Collin County Politics: There’s No Bottom

October 5, 2021

Covid Update: Collin County has 125,057 confirmed Covid cases. That’s 2,447 more cases than I reported last week and 1,036 of our Collin residents have died (an increase of 32 people gone in 1 week). Delta cases may be trending down but we’re not out of the woods yet.

One silver lining of Covid is that it’s brought awareness to how many of our systems are badly broken. While this is tragic and enraging, it’s still good to know because the first step in doing a course correction is always recognition of the problem. Our healthcare system is deeply flawed. We’ve shut down many rural hospitals which means people in those areas have to drive further to receive care. Many didn’t even have easy access to vaccinations.

The United States spends almost 3x more on healthcare than other countries with comparable incomes but our outcomes are worse. We go to doctors less often than people in other countries (which means we don’t focus on prevention or catch things early), we’re hospitalized less (so we don’t get the care we need), and our life expectancy is lower. We’re not utilizing our healthcare system as we should but we’re certainly paying more for what we do use. This seems unwise. It’s time for a change, y’all. If we frame it correctly, it can become a non-partisan issue.

Collin County: Thousands of Collin County residents attended several of the over 600 marches for abortion rights across the country held in response to SB8. If Republicans actually cared about public sentiment, this might chastise their hubris in trying to control women’s bodies but they’re not worried, at least at the larger level. However, they might care at the local level if we bombard their offices with calls, emails, postcards, and social media posts. So, please let Angela Paxton, Justin Holland, Jeff Leach, Candy Noble, Scott Sanford (who’s retiring!), and Matt Shaheen know how you feel. At the very least, it’ll annoy them. If mosquito bites are all we’ve got at the moment, we need to use them.

Allen School Board: Allen ISD is having a moment. I might feel bad for the school board and administration but they’ve truly brought this on themselves. I do feel sorry for the students, teachers, staff, and parents who’ve been deeply affected by all of their nonsense. They deserve better.

On September 20th, AISD experienced a network outage that negatively affected a variety of systems, including phones, printers, WiFi, ID card access, and lesson plans. They soon discovered it wasn’t an ordinary disruption (which negatively impacted classroom instruction for at least a week) but was instead a cyberattack. The attackers claimed they’d downloaded the personal information of students, families, and district staff and demanded millions in exchange for the data. Law enforcement and the cybersecurity experts AISD hired to deal with this advised against paying the extortion money. Superintendent Robin Bullock told everyone that there was no proof the cyber attackers had access to personal data. She was wrong. Parents started getting threatening emails yesterday.

The most recent meeting was a clown show. There were protests outside the building with several of what appeared to be paid agitators putting on a show. One guy even put a mask over his eyes and laid down on the ground. It sounds humorous but rational people felt unsafe. Law enforcement was present but did nothing. Apparently, many police officers agree with the anti-maskers and will do nothing to prevent them from being terrible. I strongly recommend that people don’t engage with the nutjobs and paid crazies. You’re not going to change their minds and arguing gives them airtime. Instead, consider bringing a cowbell and ringing it every time they speak. This will drown out their words, annoy them greatly, and will be fun for you!

Inside the meeting, the administration is insisting upon only 30 minutes of public speaking time on non-agenda items. Each speaker has to register ahead of time and has only 1 minute. Even though there are way more people wanting to speak on behalf of masks and remote learning, school board members choose who gets to speak. That’s why about 2/3 of the speakers at the last meeting were anti-mask (including 2 members from 1 family) with many appearing unhinged. Board members were unmoved by people’s pleas for the safety of their children. This seems odd given that one of their own members, David Noll, died a few days ago. A cause of death hasn’t been officially given but it’s Covid. He was in the hospital for over a month.

It’s this callous disregard for the safety of its students that led a group of parents to sue AISD using Jacobson v. Massachusetts in 1905 as the basis for the lawsuit. Jacobson held that public health has a higher value than individual liberty. Damn straight. The parents asked for a Temporary Restraining Order for the refusal to implement a mask mandate. The Unified Parents of FISD followed the Allen parent’s lead with their own federal class-action lawsuit against FISD to try to force administrators to implement a mask mandate and enact other COVID-19 safety protocols. While the judge in the Allen case quickly granted a hearing, he denied the TRO and sent the case to the Fifth Circuit. That court is comprised entirely of Republicans (elections matter!), so odds aren’t good that they’ll rule in favor of the families. And they absolutely should. AISD lawyers actually said – in court – that AISD has no responsibility to protect students. That should tell us everything we need to know.

