Collin County Politics: What Kind of World Do You Want?

June 21, 2022

Picture: Hundreds braved the heat to celebrate Pride with Drag Queen Bingo, an event put on by the McKinney Area Democratic Club.

Covid Update: Collin County has 224,007 confirmed Covid cases. That’s 1,565 more cases than I reported last week and 1,510 of our Collin residents have died (no deaths). We’re holding our own but there are still risks, especially of long Covid. Although not enough is known about long Covid, a recent study showed that women are more likely to develop it than men. Of course, we are. It’s not enough that women in the United States are poised to lose our freedom. Now we have to manage increasing levels of illness too. Awesome.

Commissioner’s Court: Chris Hill couldn’t be bothered to attend their 20-minute meeting last week. The rest of them passed the land lease with LifePath Systems for their new building. Duncan Webb pulled the item from the quick and dirty consent agenda vote so he could mention how exciting it was for LifePath be more central to the jail and expand their mental health services to more residents of the county. I wish I could share his excitement but I can’t. While I appreciate any increase in mental health treatment options, it seems like they’re always doing too little, just enough to make people think they’re actually taking it seriously.

For example, Lifepath was just briefed on the new state funded mental health hospital being planned for Dallas that will serve five North Central Texas Counties (Dallas, Tarrant, Denton, Collin and Ellis) or about 3.8 million Texans. The planned hospital will have 200 beds, a number based upon a state-funded needs assessment from 2014, seven years ago. I guess the huge population explosion just escaped their notice. The hospital is intended for short-term services (30 days or less) and developers couldn’t answer questions about the types of services provided, how they plan to staff it (as there is a major shortage of workers in behavioral sciences), or whether they’ll dedicate beds by county. This is a major concern since the facility is being built right across the street from the Dallas County Hospital at Parkland, but will service a five County area. See? Just enough. With Greg Abbott taking $200 million away from mental health treatment to send to the border, the funding just isn’t there for any meaningful expansion of services. Come on, now! Say it with me: thanks, Republicans!

This was Webb’s meeting as he also gave an update from the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) of which he was just named Chair. I hate when Webb gives updates because listening to him talk without having google handy is an exercise in frustration. Would it kill him to actually explain acronyms and programs? I mean, they certainly have the time given the minimal amount of time they meet every week. I had to look up information it would’ve taken him 2 minutes to explain. This is a transparency problem he could solve quite easily if only he cared! But he doesn’t. None of them do.

The RTC just approved a policy for managed lanes (previously used as High Occupancy Vehicle or HOV lanes) and revenue sharing. Managed lanes (where you pair free lanes with ones that cost) are becoming more common across the region which Webb thinks is great because it gives people “choice.” What he actually means is that these lanes allow rich people to avoid more traffic than the poors. Managed lanes also completely ignore the concept behind HOV lanes which were trying to combat climate change by having fewer vehicles on the road. But I guess we’ve forgotten all about that pesky issue (kind of like Covid!).

Any excess revenue from managed lanes will be returned to the “funding partners” (the counties). Fantastic! With all the extra money coming our way, maybe the commissioners could upgrade their video system so the transmission doesn’t have to reload every few minutes. I doubt it though. That might encourage more people to watch their meetings and they certainly don’t want that!

In a win for Collin County, 380 is shown as a freeway for the first time on the Mobility 2045 map. This is a big deal because, without being a freeway, it can’t have money allocated to it or be built. While it’s still in the environmental clearance process, the estimated cost of building 380 (with whatever option they choose) is $3.2 billion. Webb says he’s trying to find that money and has a little over $1 billion currently.

Hey, I know a way to reduce about $80,000 of those expenses! Refuse to buy the WRAP System restraints. Remember how I questioned the acquisition of these restraints for the jail? Well, they’re even worse than I thought! The system is “safe” because the company says so (without evidence) but people have died. Plus, it looks like the entire WRAP system costs $1450 each. Since we’re paying around $80,000, how many restraints are we actually buying?

