Categories: Quality of Life, Obits
Last weekend, columnist James Ragland was arrested for domestic assault.
The Dallas Morning News suspended Ragland's column, and reassigned him to the Collin County bureau to general reporting pending his criminal charges.
The Dallas Morning News does not think that a writer charged with wife hitting should publish a Dallas column. But the Dallas Morning News does believe that Ragland will fit in Collin County well. (perhaps he would fit it better in Afghanistan)
The editor of the DMN was quoted in an article,
Say what! The DMN sees Collin County as exile in Coventry.
Dallas Morning News loves the revenue from this county, but they simply under report Collin County.
For example, look at the DMN's community page for Collin:
- The page lists "Collin County Stories" - the latest story is a week old, and the last one is almost 1 month old.
- The page lists the "Allen Blog". The last post on it was written last June!
- The "McKinney Blog" was not been updates since last July.
- The DMN has not reported the District Clerk's trial since Monday.
Since the Dallas Morning News lay-off last summer, the DMN has deeply cut the Collin bureau to a skeleton crew.
DMN has several great reporters; Valerie Wigglesworth, Theodore Kim, and Jessica Meyers. They have tried, with a couple of younger of reporters, cover an area of 886 square miles with almost 800,000 residents.
The DMN reports,
In the Allen school district, 4,373 voters have approved a 13 cent property tax rise (to $1.67 per $100 valuation) by 60.5% to 39.5%.
The 9.7% turnout was a large turnout for a school election proposition.
The school district board explained the tax raise was needed to, "offset $21 million in cuts to local funding by the Texas Legislature in 2011."
"The Texas Legislature reduced funding of over $4 billion to Texas public schools in June. Cuts to Allen ISD are approximately $9 million for 2011-2012. An additional $12 million will be cut from state funding to Allen ISD in 2012-2013.
"The school district reduced 80 positions this year saving approximately $3 million and made an additional $1.5 million in cuts to non-instructional areas such as administration, maintenance and energy expenses.
The local anti-taxes groups and the Tea Parties argue that there is no tax. The information by the Allen Patriots point out that, "AISD could curb non-essential spending and focus more on education"., and that the new tax would, "Move Allen ISD from 19th highest tax rate to the max rate of $1.67, joining 3 other Texas districts out of 1024 with the highest allowed."
The AISD argued that the taxes ($10 million) would be used to "help hire additional teachers to meet student growth and reduce class size[s]".
But the Allen Patriots complain that the district has used bonds more for "non-essential spending...than on education". They point to the $60 million HS stadium and the "$23 million for a Performing/Fine Arts Center, including a $70 thousand grand piano."
The AISD voters gave a 60-40 percent decision to give their money to their schools, and a loud setback for the anti-tax groups.
By ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News - Austin Bureau
February 2, 2011
read this story at DallasNews.com (registration may be required)
The needs of thousands of children and adults living with mental and physical disabilities are about to collide with the limitations of the Texas state budget.
Here in the wealthiest county in the state, where some folks would prefer to ignore the unpleasantness of mental or physical challenges, it will be interesting to see how this issue is prioritized by our legislators (including Senator Florence Shapiro who sits on the Finance Committee referenced below)and dealt with on the local level by our county leaders.
December 20, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
December 9, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
December 4, 2010
By RAY LESZCYNSKI / The Dallas Morning News
December 5, 2010
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
DMN - Exide battery recycling smelter lands Frisco on list of areas violating new federal lead standardNovember 17th, 2010
November 16, 2010
By VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH and MATTHEW HAAG /The Dallas Morning News
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Eric Nishimoto, Collin County Public Information Officer
October 25, 2010
(McKINNEY, Texas) According to a decision handed down by Judge Terry Douglas (Justice of the Peace Precinct 2) on October 21, 2010, twenty-five quarter horses were placed in the custody of Collin County Animal Services pending an auction to find new homes for the animals.
The horses were seized on October 12th after Sheriff’s deputies and Animal Services staff found the horses in a state of neglect and starvation on a property in the unincorporated area near Wylie. The animals were suffering from significant muscle tone loss, parasites and hoof problems stemming from inadequate feeding and watering, along with acute negligence of their living environment.
The owners of the quarter horses received prior warnings and inspections by county officials for the state of their animals. At the end of March of this year they were told to remedy the conditions of the horses’ stalls, which had the animals forced to stand on several feet of hay and manure in their stalls, with some found standing on 6-7 feet of material. An April 1st inspection found the horses’ living situation satisfactorily remedied, but an October 1st contact once again found the stalls and animals in serious neglect.
