Collin County Politics: We the People Still Matter

September 21, 2021

Covid Update: Collin County has 120,808 confirmed Covid cases. This is 3,102 more cases than I reported last week and 974 of our Collin residents have died. I have no idea why the number of deaths rose so sharply from last week. I suspect there’s been a reporting error (either before or now). However, given the confirmed cases and 1-2% death rate, the higher number makes more sense. There are more and more reports of healthcare workers quitting or retiring. What will we do without them?

Even conservatives are realizing just how terrible it is to ignore the ramifications of Covid. Two guys from the American Enterprise Institute just pointed out that, in addition to the ghastly human toll, the delta variant will decrease the U.S. GDP by $70 billion. While this is a small share of our economy, it represents an implicit tax of about $210 for every person in the country. They go on to say that mask and vaccine mandates are vital to containing the spread and boosting the economy. If any of your Republican family or friends make the claim about Republicans being good for the economy, provide them with this information.

Commissioner’s Court: The commissioners came back from their two weeks without meetings doubly awful. Prior to last week’s meeting, Cheryl Williams told frequent public speaker Miguel Palacios that he isn’t a serious person because he’s an activist (the horror!) and that his speaking and requests to meet with them are harassment. Umm no, that’s called democracy. Perhaps she’s unfamiliar with the concept. Williams refused to meet with him.

This incident shows just how little they understand or care about their job description. The commissioners are elected by the people to represent us in managing Collin County. That means they need to know what people want in order to make the best decisions for us as a whole. Yet they rarely provide vital information, hold town halls, do surveys, or even respond to citizen emails, phone calls, and social media comments. They’re not interested in transparency or in what we think. Everything they do is guided by partisan politics and it’s driving Collin County into the ground. Even other local Republican politicians are irritated by their incompetency and lack of responsiveness.

Based on last week’s meeting, it appears that hearing from citizens critical of their policies is starting to get to them. First, we had Williams doing her little dance of complaint, then both Chris Hill and Darrell Hale asked questions of public speakers. This is unusual. Later in the meeting, Hill got incredibly snarky about people’s legitimate concerns, especially as they related to the use of American Rescue Plan Act funds. No one is thrilled about their plans to use funds specifically earmarked for Covid relief for capital projects, like a parking garage, increasing the medical examiner’s office, and expanding the jail. The commissioners couldn’t care less.

When several speakers requested the county use the money to help students, Hill asked if it was true schools had gotten their own ARPA funding. Yes, they have (as he well knows), but the county can still use their ARPA funds to cover other projects the schools cannot, like afterschool tutoring and other educational programs. Moreover, there are funding differentials so that larger school districts like Plano get more money per student ($824.98) than smaller districts like Prosper ($23.14). The county could use their ARPA funds to make the distribution more equitable but they won’t. That would actually help people now when they could use it instead of in the year or so it’ll take to build their stuff.

Hill’s sarcasm reeked of unprofessionalism and contempt for the people he’s supposed to serve. If Hill believes speakers aren’t understanding how county government works, then perhaps the commissioners aren’t being transparent enough. If they want us to understand what’s happening, then give us the information. He’s acting like this is the public’s fault when it’s theirs. And I really want the information! I don’t trust their analysis of anything without verification.

They were especially upset with Joshua Murray, probably because he accused them of financial mismanagement. Liz Michel did as well and they’re both absolutely correct. The commissioners have understaffed and underfunded some of their departments, so much so that many skilled and experienced employees have taken their talents elsewhere. We need to do an analysis of the market value of county employee salaries and what those same positions are being paid in surrounding counties. We also should do a per capita analysis of departmental budgets from 5 years ago to today to see if spending has risen along with our population.

The financial mismanagement extends to their refusal to provide good public services for Collin County residents, like good infrastructure, an adequate public health department, and comprehensive healthcare instead of outsourcing the most serious cases to Parkland (and then stiffing them with the bill). They certainly could do so if they wanted. After all, they have $73 million just sitting around unused.

