Categories: Discrimination - equality, elderly
The Texas House Districts
The Federal Court Proposed Plan
The 2011 enacted plan
The current plan prior to 2011
The San Antonio Federal Court has released their proposed maps of the Texas House and the Senate District.
The Texas Democratic Party, the NAACP, the LULAC and several Democratic elected officials have sued Texas Legislature's 2011 redistricting maps. The federal courts in Washington, D.C. and in San Antonio have held that the Texas plan dilutes the vote of minorities.
Redistricting is in its nature a political operation. The Republican majority legislature drew several districts to elect more Republicans. That is perfectly legal.
The Democrats however have charged that the legislature gerrymandered the districts to fragmented minority communities to disfranchisement those ability minority elected offices. The federal courts have agreed that the Texas plans are illegal under the Civil Rights Law writing:
The courts decision have left the Texas voters confused. They can not know who can and will be able to run for election in their own districts. The court have promised final maps in the following month.
The court has extended the filing period. Until the decision is final, the court has allowed candidates to file in their previous districts if the court does not act in time.
If the legislature fails to draw a legal map, then their failure gives the authority to the federal courts. And the courts do their decisions for their own logic. The Democratic issues were mostly involved gerrymandering in Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth - not that involved Collin County. Nevertheless, the court offered substantial changes to the county's house districts.
The legislature made some significant changes to the Collin County house districts. The newly created District 33, was carved out of District 89 (Jodi Laubenberg) drawn from Rockwall to Frisco. The federal court is planning to also move of District 70 (Ken Paxton) into the District 33 (and renumbered to Dist. 3).
The maps to the right show:
- The proposed Texas House districts. (Plan 298)
- The 2011 legislature enacted districts.
- The previous districts prior to the last redistricting.
Collin County has two Texas Senate Districts. Senate District 8 encompasses the north-east quadrant of the county, including Plano and Allen. Three quarters of the lesser populated remainder are in Senate District 30.
The legislature was taken a substantial part of Dallas from District 8. The court did not make any major changes to the legislature plan.
Both the legislature and the court has changed the huge 30th District. District runs from Wylie along the Red River to Wichita Falls and south to Erath County. However the legislature and the court have made few changes within the District 30th within Collin County. But the Court has removed very little in Senate District 30 within Collin County. However, the court has made large changes in the remainder of the 30th Senate District by removing Erath County will added the Denton County voters could change the rural demographics adding the ratio to suburbanites in Collin County, and change the locus from Wichita Falls to Denton and Collin County.
(Click the maps to download a pdf larger map)The Texas legislature has maps that show all of the plans here.
The Texas Senate Districts
The Federal Court Proposed Plan
The 2011 enacted plan
The current plan prior to 2011
The tightening budget in Plano is not without its casualties, one of which was scheduled to be the Senior Rides program -- but an agreement between the city and DART will spare it for at least another two years.
Because DART service does not flow extensively through Plano, especially its northwest reaches, the agency has agreed to fund the program at $50,000 per year for the next two years, or until the northwest Plano park-and-ride station is operational.
The program has offered taxi vouchers and mile reimbursement as part of its services since its inaugural year in 2008.
Lee Stark, the transportation coordinator at the Geriatric Wellness Center of Collin County, said the change to two years -- board members requested to fund the program for an initial year from the proposed one-year agreement -- helps give the program stability.
“We’re not expecting there to be significant change in terms of what the client deals with,” he said. “It marries the two agencies a lot more in terms of looking directly at the issues of senior transportation.”
Todd Plesko, DART vice president of planning and development, said until the agency can bring more coverage to that area of Plano, funding the program is a good option.
However, Vice Chairwoman of the planning committee Pamela Gates said she does not want other member cities to believe the funding is a pilot program and available to all.
Because Plano is in a different situation than member cities, it is a one-time funding agreement, she said.
Stark said despite spending just over $50,000 in 2009 and estimating the cost of the program at more than $70,000 in 2010, administrative cuts should keep the program under the $50,000 budget.
The program originally was going to cut the mile reimbursement program as part of those cuts, but as of the planning committee meeting, that part of the program still was in the plans.
Stark said the Geriatric Wellness Center is going to absorb some costs, and marketing also is going to take a cut, because the program already is almost at capacity with about 90 clients.
He said when the funding is cut off in two years, he believes not only will Plano have a park-and-ride station in the northwest area of the city, but DART and Plano will have come up with a Mobility Management Plan, which DART is working on courtesy of a United We Ride grant.
According to a presentation by DART Innovative Services Project Manager Daniel Dickerson, eligible seniors 65 years old or older can purchase discounted taxi vouchers at $25 for a $100 voucher or have mileage reimbursed at 50 cents per mile.
Plano still will be charged with running the program with funding from DART...
At the Commissioners court meeting today, the court will hear Dr. Robert Stein of Rice University present his report on the use of Vote Center in the November, 2009 election. After Dr. Stein's presentation, the court will hold a required public hearing on using the Vote Center concept in the upcoming November gubernatorial election.
In 2006 and again in 2009, the Texas Secretary of State approved Collin County, along with Lubbock, Galveston and Erath counties, as a test site for the use of Vote Centers, or consolidated polling places.
The concept of Vote Centers involves reducing dramatically the number of election day polling places by eliminating precinct based polls and replacing them with larger Vote Centers where anyone in the county can vote. A similar concept has been in use for several years in early voting.
In an early voting polling place, anyone in the county can vote in any of the polling places. Citizens are no longer limited to voting in their neighborhood, but can vote near their school, office, stores or on their way to work.
It a popular idea, and the data shows the voters like the concept.
In 2006, the county elections department submitted a plan to the commissioners court, but withdrew it after the commissioners heard objections to the poorly designed plan from both political parties.
Collin County used Vote Centers for the first time in the November, 2009 constitutional amendment election. The County also contracted with Dr. Robert Stein of Rice University to perform some statistical analysis of the election and the effect of the Vote Centers.
Dr. Stein released his report in January. Stein compared statistics and exit poll data from Collin and Denton counties. Collin used the Vote Centers, and Denton did not.
Stein's report shows a lower Collin County turnout on election day compared to Denton County and Texas as a whole.
The data also showed that 8.4% of the Collin County voters waited in line for more than 10 minutes. In Denton County 5.2% waited for 10 minutes or more.
Several voting locations were used by large number of voters, while others were almost empty all day. In Collin County almost a third of the voters chose to vote in only 10% of the Vote Centers. This uneven distribution was, according to Stein, the likely cause of the additional waiting in line.
Since Collin County will be using substantially the same locations this year, it would be reasonable to predict that there will be lines of voters waiting at some of the more popular Vote Centers.
One issue that makes it difficult to use any analysis of the 2009 election is the great disparity expected in voter turnout between the 2009 Constitutional Election, and the 2010 Gubernatorial Election.
In 2009, less than 5% of the voters turned out to vote in 57 Vote Centers. This year, turnout should be closer to 25%-35% and they will vote in 70 Vote Centers.
The 70 proposed Vote Centers are a reduction from 129 precinct poling locations that would be expected if the Vote Centers are not approved.
After Dr. Stein's report, the county commissioners will hold a public hearing. It is expected that the Republican Party will support the 2010 plan, but that the Democratic Party will express some reservations.
In 2009, representatives of the Democratic Party, minority groups and disabled voter advocates who were on the county's Site Selection Committee all expressed some serious issues they believed could reduce voter turnout. Most then opposed going forward with the 2009 plan.
This year, the Democratic Party is expected to once again express real reservations of the wisdom of the plan. It is expected that their concerns will be similar to those in 2006 and in 2009 -
1. There are insufficient electronic poll books needed to check in voters. While this did not prove to be a huge problem in the low turnout 2009 election, the lack of poll books was a root cause of much of the lines seen in 2009 and it can be expected that the lines will grow exponentially this year.
Traditional vote centers offer multiple, as many as 10 or 20 electronic poll books so that voters can queue up in lots of shorter lines. Most Collin County Vote Centers will have only 2 poll books, thereby forcing voters into only 2 much longer lines.
Collin County has had real problems in the past with the electronic poll books and the VoteSafe software behind them. In 2008, Snafus with VoteSafe caused long lines, poll worker frustration and days of missed reporting during early voting. The lines were so long, and poll worker frustration so high that there were cases reported where election workers asked voters to 'come back on another day'.
2. Lack of parking. Almost every single Vote Center is located at a school or government facility. Election day is a normal work day and a school day. the parking lots will already be substantially full and it is feared that there is insufficient planning to allow parking for the anticipated 80,000 - 120,000 voters expected on election day. Dr. Stein's report lists most Vote Centers as having less than 5 available parking slots. Traditional vote centers avoid using schools, instead opting for large, recognizable buildings with plenty of parking.
3. Uneven distribution of Vote Centers:
- Allen has only 2 vote centers, or one for every 42,000 residents.
- Frisco has 6 vote centers, or one for every 17,800 residents.
- Plano has 16 vote centers, or one for every 16,500 residents.
- Murphy has one vote center for 13,700 residents.
- Wylie has 3 vote centers, one for every 13,000 residents.
- McKinney has 12 vote center, or one for every 10,600 residents.
- Farmersville has one vote center for 3,300 residents.
Long lines can be expected in Allen, Plano and Frisco. Some voters faced with no parking places and long lines will simply choose to go home and not vote.
Collin County will be using far more Vote Centers than is normally used in the Vote Center model. In Collin County, we will have 70 Vote Centers replacing 129 precinct polling places. In Larimer County, CO., they replaced 143 precinct polling places with only 22 'super precincts' or vote centers. Phoenix has replaced their 130 precinct polls with only 20 vote centers.
Collin County's use of a much larger number of 'super precincts' could help mitigate much of the issues that would wreak havoc (and have done so) in a more traditional Vote Center... that is IF the voters can find a parking place, and IF the VoteSafe software performs as promised.
The commissioners court will meet at the Jack Hatchell Administration Building, 2300 Bloomdale Rd. in McKinney. The meeting begins at 9:30 AM and public comments are welcome.
Proposed November General election poll locations, Collin County Elections, Aug. 2010
An Evaluation of Election Day Vote Centers In Collin County, Texas: 2009 Election, Stein and Vonnahme, January, 2010
November 3, 2009 Election Day Vote Centers open for business, CCO, Nov. 2, 2009
Collin to take part in vote center pilot despite concerns, CCO, Sept. 9, 2009
Does Collin County understand what a Vote Center is?, CCO, Aug. 10, 2009
Public Hearings on Countywide Election Day Polling Place Program, CCO, Aug. 3, 2009
Reports detail Collin County Early Voting problems, CCO, November 1, 2008
The 2009 Vote Center Plan submission to the Texas Secretary of State (MS Word doc)
Analysis of previous Collin County plan from 2006, Baumbach et al, July 2006
Collin County chosen to test polling place plan on Election Day, The Dallas Morning News, September 7, 2009
Vote centers "a total fiasco", The Denver Post, November 9, 2006
Jessica Rush does a great job in this article giving some of the background behind the Frisco City council's vote to support an application by a developer for low-income housing.
The Observer covered the story of the development proposal with media clippings. See:
- DMN - Frisco council votes to support reduced-rent apartments, Feb. 17, 2010
- DMN - Frisco affordable housing plan gains board's support but meets resistance, Feb. 12, 2010
Developer Stewart Creek LLP did not receive the tax credits needed to fund a 150-unit, low-income apartment complex in Frisco. The housing project development was competing for $9 million worth of credits against almost 30 other developments, but it was too far down on the list to receive immediate state funding. Fifty units in the 10-acre complex, North Court Villas, would have been made available for clients with Section 8 housing vouchers.
Had the Frisco Housing Trust Board not agreed to send letters of support to both Stewart Creek LLP and another developer, VDC Frisco Reserve I, LP (which withdrew its contract earlier this spring) in their goals to provide Section 8 housing, the city would likely have faced a lawsuit by the Inclusive Community Project (ICP).
“We just evaluated what ICP brought to the table, and we created an agreement with them. I think our leadership has been very proactive in addressing any shortfalls in affordable housing in Frisco,” Mayor Maher Maso said.
ICP is an organization that seeks to create and maintain thriving racially and economically inclusive communities, expand fair and affordable housing opportunities for low-income families, and improve policies that prolong the effects of discrimination.
The city of Sunnyvale recently lost its lawsuit against ICP, and both Flower Mound and McKinney are dealing with similar suits for claims they violated the federal Fair Housing Act.
ICP filed its suit against Flower Mound claiming the town has a history of zoning that excludes certain groups, and that it refuses to participate in low-income housing loan and credit programs that help create affordable low-income housing. It also asserts that area cities and towns have adopted policies to develop low-income housing. Finally, it alleges that Flower Mound’s racially discriminatory policies and practices hamper the ICP’s mission to assist families seeking to use Dallas Housing Authority’s Section 8 housing vouchers in Dallas suburbs.
So far the ICP lawsuit has cost Flower Mound more than $200,000 in legal fees, court costs, and other fees, such as those for external consultants.
In March of this year, the McKinney Housing Authority reached an agreement with ICP after more than a year of litigation, agreeing to annually request applications from qualified developers for the next five years and to pay some of ICP’s attorneys’ fees.
ICP is seeking to construct 400 apartment units in Flower Mound. Because Sunnyvale lost the lawsuit, it must build 77 low-income housing units in the city.
“We have an agreement with them [ICP] to look at the housing in Frisco and we’ve met our obligations,” Maso said.
The contract on the land on the south side of Stonebrook Parkway between Woodstream Drive and Preston Road is now still open for development.
Staff writer Chris Roark contributed to this story.
The Plano City Council Monday night voted to relinquish control of the rec center to save the city $508,000 a year.
African-American have expressed concern that the change could put an end to cultural and community events at the center — something that the Boys & Girls Clubs has said will not happen.
Council to decide fate of Douglass Community Center
By Kim Williams / The Plano Star-Courier
July 25, 2010 10:28 AM CDT
Negotiations between the city of Plano and Boys and Girls Club of Collin County have been in the works for several months. The item in debate is whether or not the BGCCC will take over responsibility of the Douglass Community Center.
The final discussion and vote by the city council will be at 7 p.m. Monday.
The community center has been serving its members since the 1970s and is considered a pinnacle hub for bringing residents together with a variety of activities.
The city of Plano has been leasing the center from the Plano ISD and operating it since 1987. Budget deficiencies have resulted in a citywide effort to reduce expenses through a variety of means, which include service and job reductions and budget cuts.
In a memorandum from Director of Parks and Recreation Amy Fortenberry to City Manager Thomas Muehlenbeck, she explains why the city is considering other options in order to save the center.
"While the Douglass Community Center 'fits' our agency's values and vision, it is not economically viable in its current structure, our market position is weak, and alternate coverage in this neighborhood is high due to the presence of the Boys and Girls Club of Collin County in the same building and the close proximity to the Plano Senior Recreation Center."
The BGCCC moved into the center in 1997. The club pays 17.5 percent of the maintenance cost, which is usually around $20,000 per year in exchange for use of the property.
When the city approached BGCCC last fall in search of a solution to the declining budget, "They were ready to jump in and help any way they could," said Fortenberry about the BGCCC.
"We will lose our center, activities and director," said Dorothy Ellis, Douglass Community resident. This is a fear that many residents share with Ellis, and Tanya Greene, CEO of the BGCCC, is working on possible solutions to this problem with Fortenberry to hopefully make a peaceful transition if the change of operations is approved.
"I know we can take care of the community center and can provide the services wanted by the members," Greene said. "We've tried to stay out of the politics and tried to just focus on the community."
If the agreement is approved, the city will sign a 15-year contract with the BGCCC with two five-year renewal options. This will result in the daily operations of the community center being transferred to the BGCCC along with all operational expenses, saving Plano citizens $508,213 annually. The BGCCC will assume daily management of the building within 30 days from city council approval.
As aging baby boomers head to suburbs, Collin County to feel impact
Saturday, July 24, 2010
By JESSICA MEYERS / The Dallas Morning News
Tim Montgomery built his own retirement home.
In a land of McMansions, he limited his Celina house to one story. He widened bathroom doors to fit wheelchairs. He planned a spare bedroom for elderly parents. He designed his kitchen table to hold at least eight hungry grandchildren.
An Air Force vet turned teacher, the 54-year-old settled in Frisco a decade ago among other young working parents and their school-age children. Now these empty nesters and retired homeowners are uprooting the suburban stereotype.
Affordable living, jobs and a Sun Belt climate have made Texas one of the most attractive states for baby boomers. As America's "first suburban generation" ages, cities are scrambling to accommodate them.
Collin County will feel one of the greatest effects in the region, with its senior population more than doubling in the next decade. But the county – known for its youth rather than its elderly – already struggles with transportation, health care and affordable housing for its seniors. Cities that fail to reshuffle priorities, experts say, face strapped social services, budget pitfalls, disgruntled residents and tarnished images.
"For the most part, communities are not planning as well as they should be," said Doni Van Ryswyk, aging program manager at the North Central Texas Council of Governments' Area Agency on Aging. "There's a whole host of challenges in terms of infrastructure, livable communities and adequate transportation providers for people who are no longer able to drive.
"Even though Collin and Denton counties are relatively wealthy, there are portions that are already designated health professional shortages. That's only going to get worse as the population ages."
Unlike their Florida-bound parents, this generation doesn't want to move. Many deal with their own graying relatives and plan to work for years to come. Demographers have coined a term for this behavior: aging in place.
"[Leaving] would take me away from sons and grandsons," said 63-year-old Susie Reukema, a social worker who moved to Plano from Wisconsin three decades ago. "And at this point in life, family is a very big plus in the community."
Texas a hot spot
Such communities developed in Texas faster than anywhere else this decade. The Austin suburbs saw the highest growth rate in people 45 and older from 2000 to 2008, according to a recent Brookings report on the state of metropolitan America. The suburbs of three other Texas cities made the top 10, including Dallas'.
"Texas is a peek at the future of the suburbs," said William Frey, who wrote the report's section on aging. Most senior growth in the coming years will take place in bedroom communities, he said. Young minority and immigrant families may help offset the state's graying suburbs, but that won't happen for years to come.
Baby boomers, Frey said, "are people who are going to need social services at various times, and if it doesn't happen it will spill over to the image of the suburbs and quality of life."
He said, "One thing about the baby boomers and elderly is that they vote in large numbers and make their views known very loudly."
The number of Collin County residents 60 and older will increase by 118 percent between 2011 and 2020, estimates the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Dallas County's will move up 25 percent.
Plano already sees this shift in wait lists for subsidized senior housing and complaints about limited Medicaid providers. With a visibly aging population, it has taken the most focused approach to the impending growth. Officials charted a plan three years ago to provide taxi vouchers for senior citizens and match them with requested services.
"We were looking at it in the context of Plano in a period of transition," said Kate Perry, the city's senior planner. "It used to be the city had only families and young children. That changed and continues to change, and a major component is seniors."
Much of the region has yet to catch up, said Lee Stark, transportation services director at the Geriatric Wellness Center of Collin County. "Folks at the county level are really more concerned with addressing the needs of a growing county," he said.
Developing communities like Frisco and Allen have made some provisions for seniors, Stark said, but affordable housing and convenient transportation remain less of a priority.
John Lettelleir, Frisco's director of development services, said the city has anticipated its aging boomers. Frisco's senior center is in walking distance of the downtown square, near residences and restaurants.
"It wasn't big until two years ago, and then people started to panic," he said about the aging boomers. "Now it's happening and we have to do something about it."
Lettelleir said city officials want to update zoning ordinances to allow for flexibility in housing developments. This way, he said, empty nesters can relocate to apartments down the block or grandparents can settle in duplexes up the street.
But wary developers make such transitions challenging, he said. "They say, 'Change is good. You first.' "
Most cities realize they must address this shift, said Karen Walz, project manager for Vision North Texas, a public-private partnership that plans for the region's future. They're talking about mixed-use developments or revitalizing areas so they're in walking distance of amenities. They're considering transit options and weighing housing costs.
"Right now there isn't a regionwide plan to say 'how are we going to deal with that,' but a recognition that cities need to be thinking differently," she said.
They need to do it quickly.
read the rest of this article at The Dallas Morning News....
Some early voters report problems in Collin County
by STEVE STOLER / WFAA-TV
Posted on February 23, 2010 at 9:11 PM
Updated today at 10:31 PM
Several Collin County voters are complaining about their early voting experiences. They say election workers just couldn't believe they wanted to vote Republican.
All of them are minorities, and they believe race is the reason they were questioned.
Three of the voters who had problems at a McKinney polling place have something in common: All are women; all are black; and all say they were questioned when they wanted to vote Republican.
