Collin County Politics: It’s Getting Ugly

August 3, 2021

Commissioners Court: I hope you all ate your Wheaties! Last week was the annual budget workshop for the commissioners and it was eye-opening. I haven’t even gotten all the information from most of the budget talks and there’s already so much to discuss that I won’t get to it all. I’ll try to hit the highlights though. Before I get started, I have to respond to something that happened in the regular meeting on the 26th.

During public comments, Susan Fletcher reacted to a complaint about Collin County not providing adequate healthcare for our indigent population (which we don’t). She mentioned that the court supported the new healthcare facility, the Family Health Center, in McKinney. Well, kind of. The court provided minimal funding (seriously, it was barely anything, maybe less than 5% of the total cost) and the impetus for creating that facility came from McKinney leaders, not the commissioners.

Fletcher went on to say we have a “dynamic” program with volunteer healthcare providers. She meant Project Access, which is where they refer people who aren’t indigent for free healthcare. Chris Hill said this information is on their website although I couldn’t find it. Project Access is a non-profit and Collin County government is one of over 30 partners funding this organization.

While it’s wonderful people have somewhere to go to access free healthcare, expectations for clients are pretty strict. Among other things, they must arrange for their own translator, only use Wal-Mart for prescriptions, apply for other assistance programs if requested, may be charged for some services, and they must be grateful (yes, their form actually says that). Services not covered include ER expenses, glasses or contacts, dental services, medical equipment, and medication for pain or psychiatric needs. In other words, they don’t cover expenses for services most people need. And I’m not loving that the business model requires providers to volunteer their services.

What I did find on the Commissioners Court website is the PrimaCare Program in which those who can prove they earn less than 100% of the federal poverty guidelines – the guideline for a family of four is $26,500 – can pay a $20 co-pay for services at PrimaCare Medical Centers. There are 5 locations across Collin County: McKinney, Plano (2), Richardson, and Dallas. As such, people in Frisco and northern areas like Prosper, Melissa, and Farmersville will have to travel a long distance to receive care. Since many with lower incomes cannot afford good transportation or a $20 co-pay, they’ll find it difficult to receive care.

It’s outrageous that the commissioners think these services are worth bragging about. Either they don’t know about the problems with access or they don’t care. I don’t know which is worse. They’re mandated by the state to fund indigent healthcare. For these commissioners, that means they do the bare minimum and that includes all our healthcare needs. Collin County’s public health department is tiny, we don’t have a county hospital, Lifepath is struggling to offer services to more people with less money, and funding for substance abuse treatment is minimal at best. It would be one thing if we didn’t have the money to fund these programs but we do. The commissioners are sitting on $72 million of undistributed funds and they have money from the American Rescue Plan as well. This is absolutely unacceptable and we need to let them know that.

Speaking of unacceptable, it seems clear that even their fellow Republicans don’t think the commissioners are doing a good job (spoiler alert: they aren’t!). Our 82-year-old tax assessor-collector, Kenneth Maun, claimed he was “blackmailed” last year into not receiving the additional staffing he requested. He didn’t mince words about the need for more employees to keep up with the growth in population. But the real story is about the dispute between District Clerk Lynne Finley and Chris Hill.

There’s never been any love lost between these two. I don’t know their history but I suspect part of the animosity from Hill is because Finley is a woman who doesn’t kowtow to him. The reason for the current hostility is because Hill believes Finley hasn’t been doing her job. She didn’t come into the building for 6 months during Covid, choosing instead to work from home. In an attempt to prove negligence, he took 7,000 of her emails without her permission (nor did he go through the vetting process required by law) and she called him on it. In fact, she said he stole her emails and labeled it a security breach. Finley called Hill a liar, a bully, and accused him of circumventing the law. She also mentioned that just because he tried to pretend Covid wasn’t real doesn’t mean it isn’t. She was correct in every instance.

I don’t care for Finley but it was incredibly gratifying to watch her stand up to him! Hill tried to scold, intimidate, condescend, and embarrass her but she wasn’t having it. The other commissioners just sat there during the over 30-minute exchange, several looking like they’d rather be elsewhere. None of those profiles in courage said a word. Only Finley pointed out that Hill stuck his nose where it doesn’t belong and he broke the law to do it.

Finley is an elected official. She doesn’t work for him and what she does isn’t under his control but he tried to make it so (he does that a lot and not just with her). He took thousands of her emails without giving her the chance to vet them for redacting privileged information just because he wanted to. It’s illegal and it’s not OK.  

That was only the first – and the most publicized – exchange they had on the 26th. The second was about a study the commissioners requested last year to determine the most effective way to collect fines and fees from defendants going through the legal process. They decided to do both a historical and active study on certain defendants in both the county and district courts. One set of defendants would be treated like usual while the other set wouldn’t be given any kind of guidance with regard to payment options. Stacey Kemp handles the county court and had no problem participating in both parts of the study.

Finley is in charge of the district court and refused to participate in the active part. Her reasoning was that it violates the equal protection clause to treat certain defendants differently and, by not obtaining consent, the commissioners weren’t following the law. Although Hill and Administrator Bill Bilyeu claimed their lawyers said it was fine, I’m again siding with Finley. You always have to obtain consent. By not giving some defendants information about payment plan options, some may end up owing late fees because they didn’t know how to navigate the system. The commissioners may not find that problematic but they should. Once again, their indecency and lack of care for others is on display.

