community Services Manager, presented. I love when she shows up! Plano is lucky to have her. Eaden works in the Neighborhood Services Department (NSD). If any other city in Collin County has a department like that, I’m not aware of it. Other cities seem to flail around when it comes to helping those struggling (looking at you, Allen and McKinney!). The existence of NSD may explain why Plano has more programs to help lower-income people than any other city. We should all take note and bring this up with other city councils.

Rick Grady cares deeply about those who are homeless so, per usual, he had a lot of questions. Several of Eaden’s answers were illuminating. In response to his question about whether NSD has a list of people who are receiving housing assistance, Eaden said that yes, they have a list but it’s sensitive information. Several years ago, people were fine with that information getting out, even to the point of having signs in their yards saying they received help, but now they don’t want others to know. I’m guessing that’s because some people have gotten meaner about their tax dollars being used to help those who need it. I’ll go out on a limb and assume most of the meanies self-righteously sit in church on Sundays.

Eaden set out the scope of the problem. She mentioned that the NSD gets about 2-3 homeless people per day at their building requesting services. They get more people coming to their building because they accept walk-ins (which other agencies don’t; they force people to make appointments) and have regular hours from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Other agencies have more restrictive hours. But there’s a limit to what NSD can do. While they have a licensed social worker who can do case management (she does street outreach), Plano doesn’t have the capacity to do that. They farm out case management to other agencies. I don’t have a lot of confidence in how that goes.

There’s a reason why the government needs to take on the task of helping people and that’s capacity. Private charitable organizations and NGOs don’t have the funding or the staff to offer all the services needed. Rick Smith seemed to agree with me. He asked Ms. Eaden what needs to be done so people seeking help don’t run into more red tape. She said that Plano gave some money to the Assistance Center of Collin County so that they would have staff there past 3:00 pm but many of the non-profits NSD works with are having capacity issues. Yep. Since Collin County itself doesn’t have a formal department to help people (thanks, county commissioners!) and most of the cities don’t either, this means that many people are falling through the cracks and not getting the help they need. Fantastic.

Local Politics: In the new year, promise yourself that you’ll become a warrior for democracy. Sign up to join the team covering your city council or school board. Everyone is welcome. Contact me at and let me know you’re interested.

Comments 1

  1. The problem is that those who most need services because of lack of income, lack of time, or lack of information are unable to advocate for themselves 8 – 5. They’re usually working! It’s up to us to advocate on behalf of people and demand better services.

    Thank you for the exhaustive (and exhausting) reporting.

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