Connie Evans explained what happened when she went to her polling place. “Before she gave me the card, she said, 'Now you're voting what?' 'I'm voting Republican.' And then after she gave me the card, she asked me again what I was voting, and I said, 'I'm voting Republican.'"
Tiffany Loera and Brittany Evans say they were asked the same question several times.
“It’s very offensive, because it's almost like we don't know what we're talking about," Loera said. "Why ask more than once?"
Four African-American candidates are running on the Republican ballot, the most ever in Collin County. Historically, African-Americans vote Democratic in the county.
The women believe that's why they were questioned.
“Most black people were supposed to vote Democrat, but we can change our mind just like anybody else," Evans said.
In response, Collin County Elections Administrator Sharon Rowe sent a message to all county poll workers, telling them to ask every single voter if they are voting in the Democratic or Republican primary, or allow the voter to declare their party affiliation. She warned them to never assume a party affiliation for any voter.
Connie Evans says reaction she received has upset her. “If I’m coming in and I say I'm voting Republican, that's what I'm voting; I don't need to be asked three times," she said.
The problem isn't’ limited to African-American voters at just one polling place.
Long-time Republican voter Fred Nasseri's had difficulty inside the voting booth.
“As soon as I put the card in, it says 'Democratic.' I was really upset, and I let them know this is a concern," Nasseri said.
The elections administrator wants to talk with all the voters who had problems at the polls, so she can address each issue to make sure it won't happen again.
Frisco council votes to support reduced-rent apartments
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
By VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH / The Dallas Morning News
More than 100 people turned out Tuesday to voice opposition to two proposed apartment complexes in Frisco.
The planned complexes are dependent on acceptance into the state's Housing Tax Credit program, which provides federal tax incentives to developments with rents at below-market rates.
The complexes also would set aside a certain number of units for Section 8 voucher-holders from the Dallas Housing Authority.
Late into Tuesday night, the City Council discussed the projects and spent more than an hour in executive session consulting with the city’s attorney. Just before midnight, the council voted 4-to-1 to write letters supporting the projects to the state, which will decide in July which projects get funded. City support is key in the developers’ applications to the state for funding.
“This is about providing low-income housing and a plan to get us there,” Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Bob Allen.
Several council members said that residents had some valid concerns about impacts to traffic, utilities and schools. They also noted that the projects were too early in the process to have answers but that the developers would be held to Frisco’s high standards.
Council member Bart Crowder said he believed that some of the fears from residents about the projects were greatly overstated and he believed the agreement with Inclusive Communities Project was appropriate.
Council member Scott Johnson, who cast the sole vote against the letters of support, said he heard lots of reasons why the projects weren’t a good fit for the city. “I have yet to hear why they’re good for the community,” he said. “On this day and this issue, I choose principle over pragmatism. This is not something I support.”
The proposed projects are part of a three-year agreement with the nonprofit Inclusive Communities Project that the City Council approved in October 2008.
In return for making the units available to Dallas clients first, the nonprofit is giving the city $2 million that will be passed on to the developers as low-interest loans to build their projects.
The agreement with Inclusive Communities Project is the first of its kind in North Texas. The nonprofit made similar offers to other cities. Frisco was the only one to accept. The responses from Flower Mound and McKinney prompted lawsuits by Inclusive Communities Project. Flower Mound's suit is pending. McKinney is working out a settlement.
In response to residents' concerns, the city of Frisco posted background about the agreement on its Web site in recent days. As part of the written explanation, City Manager George Purefoy states:
"If Frisco had not negotiated the agreement with ICP, then the likely outcome would have been a federal lawsuit. After 14 months of litigation, the McKinney? Housing Authority is negotiating a settlement agreement with ICP which establishes the same general parameters as the Frisco agreement, except it includes a longer-term agreement (5 years vs. 3 years) and it pays some of ICP's attorneys' fees."
Several residents at Tuesday's meeting said they were willing to pay for the legal fight.
"We are letting the threat of a lawsuit determine what will happen in the city of Frisco," resident Sotirios "Chris" Tsongas said.
Some of the council members said late in the meeting that the threat of a lawsuit did not factor into their decision to contract with the Inclusive Communities Project.
“This is about what’s in the best interest of the city,” Mayor Maher Maso said.
"If Dallas can't handle its own problem, it shouldn't become Frisco's," Frisco resident Dody Brigadier said. "I've never known any Texan to back down from a fight, and here you are."
Betsy Julian, president of Inclusive Communities Project, declined to comment about Tuesday's proceedings.
Residents' concerns about the projects ranged from possible increases in crime to decreases in property values. They were concerned about the ability of nearby roads to handle the traffic from such large complexes. And they were concerned about what the projects would mean to the school system.
The projects are competing for funding through the state's Housing Tax Credit program. It's a competitive process. Developers in the Dallas region have applied for more than $92 million in tax credits for 60 projects. The state has about $10 million available for the region this year.
Developers for the two Frisco projects both admitted Tuesday that they weren't high on the state's project rankings.
"We don't think the odds are great, but we do love Frisco and would love to build in Frisco," said Chris Applequist with San Antonio-based Versa Development Co., which proposes building 200 units on more than 12 acres near Bicentennial Park.
The other project, by Songhai Development Co., proposes building 150 units on 10 acres on the south side of Stonebrook Parkway east of Woodstream.
Julian said last week that she believed there would be plenty of interest from Dallas Housing Authority clients wanting to live in Frisco. They are part of the so-called Walker Settlement, which stems from a 1985 lawsuit over black residents' being forced to live for decades in segregated slums in Dallas.
That settlement has allowed thousands of black families to move into predominantly white neighborhoods. It also created the Walker Project to promote fair housing and support the class members. In 2004, the Walker Project became the Inclusive Communities Project.
Valerie Wigglesworth at The Dallas Morning News has written a top-flight article and then followed up with a blog post full of resources for anyone wanting to follow the debate on the need to build affordable (including Section 8) housing in Frisco.
Friday, February 12, 2010
By VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH / The Dallas Morning News
In a first of its kind effort, Frisco is helping developers build affordable housing with money from a nonprofit in Dallas.
The catch: The partnership with Inclusive Communities Project Inc. requires some of the low-income apartments be available first to certain Dallas Housing Authority clients with Section 8 vouchers.
That has some people in this affluent suburb concerned.
"How does this help residents of Frisco?" asked Mark Walsh, who raised concerns in an e-mail to his neighbors. "It's helping Dallas Housing Authority people to move to Frisco."
Betsy Julian, president of the nonprofit, said Dallas residents want what everyone wants: attractive communities with amenities, good schools and low crime rates. Frisco fits that bill.
"Our mission is to promote healthy inclusive communities, and if there's no affordable housing, it's not an inclusive community," she said.
The two apartment complexes proposed on vacant lots in Frisco are dependent on acceptance into the state's Housing Tax Credit program. The competitive program provides federal tax incentives for developments with rents at below-market rates. Developers in the Dallas region have applied for more than $92 million in tax credits for 60 projects. The state has about $10 million available for the region this year.
On Wednesday, the Frisco Housing Trust Fund Board voted 3-1 to recommend that the City Council send letters in support of the projects to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Its board will vote in July which projects to fund.
Frisco housing board member Shannon Kackley voted against.
"I want to make sure we do what's best for our citizens," Kackley said. "This is mainly for Dallas residents."
He said after the meeting he was concerned about the potential influx of people who may or may not have jobs and who may need extra services that the city can't provide.
City Manager George Purefoy said the City Council approved the agreement with Inclusive Communities Project in 2008 after two years of negotiations.
"The council thought this was in the best interests of the city," he told the housing board, adding that the two developers meet all the criteria. "I urge you to approve them."
Julian told the board it was unlikely that people with jobs in Dallas would commute from Frisco. She said it's more likely that people who find lower-paying jobs in Frisco would want to live there.
"I'm very confident there will be interest," she said.
Julian's group approached several cities in 2007 about creating affordable housing for low-income families.
"Frisco stepped up in a proactive way and acknowledged the need for workforce housing," Julian said.
The responses from Flower Mound and McKinney prompted civil suits from the group. The McKinney case is in the process of being settled. The Flower Mound case is pending.
Last fall, the nonprofit sued Sunnyvale over what it said were the city's discriminatory practices in affordable housing. The group also has a suit pending against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers the Section 8 program that provides rent subsidies to low-income families.
The agreement with Frisco calls for the Inclusive Communities Project to give $2 million to the city, which in turn would loan it to developers at low interest rates to build projects approved through the state's tax-credit program.
In return, 50 units or 25 percent of the development – whichever is greater – would be offered first to Dallas Housing Authority clients who are part of the so-called Walker Settlement. It stems from a 1985 lawsuit over black residents being forced to live for decades in segregated slums in Dallas.
That settlement has allowed thousands of black families to move into predominantly white neighborhoods. It also created The Walker Project to promote fair housing and support the class members. In 2004, The Walker Project became the Inclusive Communities Project.
Incentive to build
The low-interest loans are an incentive to build in Frisco, said Dru Childre, whose Songhai Development Co. put in an application.
The Austin-based company is proposing to build the 150-unit North Court Villas on 10 acres on the south side of Stonebrook Parkway east of Woodstream Drive.
"These deals are very expensive," Childre said. The loan "shows that the city realizes they have a need for affordable housing, and it shows they support good reputable developers coming to the city."
The second project, proposed by San Antonio-based Versa Development, is the 200-unit Residences at Frisco on 13 acres near Bicentennial Park.
Both projects would have income restrictions for tenants. They would also offer tenant services ranging from financial planning to tutoring. Amenities would include a swimming pool, fitness center and computer learning center.
Julian said the ultimate goal is to help families get into decent housing.
"We just keep trying to remove barriers as we find them," she said. "We're cautiously optimistic that one or both of these developments could get done in Frisco this year
Thursday, Feb 11, 2010
Valerie Wigglesworth/Reporter / The Dallas Morning News Frisco Blog
In a first of its kind effort, Frisco is helping developers build affordable housing with money from a nonprofit in Dallas. The catch: The partnership with Inclusive Communities Project Inc. requires some of the low-income apartments be available first to certain Dallas Housing Authority clients with Section 8 vouchers. That has some people in Frisco concerned. Click here to read the rest of my story in today's newspaper.
The Frisco City Council approved the agreement with the Inclusive Communities Project at its Oct. 8, 2008, meeting. Click here for video of the meeting and documents related to the agreement (agenda item #41).
The two apartment complexes being proposed are on vacant lots in Frisco (see map above). One is on the south side of Stonebrook Parkway just east of Woodstream Drive; the second is near McKinney Road and Sunset just north of Bicentennial Park. Both projects are dependent on acceptance into the state's Housing Tax Credit program. The competitive program provides federal tax incentives for developments with rents at below-market rates.
Read the developers' pre-applications:
Click here for the North Court Villas on Stonebrook Parkway
Click here for the Residences at Frisco at McKinney and Sunset
What's next: The City Council will consider whether to send letters of support for the projects to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, which oversees the Housing Tax Credit program.
Public hearings will be held around the state in April on the Housing Tax Credit program applicants. The Dallas hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 14. Written comments will also be accepted. Click here for details.
The board for the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs will decide in July which projects will receive tax credits. Click here to see a list of pre-applications. Applications are due March 1.
Worth noting: There was some concern that these apartment complexes would rent units to clients with the Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative, which works with the Dallas Housing Authority to find homes for ex-offenders. The TORI program uses only project-based Section 8 housing, which means the rental subsidy is tied to the apartment. The apartments in Frisco are not set up that way and would not be an option for TORI clients.
link to post on The Dallas Morning News Frisco Blog....
Plano's plan for Douglass Community Center draws concerns from neighbors
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Plano's historically black neighborhood is raising concerns about a city plan to outsource a local community center.
Residents' reservations unfolded at an animated public forum Tuesday at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church that drew about 60 people, including the city manager, mayor and several City Council members.
At issue is a plan to transfer operations of the city-run Douglass Community Center to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Collin County. The club has offices in the building.
Many aimed their concerns at City Manager Tom Muehlenbeck, who spoke well into the evening explaining what he believes are the plan's merits.
The city says it would save more than $400,000 annually with the move – an enticing prospect since Plano faces projected budget deficits. The Boys & Girls Clubs would assume those costs and has pledged to keep service levels the same, if not improve them.
"We are trying our very best to [make this work]," Muehlenbeck said at the forum.
Still, he and his staff were on the defensive for most of the evening. Many in the audience said the change would hasten the center's demise or closure. City officials said that is not in the plan.
"I can assure you there has never been a word said about closing the Douglass center," Mayor Phil Dyer said Wednesday.
More broadly, the forum revived longstanding frustrations among some Douglass residents that the city is unfairly singling out the neighborhood just south of downtown.
For instance, residents said, no plans have emerged to outsource any of Plano's other recreation centers. And they portrayed the Douglass center as a vital community nexus, particularly for children and teenagers who take advantage of its after-school programs. Some of the programs already are run by the Boys & Girls Clubs.
"We are satisfied to the extent that there is dialogue and that we're getting clarity as to what decisions are being made," said T.J. Johnson, a community activist and attorney involved in the Douglass center discussions.
"But there is still some sentiment, a feeling like Douglass is being targeted. We want to expand the pool of options and make sure this budget is not being balanced on the backs of the Douglass community. But the options seems to be singular, which is to hand [the center] off," she said.
Plano officials point out that Douglass is a community center, not a recreation center. As such, it has fewer amenities and programs. And it does not charge member fees, while the other centers do.
The City Council must sign off on any outsourcing agreement. City officials said negotiations are continuing.
Tanya Greene, chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Collin County, said she empathizes with the neighborhood's unease. But she said the concerns are unfounded.
"Unfortunately, any time you talk budget cuts, it's going to become personal for that neighborhood," she said. "Truthfully, I know what the Boys & Girls Clubs is capable of. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that we can elevate the services and make it stronger than it's ever been."
Yes folks, it's an election year. That means it is time for the Collin County Commissioners' Court to hold its bi-annual "we're going to do something about illegal immigration" meeting.
On Monday's agenda is a discussion requested by Commissioner Jerry ("When are we going to have to hire A-rabs? When are we going to have to hire Indians, and everything else?") Hoagland to require the county's vendors to use the Federal government's E-Verify system to check out the immigration status of all their workers.
The E-Verify system looks up social security numbers to see if they are valid. It really works great. If you don't believe it, ask Swift. They used E-Verify, and then when in a single day immigration police busted 1,200 Swift workers with false ID's, Swift got off with a slap on the wrist. In 2008 Howard Industries lost almost 700 illegal workers in a raid by ICE, once again, the company's use of E-Verify protected it from federal prosecution.
E-Verify, which checks information from I-9 forms against Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration databases, cannot tell if a worker is submitting a stolen Social Security number. Critics of the system claim it actually encourages identity theft. But it will protect an employer, if not from ICE raids, at least from prosecution.
Presently, four states require contractors to use E-Verify. It doesn't work, but the federal government is pushing the system on its contractors too.
No, it doesn't work, but it allows politicians, like our county commissioners, to tell the voters that Washington may not be doing anything about illegal immigration, but here in Collin County, we are. Yup.
for almost a year now, The Collin County Observer has been following the case of "In re J.H.G, a child", who we called "Alandra's baby".
I first wrote about this story of an immigrant mother whose baby was taken from her by a Collin County court, even though the mother never harmed or threatened her child. The baby was taken from the mother while she was still in the hospital recovering from the birth, and given to an Anglo family in March of 2007.
Since then, the baby boy has grown up speaking only English, while the mother, a Nahuatl Indian from Mexico speaks only Spanish and her native Nahuatl language.
In May of 2009, the 5th Texas Court of Appeals overturned the trial court, and ordered the child returned to her mother. In its opinion, the 5th Court of Appeals never addressed the equity issues raised by the mother's attorneys, but chose to overturn the trial court based on a technical issue never raised by the mother's legal team. The Collin County District Attorney, acting on behalf of Family Protective Services, appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.
Friday, the Supreme Court ruled, and overturned the Appeals Court. In its opinion, the Court said that the Court of Appeals was wrong in its reversal, and ordered the Appeals court to reconsider the case based on the "legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence".
The net result of the Supreme Court's ruling will be to further extend this case for another year or more. Meanwhile, the state has refused to allow any visiting rights for the mother. Her son is growing up not knowing his real Mom, his heritage, or his native language.
To complicate the challenges facing the mother, the foster family, who wants to adopt her son, has filed a seperate action to terminate the mother's parental rights.
Alandra's baby - Update, CCO, July 12, 2009
Alandra's baby, CCO, May 20, 2009
Justice Collin County style: Be careful what you say in the recovery room!, CCO, May 17, 2009
Decision of the 5th Court of Appeals, In re JGH, Case number 05-08-00875-CV
Monday is one of only four Federal holidays honoring an individual. Dr. Kings' actual birthday is January 15. If still alive, he'd be 82 years old.
I was barely 12 years old on August 28, 1963, but I remember well watching the news coverage of that enormous civil rights march on Washington and hearing Dr. King give his I Have a Dream speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. I never tire of hearing it, along with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Dr. King's ringing appeal to hope is one of the finest examples of American rhetoric.
It was many years later that I had my first opportunity to visit the Lincoln Memorial. As I walked up those massive steps with my grandson, I took a few minutes to tell him the stories of two of the greatest Americans who ever lived.
Here is the text of Dr. King's speech given that day in Washington, D.C.:
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."¹
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."2
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last
Plano ISD: Revised Option 3 receives harsh criticism, further divides east
By Kim Nguyen / Plano Star-Courier
December 16, 2009
With two boys at Miller Elementary School and one son at Murphy Middle School, Carolyn Alvey said she is blessed that the recently approved feeder plan keeps her children attending their neighborhood schools.
But despite how her family benefited from the plan, Alvey is still actively criticizing the Plano Independent School District board of trustees for their decision Tuesday evening.
Alvey is just one voice in the debate, but she speaks for many who live on the east side of town who were dismayed to learn the district’s plan calls for drawing the lines on the east side in such a way that many children won’t attend the elementary or middle school that is closest to home. Shuffling students in east-side neighborhoods in this way is expected to create more diverse student populations.
“It’s purely socio-economic engineering,” Alvey said. “Socio-economic engineering disguised as an attempt to keep neighborhood schools. The board never anticipated what the challenges were in the east side. As a result, they showed a great lack of leadership.”
In the East Cluster under the approved plan, the new Otto Middle School will include students from Mendenhall, Schell and Stinson elementary schools. McMillen High School will include students from Armstrong and Murphy middle schools once it opens for the 2011-12 school year.
Alvey said in speaking with district officials prior to the Tuesday meeting, they indicated using FM-544 as the natural boundary to create feeder patterns, allowing Miller, Stinson and Schell elementary schools to feed into Otto Middle School.
“Schell students living less than 1 mile from McMillen will now be bused 7 miles to Williams to satisfy socio-economic engineering,” she said. “There’s no basis to send Otto students to Williams other than that.”
Before the vote, Alvey and other northeast Richardson parents had met with various officials in the Plano ISD administrative office to discuss the pros and cons of different feeder patterns and the roles of the board’s guiding principles in redrawing boundaries.
“Plano ISD lawyers told the trustees that they can’t apply socio-economics to any part of town unless applied district-wide,” she said. “What we want to know is how did they get away with socio-economic engineering without having to apply it to the rest of the district?”
Alvey said she and the other Stinson and Schell parents were shocked when the board announced the revised feeder pattern, saying it was completely unexpected and unfair.
“If the west side gets a choice, the east side should, too. Otto parents were given absolutely no choice,” she said.
Additionally, Mendenhall parents have also joined in on the debate, voicing their dislike of the new feeder plan.
“Mendenhall should continue to feed into their neighborhood school, which is Bowman,” Alvey said. “Students can walk to school and bike to and from their extracurricular activities. Everybody asked to stay in their neighborhood, but the board missed that.”
Alvey said she thinks eastside parents are very upset about the board’s decision and parent groups have already begun talking with representatives from all levels of education agencies, including the Texas Education Agency and the Department of Education, as well as reaching out to the Plano ISD school board trustees.
“It’s demeaning to us to have gone through the public input sessions and not have our voices heard for no reason other than ‘satisfying the formalities,’” Alvey said. “How are the board members satisfying and listening to their constituents when not everyone is being heard?”
read the rest of the article at the Plano Star-Courier....
Bill comments -
WFAA has a video and print story, Parents considering suit over Plano ISD boundary plan
The Dallas Morning News posted an excellent article, Quick approval of Plano schools boundary changes baffles parents today. The article asks, "The events of Tuesday night's meeting appear to be within the law. But was the public served? And how much debate is owed the public before such a controversial decision?" A good question.