Since this was a budget meeting for the fiscal year 2022, much was made of the fact that the commissioners haven’t increased the tax rate in 29 years. The 29-year “accomplishment” seems like a deliberately misleading statistic. Many people don’t realize that property is a major component of how we’re taxed. Thus, as property values have risen exponentially, so have our taxes. However, with the No New Revenue Tax Rate (NNRTR), the county’s revenue – the taxes they collect – should remain static.

The NNRTR is a balancing act. If property taxes go up, the tax rate comes down and vice versa so no new revenue will be earned. The NNRTR may sound good in theory but it’s based upon a major assumption: that our current tax revenue adequately pays for the services needed to support residents. That probably isn’t the case across Texas but it’s definitely not true in Collin County. The NNRTR is just bad in general. As the president of the Plano school board pointed out, it’s confusing to citizens and undermines their trust in local government to make the best decisions.

Another interesting number was that the average home value in Collin County is about $400,000. That’s awfully high. Clearly, Collin County is getting increasingly unaffordable for the vast majority of people. This is why so many cannot afford to live in our cities, even those who work here. It’s also why more people are searching for apartments. Yet conservative politicians in several of our larger cities – Plano, Allen, and McKinney in particular – have chosen to make an issue of not wanting multi-family dwellings. That’s both cold and short-sighted. This vast inequity in housing is deeply unfair and it’s going to come back to bite us.

School Boards: Attorney General Ken Paxton continues to be a liability for Texas. He filed lawsuits against nine more school districts that implemented mask mandates, including Waco and Paris ISDs. Paris – an area not known for being liberal – included masks in their dress code. The mask mandate ban isn’t going well for Abbott though. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recently opened an investigation into Texas (and 5 other states that prohibit mask mandates), saying the bans may violate the federal law meant to protect students with disabilities. Apparently, the disability community agrees. Disability Rights Texas also recently filed a federal lawsuit against Abbott for the same reasons.

It’s hard to wrap my head around why Republican politicians are so dead set against people’s desire to be safe. It’s not as though they don’t have clear evidence that the lack of masks is detrimental to schools. Carrollton’s Trivium Academy, a charter school with 600 students, temporarily shut down in August when 1 in 10 of their students tested positive. Their school counselor, Sheri Wise, died from Covid a week after their shutdown. She’d been vaccinated and had done everything right but couldn’t overcome the high viral load from her job.

This is tragic, especially since Ms. Wise won’t be the last school employee to die. Education Week documented at least 1,065 educator deaths nationwide as of Sept. 10, with more than a tenth of that total coming from Texas. Not only is the failure to implement mask mandates awful for students, but it’s deeply unfair and dangerous to the adults who work in schools. None of them make enough to cover that kind of personal risk nor should we ask them to put their health and their lives on the line. One wonders if Republicans want public schools to fail, leaving the path to privatizing education open.

Although I’m sure Paxton just wants to be a good Republican toady, I wonder if another reason he’s focusing so hard on rebellious school districts is that he’s trying to distract people from his legal problems and the upcoming election (when Fort Worth lawyer Matt Krause will present a primary challenge). Earlier this month, a Texas appeals court put on hold an order to move Ken Paxton’s fraud case from Harris to Collin County. This is a temporary (and hopefully permanent) win for prosecutors.

Paxton desperately wants his trial to be in Collin County since he has a number of corrupt Republicans willing to go to bat for him here, including the county commissioners. They’re the reason he hasn’t had his day in court (and used our tax dollars to fund their perfidy). I suspect they’ll do everything in their power to get a jury to find him not guilty.

The whole lot of them needs to go and soon. Continue registering those Democrats! We need everyone who can to vote and to vote all the way down the ballot!

Comments 1

  1. One possible reason why the Covid death rate is still growing while the Covid hospitalization numbers are falling (thank goodness) is that deaths are a “lagging indicator.” The patient goes into the hospital but doesn’t die right away. Covid patients often spend a long time in the hospital before they either die or recover. So the peak in deaths may be a few weeks after the peak in hospitalizations.
    And yes, a lot of Republicans and others want public schools and all government services to fail so that they can justify privatizing them.

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