Collin County Politics: The Hits Keep on Coming

October 12, 2021

Covid Update: Collin County has 126,354 confirmed Covid cases. That’s 1,297 more cases than I reported last week and 1,062 of our Collin residents have died (an increase of 26 people gone in 1 week).

This isn’t over, not by a long shot. Whether people want to admit it or not, Covid is deeply affecting our schools. In Richardson, one of their secondary students remains in ICU, and last week, both a 16-year-old student and a staff member died from Covid. This is incredibly tragic and my heart goes out to their families. Is it any wonder that their school board defied Governor Abbott and implemented a mask mandate?

We only hear about these cases intermittently because the state deliberately makes it difficult for us to get information. Neither the Texas Education Agency nor the Department of State Health Services tracks how many educators and students in Texas have died from the coronavirus. However, Education Week has documented at least 1,161 educator deaths nationwide and more than a tenth of that total comes from Texas. While we don’t know about student deaths, the state’s cumulative Covid case total for students in the current school year was 172,275 (as of 9/26). Given the lackadaisical and inconsistent reporting methods, that’s a low estimate. This number exceeds the total student case count for the entirety of the 2020-21 school year.

At this moment, courts seem to be our best hope for change. Lawyers for the Disability Rights Texas group that filed a federal lawsuit over the mask ban had their first hearing in federal court last week. You really should read the article about the hearing. The attorney for Texas is making multiple bad-faith arguments, such as there aren’t that many Covid cases in the schools they’re suing (there are), the safest option isn’t feasible (it is), and Attorney General Ken Paxton isn’t bullying school districts (he most definitely is). DRT’s lawyers presented evidence that the Texas Education Agency has been alerting the Paxton’s office of districts allegedly in violation of the governor’s order. Paxton then sent letters to those districts threatening legal action and some eliminated their mandates in response. However, the judge’s responses to the state lawyers are great! I can’t wait to see how he rules.

Allen City Council: If you read my May 3rd Rally article, you know that the two new council members – Dave Cornette and Dave Shafer (the Daves) – are terrible. Both have engaged in criminal activity and have none of the knowledge or skills you’d want in a city council member. Neither has any business being the leader of a dog park (which Allen residents desperately want), much less sitting on a city council. However, here they are. Thanks, cowardly Republicans and low turn-out in municipal elections!

The Daves ran on a No New Revenue platform. The NNR law is purposefully complicated (I barely understand it myself) but what they took it to mean is that there should be no new taxes period. While some conservatives think that sounds great, what it truly means is that city services will suffer. For example, $1 million was shaved from street repair in the proposed 2021-2022 budget. It’s likely this will impact the east side the most. Allen likes to say they’re ONE ALLEN but they’re not. There is the more expensive west side and the east side, a difference you can see when driving from the east side to the west. The east side roads are plagued by potholes and huge dips which, thanks to NNR, probably won’t get repaired. There also will be cuts to city staff, including in the fire, police, communication, and fleet management departments.

The removal of services is something we all need to pay attention to. Government exists to provide services to residents. If it isn’t doing that, then what is it doing? Four of the city council members understand how bad this is. Mayor Fulk pointed out that just because the Daves made NNR a campaign pledge isn’t the right reason to adopt it. He asked the council if they’re willing to compromise and go lower than the NNR. Chris Schulmeister, Baine Brooks, and Carl Clemencich all said yes but the 3 Ds (Daren Meis plus the 2 Daves) said no.

Fulk then asked if they adopt the NNR rate this year, do they plan to adopt the NNR tax rate next year as well? Schulmeister, Brooks, and Clemencich said no, with Clemencich adding that he doesn’t see how they can do this year after year. The 3 Ds all waffled, saying they’d figure that out next year. Unfortunately, despite having the majority of votes against the NNR, the law says that if 3 individuals vote yes, it becomes a block vote and passes. This seems undemocratic but when has that ever stopped the GOP? Thus, with the 3 Ds for it, Allen is stuck with NNR.

Fulk pointed out that consistent NNR will make Allen mediocre, with some residents being negatively affected by the law. Actually, most residents will be negatively affected. Fulk went on to say most Allen residents believe it’s fine to pay a bit more to keep Allen great. This whole discussion was Fulk’s attempt to get the 3 Ds unwillingness to compromise on the record. That’s all fine and good but as long as “reasonable” Republicans keep supporting nightmare candidates and voting them in (because they’re scared they’ll lose the rabid Republican base otherwise), this type of thing will keep happening. Cowards.

Allen residents may see how bad this is sooner rather than later with the upcoming special election on November 2nd for the proposed amendments to the Home Rule Charter of the City of Allen. The proposed amendments increase term limits from 12 years to 18. On the one hand, 18 years is a long time for one person to be on the council. But holding term limits to 12 years means Fulk would term out and a more conservative person might replace him.

Allen is in big trouble. None of its city or school leaders are doing what’s best for the overall community and I don’t see things getting better anytime soon. It’s time for action, one they won’t like. The city council is encouraging residents to participate in their #NoPlaceLikeAllen campaign. It’s designed to celebrate Allen by sharing all the great things in the community on social media using the hashtag #NoPlaceLikeAllen. Instead of celebrating, we should all share pictures and stories about the things not going well in Allen and use the same hashtag. Let Allen leaders know people are upset with the way things are going and we will not remain silent.

Allen School Board: The cyberattack on AISD last month hasn’t yet ended. Some staff members, students, and parents have received alarming calls and emails from the terrorists. They’re threatening to release personal information to the dark web if the district doesn’t pay their extortion demands. AISD has been advised not to pay; I don’t know if they could even if they wanted to. There are legal considerations for how they spend their funding and no budget includes payments to terrorists.