The article then goes on to say, "Government experts and former elected officials say Tuesday's meeting highlights the differences between what elected officials are required to disclose and the expectations of the public.
"We're not talking about what's legal, but what's ethical and good government," said Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition at the Missouri School of Journalism.
"Everybody in the room knows that some pre-debate occurred behind closed doors," he said. "Essentially, public policy was hashed out privately and then it was promulgated publicly. That, to me, is a minimal approach to government transparency."
After months of contentious debate and divisive public hearings on proposed school boundary changes in Plano, the school board unanimously approved new attendance zones without debate or comment.
The district presented the boundary proposal publicly for the first time before the board voted, leaving little time for the hundreds of parents in attendance to see the final version. After the 7-0 vote, school board members immediately went into executive session to discuss the rest of the night's agenda.
"We didn't know about the changes before tonight," said Kelly McBrayer, who lives in east Plano.
The plan shelves an idea to create Plano ISD's first magnet school. The finalized boundary model represents a less-ambitious proposal that merely re-draws attendance zone lines based on locality, population and other factors.
Under the plan, enrollment numbers at the district's senior high schools would become more evenly distributed, students would generally attend their neighborhood campuses and parents at one central Plano middle school would have school choice.
The changes, which are required to balance student enrollment across the district because of two new schools on the east side, would go into effect for the 2012-13 school year.
District officials said they would revisit the idea of creating a magnet school this spring.
The proposal also aligns two high schools with each of Plano ISD's three senior high schools. The latest plan eliminates so-called split-feeder arrangements, which send students at a high school to two different senior high schools for 11th and 12th grades.
But it would give parents whose children attend Schimelpfenig Middle School the option of attending Plano Senior High School or Plano West Senior High School. Parents would have to decide by the time their children attend eighth grade.
No other part of Plano ISD would have that type of arrangement.
The approved boundary changes come with additional costs. District officials said they probably would need to spend $5 million from a previous bond package to build more classrooms at Plano West Senior High School.
The school board's 7-0 vote at the Sockwell Center in West Plano capped a chaotic three months during which officials redrew the district's original attendance zone changes after several fiery public hearings that attracted thousands of parents.
Dozens of residents told school leaders before the vote Tuesday that they supported the proposal, saying it would guarantee their children attended nearby schools.
"There is not a perfect solution," said David Johnson of Parker. "But this is the best solution."
Yet scores of parents, mostly parents from the district's eastern side, urged trustees to wait on approving new boundaries for that side of Plano ISD. They said they didn't like that the plan sends some students from East Plano neighborhoods miles away to Williams High School near the city's downtown.
Collin ISDs find redrawing attendance zones is thankless task
Monday, December 7, 2009
By MATTHEW HAAG / The Dallas Morning News
Efforts to redraw school attendance zones in Plano have fueled a furor that has shifted with the prevailing wind.
First, some parents blasted district officials for drawing lines they said segregated rich from poor. Others complained their children wouldn't be able to attend their neighborhood school. When administrators responded by redrawing the lines, a new set of perturbed parents emerged and assailed school leaders.
While the debate in Plano this fall has been especially contentious, these high-drama episodes play out almost every year. And one thing is inevitable: When the boundaries are finalized, someone goes home unhappy.
"No matter the district, it's a challenging process," said Richard Wilkinson, the Frisco ISD's assistant superintendent for facilities and finance. "We do know that as hard as we try, we can't please everyone all the time."
For evidence, look no farther than Collin County, where the population has skyrocketed and districts such as Frisco have opened up to six new schools a year to keep up with a steady surge in enrollment.
Each new school needs students, and those students have to come from the existing schools.
Last year in Allen, the opening of two new elementary schools brought an angry response from parents who didn't want their children to move. Doing so could mean longer bus rides, or separation from friends.
"People like the schools they are in," said Tim Carroll, spokesman for the Allen school district. "It's a personal issue, and they don't like change."
Usually it's the parents – not the children – who are most upset about possible boundary adjustments, said McKinney ISD Superintendent Tom Crowe.
"The parents, they just get real nervous about it," he said. "But the kids adjust so quickly."
In McKinney, school boundaries controversy is constant, seemingly by design. The district places such a high value on balancing the socioeconomic levels of secondary students that it uses busing to achieve it.
An online petition against that policy has hundreds of signatures but, so far, has been to no avail. However, McKinney school leaders will soon try to decide whether the policy should remain in place as enrollment climbs.
"That will be the question to answer in the future," said Crowe, who is retiring at the end of the month. "But I think diversity in schools is good for many reasons."
The proposed boundary changes in Plano have sparked vitriolic debate that has divided neighborhoods. The district presented a first set of district wide adjustments in October to account for students moving into the district's eastern side and two new schools there.
During the three-month saga, the most vocal opponents of Plano's plans might have played a role in district leaders' decision to alter them.
Meanwhile, a large group of central Plano parents rallied against boundary models that would have made their children change high schools. Last month, the district presented a new attendance zone option that kept those children in the same schools.
Dora Potluri, who has two sons at Mathews Elementary School, said he voiced concern over the earlier models because his sons had already had to change schools once before.
"Enough is enough, and sometimes we feel that we were rezoned way too many times," Potluri said. "I wanted to bring stability to my kids that I didn't have."
Plano ISD's new attendance zones have brought relief to Potluri and his neighbors. But they have attracted animosity from hundreds of east Plano parents who say their children now would be shortchanged.
"I know that some people are frustrated," said Superintendent Doug Otto. "It saps the strength out of all the parents and teachers and all of us. It's something that we are really going to have to find a resolution for."
Plano ISD parents blast new attendance zone proposals
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
By MATTHEW HAAG / The Dallas Morning News
Scores of parents Tuesday night criticized the latest attendance zone proposals for Plano schools and the school district's idea of creating a magnet high school.
Dozens of parents implored Plano school trustees to delay the vote on the changes. They said they worried about the cost of implementing a magnet school and had concerns that the suggested boundary changes would create unbalanced student enrollment at the district's senior high schools.
District leaders weren't allowed to respond to the comments.
However, officials previously have voiced their support for the changes, which were first presented a few weeks ago in response to negative reactions to the district's earlier suggested boundary changes.
Only a handful of parents at Tuesday night's meeting said they favored the latest boundary plans.
"I feel like you are about to destroy the east side of Plano," Sharon Davis told district trustees. "We want enrollment numbers to be equal."
Plano ISD has said new districtwide boundaries are needed for the 2012-13 school year to balance student enrollment across the district after an influx of families in the district's eastern side.
The latest attendance zone plan generally would send students to their neighborhood schools. It also would repurpose Williams High School, a ninth- and 10th-grade campus, into the district's first four-year magnet school.
Hundreds of people attended the meeting, and the majority of criticism came from East Plano parents. They said the boundary proposals could decimate extracurricular activities and reduce high-level courses offered at Plano East Senior High School.
The proposed changes would send students at some East Plano schools to Plano Senior High School and would leave Plano East with 1,000 fewer students than the other two senior high schools.
Plano East football coach Johnny Ringo told district leaders that if the proposal were implemented today, 60 percent of his 124-player squad would attend Plano Senior High.
Erica Johnson has something to say about the redistricting battle going on in the eastern part of the Plano Independent School District.
Although she lives in Parker, which is in the affluent portion of the area, she has been active in trying to drum up support for a school zone plan that will balance the Middle and High School student demographics in the East Plano area. "It's about doing the right thing", she says.
Monday, she took her campaign to the county commissioners' court. While admitting that the court had no jurisdiction in school rezoning, she told the commissioners that she wanted them to understand the importance of the issues. I heard her presentation, and thought it worth posting on the Collin County Observer.
With her permission, below is the text of Erica Johnson's comments to the Collin County Commissioners' Court.
What is going on with PISD?
The district is building two schools in the east cluster, a middle school (Otto) that opens fall 2010 and a high school (McMillen) that opens 2011. Conflicts will always arise whenever there is discussion of new school boundaries, but it's a little different this time. Plano is now an aging city, and the areas that used to be small pockets of poverty that were easily absorbed into a school are now widespread serious depressions of poverty.
When the new middle school opens, we will have four on the east side. Two will go to the older high school (Williams) and two will go to the new high school (McMillen). The district planned all along to put the two affluent schools together at the new school and the two older lower income schools at the old high school. This was the plan even before the bond was passed. Promises were made to the more affluent neighborhoods that if they supported this bond, they would get the new schools. This group of parents has been anxiously awaiting these promised schools, many because they can't wait to get out of Williams High School with its perceived bad reputation and older less desirable neighborhood.
Here's the problem. If you put the two poor high schools together, you have in effect segregated 90% of the east side Hispanic population. You will also have segregated 92% of the economically disadvantaged into one school. The district would like us to believe that they must do this in order to maintain a "neighborhood school" philosophy, but there are many problems with that argument. One of the two middle schools slated to go to the new high school is equidistant between the old and the new high school. There are many neighborhoods that do NOT attend the middle or high schools closer to their home. Everyone can agree that the elementary school is what serves as a "neighborhood school", but because of the way Plano is laid out, most leave their immediate neighborhoods to attend middle, high and senior high schools.
Here's a few more glaring examples of the district applying the "neighborhood school" philosophy when it suits them, and affecting segregation when it does not.
- 6 years ago, when the new Murphy Middle School opened, a large and vocal group of parents fought their way out of their neighborhood school (Armstrong) and into Murphy Middle. They had been feeding into Armstrong Middle, but the district allowed the Stinson elementary to feed into the further Murphy Middle, which opened at over capacity with portables and left Armstrong Middle way under. Today, Murphy has 1492 (capacity 1312) students and Armstrong has 773 (capacity 1177) and is currently rated academically unacceptable. When Stinson was still at Armstrong, it was rated recognized, by the way.
- Mendenhall Elementary. There are two buses, paid for by the district, that leave from the neighborhood zoned for Mendenhall. One bus full of white children goes to Aldridge Elementary, not even an east cluster school. Another bus full of Hispanic children goes to Mendenhall, which according to this year's free and reduced lunch figures is at 82% economically disadvantaged. Aldridge is at 16%.
- Children in a trailer park almost within sight of Hunt elementary in Murphy are bussed all the way across Parker to Hickey elementary.
- There is a trailer park that is literally across the field from the new middle school (Otto), yet they will be bussed all the way to Armstrong Middle School.
If one was a conspiracy theorist, one might see a pattern of removing the poor Hispanic children out of the Murphy and East Richardson schools and putting them anywhere else.
The district appointed a committee to look at the realignment and issue a recommendation. When it became apparent that the committee was not going to recommend the way they had intended, the school board disbanded the committee and is now conducting "research" to determine the best solution. There is no longer any oversight, accountability or public input. This decision is going to be made by a group of elected officials, only two of them who have children in the district, and at least one of whom has been quite vocal about telling the Murphy/East Richardson contingent that they have nothing to worry about, because the decision to keep them all together in the new schools has already been made.
The future of our children, communities and even the city of Plano is at stake, and no one is listening to us.
Readers of the Collin County Observer will remember that in June of last year, the Collin County commissioners forced Justin Nichols, their Teen Court Coordinator, to resign after it became public knowledge that he was gay.
Mr. Nichols is now in law school, and is now the immediate past president of the Teen Court Association of Texas. Last week, the Teen Court Association held its annual conference in Dallas. Out of that conference came the following press release detailing the unanimous passage of an amendment to its bylaws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of age, race, religion, gender, disability, veteran status, national origin, or sexual orientation.
In a letter to me, Nichols described the amendment as, "This is a personal victory, and also a victory for the hundreds of volunteers, coordinators, and defendants who participate in the program across the state."
November 4, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Justin Nichols
TEEN COURT ASSOCIATION OF TEXAS BECOMES FIRST TEXAS LAW-RELATED ORGANIZATION TO EXPAND NON-DISCRIMINATION POLICY
The Teen Court Association of Texas (TCAT) has approved amendments to its bylaws to include prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of age, race, religion, gender, disability, veteran status, national origin, or sexual orientation. TCAT is holding its annual conference from November 3-6, 2009, in Dallas, Texas.
There are many organizations in Texas which represent courthouse and law-enforcement employees including police officers, sheriffs and constables, various levels of judges, court clerks, and probation officers. But, TCAT is the first to explicitly prohibit discrimination on such an expansive basis – even beyond what the law requires.
Teen Court is a program in which juveniles who commit misdemeanor offenses have their case argued by teen attorneys and their punishment assessed by teen jurors. There are nearly 100 Teen Court programs across Texas which rely on adult and teen volunteers to try cases.
TCAT president, Justin Nichols, said of the action, “Teen Courts are in the business of working to make a positive impact in the community. This move formalizes our organization’s position that no one, whether it be court coordinators or volunteers, should be discriminated against on any basis. Our association is now in line with Texas’ major universities and largest non-profit organizations, and we’re proud to be at the forefront of opening the justice system up to everyone.”
TCAT was founded in 1991 and meets works to effectively combat juvenile delinquency and involve Texas teens in the justice system in a positive, constructive environment.
The Dallas Morning News' Plano Blog has been covering the continuing debate over drawing school boundary lines in east Plano. The trustees are faced with difficult decisions, and they know the parents are watching.
Presently, McKinney ISD buses middle school students in order to balance the demographic makeup of its schools. Plano trustees are trying to balance the socio-economic disparity that exists between older schools in inner East Plano and the newer schools in more affluent suburban neighborhoods.
The DMN's Matthew Haag wrote a very nice piece in the Plano Blog yesterday describing the latest idea for achieving balance while still maintaining the concept of neighborhood schools.
Plano ISD trustees weighing whether socioeconomic factors should be used in drawing school boundaries spent more time this morning on another topic: magnet schools.
Trustee Missy Bender said Plano ISD is at a crossroads. Student enrollment has mostly plateaued, she said, but pockets of Plano have seen aging housing and an influx of ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. At schools in those areas, Plano ISD has focused on putting the right set of principals, while also adding needed resources.
That system has worked so far, but Bender and other trustees wondered if Plano ISD could reach a point where doing only that isn't enough to address students' academic needs. So, Bender told fellow trustees John Muns and Duncan Webb, she thinks Plano ISD has three options in drawing the school boundaries.
"This is a defining moment for the district," she said. "I don't think there is a silver-bullet answer."
She said that the district can stay the course, where Plano ISD has tried to assign students to nearby schools. But the overall goal has always been to make sure enrollment figures across Plano's schools are balanced, she said.
The second option, she told the trustees, is to keep the current system but add a magnet school that parents could choose to send their children to. This model has been used at Richardson High School. Students who live nearby go to Richardson High School, but it also offers magnet courses that attract students from across Richardson ISD.
Under that system, such a hybrid magnet school would attract high-achieving students and blend them with students who live in the neighborhood. But trustees wondered if that type of magnet school could work in Plano ISD. Richardson High School has four grade levels, while Plano, of course, has high schools and senior high schools.
"Our system isn't setup like that," Webb said.
But Bender said that Plano ISD could try to perfect this magnet model. If it's done right, she said, it could become an example of what other districts should follow.
"We always talk about doing less traditional things," Bender said. "We have a chance to take that further."
Muns added that Plano would have to make sure there's a demand for this type of school. Attendance would likely be voluntary, so would children show up to specialize in automotive repair, engineering or music, Muns asked.
A third option for drawing the boundaries is to do them based on socioeconomic factors. Mari McGowan, an attorney for Plano ISD, told trustees that the district shouldn't draw such a boundary in just one part of town.
McGowan? said those boundaries would have apply across the district.
"A uniform process is always advisable," McGowan? said.
Webb said he thought those boundaries could cause excess transportation costs and additional busing to ensure diverse students are spread among the district's schools.
The board members then explained three magnet school options they had researched. In Coppell, the district started New Tech High, a school where student learning is driven by projects. (The DMN's Katherine Leal Unmuth wrote about the school last April.)
"It was incredibly exciting," Muns said.
Trustees and deputy superintendent Danny Modisette said the New Tech High model is based on only having 400 to 500 students. Plano high schools, however, enroll thousands of students. But Modisette said that the company that provides the curriculum, training of teachers and model for New Tech High is looking to bring the concept to a bigger schools.
The next magnet opportunity discussed was the one at Richardson High School, where students can specialize in anything from communications to science. As I wrote earlier, the school is also attended by children who live nearby.
The last magnet model discussed was one recently implemented in Spring ISD near Houston. The district started Wunsche High, a school focused on providing numerous career paths students can follow. The school doesn't look like one from outside. It looks much more like a professional office building, and that's on purpose.
At Wunsche, for example, a student would take medical courses there but go back to his/her home school for extracurricular activities or math and English. Bender said the school has generated a lot of energy in that district and has been full since it started three years ago.
The trustees seemed excited about at least looking into the possibility of adding a magnet school in Plano ISD, so I would expect them to further discuss the idea in future meetings.
"There is no one best way to do it," Bender said.
The trustees then closed the open portion of the meeting to discuss the boundary changes with McGown?, the attorney. Trustees aren't expected to vote on the boundary changes until December.
Texas clinic: Headscarf ban was misunderstanding
By ANABELLE GARAY, Associated Press Writer
Mon November 2, 2009
DALLAS – A Texas health clinic operator said it regrets telling a Muslim doctor applying for a job that she couldn't wear her traditional headscarf and will clarify its policy regarding religious accommodations for employees.
Dr. Hena Zaki has said she was shocked when CareNow officials told her last month in person and later by e-mail that a no-hat policy extended to her headscarf, also called a hijab.
Coppell-based CareNow, which has nearly two dozen minor emergency clinics in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, called the headscarf ban a misunderstanding and said it plans to train workers to prevent confusion in the future.
"We look forward to sitting down with Dr. Zaki and discussing potential job opportunities. Bright, young doctors like her are just what we're looking for," CareNow President Tim Miller said in a statement released on Saturday.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote to CareNow, explaining federal law requires employers to reasonably accommodate religious practices of an employee.
"We are pleased that all current and future CareNow employees will have their legal right to religious accommodation acknowledged and respected," said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper on Monday.
Zaki, of Plano, had been on a tour of a CareNow clinic in the northern Dallas suburb of Allen when regional medical director Dr. Martin Jones told her he didn't want her to be surprised during orientation that a no-hat policy extended to her headscarf. After she e-mailed CareNow's human resources department asking about the policy, medical director Dr. Marc Anduss responded that it was correct.
A Plano doctor who was on a pre-employment orientation tour at the Allen location of CareNow was told by a company official that the company's "no hat" policy would prohibit her wearing from a head scarf (hijab) at work. The hijab is commonly worn by Muslim women as a sign of modesty.
Dr. Hena Zaki of Plano is a recent UT Southwestern Medical School graduate and was in the process of applying for employment with Coppell based CareNow. CareNow operates 4 clinics in Collin County.
The AP reported that,
The incident has garnered national and international media coverage after the Associated Press and the Reuters news agency broadcast the story.
The Reuters News Agency reported that Dr. Zaki sent an email to company officials asking for confirmation of the policy. The Reuters article quotes from Dr. Zaki's email:
The Associated Press article stated that:
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) weighed in on the incident, writing to the CareNow Human Resources Department:
This last Monday, the Collin County Commissioners Court was scheduled to approve the appointments of election judges for the November 3 election day polling places, for the early voting locations and the ballot board.
Early voting judges are chosen by the elections administrator, while election day judges are chosen by the respective political parties. The law requires that the commissioners court ratify the appointments. Ratification is generally a consent item on the court's agenda, rarely needing discussion.
This year was different.
Shawn Stevens, the Chair of the Democratic Party of Collin County, Deborah Angell Smith, the past Democratic Party Chair, and 2 Democratic poll watchers from the 2008 election appeared before the court to protest the appointment of James Middleton as both judge of the Spring Creek Collin College Campus polling place and as judge of early voting at the same campus.
Mr. Middleton was the election judge at the Spring Creek Campus in the 2008 election. Last year, The Collin County Observer wrote of some of the issues that poll watchers had with Mr. Middleton, who would not permit the poll watchers the freedom, guaranteed by law, to freely observe the operation of the polling place. When the poll watchers objected, Mr. Middleton called the police to have them removed.
I reported then that, "I spoke to some of the watchers and the judge involved in the Spring Creek incident. One of the watchers said that the judge was intimidating the watchers, wagging his finger at them and threatening to call the police if they entered the election clerks work area. Another stated the judge demanded that she "sit in that chair and not move". The watcher was told that she could not talk to the clerks and that she would have submit her questions to the judge in writing. When shown a copy of the election code, the watcher reported the judge said he didn't care about the code, that he'd been a judge for many years and knew what he was doing. At least one of the poll watchers indicated to me that he was contemplating filing a criminal complaint of "obstructing a watcher" over these incidents."