During public comments, the world-weary tone of Cheryl Williams calling Joshua Murray’s name was quite amusing. Every time I think I can fast-forward through Josh’s comments, he lands a doozy. This time, he asked if there was a policy or court order that could be adopted to require all elected and appointed employees of the county to utilize government resources when conducting official business. While this sounds vague, what Josh was doing was subtly attacking the tendency of Chris Hill and Darrell Hale to use campaign accounts to send official information to constituents. They have no official accounts, so if you want to learn about what’s going on, you must endure their partisan bullshit. It also allows them to block constituents they don’t like which they would not be allowed to do on official accounts. They truly need to be called out on this tendency which, if it isn’t already, should be illegal.

Dallas College Board of Trustees: In the runoff on Saturday for the District 1 seat, Dr. Catalina Garcia emerged as the winner! Garcia, a retired physician who won more than 63% of the votes, will serve for two years since she’s taking the seat of a trustee who died. Given her strong victory, it’s clear Garcia’s message resonated. She wants to increase the college’s involvement with high schools to nurture a student pipeline, focusing especially on students who may not be considering pursuing a degree because of cost. She also intends to reprioritize the English proficiency curriculum in order to not have an “ignorant” workforce. Congratulations, Dr. Garcia! It sounds like you’ll be a much-needed breath of fresh air on the board.

Allen School Board: Given the chaos created by MISD’s right-wing extremist trustee, it’s going to be interesting to see what the right-wing extremist trustees just elected to AISD will do. Based on this meeting, it seems like very little. Elle Holland arrived 50 minutes late while Sam Abiog struggled to understand basic concepts. The CFO went over Board Policies since there were new members coming on (too bad Elle missed this!), including how expenses and reimbursement are handled. President Amy Gnadt asked for clarification on tips. When the CFO said up to 20% is allowed, Gnadt responded that she never tips above 15%. Why am I not surprised?

The board went over the 2022-2023 Budget Planning. Employees are expected to get a 1.5% salary increase. Wow! How generous! With our current inflation, that’s next to nothing! The largest projected expenditure by far is the recapture of funds by the state of Texas. Recapture is a huge state-wide problem for public education. When local property values grow (as ours most definitely have), the state uses our money first which means it doesn’t put in as much. While recapture’s stated purpose is to level the playing field between rich ISDs and struggling ones, the reality is that it’s merely a way to distract us from realizing that Texas is underfunding public schools. Over the last 10 years, the amount of money the state removes from school districts through recapture has almost TRIPLED. Not only that but this money, almost $3 billion per year, gets put in the State General Fund and never gets spent on education.

The trustees also talked about the $2 million surplus in Food Services. They’re assuming a 31% increase in Food Services. This led to a discussion about students who have never paid for breakfast or lunch and are not on Free/Reduced lunch. I imagine this is because of the free school meals program started in March 2020 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help people during the pandemic. A federal waiver made school breakfasts and lunches free to students regardless of their family’s income. However, this waiver is set to expire on June 30th so students will return to paying for their meals.

The fact that 1 in 5 food-insecure students live in a home that isn’t eligible for a free—or even reduced—school lunch doesn’t seem to bother the Allen trustees. They decided to address students not paying for meals by encouraging parents to budget better. That’s such a tone-deaf response that I have no words. They’re also looking at a potential increase in meal prices. Given inflation, gas, healthcare, and a possible Covid surge in the fall, these sound like dandy ideas. Research shows that well-fed students are healthier and perform better academically but that really shouldn’t even be the issue. Shouldn’t we all want hungry kids to be fed? Again I must say: thanks, Republicans! The two trustees they elected to the board “for the kids” can’t be bothered to show up on time or are focused solely on things like class rank. Neither advocated for hungry children. So typical for the party of “family values.”

Plano City Council: The council heard an informative presentation from the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD). They highlighted some upcoming capital improvements including a water treatment facility near New Hope (the Sister Grove plant) which they were proud of since they worked a lot with the neighborhood and received zero protests against the permit. This is unusual which makes me wonder what they did differently. The other information from NTMWD was much more concerning.