An auction of the quarter horses will be scheduled at a later date to be announced. The horses are currently under veterinarian care and rehabilitation and housed at a county facility pending the auction.
The SPCA of Texas website (www.spca.org) indicates that seizures of large groups of livestock also occurred recently in Hunt and Grayson Counties. Some of these animals are or will be available for adoption through the SPCA's McKinney location.
It was interesting to note on the Collin County Animal Services website that unclaimed pets are transferred to the SPCA for adoption, but livestock animals are sold at auction. Let's hope they all end up with good "forever homes."
As you may have heard, I suffered a stroke Sunday, October 3rd. The stroke originated from a clogged vein in the temporal lobe of my brain.
Doctors have diagnosed my condition as Wernicke's aphasia.
Aphasia is a language disorder that affects the way the brain deals with words, including writing, reading and speaking. According to the National Aphasia Association, it is "an acquired communication disorder that impairs a person's ability to process language, but does not affect intelligence."
After several days in the hospital and a few more in a rehabilitation facility I'm finally at home. I will be doing therapy to "re-train my brain" at an outpatient facility until I can return to work and my regular activities. It may take a few weeks or more, but I am determined to get back up to speed as soon as possible.
I work on the Observer every day, and although I need help with writing, I am able to post articles, do some HTML coding and read and approve your comments. My doctors and therapists seem to think it's good for me, and I agree.
Thank you to so many readers for the many messages, phone calls, visits and offers of assistance. We do appreciate it.
Compiled from volunteer staff reports
October 15, 2010
All twelve candidates for six contested county-level races from the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as one independent candidate, participated in a forum held Wednesday evening at the Spring Creek Campus of Collin College. The event, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Plano/Collin County and VOICE, a student organization at Collin College, also drew a large crowd of approximately 100 students and community members.
Forums planned by several other organizations, including the Plano Chamber of Commerce and the Healthcare Committee of Collin County, have been canceled recently, reportedly because nominees from the Republican Party, including several current office-holders, declined invitations. Other groups, such as the Plano Homeowner's Council, have held forums despite a lack of participation by Republican candidates. A similar event for state and national offices hosted by the League of Women Voters of Plano on Saturday, October 9th drew only Republican judicial candidates, as well as the Democratic, Libertarian and Green Party candidates.
Appearing at Wednesday evening's event were candidates for Collin County Judge, incumbent Keith Self (R) and former Plano City Council member David M. Smith (D); for district attorney, Greg Willis (R) and Rafael De La Garza (D); for Commissioner, Precinct 2, Cheryl Williams (R) and Rick Koster (D); for County Court at Law 3, Lance Baxter (R) and Sajeel Khaleel (D); for Justice of the Peace Precinct 3, Place 2, incumbent John Payton (R) and Rey Flores (D) and for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4, incumbent W.M. "Mike" Yarbrough(R) and Andy Woolard (I).
In the County Judge race, incumbent Keith Self emphasized his dedication to cutting taxes and reducing the size of county government, while asserting that Democrats would raise taxes. Democratic challenger David Smith countered by pointing to his record of cutting taxes and working cooperatively with other elected officials as a member of the Plano City Council from 1993 – 1999, as well as his endorsement by The Dallas Morning News.
Cheryl Williams, who also served on the Plano City Council from 1995 – 1999, repeated many of the same themes as Self, and reinforced her experience as a small business owner. Rick Koster noted that his opponent and Self seem to be trying to focus on ideology and national issues, while he and other Democrats are trying to discuss substantive local issues, such as the divisions that have developed between county management and employees.
Both Self and Williams are supported by local “Tea Party” groups. Together with Commissioner Matt Shaheen, who shares their conservative views, they could form a majority on the Commissioner’s Court if elected.
The two District Attorney candidates, Greg Willis and Rafael De La Garza, both agreed that jail diversion can offer an opportunity to reduce recidivism in the county jail system, and concurred that it should be available only to individuals convicted of non-violent crimes, with appropriate precautions. Willis differentiated himself from his opponent by emphasizing his broad courtroom experience, as well as endorsements from a number of law enforcement groups. De La Garza responded with a review of his extensive trial experience.
The candidates for Judge of County Court at Law 3 offered a contrast between experience and new ideas. Lance Baxter stressed his wide-ranging background and his work with the mental health community. Sajeel Khaleel promoted the importance of bringing new technology, such as paperless systems, to the courtroom for improved efficiency, and proposed holding court sessions outside of typical office hours to provide more flexibility for citizens involved in court cases.