Even more troubling was one poll watcher's observation that, "They [the elections clerks] were really going after the black students." who were trying to vote.
Democratic Party officials complained to the elections department nad believed that they had Sharon Rowe's (the Elections Administrator) promise that Middleton would not be reappointed as an election judge. That was not the case.
In his testimony before the court Monday, Stevens told the commissioners that, "there had been issues with Mr. Middleton since 2004." Stevens told the court that he was a personal witness to Middleton's violations of the election law by disallowing 3 poll watchers from seeing the activities of election workers.
When it [the election law] was brought to his [Middleton's] attention, he became somewhat belligerent and territorial and called the campus police", Stevens said. After describing similar problems in 2004, Stevens noted that, "it's an ongoing thing with him, he can't follow the law."
Stevens testified that testified that he did not pursue criminal prosecution because he was assured that night that Middleton "would not be serving again as an election official."
Deborah Hyatt, one of the 2008 poll watchers, told the commissioners that as soon as she showed up at the polls, Middleton told her that, "he didn't want her there." and that she "should sit over there and not move or talk to any of the election clerks." When she attempted to show him the election code, he told her that, "he had seen that before, and it didn't mean anything to him".
Hyatt also told the court that at one point Middleton's son, who was an election clerk, "leaped up out of his chair, got in my face, way beyond what would be considered proper, and kept asking me, 'have you got a problem'."
Linda Magid, another 2008 poll watcher told the court that when she showed up, Middleton told her to stand in a place were she couldn't see and told her that if she moved he would call the police.
Deborah Angell Smith told the court that in 2004 reports came into the Democratic Party headquarters that the poll location where Mr. Middleton was serving as judge was turning away a large number of people, predominately "people of color." When a poll watcher was sent to monitor the situation, Middleton refused to admit her. Smith and others then went to the location as poll watchers, and after a phone conference with Ms. Rowe, he assigned them to sit in a chair and not move.
Texas election law grants a full and absolute right to election poll watchers to observe all elections processes except the actual voting by a voter.
- §33.056. OBSERVING ACTIVITY GENERALLY.
(a) Except as provided by Section 33.057, a watcher is entitled to observe any activity conducted at the location at which the watcher is serving. A watcher is entitled to sit or stand conveniently near the election officers conducting the observed activity.
- § 33.061. UNLAWFULLY OBSTRUCTING WATCHER.
(a) A person commits an offense if the person serves in an official capacity at a location at which the presence of watchers is authorized and knowingly prevents a watcher from observing an activity the watcher is entitled to observe.
(b) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor [Punishable by up to one year in jail or up to a $4,000.00 fine, or both]
Sharon Rowe testified that Mr. Middleton was qualified and that she didn't have the authority to remove an election judge from the list proposed by the political parties. She said she was concerned that removing a judge for one violation might have a chilling effect on recruiting future election judges. Later in her testimony she admitted that he was not on the list to be appointed, but was recruited by the elections department because there was a vacancy.
After some discussion by the court, the commissioners voted 4 - 1 to approve the appointments. Commissioner Shaheen was the sole vote against; he said that he had reservations on approving someone who was trained twice on the law and still had problems.
After the court session, Stevens, Hyatt and Magid went to the District Attorney's office and filed criminal complaints against Mr. Middleton.
Later in the afternoon, Sharon Rowe sent an email to both the Republican and Democratic county chairs:
I hasten to add that Election judges and clerks are citizen volunteers who could never be paid enough for the service they render to the voting public. Almost all of them are fair and try their very best to be friendly, diligent and even-handed.
I have been an election judge and will be this November. Having experienced first hand the difficulties in setting up and running a polling place for what is usually a 14 hour day, I have nothing but admiration and respect for all the fine citizens who volunteer to make our election process work. The actions of one rogue judge should not place a shadow on the great work done by hundreds of dedicated election volunteers each year.
ACLU report accuses Frisco ISD of thwarting learning in Gideons incident
Oct 08, 2009
Jessica Meyers/The Dallas Morning News, Frisco Blog
The organization, which released the report on Wednesday, has been investigating activities by Gideons International evangelical group since May.
The report says that Gideons Bibles were "used to physically and verbally harass Jewish students in both Frisco and Plano ISDs."
It also says Gideons convinced Frisco ISD Director of Communications, Shana Wortham, to keep the distribution plan from principals until a day before to minimize complaints.
That action resulted in increased disruption and negative media attention, said the ACLU report. Nine other districts were investigated, including Plano and Wichita Falls.
District officials explained in May that they had approved Gideons displays as part of a standard procedure that allows local groups to leave community information for student pick up. Gideons violated that agreement when they passed out material on school property, Wortham said in May.
The report recommends that districts revise their non-school literature distribution policies or better enforce current ones.
Distribution of Gideons Bibles in Texas Public Schools: Impact on Students’ Religious Liberty, ACLU of Texas, October 8, 2009
From a Collin County press release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sept. 8, 2009
Prosecutors will seek retrial of capital murder defendant
(McKINNEY, Texas) -- Collin County's District Attorney John Roach said prosecutors will pursue a retrial of a nanny for the death of a two-year-old boy here.
Recently, the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas reversed the 2006 capital murder conviction of Ada Cuadros-Fernandez in which she was sentenced to life without parole for the death of Kyle Lazarchik.
While finding the evidence to be sufficient for a conviction, the Dallas court relied on a 2009 Supreme Court decision that changed the long-standing rule of evidence regarding the admissibility of business records such as lab reports. The Supreme Court held that most lab reports, including DNA reports, may no longer be admitted as evidence unless the report's author testifies at trial. Ms. Cuadros-Fernandez's 2006 trial included the admission of a DNA report and data without the author's testimony.
"After a careful review of the law, we have decided not to appeal the decision of the 5th Court of Appeals," Mr. Roach said in a statement tonight. "We believe that the prospects for a successful appeal are uncertain and that a prolonged appeal could inflict more unnecessary pain on Kyle's family.
"We will, instead, pursue an immediate retrial of Ada Cuadros-Fernandez. We are currently preparing for the retrial, and will be ready to try Ms. Cuadros-Fernandez again within 30 days of her return to Collin County. Kyle's family has been advised of our decision and supports our efforts to secure a speedy retrial," the District Attorney said.
Because the case is, again, a pending matter, the District Attorney's office will not comment further about the facts of the case or the retrial.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sept. 3, 2009
Statement issued regarding Fernandez capital murder case
(McKINNEY, Texas) – Greg Davis, First Assistant District Attorney for Collin County, issued this statement today regarding the pending criminal case against Ada Betty Cuadros Fernandez:
“The Collin County District Attorney’s Office is currently reviewing the opinion by the 5th Court of Appeals in the Ada Fernandez case to determine our next course of action.
“We will either try to reinstate Ms. Fernandez’s conviction through an appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin, or forego an appeal and re-try her for capital murder. We will have no further comment until we make a final decision in this matter.”
DALLAS - The state is playing hard ball with an elderly couple who claims they are being held against their will. Michael and Jean Kidd just want to get out of the nursing home and back into their house but Fox 4 has learned the home may not be around if the state follows through with its plan.
“I just want to go home and I have made it very clear,” said Michael Kidd.
Michael and Jean Kidd say they have been held against their will for month s in a Pilot Point Nursing Home.
“We watch television almost constantly, almost 24 hours a day because if you turn it off, the silence will drive you up the wall,” Kidd explained.
The Kidds lost their freedom and now it appears they may lose their greatest asset, their home. A trustee’s deed filed in mid August shows the Kidd’s Richardson home is scheduled to be auctioned Tuesday.
“I could not believe that what I was seeing was taking place in this country,” said Senator Jane Nelson.
Nelson heads the committee that oversees the Department of Aging and Disability. That agency is now the Kidd’s guardian.
The state determined the Richardson couple was incapacitated or unable to care for themselves after Michael went to the hospital with a broken hip. Jean suffers from memory loss. The state took over all of their finances and placed them in a nursing home.
“I think we have way overstepped our bounds,” said Senator Nelson. Nelson says she was appalled to see how the state is taking care of the Kidd’s home. The power was shut off, leaving a mess in the kitchen. There is a broken window and the yard is overgrown. And now the state is trying to unload their neglected house for $156,000.00.
Collin County appraised the home this year for $191,000.00
“This whole thing is completely botched by the state of Texas,” said Harold Willis. Willis is a gerontologist and a registered private guardian. His is an advocate of keeping the elderly in their homes with assistance, instead of an expensive nursing home. He says, based on his experience, there were many options the state should have considered.
“They were not just mumbling and drooling on themselves,” Willis said. “They were expressing themselves very clearly and their wishes should be honored,” he said.
Both Willis and Nelson questioned how the Kidds are getting Medicaid assistance when they have assets, income and a home. The state has refused to release any financial records to the Kidds or to us about their money.
Probate Judge Weldon Copeland will not comment about the Kidd’s case but we know he approved the appointment of a financial guardian, Michael Taylor of Greenville, Texas. The state confirms Taylor is not a registered guardian in Texas.
“How can the state have that much power?” Reporter Becky Oliver asked Senator Nelson.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Nelson said. “But I will find out how in the world our state can justify doing some of these things,” Nelson promised.
Late Monday, two attorneys were working to get a petition for a temporary restraining order filed with the Probate Court to stop the sale of the house.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
By MICHAEL LINDENBERGER and KEVIN KRAUSE / The Dallas Morning News
The North Texas Tollway Authority has done a poor job in awarding contracts to minority or women-owned businesses, a report by a consultant examining the firms paid between 2002 and 2007 reveals.
The report, presented to an NTTA committee Monday morning, shows that in those five years 97 percent of all contracts awarded went to firms owned by white males. Those 22,347 contracts totaled just under $1 billion.
A lot of NTTA's work goes to giant firms, where the available pool of minority contractors are limited. But the report shows that NTTA's work went to non-minority firms, even when the jobs were smaller.
Of the $20.2 million worth of construction contracts that were worth $500,000 or less each, only 1.9 percent of that money went to African-American firms. About 5.6 percent of the funds went to firms owned by Hispanics...
Meanwhile, the report represents something of a black eye for NTTA, which has long dealt with an image that it is run for and by upper income elites in Collin County, where its headquarters are. But the agency has changed significantly in the past two years -- spending much more money, for instance, and expanding its board to include nine members, rather than five. NTTA's board has one African American member, Alan Sims.
The Consultant's report
County wide polling places, better known as "Vote Centers" are election day poll locations that in a manner similar to Early Voting Polling places, allow any voter in the county to vote at any Vote Center.
Last month, after a public hearing, the commissioners court approved going forward with an application to the Texas Secretary of State for approval to institute a plan for county wide polling places for the November, 2009 constitutional amendment election.
The legislature required that counties desiring to participate in the pilot program create a citizens committee to draw up the methodology for selecting locations of Vote Centers. The county commissioners therefore appointed a "Site Selection Committee" made up of representatives from the political parties and advocacy groups in Collin County. The committee is charged with submitting a complete plan to the Secretary of State before August 23 for the 2009 election day Vote Centers.
The voting members of the Committee are:
- The GOP County Chair - Fred Moses
- The Democratic County Chair - Shawn Stevens
- The Libertarian Party Chair - Jim Prindle
- Early Voting Ballot Board Judge - Neal Katz
- Central Count Station Alt. Judge - Bill Baumbach
- Advocacy, Inc. representative - Staff Attorney Dustin Rynders of Austin
- LULAC Representative - Rick Gonzalez
- NAACP Representative - Frederick Barrow
The Site Selection committee will hold two public hearings to allow any voter in Collin County to comment on the proposed plan or to suggest alterations to the plan.
The first of these Public Hearings will be held tonight at the in the Commissioners Courtroom on the 4th floor of the County Administration Bldg. Audio of the meeting will be broadcast live on the internet. To connect, go to the "Commissioners Court videos page at http://collin.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2.
The agenda for hearing will include a presentation by Caren Skipworth, the IT director for Collin County on communications technology issues for Voting Centers.
There will be a second public hearing on Thursday night at the Collin College Spring Creek Campus Conference Center at 7:00 PM.
At that hearing, Dr. Bob Stein of Rice University will speak about his research into Voting Centers and their effect on voter turnout.
Collin County's growth has its roots in the "white flight" from urban school districts that took place in the 1970's. While a reputation for great schools has continued to foster growth, the county is becoming increasingly diverse as it grows.
The 1990 census listed over 80% of the county's citizens as "White" and non-Hispanic, however 2007 data shows that white, non-Hispanics now make up only 67% of our population.
Unfortunately, our growing diversity is absent from the makeup of our local governing bodies.
Look at the elected bodies that represent the bulk of the county's population. After Saturday's election:
|City||White males||White Females||Black||Hispanic||Asian|
|County Commissioner's Court||
|County Elected Officials||
|County Elected Judges||
|Allen City Council||
|Frisco City Council||
|McKinney City Council||
|Plano City Council||
|Richardson City Council||
According to the US Census, 14% of the county is Hispanic, yet Hispanics have no representation as elected officials in any county or large city office.
Almost 10% of our population is of Asian origin, yet no county, large city or school board elected official is of Asian heritage.
And while Blacks make up almost 8% of our population only Plano has elected one Black City Councilman and one Black School Board Trustee.
Even though fully one third of Collin County is minority, three out of the 4 largest cites in the county have no elected minority official. Neither does the county, nor, except for Plano, the schools districts.
The City of Dallas faced a similar ethnic disparity in its elected city council until a federal judge forced the city to form single member districts in 1991. Will it take judicial action for our local governing bodies to begin to look like the people they serve?
The present imbalance is a law suit waiting to happen. The domination of all elected bodies by male members of one ethnic group can, over time, create hostility and foster feelings of inequality before the law. The leaders of our county, cities and schools would do well to take a hard look at their communities and then at themselves.
The North Central Texas Fusion System (NCTFS) is operated by Collin County's Department of Homeland Security out of a room at the sheriff's office building.
The Collin County Observer released a copy of the February 19th "Prevention Awareness Bulletin" written and distributed by the NCTFS. The newsletter's message was that mainstream Muslim organizations were infiltrating American institutions, with the goal of gaining support for "Islamic-based issues".
The newsletter asked law enforcement to report legal, political behavior. Citing 'evidence' gathered from fringe conspiracy web sites, the article went so far as to say that because of lobbying efforts by Islamic groups, "the threats to Texas are significant."
Last Week, Caroline Fredrickson of the ACLU testified before the US House Homeland Security Committee. Speaking of the NCTFS's bulletin, Ms. Fredrickson testified, "Last month a Texas fusion center supported by DHS released an intelligence bulletin that described a purported conspiracy between Muslim civil rights organizations, lobbying groups, the anti-war movement, a former U.S. Congresswoman, the U.S. Treasury Department and hip hop bands to spread Sharia law in the U.S.30 The bulletin, which reportedly is sent to over 100 different agencies, would be laughable except that it comes with the imprimatur of a federally backed intelligence operation, and it directs law enforcement officers to monitor the activities of these groups in their areas."
The NCTFS calls itself an "all hazards" fusion center. All hazards generally means that the system is trying to compile, combine and assess law enforcement, commercial, internet and national intelligence data in the local region. These fusion centers attempt to gather and store huge amounts of data on the activities not only of criminals, but of local citizens. Even the US Department of Homeland Security has been wary of privacy risks in these "all hazards" centers.
In December of 2008, the DHS issued a "Privacy Impact Statement" on regional fusion centers. The DHS report called for the establishment of community oversight committees and the prominent public disclosure of privacy policies, information collected and how the information will be used.
The NCTFS has not subscribed to nor adhered to these guidelines.
A bizarre, conspiracy-laden memo sent to almost 3,000 cops, fire marshals and public-health officials in North Texas links mainstream Muslim-rights organizations and anti-war groups to Middle Eastern terrorists, and calls on law enforcement to “report these types of activities.”
The leaked memo, dated Feb. 19 and labeled “For Official Use Only,” is one in a weekly series of “Prevention Awareness Bulletins” put out by the North Central Texas Fusion System, a regional intelligence-gathering center run by the Collin County Department of Homeland Security. Five such fusion centers, designed to consolidate and share intelligence with law-enforcement agencies, have been created in Texas since 9/11.
The bulletin has increased fears among civil libertarians and Metroplex Muslims that the North Central Texas Fusion System has edged into spying.
“This memo is not a plea for legitimate intelligence and seems to endorse discrimination against Muslims,” says Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. In a letter to state Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw, three Texas faith leaders have called for an investigation. The leaders say they find “troubling ... the lack of predicate for Reasonable Suspicion before Islamic and Leftist groups are to be spied upon in the course of their constitutionally protected civic activities.”
Serious as those implications are, the bulletin has a decidedly Keystone Kops: Kounter-Terror Squad flavor to it.
The memo suggests that terrorists have deployed lobbyists to turn Americans into pro-terror jihadists. “A number of organizations in the U.S. have been lobbying Islamic-based issues for many years. These lobbying efforts have turned public and political support towards radical goals such as Shariah [sic] law and support of terrorist military action against Western nations. ... The threats to Texas are significant.”
Who are these terror-loving lobbyists? The bulletin names names: The Council on American Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil-liberties group; the peace organization ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism); and the International Action Center, a group opposing imperialism and militarism founded by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.
“Law enforcement should be aware of activities in their area,” the memo advises.
If it sounds like the fusion center analysis was based on right-wing Web sites prone to conspiracy-mongering, that’s because it was. Citations include an article on HumanEvents.com by the author of such books as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America Without Guns or Bombs; and a review of Stealth Jihad on FrontPage magazine’s Web site.
It gets weirder. The author of the weekly Prevention Awareness Bulletin is James Johnson, son of Congressman Sam Johnson, a Republican who represents Collin County. James Johnson and his wife, Anita Miller, have received at least $1 million in no-bid contracts from Collin County since 2004 to design and run the fusion system.
James Johnson and Miller declined e-mailed requests to comment, but Collin County spokesman Tim Wyatt downplayed the significance of the memo.
“The bulletin didn’t direct any agency to investigate or target anybody,” he said. “I don’t think fire marshals in North Texas are out hunting for radical terrorists.” He did say that the county would review the sources and how the document was written.
Wyatt sent the Observer two January issues of the bulletin to show that most were concerned with more sober topics. One of the January bulletins does steer clear of the Muslim Menace altogether, discussing the law-enforcement implications of failing banks and progress made in preparing for flu epidemics. But the other, dated Jan. 22, includes a 12-point “Suicide Bombing Indicator Checklist.” FYI: Watch out for “inappropriate attire,” “sweating,” “mumbling,” and, of course, “last-minute indulgence in ‘sin’.”
You need to read the whole article before forming an opinion.
I know individual police officers, even good ones, sometimes make poor judgment calls, but in this case, even after nurses from the hospital and a Plano cop told him the driver was telling the truth about his mother-in-law dying, the cop continued to act like a real jerk.
It's up to the Dallas Police Department now. If they handle it poorly the issues become much more than that of just one bad cop on a power trip.
The incident occurred in a portion of Dallas that is in Collin County.
NFL player pulled over outside hospital while rushing to be with dying relative
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
By STEVE THOMPSON and TANYA EISERER / The Dallas Morning News
As he rushed his family to the hospital, 26-year-old NFL running back Ryan Moats rolled through a red light. A Dallas police officer pulled their SUV over outside the emergency room.
Moats and his wife explained that her mother was dying inside the hospital.
"You really want to go through this right now?" Moats pleaded. "My mother-in-law is dying. Right now!"
The officer, 25-year-old Robert Powell, was unmoved. He spent long minutes writing Moats a ticket and threatened him with arrest.
"I can screw you over," the officer told Moats. "I'd rather not do that."
The scene last week, captured by a dashboard video camera, prompted apologies and the promise of an investigation from Dallas police officials Wednesday.
"There were some things that were said that were disturbing, to say the least," said Lt. Andy Harvey, a police spokesman.
Moats' mother-in-law, Jonetta Collinsworth, was struggling at 45 with breast cancer that had spread throughout her body. Family members rushed to her bedside from as far away as California.
On March 17, the night of their incident with Powell, the Moatses had gone to their Frisco home to get some rest. Around midnight, they received word that they needed to hurry back to the hospital if they wanted to see Collinsworth before she died.
The couple, along with Collinsworth's father and an aunt, jumped into the SUV and headed back toward Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano. They exited the Dallas North Tollway at Preston Road, just down the street from the hospital.
Moats turned on his hazard lights. He stopped at a red light, where, he said, the only nearby motorist signaled for him to go ahead. He went through.