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise though. They’ve been terrible about helping students with disabilities for years and stepped up their game at the beginning of this year. Far from just adhering to Governor Greg Abbott’s stupid executive order banning mask mandates, AISD hit the ground running with their efforts to make sure students with disabilities (especially those who are immunocompromised) and those afraid of Covid, don’t feel safe. They kicked everyone off remote learning – even those who’ve been using the tool for years due to open wounds, the need for infusions, or are transplant recipients – unless they were bedridden or hospitalized. They offered no accommodations for those needing to avoid large crowds nor are they requiring those working with students with special needs (like open wounds or lung issues) to wear masks. They’ve also been refusing to accept doctor’s notes for quarantines longer than 3 days and are punishing students for following strict quarantine protocols (particularly if their families are part of the lawsuit) by sending a number of them to their draconian truancy tribunal.

AISD’s Covid mitigation activities are virtually non-existent. Testing for Covid is voluntary and only PCR results (that take days) are accepted and uploaded to the dashboard. During the wait for results, students are free to return to school. After a positive Covid test, they can return to school after 3 days if they’re asymptomatic and are not taking medication. That seems safe. Parental notification of a close positive Covid test (which parents aren’t required to submit) is spotty, sometimes coming from teachers instead of the district. The dashboard itself isn’t accurate and is updated every 5 minutes, with some cases coming off as others go on. However, an enterprising family developed an algorithm to monitor it and discovered that over 5% of the school population – close to 1,000 students and teachers – have had Covid in 5 weeks. This is a higher rate than Dallas ISD even though they have more students. They’ve realized that mask mandates work.

It sure seems like AISD’s trying really hard to live down to their lawyer’s claims that they have no responsibility for the safety of their students. But their cold-heartedness doesn’t stop there. Instead of trying to fulfill the legal right of every child to have access to public education, they’re quick to suggest students who fear for their safety just withdraw from the district. They’ve said publicly that they tried to work with the families who sued but, as is quite clear, the administration doesn’t want to work with anyone who isn’t buying Republican nonsense. Fellow Dems, we need to elect people of substance to the Allen school board in the next election. Sadly, we know there’s a vacancy.

Plano City Council: The “sexy” news from this meeting was the ordinance changes allowing for backyard chickens. I think it’s a terrible idea. Too many humans are irresponsible with their pets and this will prove to be no different. Concerns about backyard chickens include zero lot lines, local vets without adequate experience with fowl, end of life care (what will they do with the carcasses?), rats & other vermin, incorrectly sexed chicks, and no space in shelters for unwanted hens and illegal roosters. Plus – and this really makes me angry – this issue got the most press even though homelessness should’ve taken center stage.

During their work session, Housing & Community Services Manager Shanette Eadon gave an amazing presentation on possible solutions for homelessness in Plano. Despite the previous momentum in addressing the issue, the pandemic led to a 38% increase in homelessness in the community. If they choose to accept it, Plano could receive $1.9million in funds from HUD as part of their Home-American Recovery & Reinvestment program. Possible uses of these funds include a hotel conversion to affordable housing units (for both families & singles), increasing funding for the already existing tenant-based rental assistance program, and a hotel conversion to a non-congregate (separate units) emergency shelter.  If the council chooses not to take the federal funds, the city is left with an Individualized Community Circle program which is incremental as it only focuses on 1 individual or family at a time. Honestly, this is the worst-case scenario as it essentially solves nothing systemic. As I listened to Ms. Eadon, I wondered why anyone would choose not to take the funding. I should’ve known better.

After the report was delivered, Rick Grady gave an emotional speech about paying attention to the reasons why people become homeless because they’re systemic in nature. He teared up as he said anyone could become homeless which he knows first-hand since he’s been homeless twice. Kayci Prince pointed out that rental assistance was great but the paperwork is onerous and people will need help to deal with it. At this point, I felt good about where this discussion was going. I even started wondering how we could get some of the same programs in other North Texas cities. Even though homelessness is a county problem, cities will be the ones to deal with this because the commissioners certainly won’t. I’ve never heard any of them even say the word homeless.

