Collin County Politics: Mask Up!

August 10, 2021

We had yet another big week in Collin County as Covid overwhelmed hospitals and school boards are besieged by angry and worried parents. While our vaccination rate in Collin County of 66% (those receiving one dose) is better than the overall Texas average (53%), that’s small comfort as Texas and Florida lead the country in new Covid cases. Our idiot governor has even put out a plea for healthcare professionals from other states to help us. I wouldn’t blame them at all for saying, “You first!” Collin County currently has 99,147 confirmed cases, which is an increase of 66 cases. We’re officially in Nightmare Scenario. Again.

Commissioner’s Court: The commissioners continued their annual budget workshop last week. Shout-out and a huge thank you to LWAN warrior Karen Hearne for watching a mind-numbing five hours of budget discussions! My eyes glazed over just reading a short article my economist husband sent me about the no-new-revenue tax rate. He thought it’d be easier for me to understand. It wasn’t.

Most of the meeting concerned staffing and salaries. The commissioners followed standard business practices in things like conversion of staff hours in changing detention officer shifts from 8-hours to 12-hours, using market-based comparisons to set salaries, and giving one-time payments to employees who red-line (hit the maximum for their salary range). Duncan Webb showed the best knowledge of budgeting practices while Darrell Hale was strangely silent for the majority of the meeting and contributed little to the discussions.

Things went smoothly until Chris Hill would do something ridiculous, like suggesting an increase in commissioner salaries to match that of the District Clerk and the Tax Assessor. This would be a raise of several thousand dollars at least per commissioner. No one else thought this was a good idea, so Hill backed down. Nice try.

At least 2 hours in the 5-hour meeting were spent discussing detention officers, with Sheriff Skinner joining in for part of it. He and Hill went back and forth about Skinner doing things without notifying the commissioners. Skinner pointed out that he’s also an elected official and can implement things without the consent of the commissioners. It was reminiscent of the Lynne Finley debacle and showed that Hill doesn’t save his controlling ways just for her. Even the Dallas Morning News has caught on to that, with the publication of a very unflattering article about Hill and Collin County governance or lack thereof.

Spending 40% of the entire budget special session on law enforcement issues drives me crazy. While law enforcement definitely needs attention, it shouldn’t take up the lion’s share. The commissioners need to emphasize healthcare, public health concerns (especially with Covid ramping up again), and indigent needs. Please note that no one has brought up any solutions for the homeless problem. With the incredibly high medical bills sure to result from Covid hospitalizations and continuing issues from our damaged pandemic economy, housing insecurity will likely be on the rise. Yet no one talks about this. The lack of concern for those in need is odd, especially from people who start every meeting with a Christian prayer.

To make up for his silence during the actual work part of his job, Hale published some provocative posts on Facebook. He also had a few interesting things in his weekly email about the court’s activity. Although it pains me to say anything good about Hale, I’ll give him credit for his constituent newsletter. No other commissioner delivers this service although they should. However, it’s unacceptable that it comes from his campaign fund, something he learned from Chris Hill. No one should have to sign up for campaign emails just to learn about what’s going on in our county. Information should be provided within an official capacity. One part of Hale’s summary stood out to me: “Right now, we are way above the no new revenue tax rate. I still think we can get there but we are going to have to have the will to 1) Cut a lot of requests and push to next year or 2) Use some savings from FY21 to pay for FY22. I would appreciate any thoughts on any items below.”

I have some thoughts. While I struggle to understand what the no-new-revenue tax rate means in practical terms (I’m a psychologist, not a CPA), it seems like they can increase their rate in order to pay for indigent healthcare and indigent defense. The commissioners certainly need to do this since, as I pointed out last week, indigent healthcare in Collin County is practically non-existent. We’ve been sending our most critical indigent cases to Parkland for years and then stiffing them for the bill. That practice needs to end. The commissioners also can increase the rate in order to pay for a county hospital, a proposal Democratic candidate Ro Omere has been advocating for weeks now. If the commissioners actually took their job of providing services seriously, they could raise the tax rate for these items, leaving more money for the other requests they’re planning on cutting or pushing down the road. Instead, they’re a weird mix of being fiscally irresponsible and not meeting our needs.

Plano School Board: Their regular meeting was on the 3rd but information regarding Covid protocols may already be out of date as they had a special session on Monday night. Preliminary reports say it got ugly. No doubt. People are utterly terrified that their children won’t be kept safe in schools this year. School districts across the state have less control over safety measures than they did last school year since Governor Abbott’s Executive Order prevents mask mandates for students and staff. His attempts to subvert local control – especially in matters relating to public health – are very authoritarian, stupid, and worrisome.

In their ultimate wisdom, the Texas Education Agency removed the requirement (and thus the funding) for school districts to provide virtual learning. They’re not allowing waivers for attendance like they did last year nor will they mandate quarantining for close contacts of someone with a positive Covid-19 result. If that’s not bad enough, contact tracing will no longer be done by Plano ISD but by Collin County Health Services. This will not go well.

There are five levels of response that are in place for Plano ISD this year. Currently, the district sits at level 1, prevention. Level 2, triggered by a positive Covid-19 result on campus, is mitigation. Levels 3-5 involve modified operations and facility closures as determined by Collin County Health Services. They are setting some limits in place but the prohibition of assemblies is not included at Level 1. Are these people insane?

Superintendent Sara Bonser said she’s appreciative of public input and Plano ISD is ready to make changes within their control. That’s nice but there’s more she can do. Dallas ISD is already defying the governor’s order and is requiring masks. Austin ISD has followed suit. They could go even further and sue the state now. Two Arkansas school districts are filing a lawsuit against their state over a ban on enforcing mask mandates. However, those ISDs waited until Covid overwhelmed their schools. We can’t delay. Garland ISD has already shown us what it’s going to look like and isn’t pretty. They have 314 active cases of Covid among students and staff just one week after returning to school.

Thank goodness some people aren’t resting on their laurels. The Southern Center for Children is filing for a temporary restraining order and injunction against the mask mandate. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has done the same. Jenna Royal tweeted this morning that she’s representing parents and students in a lawsuit also aimed at overturning the mask mandate for schools. They’re apparently jumping on the bandwagon started in Arkansas where two parents are suing the state in an attempt to strike down mask mandates. The lessons here are that we aren’t helpless and there’s power in numbers.

Richardson City Council: Remember that special meeting on July 22nd to discuss the findings of their investigation about an illegal ticket quota system within Richardson PD? The independent investigation discovered that the police department didn’t violate Sec. 720.002, the prohibition on traffic-offense quotas. Everyone on the council was relieved and wanted to move on. They may not be able to just yet.

A Dallas Morning News reporter read the investigative report (apparently, it was quite brief) and wasn’t impressed with the lack of thoroughness or how interviewees were required to sign non-disclosure agreements. Even more importantly, he was given emails from whistleblower Officer Kayla Walker and other officers showing that Richardson PD clearly has quotas. I’m not sure what action if any the city council will take now but I hope the good citizens of Richardson don’t let this slide. Quotas are unfair to everyone.

Comments 2

  1. Very informative information here. I knew it wasn’t looking good and terrified for my 9 year old returning to classes after being home since March 2020.

    1. Post

      I’m glad it’s informative. I’m so sorry for parents concerned about their children’s safety this school year. This shouldn’t be happening.

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