Powell, watching traffic from a hidden spot, flipped on his lights and sirens. In less than a minute, he caught up to the SUV and followed for about 20 more seconds as Moats found a parking spot outside the emergency room.
"It should be obvious with the constant news of increased violence in Mexico that Texas needs law enforcement to focus on real criminal threats instead of targeting religious minorities and groups with unpopular political opinions."
"The North Central Texas Fusion Center should be reviewed to determine whether it can contribute to the serious public safety mission of Texas or not."
Rebecca Bernhardt, ACLU TX Policy Director
After the Collin County Observer published "Fusion: Fear, Fiction, Fact and Freedom" yesterday, the national office of the ACLU in Washington DC issued a press release calling the "Prevention Awareness Bulletin" written and distributed by the North Central Texas Fusion Center, "the latest example of inappropriate police intelligence operations targeting political, religious and social activists for investigation.""
Michael German, ACLU National Security Policy Counsel and former FBI Agent
Fusion Center Encourages Improper Investigations Of Lobbying Groups And Anti-War Activists (2/25/2009)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Mandy Simon email@example.com
WASHINGTON – A Texas fusion center’s “Prevention Awareness Bulletin” made public last night is the latest example of inappropriate police intelligence operations targeting political, religious and social activists for investigation. The North Central Texas Fusion System bulletin states that it is “imperative for law enforcement officers to report” the activities of lobbying groups, Muslim civil rights organizations and anti-war protest groups in their areas.
“This memo is not a plea for legitimate intelligence, and seems to endorse discrimination against Muslims,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The idea that the tolerance advocated by the groups being targeted would be treated as a menace to American security demonstrates a disregard for civil liberties and a disdain for democracy itself. The kind of indiscriminate and unlawful investigations this bulletin calls for always results in a chilling effect on free speech and association.”
The federal government has facilitated the growth of a network of fusion centers since 9/11 to expand information collection and sharing practices among law enforcement agencies, the private sector and the intelligence community. There are currently 70 fusion centers in the United States.
"It should be obvious with the constant news of increased violence in Mexico that Texas needs law enforcement to focus on real criminal threats instead of targeting religious minorities and groups with unpopular political opinions." Rebecca Bernhardt, ACLU TX Policy Director said, "The North Central Texas Fusion Center should be reviewed to determine whether it can contribute to the serious public safety mission of Texas or not."
Proponents have claimed all fusion center personnel receive civil rights training, and that this training is sufficient to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans living in the communities where fusion centers operate, but this is obviously not the case. The ACLU has long warned that ambiguities regarding who controls these fusion centers and a complete lack of oversight over their intelligence activities would lead to violations like this.
“The Texas fusion center’s bulletin shows an unhealthy disregard for constitutional rights and democratic processes,” said Michael German, ACLU National Security Policy Counsel and former FBI Agent. “It demonstrates the lack of professionalism that exists at fusion centers and the severe lack of oversight at the state, local and federal levels. According to its website, North Central Texas Fusion System bulletins are disseminated to thousands of people in over a hundred different agencies, and this report directs law enforcement officers to ‘report’ on the political activities of advocacy groups. The web of connections it weaves – drawing parallels between Muslim civil liberties groups, lobbying organizations, peace activists, hip hop bands, a former congresswoman and even the U.S. Treasury Department – would be comical if not for the real consequences that these organizations and individuals might face.”
In 2007, the ACLU released a report entitled, “What’s Wrong With Fusion Centers?” which was updated last year. The report identifies specific concerns with fusion centers, including their ambiguous lines of authority, the troubling role of private corporations, the participation of the military, the use of data mining and the excessive secrecy surrounding the centers As a national trend continues to close down public information about this domestic intelligence network, it continues to grow out of control.Recent revelations of the Department of Homeland Security’s role in the Maryland State Police Department’s surveillance of peace groups have deepened the ACLU’s concerns, particularly because a DHS intelligence analyst is reportedly assigned to the North Central Texas Fusion System.
To read the ACLU's report on fusion centers, go to:www.aclu.org/fusion
Tucked away in a rented room at the Collin County Sheriff's office is a computer operation called the North Central Texas Fusion System.
According to its website, "The Fusion System is a data sharing and analysis system primarily focused on the prevention and early warning of natural, accidental and intentional disasters. The Fusion System is also used to support emergency responses, field operations, and investigations."
One of about 58 Fusion Centers nationwide, the NTFC is envisioned as a response to the call for better sharing of information and communications between different law enforcement agencies and first responders in the wake of the 911 terrorist attack.
The computers at the NCTFS are designed to not only share law enforcement and weather data, but to merge thousands of public, government and commercial databases into a tool that can, "detect and graphically display relationships between people, places, and events". In other words, to connect the dots on both demographic trends as well as on an individual's movements and communications.
The NCTFS publishes a weekly newsletter, the "Prevention Awareness Bulletin". According to the Fusion Center, it is distributed to over 1,500 individuals from over 200 different agencies.
Last week's Prevention Awareness Bulletin included a story titled, "Middle Eastern Terrorist groups and their supporting organizations have been successful in gaining support for Islamic goals in the United States and providing an environment for terrorist organizations to flourish."
The article warned law enforcement agencies to be "aware of and report" the legal activities of legal Muslim organizations under the pretext that these groups are lobbying to turn, "public and political support towards radical goals such as Shariah law and support of terrorist military action against Western nations."
It's unbelievable that a government financed intelligence operation is asking the police to report perfectly legal political activities of American citizens.
The article weaves together a few facts and internet rumors to paint a picture of a American Muslim goal to replace Christianity with Islam. In one case it quotes Omar Ahmad, a founder of The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) as telling a San Ramon Valley Herald reporter, "Islam isn't in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth."
CAIR and Ahmad deny he ever made the statement.
The newsletter article then uses that quote to infer a conspiracy to dominate American culture with, "Taken in that context, pushing an aggressive, pro-Islam agenda that's been increasingly successful in recent years takes on a new light". There follows such Islamic "agenda items" as foot baths in the cab drivers break room at an airport in Indiana.
In one paragraph the Fusion Center even accuses the United States Treasury Department with complicity by hosting a conference on the use of Shariah economic doctrine.
The article makes no real charge of terrorist activity by any mainstream Muslim organization, instead it fans the flames of Islamophobia by casting a very wide net of innuendo over the legitimate political activities of Americans who practice Islam. Terrorism is not a Christian vs Muslim battle, and attempts to fuel such fears lead only to prejudice, hate and fear.
Is the Fusion Center using huge computer systems teamed up with an intelligence network that has no real oversight to monitor protected political lobbying? It would seem so.
The implications for our American freedoms are chilling. Americans rightly cherish their liberty and their rights of religion, speech and to petition their government.
The article ends with a list of hyperlinked footnotes. Almost all links lead to far right wing anti-Muslim or neo-con activist sites. None are to official government agencies, which casts a real doubt on the validity of the intelligence gathering abilities of not only the newsletter, but the Fusion Center itself.
The Prevention Awareness Bulletin, NCTFS Feb. 19, 2009
North Central Texas Fusion System homepage
Fusion Center Guidelines, US Justice Department, Aug. 2006
Fusion Centers: Issues and Options for Congress, Congressional Research Service, Jan. 2008
Centers Tap Into Personal Databases, Apr. 2008, The Washington Post
Narrowing the Focus, Texas Technology, Sept. 2007
Information Fusion Centers and Privacy, EPIC, Jun. 2008
What's wrong with Fusion Centers, ACLU, Dec. 2007
Fusion Centers in Texas: "What we have here is a failure to communicate", Grits for Breakfast, Jul, 2007
Fusion centers' might be scary if they actually work, Grits for Breakfast, Apr. 2008
Four potential risks to intelligence fusion centers, Homeland Stupidity, Jul. 2007
CCO Coverage of Fusion Center:
County pays ADB over $1.1 million in no-bid Fusion Center contracts, CCO, Dec. 2008
Commissioners to consider "no bid" contract for Fusion Center, CCO, Dec. 2008
Code Red: better late than never - or is it?, CCO, Apr. 2008
Family Focus Parental Rights and Standards of Evidence in the Event of Divorce
by Dave Cary
Collin County Viewpoints:
In our schools and places of worship, in our homes, and at work, most residents of Collin County express a pride in America, in Family Values, Democracy, our Founders, and in our Constitution and way of life. We speak in Collin County of the belief that the values and principles espoused by our Founding Fathers and embodied in our Constitution have resulted in the most decent, prosperous and free nation in the history of mankind. God is in his heaven; all is right with the world.
Or is it? At the same time, Collin County has a burgeoning divorce industry. The fourth largest divorce firm in the nation has a major office in Collin County and the amount of money extracted from the destruction of our families and the destruction of the parent/child bond in Collin County is staggering. Clearly, we should examine why we have attracted such a powerful local presence of people who make money if our families are destroyed.
Standards of Evidence:
One reason may lie with the Standard of Evidence used by our courts to modify Parental Rights, the fundamental rights to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of our children free of unwarranted governmental interference. If it is too easy to attack Parental Rights in the event of divorce, we encourage the destruction of our families and the bonds between our parents and children with all the attendant social ills. This attracts people who have a vested interest in the destruction of our families. What then, are the Standards of Evidence? In civil cases (and divorce is treated as a civil case) there are basically two Standards of Evidence: a standard of a Preponderance of the Evidence and a standard of Clear and Convincing Evidence.
Preponderance of the Evidence:
The Preponderance of the Evidence, is the standard required in many civil cases. The standard is met if the proposition is more likely to be true than not true. Effectively, the standard is satisfied if there is even just a slightly greater than 50 percent chance that the proposition is true. When a judge modifies Parental Rights after deciding the evidence supports one side with a 50.001% probability, we have to ask ourselves whether this is rigorous enough to protect our Parental Rights and parent/child bonds from all but serious circumstances. If you think about it, this amounts to little more than a coin toss.
Clear and Convincing Evidence:
To prove a proposition by Clear and Convincing Evidence, the party with the burden of proof must demonstrate that it is substantially more likely than not that the proposition is in fact true. This is not the standard of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt used in criminal cases but it clearly is more than the close to crap shoot provided by the Preponderance of Evidence standard.
Which Standard Should Be to Used Modify or Attack Parental Rights?
After the above discussion on the Preponderance of the Evidence and Clear and Convincing Evidence standards, this is simple to answer. The answer depends on whether, when it comes to Parental Rights, we presume that our government knows best, subject to a parent proving the negative that it doesn’t; or whether we presume our parents know best, subject to the government proving its case. We have to error on one side or the other. Of the two, which side would our Founders error on? If it were your child, which side would you error on?
Most Collin County residents probably believe that governmental intervention should be one of the last resorts. Unfortunately, our county government and district courts behave as if they believe government intervention to attack Parental Rights in the event of divorce is the first course of action. Is this what we mean by Family Values?
What Does Our Constitution Say?
Parental Rights are fundamental rights protected by our Constitution akin to other fundamental rights such as the right to vote. This has been established by the US Supreme Court as recently as the year 2000 in the decision handed down in Troxel v. Granville. After all, if a government controls our children, it controls us and therein lies tyranny.
To review laws concerning the modification of fundamental rights such as Parental Rights, courts must use a standard of judicial review know as Strict Scrutiny, the most stringent standard of judicial review available. Under our Constitution, a law modifying Parental Rights (i) has to be justified by a compelling or crucial governmental interest, (ii) the law or policy must be narrowly tailored to achieve just that interest, and (iii) the law or policy must be the least restrictive means for achieving that interest.
All of our judges are suppose to evaluate whether our laws comply with our Constitution. We have to ask ourselves, do our courts comply with the requirements of the Constitution when it comes to modifying Parental Rights? It is hard to see how we can answer in the affirmative when we see how routinely and easily our courts modify Parental Rights. The question becomes tragically laughable when we realize our courts apply the coin toss standard of the Preponderance of the Evidence and that is against our Constitution. Laughable, except our children are placed at risk.
But Is it Even a Civil Case?
We treat divorces as civil cases. For some reason, we then extend that to Parental Rights and treat Parental Rights issues in the event of divorce as a civil issue. The two issues are very different and one may divorce one’s spouse but that does not mean the children should be forced to divorce the other parent. Marital disputes may be civil actions but Parental Rights are fundamental rights.
Can you name one other fundamental right which is challenged by civil action? There isn’t one except in extreme times such as during war. Fundamental rights are challenged by criminal action and that takes a higher Standard of Evidence: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. This includes Parental Rights.
But isn’t it Different if it is Parent Against Parent Such as in Divorce?
There are those who say that it is fine for our courts to attack Parental Rights when it is parent against parent. To address this concept, we have to ask under what other circumstances we allow a person to attack his or her spouse with impunity. For example, if a person murders a stranger we know it is wrong. But if that same person murders her or his spouse, is that just fine? The answer is an obvious “no” and the answer is equally “no” when it comes to a spouse attacking another's Parental Rights except under unusual circumstances. It is always wrong to modify one’s Parental Rights except as we would modify any other fundamental right and our courts should quit encouraging it.
But What is in the Best Interest of the Children?
The answer partially lies in whether we should assume our government will do a better job of parenting or will we. Ask most children of divorce what they would want and they would tell us they would want most a close relationship with both parents. Additionally, numerous studies demonstrate that children are healthiest if, in the event of divorce, both parents are equally involved in their lives. There are even studies that indicate that the incidence of divorce would go down if we protected Parental Rights in the event of a divorce. It turns out it is remarkably destructive to a child to impair its parent/child bond except for extraordinary circumstances and we certainly should not do it lightly. Does this surprise us?
It seems the Founders of this country were smarter than we know as are our children. If only we were so smart. The best interest of the children is to protect Parental Rights and that requires a higher Standard of Evidence.
How Should we Approach Parental Rights in the Event of Divorce?
The answer is simpler than one would think and it involves protecting Parental Rights, not wantonly attacking them. In the event of divorce, both parents are to be instructed they are to be treated as equal citizens in accordance with the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. No Parental Rights will be modified except as freely agreed to by the parents themselves or if is found that one is unfit to be a parent using a high Standard of Evidence. Evidence of such unfitness would be established if one parent wantonly attacked the other parent’s Parental Rights. In other words, no action to attack Parental Rights should even be entertained by the courts unless a threshold Standard of Evidence has been met. Overnight, the number of destructive custody suits would drop like a rock.
The parents should come up with their own plan as after all, they are parents and they are the ones responsible for the care of these children. In those instances where both parents agree, the court should so order. In those areas where they disagree, the court should divide things equally, including child custody. The courts’ role is really to enforce the parents’ agreement and protect Parental Rights. If we take this approach, think of the money we would save; think of the societal destruction we would avoid; think of the children who would be better off.
We often bandy about praise in honor of Family Values, the Founders of our country, and our form of democracy embodied in that sacred document, the US Constitution. For our democracy, our Founders mutually pledged their Lives, their Fortunes, and their sacred Honor. The question arises as to whether we are worthy of the Founders who proceeded us; whether these words of praise are just empty words or whether we mean them. If we don’t follow these words, we don’t mean them. And if we don’t mean them, we can’t be that shining city on a hill, the last best hope for all human kind.
We need to respect Parental Rights by requiring a high Standard of Evidence before we modify them under all circumstances; we need to tell our court officials to do so; we need to instruct our leaders, whether political, religious, or other, to do so.
Its very unusual for a county to begin redistricting before the federal census.
But some on the Collin County Commissioners Court do not want to wait until 2011 to redraw the commissioners and justice of the peace boundaries. The argument is that there is such a large population disparity between some of the commissioners precincts, that it is unfair to the voters to make them wait until the decennial census.
So the county wants to generate its own population statistics and not wait.
The first federal "enumeration" as the Constitution calls the census was back in 1790. Since then there have been 21 censuses. In the 230+ tears since our independence only in those 21 years have all the voting districts in the nation equaled or been 'balanced' with the census data. In the other 212 years of our history, the districts have been out of balance with the data. Yet we do not redistrict every year.
We don't redistrict at will because for a local government to create its own statistics and use them to set the geographic boundaries of its own elected officials is opening the Pandora's box of opportunism - inviting self-serving politicians to manipulate the data and create fraudulent districts.
Using census data makes sense.
It is impartial and independent of local pressures. It is universally accepted and will be upheld in any court challenge. The Census Bureau is the acknowledged expert in counting people - it has a rigorous methodology, a transparent process, numerous checks and balances and scientific validity.
Can locally generated data hope to meet such a high standard? I think not. It was only a few weeks ago that the press was revealing highly suspect population estimates from the City of Melissa.
According to press reports the mayor of Melissa was counting water meters and multiplying that count by a "resident per meter" factor he had devised. The result was in no way scientifically valid. Instead it was comic. Could the same thing happen countywide?
I spent some time today looking at the process which the county proposes to use to estimate the precinct by precinct population data needed to redistrict. Rest assured, the county is not counting water meters, but they are using the same mathematical method followed by the Mayor of Melissa.
The county's GIS Department obtained the listing of all properties from the Central Appraisal District. Each property description comes with a code describing if it is 'single-family residential', 'homestead', multifamily, etc. The GIS Department then assigned to each code a factor - for example 3.9 people per single family homestead. (These factors were drawn from historical statistics.) Multiply the properties times the factors, add them all up, and viola! you have population data much better than counting water meters.
There are some real problems with this approach to estimating population.
First, it is not verified or tested. No one is going out and knocking on doors as the census bureau does to verify that the mathematical assumptions are really correct. Neither has this method been "backtracked" to year 2000 to see if it even would have worked then.
Second, the goal of GIS is to be as accurate as they can with, as they describe it, "limited resources". The goal should be to be as close to what the census will report, but there is not any work being done to normalize the data to census. The problem is that statistics lie. They chase a moving target. for example, in the time it takes me to write this piece, the population of Collin County will have changed.
At least 4 different organizations estimate population in the county. In the Spring of each year, the Council of Governments releases its population estimates. And then in September the Texas State Data Center releases its estimates. The county has its estimate, and then there is the census bureau.
According to GIS, the COG data usually estimates the highest number of people in the county and the Census the lowest, with the Texas Data Center somewhere in between. GIS believes its count will fall in between COG and the State, but they can't predict how different they will be from the actual US Census.
Voting districts need to be drawn so that they almost exactly equal each other in population. Judge Self noted at the last court that these precincts needed to be within 1/2% to 1% of each other.
The problem is that when the real census data comes in, the districts won't match anymore. Simple math proves that if the county data is 95% accurate and the districts were drawn to 99% accuracy, then when the census data is received, these districts will now only be 94% correct and will have to be redrawn.
|Source||2007 Est. Pop.|
So how will redistricting actually help the citizens?
I don't see how it will. First, if the lines are redrawn now, and then again in 2011, some voters could find themselves having lived in 3 different commissioners precincts in two years, all without packing up and moving. This will create confusion and hard feelings.
Second, the most out of balance precinct is Precinct 3 (Joe Jaynes). Because of population growth, precinct 3 now holds over 33% of the counties voters. But redistricting now won't help those voters at all. The precinct 3 commissioner's next election isn't until 2012, AFTER the 2010 census.
Third, the proposed counting methodology probably won't survive a court challenge. If there is a close primary or or November race, the whole election results could be held up or at worse redone.
The law requires that the Commissioners Precincts be fairly and accurately drawn to conform with the last census. The present precincts, as out of balance as they are, meet that requirement. Any redrawing of lines prior to the next enumeration will by its very nature not meet that legal test. Likewise, when Texas redrew its congressional district lines in 2003, it used the older 2000 census data. Attempts to use more current estimated data were rebuffed by the legislature and the Attorney General. That redistricting scheme went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which upheld the use of the census data.
Redistricting is a political act.
Politicians redistrict for one of two reasons, one because the law makes them do it every ten years or two to use the new boundaries to gain a political advantage.
It is rare to redistrict outside of the ten year census. As I mentioned, the last important time it was done was in 2003. That attempt did hold up, but not before it went all the way to the US Supreme Court. Before it was all over the US Speaker of the House had to resign his seat in congress.
Tom Delay was an ambitious politician, jockeying for advantage. He used the redistricting effort to increase his party's representation in congress.
So in looking at Collin County's "out of cycle" redistricting effort, one has to ask, "Who is pushing it and what do they want to gain?"
It was obvious in Monday's Commissioners Court meeting that the primary driver of this redistricting effort is County Judge Keith Self.
Self is elected countywide, so he can't be trying to enhance his own electability.
Two commissioners seats are up for re-election in 2010. Jerry Hoagland in Precinct 2 and Kathy Ward in Precinct 4. It's no secret that Judge Self recruited candidates to challenge Commissioners Phyllis Cole and Joe Jaynes in 2008. His candidate did unseat Ms. Cole. Self is ambitious and he's proven to be willing to go toe to toe with an incumbent fellow Republican to gain control of the court.