Justice of the Peace Precinct 3, Place 2, incumbent John Payton shared an overview of some of the programs he has developed during his long tenure in the position, including the Teen Court and Food Bank outreach youth programs. Rey Flores described his experience as a probation officer, mediator and counselor, as well as his educational background, and asserted that it was time for a change in this position as Payton has been in office for twenty years.
Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4 incumbent Mike Yarbrough noted that he relies on his background as a Marine for his “no-nonsense” approach to running his court. Andy Woolard questioned the hours Yarbrough spends on the job as well as his demeanor in the courtroom, and commended John Payton for handling the truancy cases that he asserts should be the work of the Precinct 4 court.
Early voting starts Monday, October 18th, and voters can cast their vote early at any polling location in the county through October 29th, or on Election Day, November 2nd. Election Day voting will use the "vote center" concept, allowing voters to choose any location county-wide instead of being required to vote in their neighborhood polling location.
12:35 AM CDT on Thursday, October 14, 2010
By VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH and MATTHEW HAAG / The Dallas Morning News
Frisco battery recycling plant to test residents' blood levels for lead
Frisco battery recycling plant to test residents' blood levels for lead
October 7, 2010
By VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH and MATTHEW HAAG / The Dallas Morning News
Link: Letter from Frisco city manager
Link: EPA recommendation
McKinney Soldier Killed in Afghanistan
October 6, 2010
Adapted for Web by Tracy DeLatte
An American soldier with North Texas ties was killed recently while on foot patrol in Afghanistan.
Pfc. Cody Board was with two other soldiers when an explosive device went off. The two other soldiers survived, according to the Department of Defense.
Friends said the 20-year-old was a McKinney native who joined the Army after graduating from McKinney North High School in May 2009.
His parents have since traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for a special ceremony.
There will also be a candlelight vigil for him around the MNHS flag pole at 8 p.m. on Friday night. The school's football players will wear stickers with his initials during their game.
Plano Mayor Phil Dyer
Plano City Councilman Harry LaRosiliere
Frisco's air has too much lead under new federal pollution rules
August 16, 2010
By MATTHEW HAAG and VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH / The Dallas Morning News
An area of Frisco that encompasses downtown, several schools and neighborhoods will soon be in violation of new federal lead pollution standards.
Homeless shelter backs off plan to expand in Plano
by JASON WHITELY / WFAA
August 10, 2010
Updated 11:26 PM
MCKINNEY — The Samaritan Inn, Collin County's only homeless shelter, said it will no longer push Plano to open its own homeless facility.
Late Tuesday night, the Plano City Council indefinitely postponed applying for $700,000 in federal funds to buy land for its own shelter.
So The Samaritan Inn — which had volunteered to run a Plano shelter and make interest payments — said it will now back off, though it will still offer help to the city whenever asked.
Even if Plano isn't ready to take part in its own shelter, the city tells us it has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Samaritan Inn over the last 20 years, which is earmarked for homeless residents and also to provide rent and utility assistance to prevent people from ever losing their home.
"Plano absolutely helps out," Samaritan Inn director Lynne Sipiora said. "We are very grateful for all the support we get from them."
The McKinney shelter is about to open a new wing, she added, which includes 40 more beds for 10 new families.
"We're tired of seeing moms and dads and kids sleeping in their cars and checking back every day to see if we have an opening," Sipiora said. "I expect that when this wing is open, we'll fill it in a week."
That's how much demand exists in the suburbs.
Plano city officials tell us nothing else to help the homeless is currently under consideration, although the city will continue to award thousands of dollars in grant money to organizations that provide assistance.
At 11:30 tonight, after a long public hearing, the Plano City Council voted 6-2 on a motion by Councilman Pat Minor to table the Samaritan Inn grant request until after the Plano Planning and Zoning Commission has acted on the Inn's rezoning request of the proposed site on FM 544 and Shiloh Rd.
The vote to table has the effect of temporarily not approving any grant funding for a homeless transition facility in Plano. The vote is a major set back for the Samaritan Inn and its plan to build a facility to house 40 homeless families. The Inn must now present its case to the P & Z, and then the City Council for the land use request.
Only after clearing those hurdles can it request the community development grants.
DMN - Plano council tonight weighs $700,000 land purchase for homeless shelter
Monday, August 9, 2010
By MATTHEW HAAG / The Dallas Morning News
The Plano City Council could take a major step tonight toward building one of North Texas' largest homeless shelters, a plan that triggered a fierce debate about the shelter's location.