I have no idea how all of this is going to play out but it’s sure fun to watch! Hill recently released a letter he sent to Finley regarding his concerns about her job performance. It doesn’t sound good for her but keep in mind that Hill is a liar and what she does isn’t his business. It’s ours. The main lesson for those wanting good governance is that we desperately need solid candidates to run against and defeat both of them. If you or someone you know wants to serve your community, now is the time to stand up!

Comments 9

  1. I want to comment more on the Kenneth Maun tax accessor situation. He was asking for more staff which seems normal but here’s what looked like red flags for me. He said they do the same thing they used to do with typewriters. He was asked are there any efficiencies that could be gained, like a webpage or kiosk and he said no. He said even after hiring someone, it takes years to train them. He talked about hiring someone who already knew the job from another county, and then said he would never hire someone employed by dallas county.
    1. What’s the objection to dallas county employees?
    2. Are these job functions documented? Seems odd that processing titles takes years to learn. It isn’t rocket science. Documentation of the job, a training manual etc would make the process go much faster. Do they have that? Is it available from the state level or another county? Should be the same in all the texas counties
    3. If they just do what they used to with typewriters, I am sure there are efficiencies that could be realized if they or a consultant did some process reengineering. Maybe he wouldn’t need more staff. Some of this could be put online for self service. Since every county in the state performs these functions, maybe another county has already gone through this and we can learn and borrow from them.

    Misty I didn’t realize mr maun was 82 but I could see for sure that he’s old school and “low tech to no tech”. It’s 2021. We need to modernize. From listening to his speech, It appears he is not running his operation with modern efficiencies and probably has no idea what that would look like. This is wasteful and needs to change.

    I empathize with Maun’s statement that he was held hostage being forced to trade 2 clerks for 1 supervisor. I get that he feels he has no power in the relationship with the commissioners court that holds the purse strings. I don’t fault him for that. But all that he revealed with his explanations just told me he’s not managing the office well.

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      Judy, thank you for your continued engagement and close attention to detail. There’s a reason why I pointed out that Maun is 82. He’s been doing this job for decades and we need someone with fresh ideas and technological savvy. That being said, I know several people who work in the assessor’s office and they’ve mentioned the massive workload for years. Not only do they have to deal with what is surely mountains of paperwork but they also must deal with the public. He’s right that they need more staff. But I’m sure the office could be run more efficiently as well. For the record, I have no idea what the problem is with Dallas County. That’s one of the many problems we’re encountering due to our past negligence in monitoring county governance. We’ve let so much stuff fly under the radar that we’re playing catch-up as to why and how things run as they do.

  2. Misty, thank you for the very informative article! The Collin CountyCommissioners Court”leadership” is a continuing embarrassment and frustration . You are a super hero for sitting through and reporting on it. The Dallas Morning News should hire you!

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      I’m glad you enjoyed it. I do sit through some of the meetings but for others I rely on the information gathered by my team. I agree that the DMN needs reporters, especially local ones who do their due diligence, but I don’t think they’d like my liberal slant on things.

  3. Thank you so much, Misty for this wonderful review. I watched the video, and was dumbstruck at Chris Hill and his arrogance. I too am no fan of Finley but she has been on his hit list since way before covid and I’m not sure why. She does seem to see clearly how he interacts negatively with other elected officials and seems to think of himself as the king of Collin County.

  4. Julie, I was at that meeting and was the ones who spoke to the lack of public health care. Of course, they responded with the “wonderful programs” which you cited. Susan Fletcher said she would talk to me afterward, but that didn’t happen( after the big battle, session didn’t end until almost 6pm). I did talk to a young woman from the Health department- she was stressed and said the reason they had to outsource the Covid 19 vaccines to Curative is because they didn’t have the staff to do it – our health department consists of 10 nurses for nearly 1 million people. Of course, Chris Hill grinned when it was reported that Collin has a higher vaccination rate than other counties – as if he should take credit. Really , it was the towns of McKInney, Plano, and Frisco. Hill fought the mayors at every step.

    Also, I got emailed documents – written by Chris Hill – on Official Collin County letterhead, sent from his CAMPAIGN committee to a email list. The documents “prove” his accusations against Lynne Finley. Did you receive that email?

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      Judy, it’s my blog (Misty), not Julie’s. LOL. People get us mixed up all the time.

      Like I mentioned in the post, our health department is tiny. I think we have 60 employees while Dallas County has 600. They have double our population but, even so, we should have hundreds more than we do. AND our preparation for a pandemic was practically non-existent. Before Covid hit, we had a draft of a plan. It’s truly unacceptable. And Hill absolutely cannot take credit for our high vaccination rate. He tried to impede our progress, not help it along!

      Yes, I received that email from his campaign list. Like I said in the post, I don’t believe a word he says. It isn’t his business anyway. All the time he spent consulting with lawyers, stealing her emails, and composing that email could’ve been better spent figuring out how to combat this round of Covid. He’s truly the worst!

      Thanks so much for holding the commissioners accountable!

  5. Thank you for this important information. I have never understood why one the wealthiest counties in the entire state doesn’t have a public hospital.

  6. I think this is the best article yet! The information about our county’s (lack of) public health is enraging. And the discussions between Finley and Hill were eye-opening for many reasons. We can, should, and MUST elect better commissioners. They’re always, as you said, doing the bare minimum … and sometimes not even that.

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