It's also no secret that Jerry Hoagland would love to get rid of Keith Self and that Self has similar feelings against Hoagland. So I'd be looking to see what advantage Self believes he can gain by redrawing Hoagland's precinct. I suspect that when you get down to the real reason for this whole redistricting thing, what you'll find is Self trying to best Hoagland - or at least keep Jerry off balance.
It's got nothing to do with building precincts for a 'one man, one vote' advantage to the voters.
Friday night at 5:35 PM, the county clerk posted the agenda and packet for a special session of the Collin County Commissioners Court meeting Monday at 6 PM.
With this very short public notice, the commissioners court has declared its intention to redistrict commissioners, justice of the peace and constable district boundaries.
The agenda contains Item #6 "Al-29674 Consideration, discussion and any action regarding Commissioners redistricting". The words, "any action" generally mean that the court is ready to take action and final votes.
It's been no secret that the commissioners want to redistrict. The present boundaries were set after the 2000 census and are in real need of balancing.
When the present districts were drawn, they were pretty much balanced in population - they're not any longer:
|Precinct||2000 Pop.||2009 est. pop.|
|Precinct 1 (Shaheen)
||123,454 (25.1%)||185,172 (23.2%)|
|Precinct 2 (Hoagland)||121,303 (24.7%)||186,853 (23.4%)|
|Precinct 3 (Jaynes)||121,155 (24.7%)||267,649 (33.5%)|
|Precinct 4 (Ward)||135,363 (25.5)||158,540 (19.9%)|
In the commissioners packet for Monday's meeting are 3 proposed district plans. Unfortunately it is virtually impossible to really analyze any of these plans because the maps furnished are highly stylized and contain no street names or voting precinct numbers. Total population numbers are indicated, and they show that none of these proposed plans goes very far in equalizing the population in the districts.
|Precinct||Plan 1||Plan 2||Plan 3|
|Precinct 1 (Shaheen)
||212,104 (26.6%)||223,903 (28.1%)||212,104 (26.6%)|
|Precinct 2 (Hoagland)||163,167 (20.4%)||137,658 (17.2%)||151,261 (19%)|
|Precinct 3 (Jaynes)||199,151 (24.9%)||174,174 (21.8%)||199,151 (24.9%)|
|Precinct 4 (Ward)||223,783 (28.0%)||262,470 (32.9%)||235,689 (29.5%)|
These 3 plans seem designed to protect each commissioner's voter base rather than granting every voter an equal voice on the court. Reaffirming the citizens' right to "one man, one vote" under the "Equal protection clause" of the Constitution, the US Supreme Court ruled back in 1965 in Avery vs. Midland County that Texas counties had to apportion districts by population. Obviously Judge Self and the commissioners never got the memo.
Normally, the commissioners and other districts are not even redrawn until after the elections department proposes new voting precinct boundaries. This is because state law requires that commissioners precinct lines must follow the voting precinct lines and not subdivide them.
The court has recognized that the voting precinct lines need to be redrawn. More so than the commissioners or Justice of the Peace districts, these voting precincts are way out of balance in population.
State law requires that voting precincts be balanced, and that no precinct have less than 100 nor more than 5,000 registered voters.
Currently, Collin County has 162 voting precincts. 12% of them are so out of range that they are illegally constituted. The smallest has zero registered voters, the largest, 9,109 voters. In all, 7 precincts contain less than 100 voters and 12 encompass more than 5,000.
Drawing new voting precincts around commissioners boundaries is burdensome and can not allow for a true equalization of voters. It only makes sense to draw the smallest subdivisions first, then use those boundaries to redraw the larger commissioners district lines.
Other aspects of these redistricting proposals make the whole process suspect:
- The lack of substantial notice. Posting after hours before a weekend for a Monday meeting, makes it look as if the court has something to hide.
- The lack of notice to both political parties, with an opportunity to participate, leads one to assume these maps are the product of a "back room deal".
- The lack of details, such as boundaries and precinct numbers keep interested citizens and parties from having the ability to analyze the maps, and make substantive suggestions.
- The lack of any public hearings indicate that the court is not interested in citizen, candidate or political party input. They seem only to be interested in preserving their perquisites.
The Collin County Observer calls on the Commissioners Court to first approve the new voter precincts before presenting new commissioners' precinct maps. We believe the court should hold public hearings on the redistricting plans. Further we ask that the court make available detailed maps and demographic data well in advance of any public hearing or final vote.
Before any redistricting plan can be put in place, the court is required to submit the plan to the US Justice Department for certification under the Voting Rights Act.
If the Commissioners Court refuses to hold public meetings and release detailed maps, then it behooves the voters to avail themselves of their right to file protests of any adopted plan with the Justice Department.
The Collin County Commissioners Court will meet Monday, February 16, 2009 at 6:00 PM at the "old" Collin County Courthouse at 210 S. McDonald St. in McKinney.
The Commissioners' Courtroom is on the 6th floor and has limited seating capacity.
Public comments are permitted. Forms to request an opportunity to comment are available at the door.
The Commissioners' Redistricting is agenda item #6.
- DA John Roach standing in court with his shirt tails hanging out, telling a judge, "I knew about Sue and Tom the whole time, neener neener."
- Judge Keith Self and Commissioner Jerry Hoagland featured on a Friday night WWE match, with proceeds benefiting the Plano Children's Clinic.
- The NTTA declaring "Warrantless Wednesdays" and "Toll Free Fridays".
- TxDOT giving the SH121 money back after the Collin County legislative delegation threatens to kick their ass if they don't.
- The Fusion Center actually doing something useful.
- Sam Johnson bringing a nice fat transportation grant check to Collin County.
- The opening of a new highway that doesn't charge by the mile.
- Sheriff Box giving NTTA their 12,000 warrants back with a note, "Do it yourself."
- The County buying a software package that actually works and saves money.
- Jerry Hoagland caught in an airport restroom with an unnamed US Senator.
2008's Top Ten reasons why there is a Collin County Observer. Most of these stories were first covered here, a few were only covered here.
10. Commissioners forcing the resignation of the Teen Court Coordinator because he was gay.
9. Commissioners refuse to enact an Equal Employment Opportunity Policy, shortly before they force the gay guy out.
8. Lovejoy ISD fighting Open Records requests, banning a parent and firing a teacher.
7. District Judge Charles Sandoval pushing experimental drugs on probationers.
6. Commissioners sitting quietly while Commissioner Hoagland rants against A-rabs and Indians.
5. Judge Mark Rusch issuing search warrants against the defense attorney in a capital case, and then refusing to recuse himself.
4. Commissioners awarding, without competitive bid, over a million dollars in federal grant money to the son of Sam Johnson for Fusion Center software.
3. DA Roach fighting against new trial of defendant sentenced to death in a trial conducted by a judge and DA who are playing coochie-coochie in secret.
2. Commissioners spending $300,000 to sue the Auditor, loosing the suit twice, and still appealing.
1. County pushing for SH 121 tolling only to have the Attorney General refuse to allow the county to get any of the $2 billion in toll funds it was promised.
The Democratic Party of Collin County announces Voter Protection Seminar
The Democratic Party of Collin County has announced that they will be presenting a seminar on VOTER PROTECTION on October 11, 2008, at Collin County Community College, Preston Ridge Campus Events Center, 11 to 12:30.
Frederick Barrow, an attorney who is experienced with the Election Protection Coalition, will conduct this seminar.
The Election Protection Coalition is the nation's largest, non-partisan voter protection coalition. Their interest is to ensure that every voter, regardless of party or candidate preference, is able to cast a ballot that counts for the candidate of their choice.
Although the seminar is planned to assist in educating election workers for the upcoming election, everyone in the community is invited to attend.
For more information, contact the Democratic Party of Collin County Office 972-578-1483 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Nichols was the Teen Court Coordinator forced to resign by the commissioners court last June after the commissioners learned he was gay.
Nichols' severance package cost the taxpayers $26,500 plus several thousand dollars in forgiven tuition payments.
That $26,500 + was not the end of the tax money paid out due to the court's bigotry.
When Nichols was forced out, his salary was close to $35,500/yr. Two weeks ago, the commissioners authorized the hiring of Mr. Nichols replacement.
His replacement's starting salary is $40,500/yr. It appears the taxpayers will pay the new coordinator an additional $5,000/yr for what amounts to a "straight bonus".
The commissioners questioned why Shirlane Grant, the new coordinator was being paid above the usual starting salary - they were told it was because she had previous experience. Her appointment and salary were then approved unanimously.
We know now how Collin County employees can negotiate a better deal from the county.
Next year, county workers are scheduled to receive an average 3.5% raise. It would seem they could do better either by claiming to be gay and getting a nice separation package, or by demanding the $5,000 "straight bonus".
There's two kinds of southern hospitality.
There's the friendly neighbors who greet the new folks on the block, no matter who they are, bringing food baskets and trying to make them feel welcome.
Then there's the white sheet and hood hospitality that can be unleashed to protect a community from any threat to its cherished beliefs.
Wylie has a history of both.
Some of the good old fashioned southern "get along with the neighbors" hospitality is sorely needed these days in the south-eastern Collin County town of Wylie.
The issue is over prayer, specifically prayers to Jesus Christ at school board and school bond committee meetings.
It all came to a head last month when a Jewish member of a school bond committee objected and stopped a recitation of the Lord's Prayer before a committee meeting. While the protest shocked the members of the committee, they had the good grace to complete their devotions with a moment of silence.
Over the next few weeks, public statements and emails flew back and forth.
Mikki Lewis, who was the board member objecting to the prayer wrote letters to the school board and superintendent, accusing the district of, "making us sit through invocations involving one's faith and/or choice of god."
Taking the argument one step further, Ms. Lewis also wrote, "I would like to know what we the parents... need to do to stop these invocations at all school-related functions".
Trustee Sue Nicklas was perhaps the most outspoken, writing in response, that there is, "no such thing" as separation of church and state in the Bill of Rights, and that the intent of the founding fathers was to "keep government out of religion".
With that take on American History, the battle lines were drawn.
Ms. Nicklas also wrote, "in ten years as a trustee, you're.... the first person that has ever had the audacity to interrupt God and one of his children in prayer."
Lewis then responded, "I did not interrupt God... He was not speaking!... but you can not start the meeting and then make our only choice to leave or listen to a prayer to your god."
Trustee Ralph James wrote to Ms. Lewis, "We have the right to pray in meetings, and I will fight to keep that right with whatever it takes."
Superintendent Dr. John Fuller offered to discuss the concept of separation of church and state with Ms. Lewis, but so far no meeting has taken place. Later he said, "Wylie ISD is a faith-based community.", adding, "I believe the public schools should neither inoculate nor inhibit religion."
At a later meeting of the school board, it was reported that members of the audience loudly repeated, like a football cheer, "in Jesus name we pray" after the invocation.
This seems to this Wylie resident a great time for a liberal dose of the welcoming brand of southern hospitality.
As our communities become more diverse, our governments need to become more welcoming and accepting. Collin County is no longer in the 19th century - our taxpayers come from all cultures and beliefs. Can we not ask for divine guidance in a manner not calculated to exclude anyone not Christian?
It would seem a simple matter to craft a prayer to heaven asking for wisdom and compassion.
In her last email to Dr. Fuller, Ms. Lewis wrote, "I think there are a few ways we can negotiate a common ground where we offend no one."
I hope the majority can find it in their hearts to express the same sentiments.
Prayer clash continues in Wylie school district - Dallas Morning News August 19, 2008
Prayer, interrupted - The Wylie News, August 13, 2008
Frisco man says HOA won't let him park pickup on driveway
Sunday, August 17, 2008
By STEVE STOLER / WFAA-TV (Channel 8)
If there's one thing Texans are serious about, it's pickups.
But a Frisco man says his truck is being targeted simply because his homeowners association doesn't think it's classy enough.
Jim Greenwood said he never dreamed his HOA would have a problem with his new Ford F-150 pickup. Then he received the first of three notices threatening him with fines.
"Mr. Greenwood, you're violating a subdivision rule that prohibits pickup trucks in your driveway," the notice reads.
Stonebriar HOA rules allow several luxury trucks on driveways, including the Cadillac Escalade, Chevy Avalanche, Honda Ridgeline and Lincoln Mark LT.
But most Ford, Dodge or Chevy pickups are restricted.
"It's very frustrating and confusing. It's hard to imagine how an HOA would try to dictate what type of vehicle you can drive and park in your driveway," Mr. Greenwood said.
Bill Osborn of the HOA board said the association also prohibits boats, trailers, golf carts and RVs in driveways.
"The high-end vehicles that are allowed are plush with amenities and covers on the back. It doesn't look like a pickup," he said. "It's fancier."
Mr. Greenwood appealed, claiming his Ford F-150 isn't much different from the Lincoln Mark LT.
"The response was: 'It's our belief that Lincoln markets to a different class of people,' " he said.
A couple of months ago, the Collin County commissioners, faced with the probable loss of federal grants, debated and finally passed an EEOP (Equal Employment Opportunity Policy).
Terrified of federal oversight and regulation over county hiring practices almost caused the court to give up millions in federal grants. The commissioners only passed an EEOP plan after they became convinced that a policy could be enacted that was a hollow, toothless shell.
The EEOP policy adopted simply reports statistics on age, gender and race by job class. It requires no further action in recruiting or hiring. Nothing changed.
A look at the statistics shows a real need for change in hiring. The County Clerk, the District Clerk and the Tax Assessor's departments are predominately staffed by women. They are in a class called administrative/support, and they are among the lowest paid in county government. 92% of county employees listed as administrative/support are women.
Since the EEOP policy was passed, new hires in this group have all been women.
Look at technicians, a higher paid class. 74% of the county's technicians are male.
Sworn peace officers make a good wage here. In Collin County 175 peace officers are male and only 21 are female.
The highest paid jobs in the county are filled by the "Department heads". About 70% are male, and their average salaries are almost $25,000/yr higher than the women's.
Even men elected to public office in Collin County earn more than the elected women - on average, over $18,000 a year more.
Americans should be forever grateful that woman's suffrage didn't depend on a vote of the Collin County Commissioners Court.
Prejudice and discrimination are still with us. - CCO May 8, 2008
Is county hiring biased? - CCO April 27, 2008
Collin County's EEOP plan, including statistics
Ed Housewright: Plano church keeps faith in fight to use building
By Ed Housewright / The Dallas Morning News
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Members of the Plano Vietnamese Baptist Church accomplished an amazing feat recently. Some might call it a miracle.
The 15 families that make up the church raised $415,000 to purchase their first building – with cash.
Some people dug deep into their savings. Others took out home equity loans, said Pastor Thomas Le.
But now the members can't worship in the 50-year-old building near downtown, thanks to an obscure city regulation.
A Plano ordinance passed in 1971 requires churches to sit on at least 2 acres. The Vietnamese Baptist church has 1.2 acres.
While the most recent owners used it for other purposes, the structure at Avenue G and 17th Street was built as a church and looks like a church.
The Board of Adjustment, appointed by the City Council, went against a city staff recommendation and voted 4-1 in April to deny an exception to the policy.
The board majority, apparently, was swayed by six residents who complained the church would increase noise and traffic.
Collin County commissioners on Tuesday heard from local members of the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC), who were concerned that some commissioners do not think that hiring bilingual people is a good thing.
Commissioners voted 4-1 on June 3 to hire Nancy Tenorio, who is bilingual, for a job in the Collin County clerk’s Office. They also voted to increase her salary by 3 percent increase because she can speak English and Spanish. Commissioner Jerry Hoagland voted against hiring Tenorio because he did not want to pay her more than other employees simply because she is bilingual, he said at the June 3 meeting.
“We’re enabling people by doing this,” Hoagland said at that meeting. “English is the spoken language for America. I believe for us to reward somebody, or reward somebody when they come in and provide interpreters for them is wrong. They can bring someone with them to interpret for them.”.
Those remarks sparked four people to make comments on Tuesday — a meeting during which commissioners authorized human resources director Cynthia Jacobson to draft a policy to pay employees more money for certain skills, including being bilingual. Commissioners, including Hoagland, asked Jacobson to write a policy that identifies what salary supplement the county would pay for any skill or certification that can be satisfied through the normal hiring process.
McKinney City Councilwoman Gilda Garza, a member of LULAC Council 608, she was appalled and disappointed by the court’s action over the past year. She specifically spoke about Hoagland’s vote against paying the bilingual supplement to Tenorio.
“I’m disappointed in this commission and the statements that come out of this commission. In reference to bilingual pay, I will say that when I came on council in 2001, one of the first things I did was to suggest that we (McKinney) hire a bilingual municipal court clerk and that a bilingual person be in every department. They didn’t have to be Hispanic, as long as they were bilingual,” Garza said. "We (McKinney) also pay our (police) officers different pay if they’re bilingual, and that’s very important,” Garza said.
Garza said she is also disappointed the court forced a county employee to separate from the county because of his sexual preference - referring to openly gay former teen court director Justin Nichols, who reached a termination settlement with the county last month. Neither council officials nor Nichols have stated publicly that his homosexuality was the reason for his departure.
“We as a city (McKinney) are obligated to our residents, and you as a commission are also obligated to your residents. It should be a mandate to hire people who are bilingual. I hope you approve a differential pay,” Garza said.
Victor Manuel of McKinney, the Democratic candidate for Precinct 3 county commissioner in the Nov. 4 election, said the issue of the county’s pay for bilingual employees deals with how the county treats bilingual employees. He spoke about the benefits of having a bilingual workforce.
“My forefathers were French, various Native American tribes and from Central America, and obviously from Africa, in case you missed that. The benefit of having a bilingual workforce is that it speeds up and simplifies all levels of personal interaction within our county. Bilingual employees also increase the safety in the jails and protect ourselves from legal issues,” Manuel said. “All of our Hispanic taxpayers are county shareholders. Whether or not you are a legal citizen living in the United States, you are still paying taxes and living in the county. Employees who are bilingual are coveted by the private sector.”
Coty Rodriguez Anderson of Plano, immediate past director of LULAC District 3, asked the court to continue compensating employees who are bilingual. Anderson, a school counselor for the Plano ISD, said that high school students in the district must complete two years of a foreign language class. If the court votes to not pay more to bilingual employees who use those skills in their jobs, then the court is sending a message to the teens that knowing more than one language is unimportant.
“This is a skill that is needed in this small world,” Rodriguez Anderson said.
Adrian Rodriguez of Plano, past national vice president for the LULAC's southwest council and a behavioral specialist for the Plano ISD, said that hiring bilingual employees is very much needed.
“I work with a lot of parents who don’t speak English. Most of them want to know English. There are 90 languages spoken in the Plano ISD alone. My concern is that this court is approving discriminatory actions. This is an EEO (equal employment policy) matter,” Rodriguez said.
The Court also heard from 2 department heads who testified that they needed bilingual workers in order to serve the public.
No action was taken on the issue. The Human Resources department was instructed to draft a policy that would allow a department head to specify "bilingual" as a needed skill worth additional salary, when seeking approval to hire an individual.
At the request of County Judge Keith Self and Commissioner Kathy Ward, the Commissioners Court agenda for Tuesday contains discussion item #12, "Consideration, discussion and any action regarding the starting salaries for bilingual employees".
This action item is a result of Commissioner Hoagland's recent objections to granting a 3% step increase to newly hired bilingual employees. At the last meeting of the court, Hoagland launched into a long complaint prefaced with, "When are we going to have to hire A-rabs? When are we going to have to hire Indians, and everything else?"
In a recent TV interview, Hoagland complained that the county was "enabling" non-english speakers by providing them with interpreters. He stated that Spanish speakers were welcome to bring their own interpreters if they wanted to do business with the county. He was quoted by NBC5 as saying, "I don't believe we should be compensating employees more just because they can speak Spanish. "This is America, and I believe people ought to be able to speak the English language."
Keith Self was quoted as saying that only Spanish speakers earn the 3% increase in pay - "Why then do we have low expectations for our Hispanic citizens?"
Countered Adrian Rodriguez of LULAC, "Nowhere in the Constitution that I've read does it say that you have to speak English in this country."
In the same NBC story, County Tax Assessor-Collector Kenneth Maun noted that, "I have to serve these people. I need to have people that can communicate with them.".
Maun went on to say, "I have to serve these people. I need to have people that can communicate with them."
Without incentives, Maun said Spanish-speaking employees often leave for higher-paying jobs. "We never have as many as we'd like," Maun said.
According to Judge Self, the county has about 20 employees receiving bilingual pay. Many are in law enforcement and detention, or work serving the public in the tax and county clerk's office.