Area of proposed Plano homeless shelter site
The City Council will consider approving the use of $700,000 in federal grant money to buy land Plano for the shelter.
The Samaritan Inn of McKinney has proposed placing the facility on six acres in east Plano.
Much of the opposition comes from businesses near the proposed site, on 14th Street near Shiloh Road.
Business owners worry that the complex will lead to higher crime rates and lower property values.
Supporters say the $4 million project is needed. While Collin County is one the country's most affluent, it has a growing homeless population. About 7 percent of Plano families live in poverty.
WFAA - Plano homeowners gripe about homeless shelter plan, CCO, Aug. 4, 2010
The real story behind Samaritan Inn in Plano, Chuck Bloom, CCO, Aug. 2, 2010
DMN - Plano weighs plan to build long-term homeless housing facility, CCO, Jul. 16, 2010
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.
NIMBYism is alive and well in East Plano.
by GARY REAVES / WFAA
August 3, 2010
PLANO — The City of Plano got an earful from property owners Tuesday night who are upset about a proposed plan to help the homeless.
In a sign of the tough economic times, about 150 people gathered at the First United Methodist Church for a town hall meeting to talk about what to do about the growing homeless problem in one of the nation's most affluent counties.
Just about everyone agrees something must be done, but many of the speakers at Tuesday's meeting want it done somewhere else.
Plano residents kept their emotions in check, but that doesn't mean they want the proposed facility for 80 homeless families to be built in their backyard.
"This is a worthy cause, but this is the wrong site," one speaker said.
The proposed site is currently a vacant lot in east Plano. The Samaritan Inn of McKinney — the county's only homeless shelter — is seeking a federally-backed loan for the Plano property to build a facility to help homeless families get back on their feet.
The agency's McKinney shelter is swamped.
"With the decline in the economy, we have now been turning away 15 to 30 people a week because we're full," said Samaritan Inn director Lynne Sipiora.
Her organization is committed to the Plano location, but people who live nearby fear it would only hurt the value of their homes.
"I feel trapped, because I've already asked 50 people — or more — if they would be willing to buy my condo if they could see a homeless shelter out the bedroom window, and their response to me was, 'No,'" said Shari Gearhart.
Like most everyone at the meeting, Gearhart said she would support the Samaritan Inn proposal if it was located elsewhere.
But Denny James, who has been helped by the Samaritan Inn shelter, offered a reminder that many others are just a paycheck away from being homeless like he was.
"They were there," James said. "They gave my baby wet wipes and diapers and toothbrushes and stuff I just ran out of. They helped me."
Next Monday, the Plano City Council will consider the first stage of the Samaritan Inn's proposal — applying for a federal loan. After that, the organization would still have to raise more than $3 million and they'd have to settle on a final site.
One of the problems with something instantly deemed “controversial” is how the facts often get intermingled with feelings, producing an inaccurate debate when possible approval is pending. Such seems to be the case with the proposed Samaritan Inn in Plano (SIIP), which, when ALL the facts and information are presented accurately, will be seen as a positive for the city of Plano and its citizens.
The starting point for this discussion must be a realization of fact: homelessness among Collin County citizens, especially families, once doing well financially, is increasing at an alarming rate. The county has but one homeless facility – the Samaritan Inn in McKinney – and it turns away twice as many needy people as it takes it for one simple reason – the lack of space. Sadly, the Samaritan Inn is always full (with one-third of the residents being children under 17, meaning part of families).
More and more former middle class residents are in need of Samaritan Inn services than ever before – due to sliding economic/job RIF conditions. So serious is the problem of homelessness in the North Texas region that people will go to extraordinary lengths to get help, including one man who WALKED from Sherman to McKinney because he had lost his job, his home and his car. There are times when every male family head of household in Samaritan Inn possesses a college degree. The old stereotypes don’t apply anymore.
The Inn offers programs to return residents to being productive and independent members of society – with an affordable place to live and a job to sustain their independence. Such IS the goal of everyone associated with the Samaritan Inn for every person/family it accepts into the program.
Many of those families come from Plano, as well as other parts of the county, but currently, all services are McKinney-centric. It would be logical to have services provided in the county’s largest individual population center. That seemed to be the consideration by the Plano City Council when it voted unanimously to approve its five-year Consolidated Plan (2010-2014) on March 8.
In that document, on page 30, “the creation of additional shelter, supportive services, and transitional housing for homeless and under-housed” was stated as one of the city’s high priorities.