Water treatment is a big concern right now due to supply chain issues and materials price volatility. Suppliers of the chemicals have seen an average 50% increase in cost. Long-term fixed price contracts will be going away and prices will be renegotiated as the market fluctuates. We’re all going to feel this in our water bills. The price of fresh water is projected to go up 10-13% in 2023 and wastewater fees to increase by about 7%. That isn’t even the worst news!

At current population projections and if we have more dry years (which we absolutely will given the present state of climate change), our current water sources will be insufficient by 2036. The NTMWD is actively pursuing 25 different strategies to get more water such as pipelines from other reservoirs like Texoma. A new reservoir is not off the table but it’s 30-40 years out, so it isn’t a short-term solution. There is a capital fund of $1.5 billion to do this work and it is supplemented by water rates. It’s clear that water issues are going to be a large, ongoing issue for the area. This is frustrating on many levels, not the least of which is that no one seems to be interested in focusing on water conservation. Like we do with so many other issues, we’re sticking our heads in the sand and hoping everything will turn out OK.

The public comments period was dominated by people concerned about zoning issues, specifically about short-term rentals (STRs), such as VRBO and Airbnb. Two speakers were from an advocacy group called North Texas Neighborhood Coalition. Their goal is to eliminate all STRs in residential areas. Three residents of a neighborhood in west Plano spoke about the disruption, noise, fights, and other problems they face due to a “party house” rental in their neighborhood, which is owned by an out-of-town corporation. Plano currently does not have STR-specific zoning rules and people must call the police if the noise exceeds the law. But this clearly isn’t adequate. Mayor John Muns stated that the council already decided to put this topic on the agenda at a future date.

The STRs situation is a huge issue across Collin County. While we’re not all going to agree on everything, there are several aspects to consider. Some believe that zero rentals in a neighborhood should be the goal. Others think there should be limits, like strict rules on headcounts and no parties. Should we insist owners must be local so they are part of the community and pay taxes? Demanding STRs become a new zoning category closer to a hotel than a home is an option but that could hurt responsible locals who make money by renting out their place. This option is unlikely to pass since several city council members (in various cities) already own STRs. Regardless of your opinion, learn what your city does to control STRs and ask your city council to put the topic on the agenda.

Richardson School Board: In the runoff on Saturday, Vanessa Pacheco won the District 2 seat! Her message of ensuring progress for all students convinced voters she was the person for the job. Congratulations, Vanessa! This is what happens when Democrats get out to vote!

Every aspect of our lives is, in a sense, a vote for the kind of world we want to live in.

Frances Moore Lappe

Local Politics: The question is increasingly clear: what kind of world do we want to live in? Do we want to find ourselves in a fascist regime (because we’re already living in the Weimar Republic) or do we want a world in which the promise of American democracy is bright? The Texas Republican party has already answered that question and if their extremism doesn’t scare you, it should. We may not be able to do something about this at the federal level but we sure as hell can do something about it at home. If you want a world in which we take care of each other, treat everyone with respect, recognize the rights of all to bodily integrity, have the ability to love who we want, and can live without fear of violence, you need to do the work.  

Show up and get engaged as our vote for the world we wish to see. Sign up to join the team covering your city council or school board. Everyone is welcome. Contact me at and let me know you’re interested.

Comments 3

  1. I don’t think allen offers the free or reduced lunches at the highschool, , only middle school down. The avg meal to fill a teenage girl for us only using the school line not the restaurants in the school was $8 a day.

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  2. Sticking their heads in the sand seems to be the way Texas Republicans lead on every topic. From water issues to gun safety, they just prefer to ignore problems. That works until it doesn’t… and then we all suffer even more than we would have if we’d planned. By the time our water problems come to a head, this state will be a dustbowl that no ones wants to live in … if there’s anyone still living from all the gun carnage if the Republican platforms have their way.

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