Note: The Commissioners Court will meet this Tuesday, July 22nd at 1:30 P.M.
The discussion of bilingual pay is agenda item #12. The Court does allow public comment on any agenda item, simply fill out a card before the meeting to request your right to speak on agenda item #12.
The meeting is on the 6th Floor of the Collin County Courthouse at 210 S. McDonald? St. in McKinney.
Fred Moses becomes Collin County's first black countywide officeholder
Saturday, July 19, 2008
By JEFF MOSIER / The Dallas Morning News
While Barack Obama makes history on the national stage, another black politico is breaking the color barrier in Collin County.
Fred Moses, a local GOP activist since 1980, was elected chairman of the Collin County Republican Party at a Saturday morning meeting of the party’s executive committee. That makes him the first black politician to serve in countywide office in Collin County.
He was selected by a vote of the precinct chairs to replace former chairwoman Kathy Ward. Ms. Ward replaced County Commissioner Jack Hatchell, who died last month of esophageal cancer.
Mr. Moses said he doesn’t believe that race played a part in his appointment to this post. But he said there is probably a benefit to having a black chairman.
“We are wondering how we unify the party,” Mr. Moses said. “How do we put the best foot forward?”
The Collin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce sent the following message today to County Judge Keith Self and the Commissioners Court:
It has come to our attention that the Collin County Commissioners are in the news, on the wrong side, about the issue of extra pay for bilingual employees.
In all sectors of business employees are hired based on abilities that will fulfill the job requirements. If their work involves customer service, bilingual skills are desirable due to the increase in residents of this county that speak limited English. It is not best practice to draw an employee away from normal duties and order them to spend their job time to translate for clients with no pay incentive, no matter what the language needs are. This is an abuse of the employee when they are expected to fulfill two job roles for the pay of one.
Any employee who presents with language skills that are often required at the customer service level in county offices should be rewarded with extra pay. County employees have an obligation to serve all residents of the county in the most equal and efficient manner they can attain.
As the only Hispanic organization for business in Collin County we recognize the high demand for anyone seeking employment who has bilingual skills, especially Spanish/English, and respectfully advise the commissioners to allow the Collin County Human Resources Department to continue to compete for those employees on a level-playing field with other entities and businesses that offer extra pay for those skills.
Humberto B. Rodriguez
Collin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
555 Republic Drive, Suite 200
Plano, TX 75074
Bill's note: See Collin County Observer article, "When are we going to have to hire A-rabs... and Indians?", July 11, 2008
So asked Collin County Commissioner Jerry Hoagland at Tuesday's court meeting. On his soapbox again about bi-lingual workers pay, he asked, "When are we going to have to hire A-rabs? When are we going to have to hire Indians, and everything else?"
Jerry wasn't talking about the county's lack of a working equal employment action plan. He was protesting the county paying a 3% higher salary for a bi-lingual juvenile detention officer.
Over the past few months, Hoagland has consistently and loudly voted against all bi-lingual new hires, even as jailers and health care workers. He charges that the county is, "bending over backwards to enable non-english speaking people". Judge Self and newly installed Commissioner Kathy Ward appeared to be in agreement with Hoagland, although they did vote to approve the hiring.
Ward told Hoagland, "Believe me, what you are saying is not falling on deaf ears. We're in America." Self noted that what Hoagland was really wanting was a change in the county policy that moves bi-lingual employees up one salary step.
Commissioner Jaynes commented, "I'm almost with you there Commissioner", but Jaynes also noted that detention officers are dealing with people in jail, and need to communicate for their own safety.
The only commissioner who did not take part in the discussion was Phyllis Cole.
Both Self and Ward asked that the bi-lingual policy be placed on the agenda for the next meeting of the court.
Hoagland told the court that his "wife runs the Passport Office in Plano", and that they don't have any Spanish interpreters. Hoagland says his wife tells Spanish speakers they need to, "bring somebody who speaks English".
What amazed me was the acceptance of Hoagland's racial remarks by the entire Commissioners Court. No one pointed out to the Commissioner that they do have to hire Middle Eastern and Indian applicants. No one called him down. No one appeared offended.
Following on the heels of the county's forcing out of a gay employee and their refusal to enact a meaningful equal employment policy, Tuesday's incident proves that these "good old boys" are out of touch with the moral values of the vast majority of Americans.
Racism should have no place in county government, not even in Collin County.
NOTE: The discussion of approving the hiring of the bi-lingual jailer can be found on the the recording of the July 8 meeting. Set the time slide to 2:09:00. The recording can be found here
I would add the alarming increase in suicides at the Collin County jail to Henson's list
Has anybody else noticed the steady stream of ugly law enforcement scandals and allegations of corruption coming out in Plano recently, some of them dating back two decades? Taken together, they paint quite a portrait of the Collin County justice system. Here's my own hastily compiled short list, and I'll bet Bill Baumbach could add to it:
Judge and DA Slept Together? According to an affidavit filed by a former Assistant DA in the Charles Hood capital murder case, from 1987 - 1993 then-Judge Verla Sue Holland carried on an affair with then-District Attorney Tim O'Connell, including in cases where the DA personally acted as an attorney before the judge. (She later went on to serve on the Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas' highest criminal court.) Both Holland and O'Connell have refused to confirm or deny the explosive allegations.
Setting Up Innocent People? Last fall a federal civil rights lawsuit alleged that four Plano officers conspired with a man's wife in a bizarre scheme to set him up on on a DWI charge.
Steroid Use by Police? Steroid dealer David Jacobs alleged steroid use by five Metroplex police departments including Plano PD. Dallas police implemented steroid testing in response but the others did not.
Sweetheart Pharma Contract? A district judge lost his bid for re-election in March after requiring probationers to use an unproven anti-addiction medication but keeping no records about the program.
Pandering to NIMBYism: State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg from Collin County led the charge last year to chase one of the area's few halfway houses out of existence.
Hounding Gay Employee? After Collin County ousted its well-regarded teen court coordinator allegedly because he's a homosexual, the Dallas Morning News asked, "What can be said about an employer who runs off a solid worker because he is gay? Nothing good."
False Conviction Overturned by DNA: The man convicted for a high-profile child rape and murder in Plano from the '90s that spawned Texas' sex offender registration laws turned out to be innocent, and the Collin DA acquiesced in his release from death row after DNA proved someone else committed the crime.
These stories don't tell the whole tale - e.g., I know there are good programs going on at the Collin County probation department and their DWI court - but doesn't that seem like quite a bit of dysfunctionality arising from a single locale?
Editorial: Collin County wrong to run off gay worker
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Dallas Morning News Editorial Board
What can be said about an employer who runs off a solid worker because he is gay?
That harsh judgment applies to Collin County commissioners for their treatment of Justin Nichols, who was jettisoned despite administering a successful teen court program for nearly two years.
Mr. Nichols was, in essence, bought off by a commissioners court afraid of the political downside of a gay employee interacting with young people. He left the payroll under terms of an agreement that the county wanted to keep secret – ugh! – but that were made public anyway, as required by law.
Mr. Nichols, 23, is a young, energetic, civically engaged graduate of Southern Methodist University. A Republican, he fits the political profile of the conservative community.
But to some officials, the fact that Mr. Nichols is gay made him politically radioactive.
Full disclosure: Mr. Nichols was a regular volunteer columnist for this newspaper's Community Opinions pages before he went to work for the county. He was a clear communicator and a pleasure to work with.
But that's not the reason we take up this subject. Rather, it's a matter of fairness and decency.
A gay newspaper made it public that Mr. Nichols was gay during his unsuccessful campaign for Plano City Council this year. Immediately, some members of the commissioners court started looking for ways to distance themselves from him. They eventually gained the votes to push him out the door.
Instead of abandoning an employee, they should have stood by him. Their action sends an awful signal to the county's other gay employees who might now wonder, and with good reason, if their jobs are secure.
Leaders at the highest levels of government and business have condemned workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Quality of work should be the measure. Collin County's leaders have done a disservice to a community that fancies itself as a desirable place to live and work.
"Whereas, Employee has been Teen Court Coordinator for Collin County; And
"Whereas, the County and Employee agree that it is in the best interests of the Parties that the Employee's employment relationship be severed ...."
With the signing yesterday of the "Severance Agreement And Release", Teen Court Coordinator Justin Nichols sold his right to work for the county for $24,500.
Some commissioners are probably breathing sighs of relief that they were finally able to rid themselves of "that gay guy", at whatever the price. Those commissioners did not want to be portrayed as pro-gay in future elections.
In the primary run-off this spring, Commissioner Phyllis Cole lost her re-election bid partially because of an email attack, that was waged in the closing hours of the campaign, accusing her of hiring and supporting a gay man to supervise the teen court.
I hope this isn't the last we've heard of this issue, or of the issues it raises.
Collin County, long regarded as a bastion of conservatism, is now becoming known not for its accomplishments, but for its intolerance - and I'll say it out loud, for its bigotry.
As soon as the news hit the Collin County Courthouse that its young Republican Teen Coordinator was gay, the county's white sheets and hoods were donned, and Nichol's days as a county employee were numbered.
We the voters and taxpayers of Collin County share in the shame and blame this incident has engendered.
We've become used to elected commissioners attacking immigrants, poor people and now gays. We've sat silent when "Equal Employment" protection was denied our county employees. We've allowed a commissioner to get away with refusing to approve hiring bi-lingual health care employees. We've excused the denying of basic health care to children because of the immigration status of their parents. We've waved off charges that the county's hiring practices are discriminatory.
The shame is ours, and we've got what we deserved.
The "Severance Agreement And Release" between Justin Nichols and Collin County is here
Dallas Morning News, Collin County teen court official's severance package calls for money, silence
McKinney Courier-Gazette, Coordinator, county part ways
Dallas Morning News Editorial Blog, County accidentally agrees to $26 million payoff for gay employee
Dallas Morning News Editorial Blog, Teen court now gay-free!
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
The coordinator of Collin County’s teen court program, a one-time political candidate who said his job was put in jeopardy earlier this year because he is gay, appears now to be out of a job.
Justin Nichols, who ran unsuccessfully for a Plano City Council seat last month, said he and the county have reached a severance agreement and that he plans to leave his position Aug. 1.
Federal, state and county laws do not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Twenty states and some municipalities, including the city of Dallas, do forbid such discrimination.
Mr. Nichols would not comment on the deal, citing a confidentiality clause in the agreement.
This morning, he said he was ready to sign the deal, which the Collin County Commissioners Court approved in a 3-1 vote following an executive session June 10. In an e-mail, Mr. Nichols later confirmed that he and the county had signed the agreement.
“I am proud of the work I have done with teen court,” Mr. Nichols said. “I have not changed any of my beliefs or foundations. I think this is an amicable agreement between me and the county.”
His attorney, Peter A. Schulte, said this afternoon that “nothing ’s been signed yet, but we’re moving in that direction.”
On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in the south. News of the proclamation did not reach the ears of Texas slaves until June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger led 2,000 Union troops into Galveston and was able to enforce the freeing of all Texas slaves. The General was reported to have read from the balcony of Aston Villa, General Order #3:
"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor."
Today 143 years after General Gordon carried the news of freedom, we still celebrate June 19 as Juneteenth or Emancipation Day.
January 1, 1863
By the President of the United States of America:
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
"That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States."
Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.
By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.
My post "Gay bashing: the final act - Collin County style" stated that a settlement agreement had been reached and signed. I had several sources that led me to believe that an agreement was finalized.
According to Collin County and Mr. Nichols that is not the case.
Tim Wyatt, the Public Information Officer for Collin County wrote me that, "In regards to your request for 'the settlement negotiated with Justin Nichols to leave the employ of the county that was authorized by the commissioners court at the June 10, 2008 meeting,' there is no signed agreement; therefore, I have nothing to release."
Mr. Nichols wrote the CCO, "Please know that to date I have not entered into any agreement with the county.
I am proud to serve the county as its Teen Court Coordinator and believe that we have reached hundreds of teens through the program. I am passionate about my work and will continue to strive for the program until my employment with Collin County changes - by whatever means that may be.
I have hope that the leadership of our county will recognize the importance of Teen Court and prevent it's discontinuation."
I stand corrected and I apologize for misleading my readers.
The commissioners authorized the County Judge to negotiate a settlement with Justin Nichols. That effort is not complete, nor has there been any final determination as to the future employment of Nichols by the county.
The basic facts are as I reported them. The commissioners want Nichols gone - any way they can.
Tuesday, after meeting in executive session, the Collin County Commissioners voted 3 - 1 "to authorize the County Judge to enter into an agreement with the Teen Court coordinator".
This vague Court order sealed the fate of Justin Nichols, the openly gay coordinator of the Teen Court. He was paid to go away quietly. The commissioners have enforced their unwritten anti-gay policy.
Last month, during the ruckus that followed when a Dallas newspaper reported that an openly gay county employee was running for Plano City Council, the county adamantly denied that it had a "don't ask, don't tell policy". It appears they were telling a partial truth. The full policy can be summed up as a "not heterosexual, not employed" policy.
For weeks now, I've been hearing rumors that Mr. Nichols was summoned by the county administration and told that he could agree to a settlement and go away quietly, or the Teen Court program and it's coordinator would be cut from the next budget. Multiple sources who are familiar with the issue told me that Nichols took the money and that all parties signed a (probably illegal) non-disclosure agreement - yesterday, the commissioners court made it official.
Only one commissioner had the courage to loudly vote "NO" to the settlement proposal. Phyllis Cole lost the run off election in part to vicious rumors accusing her of supporting an openly gay man as the leader of the Teen Court program. The rumors did cause a right wing backlash that certainly cost her some votes in an election she lost by only 30 votes. Yet when the roll was called, she alone spoke up and voted "NO".
One can expect this type of anti gay animosity from Jerry Hoagland and Keith Self. Neither one has been reticent in their opinions. However, Joe Jaynes took, in this writer's opinion, the coward's way out in being afraid to vote against running off an employee because of sexual orientation. Jaynes is up for re-election, and I suppose was afraid of facing the same attacks that brought down Ms. Cole.
Tuesday, we learned just how far we still need to go before a worker is judged by his work alone, instead of by the prejudices of his employers. This sad episode makes urgent the need to pass a real Equal Opportunity Employment policy for government employees.
As we have come to expect from this commissioners court, all the negotiations and arrangements were made in secret.
However, taxpayer money should never be, in my opinion, spent in secret deals. I have sent the following letter to the county requesting copies of all settlement and non-disclosure agreements that relate to the employment of Justin Nichols.
The Collin County Observer
June 11, 2008
Tim Wyatt, Public Information Officer
Collin County Government Center
210 S. McDonald, Suite 636
McKinney, TX 75069
VIA CERTIFIED MAIL
I want to remind you of my request last week for a copy of the settlement agreement of the Collin County v. SAP/Siemens lawsuit approved by the commissioners court.
Also, I hereby request, under the Texas Open Records Act, a copy of the settlement negotiated with Justin Nichols to leave the employ of the county that was authorized by the commissioners court at the June 10, 2008 meeting. I also request a copy of any non-disclosure agreements signed by Mr. Nichols, the County Judge, the County Commissioners or any other employee of the county that relate to the employment of Justin Nichols.
I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter. I would prefer scanned electronic copies, but if required, I will be able to accept paper copies.
The Collin County Observer will keep its readers apprised of the results of the Open Records Request.
The hunt goes on. And on. And on.
Still, proponents of adding new personal identification requirements at Texas polling places haven't produced evidence of an Election Day problem that needs fixing.
Attorney General Greg Abbott tried but came up short, despite months of investigating. As detailed recently by Dallas Morning News senior political writer Wayne Slater, Mr. Abbott documented scattered cases of familiar methods of ballot fraud – schemes involving mail-in ballots, false registrations and manipulation of elderly voters.
These despicable acts undermine the democratic system and should be prosecuted based on state and federal laws already on the books.
But warnings from self-styled voting reformers have focused on other kinds of perceived threats to clean elections – patterns of voter impersonation at the polls and massive fraud using illegal immigrants.
Were those threats real, Mr. Abbott most certainly would have provided proof, helping Republican state lawmakers make their case for new laws requiring a photo ID at the polls to go along with the traditional Texas voter registration card.
In the absence of that proof, GOP legislators appear indifferent to the fact that thousands of registered Texas voters – 150,000 to 400,000, by one estimate – have no photo ID and would face some level of expense to obtain one. Research shows that these voters tend to be elderly, female and poor. They also tend to be Democrats, leaving Republicans to answer to a charge of partisanship.
It's understandable that Collin County doesn't brag that its phenomenal growth starting in the late 60's was in large part due to "white flight".
White flight, for those too young to remember, was a reaction to the integration of inner city schools - mainly by court ordered busing. Middle class whites fled the cities in droves, landing in all-white suburbs where integration was no longer an issue.
It is ironic therefore that McKinney, one of the largest towns in Collin County, now finds itself embroiled in controversy over, you guessed it - busing.
This time busing of students is not forced on the school district by a federal judge, but is a deliberate policy of the McKinney ISD to create equal opportunity in its middle schools.
McKinney can be divided geographically, and economically into 2 sectors - east and west. East McKinney is the older part of town and has a much lower average income and home value than the new subdivisions west of Central Expressway. To over simplify - west McKinney is rich, and east McKinney is not. There are large areas east of SH 5 that are very poor, and there are areas west of Central Expressway that are very rich.
The McKinney ISD has long pursued a policy of busing middle students in order to avoid concentrating economically disadvantaged students into one or two schools. By doing so, the school district has been able to keep all its campuses at a high performing level and avoiding the old "separate but equal" policies that historically led to low-performing ghetto schools which had to be remedied by the forced busing of the 60's and 70's.
However, some parents are not impressed. I should restate that as "some west McKinney parents are not impressed."
Last week, Ed Housewright, of the Dallas Morning News wrote of the tension being caused by busing middle schoolers. His column, titled "Time for McKinney ISD to listen to parents on busing" was a strongly worded condemnation of MISD policy. His accusation was that, "McKinney is conducting a social experiment no one can prove works"
Sunday's Morning News published two letters from MISD parents.
In the first,a parent (I assume from the east side of town) wrote, "The biggest proponents of neighborhood secondary schools have been those who believe their schools would either stay the same or improve if lower income students were not allowed to attend. But because this would not be socially correct, they wrap the argument in terms of being close to the school."
The second parent (I assume from west McKinney) countered with a letter that stated, "The main purpose of public schools is not to promote social mobility, racial integration or job security but to sow, fertilize and cultivate our greatest resource (our children), so they may have the opportunity to create a world superior to those who came before them."
Ed Housewright accuses the MISD board of not, "carrying out the will of people who elected them". It would seem to me that there is more than one opinion here.
The MISD has been busing students since 1995. The school board is an elected body, and has been so long before then. If the situation was as clearly wrong as Mr. Housewright contends, I suspect the voters would have had their way quite some time ago.
Texas attorney general's two-year effort fails to unravel large-scale voter-fraud schemes
Sunday, May 18, 2008
by WAYNE SLATER / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – More than two years ago, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott pledged to root out what he called an epidemic of voter fraud in Texas.
He established a special unit in his office, tapped a $1.4 million federal crime-fighting grant and dispatched investigators.
Since then, Mr. Abbott has prosecuted 26 cases – all against Democrats, and almost all involving blacks or Hispanics, a review by The Dallas Morning News shows.
The cases usually have resulted in small fines and little or no jail time, and for all the extra attention, Mr. Abbott has not unraveled any large-scale schemes with the potential to swing elections.
Democrats accuse Mr. Abbott of a partisan operation to discourage voters, especially minorities.
"If somebody does something because they don't know and it's not malicious and it's a misdemeanor, I think the proper route to go is to inform them of the problem, don't do it again, and not scare these folks into not voting,"
Dallas County DA Craig Watkins
They contrast the prosecutions with complaints that more than 100 ballots were mishandled in a 2005 Highland Park election, a case in which Mr. Abbott took no action.
Mr. Abbott declined requests for an interview. In news releases, he has touted his office's efforts to combat what he says is widespread fraud at the ballot box.
I've not been one of Justin Nichols' fans. During my last campaign, we tangled pretty hard over my being excluded from a candidates debate. In this last election, I thought him too partisan and too young to be qualified for the Plano City Council.
Having said that, my respect for Mr. Nichols has grown over the way he has handled the attacks against him because he is gay.
He is quoted in the Dallas Voice as saying he does not think that anti-gay sentiment was the cause of his defeat. I am impressed by this generosity of spirit. Justin could have exploited the attacks against him to stir up sympathy. Instead, he has chosen to take a higher path.
In doing so, he has evidenced a dignity that belies his comparative youth.