But if anyone deserves to be upset, it’s the leadership of AISD because of how badly they’re treating the families of students who just want to be safe. The group of parents of Allen ISD suing the district made the wise decision to drop their lawsuit from the eastern court (which would send their case to the horrific 5th Circuit) and instead join the lawsuit filed by the Unified Parents of FISD and others. Their case is being heard in the western federal court which means it will be heard by Robert Pitman, the same federal judge in Austin who suspended SB8, the terrible abortion law. In other words, they have more of a chance of being given a fair hearing in that court than they do with the 5th Circuit.

You’d think AISD would be chastened by the idea of a more reasonable court hearing the case and, at the very least, remain quiet on the issue. But no, that would require wisdom and compassion. Instead, they put out a statement crowing about how their wonderful Covid mitigation efforts (Like what? Be specific and “deep cleaning” doesn’t count.) were likely the reason the lawsuit was dropped.

Their statement was purposefully misleading. AISD knew at the time they issued the press release that the Parents of Allen ISD joined the other lawsuit but they went ahead and framed the dropped lawsuit as a win for them. “Although the plaintiffs may decide to sue the District again, and the rules likely permit such action, Allen ISD is confident that it follows the law, and will continue to follow the law, and any future suit against the District regarding this matter would be frivolous.” I guess wanting your kids to remain healthy is now considered frivolous.

Commissioner’s Court: The way the commissioners refuse to allow transparency in county governance never fails to amaze me. For example, the Turnover report was interesting as the turnover rates in 11 departments were quite high, especially when compared to 2020. The highest turnover rates were in Veterans Services (44.4%), Highway Patrol (66.7%), Emergency Management/Fire Marshall (52.2%), and the 219th District Court (36.4%). These seem like high rates of turnover which will affect services. I’d like to know why so many employees are leaving. Surely, this is something good managers would be concerned about yet the commissioners seem content ignoring it.

Their meetings have been pretty short of late, so the speakers are in the spotlight. If you haven’t been watching the videos, you really should because it’s worth watching the show! Chris Hill interrupted one speaker to tell her he couldn’t hear her but then refused to give her back the time he took away. I’ve noticed that he tends to interrupt women and people of color way more often than he does white men. Based on this experience, here’s a pro tip: if any of the commissioners interrupt during your 3-minute speaking time, just keep talking. If they have questions or comments, they can wait until you’re done.

Several of the speakers requested a Citizen’s Council to hold public meetings about what we should do with the ARPA funds, then make recommendations to the court. This is a good idea and one both Cheryl Williams and Susan Fletcher seemed to think had merit. Perhaps they’re tired of getting hammered about their stupid ideas, like building a parking lot and expanding the medical examiner’s office. Even one of the wingnut Republican speakers agreed with the Citizen’s Council idea. Imagine that: bipartisan support!

Regular speaker Josh Murray lambasted the commissioners for having no operational skills and pointed out that their job description doesn’t include protecting liberty (a direct shot at Hill who has in fact said that’s his job). Murray then asked them to double-check the Constitution because they’re not following it if they don’t recognize the president of the United States. While Josh’s comments were wonderful, it was Miguel Palacios who stole the show. I laughed out loud when he told Darrell Hale that everyone knows he went to West Point. Miguel scolded the commissioners for wasting taxpayer dollars by conducting an audit of the 2020 election, an election that put several of the commissioners in their positions. He also brought up Constable Joe Wright who admitted he was an Oath Keeper and that he joined because he felt intimidated by this insurrectionist organization.

Although the commissioners have a rule preventing them from responding to items not on the agenda – a rule they break at will – Fletcher asked Miguel if he was aware that the court did not pass any motion to have this audit, that this was done at the state level. Miguel responded that there are “sins of omission,” that the court has a history of blaming others and it’s time they took responsibility. That was a masterful response! With irritation in her voice, Fletcher insisted that it was the state who ordered the audit and asked him why he says they’re wasting tax dollars (which they most certainly are). At this point, Hill jumped in to tell Miguel to take his seat. After a little back and forth (with Hill insisting upon having the last word), Miguel sat down.

The whole exchange was great. It’s clear that the constant barrage of critical speakers is getting to the commissioners. They were fine when they could operate in relative obscurity and with Republican approval but now they’re getting negative attention from the community, their employees, and the press. For the record, the Dallas and Harris county commissioner courts didn’t just roll over and agree to an audit. There is more the Collin commissioners could do if they truly didn’t agree. But these commissioners are Republican lickspittle toadies. They have no spines, so they’ll always obey their overlords, then whine that it isn’t their fault.

Plano School Board: In their continuing efforts to take over school boards, several people showed up at the latest board meeting to protest books they’d like to see censored. While they said “removed from school libraries,” censorship is what they’re advocating. The particular books they were discussing involved sexual content but, across North Texas, conservative crazies are also targeting books promoting “critical race theory” (as if they even know what that means), positive depictions of LGBTQI+ people, and anything involving racism in general.

Although the two people supporting censorship at the Plano meeting were laughable, the concerted effort to push forward a conservative agenda in school boards is extremely dangerous. In Southlake, the board reprimanded the 4th grade Carroll ISD Teacher of the Year for a well-regarded anti-racism book she was teaching in class. Colleyville Heritage High School principal James Whitfield is fighting for his job after being accused of promoting critical race theory. The accusation is ridiculous since critical race theory is only taught in law school! Neither educator deserves the poor treatment they’re getting and this is severely affecting morale of many teachers.

The targeting of our school boards is happening now and will lead to very bad outcomes. Fellow Democrats, we must show up at school board meetings to outnumber the nutjobs and inject some normalcy into the proceedings. We also must run and vote for good candidates. Republicans are extremely well-organized and already have their candidates ready to go. We must do the same or risk losing much of what we hold dear in public education.

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