But then the rest of the council started to weigh in. Maria Tu mentioned that mental health issues can cause people to become homeless and we need to address that as well. She asked for more time in order to make a responsible decision. Rick Smith agreed they need to focus on mental health. Shelby Williams said he’s in support of the Community Circle approach. I should’ve known he’d lack compassion and vision, ironically in service of his religious beliefs. I cannot tell you how angry this makes me. Does he truly believe Jesus would’ve been OK with ignoring the suffering of others? Williams is a performative Christian with minimal (if any) understanding of the religious tenets he professes to believe. Ugh!! He added that he’s supportive of the hotel for emergency shelter if it’s truly used for emergencies and not used by people who are “between apartments.” In other words, such assistance is only for the worthy as defined by Shelby Williams.

Never one to let Williams be the only idiot at the dais, Anthony Ricciardelli spoke up to say he supports finding a reputable non-profit to take this over because the HUD money is a one-time funding and there will be continuing operating & maintenance costs. I hate to break it to him but homelessness causes expenditures now. The decision they need to make is not about whether they’ll spend money. They will regardless. Their decision is about if the spending is designed to help people or punish them, if they want to potentially solve the problem or ignore it. Mayor Muns concluded that the council would like the committee to bring back more information and data from experts in order to determine what is best for Plano.

These people make me sick! Government is there to provide SERVICES to residents, not to provide contracts for their friends or build resumes for greater power. And as a psychologist, I’m truly incensed that they’re using mental health as a reason not to provide comprehensive help to homeless people. Just like proponents of gun violence, an emphasis on mental health as the crux of the problem means they’ll never take responsibility for making the necessary changes. I’d love to hear what they’re thinking they’ll do to help with mental health concerns. I guarantee it won’t be anything substantive.

Comments 9

  1. Thank you, Misty. For the excellent information. The lack of compassion and kindness is astounding. I really don’t know how some people can seriously call themselves Christians. They should be glad it’s not up to me to judge. I know what I would do.

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  2. Being homeless in itself can create mental illness that gets worse the longer someone is in this situation. I just do not understand why this could not have ended with a posible solution and funds to support it. I think that people feel better justifying mental illness as the cause of homelessness so they can use the idea that they want to be homeless, which is insane.

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      They haven’t rejected the funds yet. The council asked for time in which to get more information. I’m just worried that their emphasis on mental health issues will lead them to a poor decision. There’s still time for us to contact them and let them know in no uncertain terms that we want solutions, not an incremental approach.

  3. “[A]n emphasis on mental health as the crux of the problem means they’ll never take responsibility for making the necessary changes.” So true, and when have the new programs and funding for increased mental health services ever materialized? The state, in particular, has been under funding mental health services for decades, and it does nothing but get worse.

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      Yep. With the pandemic creating an increased need for mental health services, we’re definitely seeing the results of decades of underfunding and underinvestment in this type of healthcare. Most of the counselors I know are overwhelmed and exhausted; we’re turning away tons of people with nowhere to send them because a lot are maxed out. I’d love to hear what suggestions they have for addressing the mental health issues that can lead to homelessness but I know they don’t have any.

  4. I recently emailed a Plano Council member on finding Section 8 supported rental housing in Plano. The staff member I talked with told me with my retirement income, I am not edible for S8 support, and there are no services available. At least I was sent a list of housing that might be in my income range.

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      The lack of affordable housing is an incredibly large and difficult housing. It affects people in all stages of life and at all income levels. This issue needs to broadly publicized and discussed so we can find solutions that work. I sincerely hope the list they gave you is helpful.

  5. I’m grateful you’re pointing out these egregious offenses but oh-so-sad it’s necessary. What the hell is wrong with AISD that they’re punishing their students with disabilities because of POLITICS. And Plano kicking the can down the road on homelessness makes me angry. I guess I should be glad they’re even talking about it.

    Just wait. You’ll probably get more feedback on the chickens than anything t else.

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