By John Wright / Dallas Voice
May 15, 2008
PLANO — At his election watch party on Saturday, May 10, defeated City Council candidate Justin Nichols said he jokingly announced that he’ll be running for the Precinct 2 seat on the Collin County Commissioners Court in 2010.
The Precinct 2 seat is occupied by Commissioner Jerry Hoagland, who in March proposed firing Nichols, Collin County’s Teen Court coordinator, for being gay.
Hoagland later withdrew the proposal amid media scrutiny, but not before the controversy had overshadowed Nichols’ race against Pat Miner for the Place 1 Plano City Council seat.
The 23-year-old Nichols said this week although he has no intentions of running against Hoagland, it’s unlikely that this was his last political campaign. And despite the controversy, Nichols said he’s proud of what he accomplished.
Nichols, who was vying to become Plano’s first-ever openly gay councilmember, captured 40 percent of the vote to Miner’s 60 percent.
“I do plan on staying involved in public service, and I think it’s only a matter of time before I run again,” Nichols said Wednesday, May 14. “I left this race feeling much more accepted, feeling much more a part of this community than I did before. … I think we’ve had a lot of success in the last few months. I think it all turned out a lot better than what some expected.”
Despite Plano’s reputation as one of Texas’ most conservative big cities, Nichols said he doesn’t believe his sexual orientation cost him the race.
Nichols noted that he performed better than two of the other three losing Plano City Council candidates, and all four races were decided by roughly the same margin, 60 percent to 40 percent.
“To me that shows that a candidate can win regardless of their orientation,” Nichols said. “I think that’s the hidden gem in all this — it proves that there’s not this contingent of people who are just going to come out and discriminate. There’s a group of core Plano voters, and you’ve got to win that group over on the merits.”
Nichols also said he’s not worried that his job with the county will again be threatened.
“I think that the issue’s been put to rest,” he said.
Nine years ago a young catholic priest sent his photo to a website that claimed to be a support for gay priests who wanted to remain celibate.
Almost a decade later, the Inquisitor of Dallas, Rod Dreher, (who when not torching heretics, moonlights as a columnist for the Dallas Morning News) broke the story that had been posted in right-wing catholic blogs for days - that same priest had been appointed pastor at St. Michael's Catholic Church in McKinney.
No one offered any evidence or even rumor suggesting that Father Mallinson had ever done anything to suggest he was actively gay. No one has claimed to be a victim. No one has claimed to have read anything written by Father Mallinson that was heretical or obscene. No one has offered a shred of evidence that this priest has ever done anything at all overtly homosexual.
Evidence that he has been a good pastor seem easy to find. Many of his former parishioners in Lancaster are supporting him. They have even started a petition to the diocese in his defense.
Yet Father Mallinson was condemned because nine years ago he sent his picture to a website that became (he says later became) very pornographic. Dreher regaled in posting links to lurid web pages, yet offered no evidence of Father Mallinson's involvement with it other than the single (chaste) photograph.
Today, Father Mallinson resigned from St. Michael's parish. He is being run out of Collin County by 21st century pharisees who can't tell the difference between pedophilia and homosexuality.
In his blog posting on Father Mallinson, Dreher wrote, "Me, I believe in forgiveness, but I honestly don't understand how a priest can function effectively as a spiritual leader after his involvement in something like this has been made public."
I write, "Me I believe in forgiveness, and I believe that Christ's message was one of compassion and redemption. I can easily see how a priest can make a mistake a decade ago and function as an effective spiritual leader - just like Paul and Loyola and Augustine and Magdalene and Mary of Egypt and countless other saints of the church."
And I ask Rod Dreher and the other self righteous catholic bloggers, "Did you ask Father Mallinson about what he did in 1999, or did you rush to condemn in haste and prejudice?"
Is Collin County racist? I asked that question, but I haven't yet seen a compelling answer to it, one way or the other. My suspicion is that we are no more racist than other upper middle class, southern suburbs. Do public institutions in Collin County unfairly discriminate? I definitely think so.
Anyone who believes that prejudice disappeared with the passage of the Civil Rights Act has his head in the sand, or perhaps in an even darker place than that. Prejudice and its handmaiden, discrimination are still with us.
Racial and gender discrimination is not the sole purview of jack-booted, saluting thugs, nor of sheet wearing rednecks. Many times it is the product of well meaning people who simply aren't comfortable around people not like them. We tend to hire and promote people "just like us". We look in fear and suspicion on those who are different.
Often unfair stereotypes end up locking qualified people out of opportunities - and this bias is hard to combat. As Samuel Johnson said, "Prejudice, not being founded on reason, cannot be removed by argument”
Society needs introspection. A nation and even a county can spiritually grow by periodically examining its attitudes and the effect those attitudes have on its citizens.
In the last few weeks, we have read of EEOP discussions and an out of balance workforce in county government. We have heard the Cheerleader discrimination accusations in Allen.
Last week, the Dallas Morning News published a story on how Jewish kids in Plano ISD felt "pressured" to accept New Testaments at school. And this week, in a story that hearkened back to the "white flight" over school busing, (that not coincidently gave rise to the growth of Collin County and other suburbs) the DMN wrote of an increasing dissatisfaction parents felt about the MISD busing policy.
Are these random incidents or do they beg us to look inward - to find and root out the prejudices that unfairly limit the potential of both its victims and practitioners?
Yes, I believe prejudice and discrimination are still with us. We can attempt to justify it. We can wait for the courts to force us to confront our institutionalized baises. Or, we can look hard at ourselves, and try to simply do the right thing - for all of our people.
Collin County is getting more diverse.
Recently, the county released data showing just how out of balance its own hiring is. This evening I dined in a large Allen restaurant. Of the dozen or more wait staff I saw, all were white. The kitchen was all Hispanic.
In Allen, 70% of the girls who tried out for cheerleader were accepted - that is 70% of the white girls. No blacks were chosen.
Do these examples tell us that Collin County is racist? Last year, I would have said that I was unaware of any real discrimination here. But then I'm a white male, and probably the least likely to notice discriminatory practices.
Now, I'm not so sure. From what I've seen, the local, large employers are generally doing a good job of ensuring that fair hiring practices are enforced. I am becoming less and less convinced that our public institutions are as racially sensitive.
Allen parents file discrimination claims in cheerleader tryouts
Friday, May 2, 2008
By KARIN SHAW ANDERSON / The Dallas Morning News
Four black girls tried out for cheerleading at Allen High School this spring. None of them made it.
Now, parents have filed grievances with the school district on behalf of three of the girls, arguing that they suffered racial discrimination. The girls don't want spots on the squads; they want the district to open up the closed-door tryouts to the public.
The dustup is one of many emotional disputes tied to high school cheerleading that have popped up in Dallas-area high schools in recent years. To quash questions over selection bias, most schools use outside judges to evaluate each girl privately.
But in the Allen case, parents say the private selection fuels their concerns that biases go unchecked.
"There is something wrong with this process that looks like racism," said Andrea Broyard Johnson, whose daughter was cut. "Sometimes when it looks like a duck, you have to call it a duck."
Last meeting, the commissioners court left as unfinished business the adoption of an Equal Employment Opportunity Program.
Because they're afraid of it - They are afraid that adopting a policy and tracking the numbers will lead to quota hiring. They are afraid they will get resistance from elected department managers. They are afraid that the policy will open the door to groups, such as gays, that will demand equal employment protection. And I believe they are afraid that if they publish their statistics that they will look as bad as they really are.
If they are so afraid of EEOP, then why are they even discussing it?
Because big money is involved - The federal government will withhold grant money if the county does not adopt a policy that is statistically tracked and that doesn't have goals to improve.
Big money - County staff estimates that over the next year $3.4 million of federal grant money could be withheld. Of that, $1.3 million is for WIC. Loss of the WIC grant would be devastating for low income women and children.
The statistics the court is wary of publishing are troubling. They show huge gender and ethnic disparities. These gaps have been allowed to occur even though Collin County advertises itself to be an "Equal Opportunity Employer".
An example - In the "administrative support" class, the county employs 481 people, of which a whopping 83% (393) are white females. Is it coincidental that the 2 largest departments that hire support employees are headed by elected white females? Is it coincidental that these are among the lowest paying jobs in the county?
Some more examples:
- 46 are employed in the "service maintenance" class - 98% (45) of them are white men
- 92 are employed in the "skilled craft" class - 84% (77) of them are white men
- 50 are employed as "technicians", 74% (37) of them are male
- In non-law enforcement positions, black men are underemployed in every class except "skilled craft"
Law enforcement is no exception:
- Out of 73 sworn officials (the highest paid jobs), 79% (58) are white men
- Out of 124 sworn patrol officers, only 13 are women (90% men)
At the last meeting, Judge Self tried to make it clear what his position is. He said that "The issue is whether or not we want to apply for certain federal level law enforcement grants over $25,000... This is basically a tracking function. This has nothing to do with the hiring policy of the county." (emphasis added)
In listening to the reaction of Judge Self, I am reminded of Ann Richards' famous quip, "He can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth."
Judge Self sure put his silver foot in his mouth with the "nothing to do with the hiring policy" statement. I hope he doesn't mean it. What Self was trying to do was to prohibit discussion on expanding the policy to include sexual orientation. He and the county don't want to open the door to that debate - they fear the backlash of their own party.
Their fear effectively ended any chance of a real debate on the need for, or the merits of, a real Equal Employment Opportunity policy. There was no discussion on how to improve opportunities for women and minorities. Instead, the debate was on whether it is more cost effective to enact the policy or turn down the grant funds.
Traditionally, there have been two ways to redress unfair and unequal hiring practices. One is to change the policy and actively seek a balanced workforce that reflects the community.
The other is to put blinders on until an employee or class action lawsuit forces a change under the direction of a court.
I hope that Collin County will not choose Plan B.
The proposed EEOP policy, including the statistics is here.
Note: The Commissioners Court will meet this Tuesday, April 29 at 1:30 P.M.
The discussion of the EEOP policy is agenda item #18. The Court does allow public comment on any agenda item, simply fill out a card before the meeting to request your right to speak on agenda item #18.
The meeting is on the 6th Floor of the Collin County Courthouse at 210 S. McDonald St. in McKinney
DMN - Gay rights advocates push Collin County commissioners to adopt hiring policy that bans discriminationApril 15th, 2008
Gay rights advocates push Collin County commissioners to adopt hiring policy that bans discrimination
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
McKinney -- Gay rights advocates urged Collin County commissioners on Tuesday to adopt a hiring policy that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Commissioners are considering a proposed policy that would ban discrimination based on “sex, race, creed, disability or national origin.” It does not specifically mention sexual orientation.
“To exclude sexual orientation and gender identity/expression from your policy sends a clear message to the people affected by it,” said Morris Garcia, president of the Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance.
He said the suggested policy would allow “bigoted opinions in the workplace that can only equate to a hostile environment, poor productivity, and unfair/unequal treatment.”
Commissioners took no action on the proposed equal employment opportunity policy. They said they would talk to other county elected officials and study it further. None of the four commissioners’ court members present discussed adding sexual orientation to the proposed policy.
The County is now saying that they are not voting on a "policy" but a "plan". That they've always had a policy, and that their policy on sexual orientation is "don't ask, don't tell".
Nice spin, Mr. Bilyeu.
Mr. Bilyeu, what if an employee comes out of the closet? Has he violated this new "don't ask, don't tell" policy? If so, what are the consequences?
Are gays required by official county policy to stay hidden away or be fired?
Now when I see a big brown pile in the street, and it's covered with flies, and it smells really bad, I know what it is...no matter what the county calls it.
County to vote on Equal Employment Opportunity Plan today
Plan will help county secure federal law enforcement grant funding
Monday, April 14, 2008
By Brandi Hart, McKinney Courier-Gazette
Collin County commissioners will vote today on implementing an equal employment opportunity plan to track race, age, sex of applicants and report those findings to the federal government when applying for law enforcement grants.
The county is now required to submit a written EEO Plan when it applies for federal law enforcement grant to show how the county’s employees match up with the county demographics of sex, age and race, said Bill Bilyeu’s, the county administrator.
The EEO Plan is different from the county’s equal employment opportunity policy, which the county has had for years. The policy states that the county considers applicants for all positions without regard to race, color, religion, creed, gender, national origin, age, disabilities which do not affect the ability to perform the essential functions of the position, marital, or veteran status. The policy is on the county’s applications, both written and online, and in the employee handbook.
The county has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding employees’ and applicants’ sexual orientation, Bilyeu said. If the court approves the EEO plan today it would not include employees’ or applicants’ sexual orientation information because that is not asked on a county employment application, Bilyeu said. The county is now able to implement the EEO Plan because its software program PeopleSoft? is now available to all county offices and employment applications are now online, Bilyeu said. The EEO Plan will break down information for people who apply for clerical, professional and law enforcement positions, Bilyeu said.
The 2008 Primary run-off campaign was marred by an anonymous email attack on Commissioner Cole for supporting the hiring of a gay man to run the county's teen court. Unfortunately, the attack may have worked. Cole lost the run-off by only 30 votes.
Following the disclosure of the email, Commissioner Jerry Hoagland tried to schedule a personnel review of the teen court coordinator. After a public outcry, and some really bad press, Hoagland backed down.
Now 2 weeks later, The commissioners are scheduled to debate and pass an Equal Employment Opportunity policy in order to meet federal grant guidelines. The proposed policy reads in part, "It is the continuing policy of Collin County to afford equal employment opportunity to qualified individuals regardless of their sex, race, creed, disability, or national origin, and to conform to applicable laws and regulations."
Noticeably absent is any mention of sexual orientation. Federal law does not require non-discrimination for sexual orientation, but in practice the U.S. government has not discriminated for sexual orientation since an Executive Order was signed in 1998, which prohibits, "discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, age, or sexual orientation"
The county is writing the policy after loosing federal grants. Federal guidelines require a monitored Equal Employment Opportunity Policy. In February it was reported that the Collin County Sheriff's Department had lost grants for bulletproof vests because of a lack of a EEOP.
“Everyone else seems to have an equal employment opportunity policy on file except Collin County,” [Sheriff] Box said. “The federal government has just started requiring that counties have a written equal employment opportunity policy on file to receive funding for certain grants. We are losing federal fund money buying bullet proof vests and we are running out of budget money because of that.”
McKinney Courier-Gazette, Feb. 15, 2008
Almost half the states and the District of Columbia have laws that currently prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in both public and private jobs: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin - but not Texas.
Yet several Texas cities and counties have taken a lead in providing protection to gay and lesbian workers often by not even mentioning sexual orientation. Burnett County, and the City of Plano, for example added "or any other non-merit factor" to their policy.
Writing the EEOP affords the Collin County Commissioners a golden opportunity to take a stand for personal liberty and equality under law.
After the dust up over the gay bashing email against Cole, several of the commissioners expressed disgust with the idea of judging an employee solely due to the fact he was gay. Those commissioners can now make those sentiments official county policy.
Its time to do the right thing.
Note: The Commissioners Court will meet this Tuesday, April 15 at 1:30 P.M.
The EEOP policy is agenda item #10. The Court does allow public comment on any agenda item, simply fill out a card before the meeting to request your right to speak on agenda item #10.
The meeting is on the 6th Floor of the Collin County Courthouse at 210 S. McDonald St. in McKinney
A gay and lesbian newspaper mentions Justin Nichols' sexual orientation in a story about his run for the Plano City Council. Then Collin County commissioners gear up to review his employment status as county teen court coordinator. We're connecting the dots and don't like what we see. If County Commissioner Jerry Hoagland, who allegedly pressed for the review, has a problem with Mr. Nichols' work habits, he needs to say it. Otherwise, we think it's Mr. Hoagland's performance that needs to be questioned.
The Collin County Observer has devoted considerable space to the controversy over the employment of a gay by the county.
We did so in the belief that discrimination is reprehensible - that there should be no allowance for bigotry by any local government.
The Observer has also been active in demanding an open, responsive county government. These two issues came together yesterday.
The Dallas Morning News finally published an account of the Nichol's story. In it the authors noted: " The Commissioners Court is not required to make its agenda public nor divulge who requests discussion items until three days before the meeting."
That quote epitomizes the real problem we have with our Collin County Commissioners.
For the life of me, I'll never understand why the Commissioners Court has to be "required" to tell the citizenry the truth about what they are doing. I know when I am talking with my employer, I don't wait for someone to require me to be forthright - it is expected.
When the voting public begins to demand openness, and begins to hold all their elected representatives responsible, then and only then will we be able to really know how our money is spent and how our interests are protected.
The 'closed door' mentality of this commissioners court must be changed.
Collin County officials won't review gay Plano council candidate's job status
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
BY THEODORE KIM and ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
The Collin County Commissioners Court has scrapped a plan to discuss the employment status of Justin Nichols, a Plano City Council candidate who said his job as coordinator of the county’s teen court is at risk because he is openly gay.
The change came a day after Mr. Nichols alleged that commissioner Jerry Hoagland had asked the panel to consider firing Mr. Nichols. Mr. Hoagland declined to comment on Tuesday, saying he planned to discuss the issue further with the county attorney.
Commissioners were tentatively slated to discuss Mr. Nichols’s job status in open session at their April 15 meeting. On Tuesday, Commissioner Joe Jaynes confirmed that it had been dropped.
But whether the matter has been put to rest is unclear.
Attack e-mail implies gay Plano City Council candidate is child molester
By John Wright of Dallas Voice
An openly gay City Council candidate is being used like a pawn in an effort by right-wing conservatives to seize control of the Collin County Commission (sic).
This is according to County Commissioner Phyllis Cole, who faces an April 8 runoff against Matt Shaheen for the Precinct 2 seat she’s occupied for the last 17 years.
An anonymous e-mail reportedly was sent out last week attacking Cole for her support of Collin County Teen Court coordinator Justin Nichols, 23.
The e-mail stated,“Look who Phyllis appointed to work with your kids,” and contained a link to a March 14 Dallas Voice article about Nichols, who’s vying to become the first-ever openly gay member of the City Council in the May 10 municipal election.
“I’m very disturbed about the whole thing, because I like what Justin does, I like Justin,” Cole said. “I don’t want to be a commissioner anymore if this is what’s going to be involved, taking a nice young man like Justin and hanging him out to dry.”
Both Cole and Nichols said they were unsure how many people received the e-mail. Cole suggested that her opponent, Shaheen, was responsible for the attack, but he denied that.
“Neither my campaign nor I are behind any such e-mail,” Shaheen said in a written statement. Shaheen didn’t respond to a request for further comment.
Cole said the e-mail is designed to energize evangelical Christians in the runoff.
Sometimes, there is an nasty side to politics. Unfortunately, Willy Horton type appeals to prejudice often do change the outcome of elections.
One such appeal could cost a Plano City Council candidate and a Collin County commissioner their jobs.
The Dallas Voice reports on an ugly email campaign against Commissioner Phyllis Cole. The "whisper email" email attacks her vote to appoint Justin Nichols, a homosexual, to be the coordinator for the Collin County Teen Court. Nichols is an ambitious young (23 yrs old) man who was the coordinator for Judge Peyton's teen court in Plano. Impressed by the successes of the Plano teen court, the commissioners authorized a similar program and Mr. Nichols was hired to launch and manage it.
Commissioner Phyllis Cole's re-election bid is locked in a close run-off race with Matt Shaheen. A few weeks before the election, an email campaign was launched by persons unknown. According to The Dallas Voice (the Observer has not seen a copy of one of these emails), "The e-mail stated, 'Look who Phyllis appointed to work with your kids,' and contained a link to a March 14 Dallas Voice article about Nichols, who’s vying to become the first-ever openly gay member of the City Council in the May 10 municipal election."
The Voice reports that Cole is concerned that the attacks would energize the "evangelical right".
One who was energized was Commissioner Jerry Hoagland. The Observer has learned that Mr. Hoagland has asked that a review of Justin Nichols performance and employment be placed on the Commissioner's Court agenda - presumably in executive (secret) session.
Mr. Nichols now finds himself fighting for his job - and he seems ready for the fight.
Today, Nichols sent a letter to the commissioners demanding that any hearing on his employment be open and in public. State law allows an employee to require a government body to consider his employment in an open, public hearing. Nichols has invoked that right.
His strategy appears to be to force the county to face its citizen's fears and prejudices. So far, the campaign against Nichols (and Cole) has been anonymous emails - easily refuted by both Cole's opponent and by Nichols city council opponent. For better or worse, Nichols actions could force the debate to be in the public arena.
It looks like the County is about to confront a basic issue of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice. My prayer is that all the citizens, candidates and commissioners will first seek a justice that is found in our faith in a loving God and in our heritage as a free people.