Collin County Politics: We Need New Commissioners

June 15, 2021

Commissioner’s Court: The court returned to its pre-pandemic layout including having the speaker’s stand close to the front. While Collin County has one of the highest rates of vaccinations in Texas and the CDC rates our level of risk low, totally throwing caution to the wind seems unwise. Then again, our commissioners aren’t wise in general, so no surprise there.

After no discussion whatsoever, they unanimously passed the Rules for Decorum. Now they can shorten or lengthen the time allocated for each speaker, mandate “proper attire” (which they get to define), and hold in contempt individuals who refuse to conduct themselves with proper decorum and respect for the Court (which, again, they get to define). The Commissioner’s Court is not actually a court. It’s a legislative body, just like regular city councils and school boards which generally do not implement dress codes. The commissioners are trying to make themselves more important than they are.

The most ominous part of the Rules is where they say they will not allow anyone to insult the honesty and/or integrity of the Court, as a body, or any member or members of the Court, individually or collectively. However, in the very same paragraph, they backtrack and state that these “rules do not prohibit public criticism of the Court, as a body, or any member or members of the Court, including criticism of any act, omission, policy, procedure, program, or service.” This seems contradictory. It’s almost as if they understand the public has a constitutional right to publicly address our elected officials in order to keep them accountable and transparent but just don’t want people to talk negatively to or about them. Who are the snowflakes now?

Despite the fascist leanings of the Rules, the most important part of this meeting was when they decided how to utilize the $200 million the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan is providing Collin County to help with Covid recovery. This money is specifically for county-level programs since every city in Collin County will be receiving a payment. The amount of funding is dependent upon size, so a small city like New Hope will get approximately $180,000 while a larger city like Plano will receive around $26 million. We must be vigilant about how this funding is being spent at all levels because we need to insist upon our priorities.

The American Rescue Plan funds come with rules for how this money should be spent. The commissioners apparently asked their staff to come up with suggestions for spending and then, with only minimal discussion, wholeheartedly approved them. Why are we paying the commissioners over $130,000 each if the staff are the ones doing all the work? They decided that Collin County will use the funding for three large capital improvement projects:

  1. A 150,000 square foot infirmary at the detention facility that will provide for social distancing, more mental health beds (over 500 specialized beds), & the ability to isolate people with infections. They also will provide additional generators for the facility.
  2. Infrastructure improvements to the medical examiner’s office.
  3. A 94,000 square foot public health facility, including a parking garage that will double as a vaccination/treatment hub.

With regard to public health, the commissioners were surprised to learn that the government expects them to be in the direct care business. Their surprise must stem from the fact that they usually don’t want to deal with programs that provide much-needed services to constituents. That’s why our public health department is woefully underfunded and understaffed. It’s why we don’t have a county public hospital. It’s also why our vaccine roll-out was such a mess and our pandemic preparedness plan was in draft form.

What’s most disturbing though is that the commissioners are just using Covid relief money to fund projects they would’ve had to call special bond elections in order to achieve. While the capital improvements are technically allowed, how are these improvements (other than the public health expansion) related to Covid? More to the point, why aren’t they using money to fund programs to decrease the need for a massive detention facility instead of making it bigger? Far from being a solution, the addition of so many mental health beds just means that more people with mental health issues will end up in jail instead of in treatment.

If the commissioners truly wanted to help our community, they could’ve focused their Covid relief efforts on providing equity-focused services. These include addressing homelessness (which is a huge need across the county), affordable housing, expanded resources for high-poverty school districts, new or improved high-quality childcare, or services for child welfare-involved families and foster youth. They also could’ve provided food assistance to households in need, provided survivor benefits for family members of people who died from Covid, or helped the kind of small businesses that June Jenkins, president of the Collin County NAACP, pleaded with them to support several weeks ago.

But they didn’t. These kinds of programs or options for spending weren’t even mentioned during the meeting. These types of programs – ones that directly help our most vulnerable citizens – aren’t on their radar. They didn’t even consider providing generators for the overall community, just the jail. While I want prisoners to have decent living conditions, the commissioners could’ve taken care of the community generator needs as well. And we’re definitely going to need them. Just today ERCOT asked us to decrease usage, so it’s going to be a long, hot summer. The commissioners had a chance to truly help people but, true to form, didn’t take it. I could not despise them more.

Comments 4

  1. Regarding the jail, what they should be doing is funding services to help keep people out of jail. Marvin Scott III, who was murdered in the jail, should never have been in jail to begin with.
    (In Travis County, the commissioners voted down a proposal for a whole new women’s jail. The number of women jailed has been going down, not up, and there’s room in the existing jail. There was a big campaign there, with numerous individuals and organizations speaking at the commissioners’ court.)

    1. Post

      I couldn’t agree more. I was furious to hear they’re expanding the jail instead of funding services. They were smart to have a big, organized campaign against the proposal for a women’s jail. We need something like that here.

  2. I despise their inability to see the extreme need facing our county, instead choosing to focus on lowering taxes and decimating services (to allow those taxes to lower). They are unimaginative, uninformed, unkind-in-nature representatives.

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