Then on July 13, the city’s Community Service Commission voted (again unanimously) to fund the $700,000 land purchase of the land (6.2 acres located just east of 14th Street and Shiloh, is currently owned by Temple Baptist Church of Allen, and not being developed) with a grant from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. This is funding outside of city-taxpayer expenditures, coming from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, earmarked for projects exactly like this. Such block grants have been part of redevelopment of urban and rural cities for decades, and not a peep has ever been sounded before because the money is returned directly to the people for good use.
At the same time, the Samaritan Inn was already working with city officials on a different CDBG block grant and the connection seemed to be natural.
“When we identified a possible site, we went back to the city and it was suggested we apply, they apply for HUD funds to purchase the property and that is how it all began,” said executive director Lynne Sipiora. “Make no mistake, the need is truly there.”
The financing does not involve a single Plano taxpayer; the city will purchase the property through the CDBG grant, donate it to the Samaritan Inn, which will, in turn, be responsible for the facility’s construction. Once it opens, operation and oversight will be done by the Inn, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, led by a board of directors consisting of many of the county’s top business and social leaders and elected officials. Not one penny comes out of the city of Plano’s budget.
Although the Samaritan Inn has been part of the fabric of Collin County for 26 years, many residents remain unaware of its services, program and purpose. First, it is NOT a faith-based charity. The Samaritan Inn receives support from a cross-section of churches, service organizations, civic groups, school groups, corporations, businesses and individuals.
It is not a burden upon county or city taxpayers; it only gets a mere 5 percent of its budget from government entities (through community block grants). The remaining 95 percent of its annual budget is garnered through private donations and fundraisers; much of the work is done by volunteers.
Here is a very important point overlooked by critics – this state-of-the-art facility WILL bring jobs to Plano; staff will be hired to work there. In addition, there will be retail sales dollars involved as supplies and non-donated groceries must be purchased, plus other monies injected into the Plano economy. The unused property in this part of Plano will become a viable entity; opposition to such a positive turn is inconceivable.
Additionally, housing Plano families locally will mean a bit of savings for Plano school district taxpayers. Currently, children who live in the PISD, but get relocated to the Samaritan Inn, can remain as PISD students and, hence, must be provided transportation to and from campuses … from McKinney. And since the school-age children to be housed at SIIP will already be enrolled in PISD schools, there is no strain on campus enrollment.
In safety terms, the Samaritan Inn is a superb neighbor in McKinney with a zero-tolerance for criminal activity of any kind. If rules (or laws) are broken, the offenders are expelled from the facility. As a result, there is almost no threat of criminal activity from the residents who understand the consequences.
This second homeless family program will coincide with a planned expansion of the McKinney facility, with the recent purchase of property near its headquarters. It will be used to relocate Samaritan Inn offices in order to add 20 rooms to accommodate more clients. And still, it won’t be enough to meet the challenge.
The future of the SIIP project will be decided in three key upcoming meetings. On Aug. 9, the council is expected to vote on the $700,000 CDBG grant request. The following week (Aug. 16), the Planning and Zoning Commission will consider rezoning the 6.2 acres from Research/Technology to Light Commercial with a Specific Use Permit for a Household Care Institution.
Finally, on Sept. 13, the council is scheduled to vote on the rezoning request, pending the P&Z action.
All meetings, of course, are at City Hall, 1520 Avenue K.
So there you have it: a new facility to address an increasing problem in Plano at no cost to any taxpayers while developing unused property and eventually adding to the local economy.
It makes sense economically; more importantly, it makes sense because it directly addresses a growing need in Plano and the surrounding area. And if you don’t think it affects you, you need to take a second look around. Every foreclosed home, every shuttered business, is a possible family needing help.
And there but for the grace of God go you or I. The Samaritan Inn is trying to provide a lifeline, in Plano, when that happens.
Chuck Bloom is a former managing editor for the Plano Star-Courier and longtime Texas journalist-publisher-columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through his Web site at http://chuckbloom.blogspot.com.
The museum is housed in the restored historic former home of John Thorton, who was born into a sharecroppers life, but who later became a successful businessman. The museum has spent over $400,000 in restoring the old Thorton home and in setting it up as a museum of African American life in Plano.
Last year PAAM received $145,000 from Plano's Heritage Commission. It also raised another $125,000 from other granting foundations. This year, the PAAM has asked for an additional $245,000.
In the interest of furthering public debate, The Collin County Observer asked for and received permission from Mr. Nichols to publish his letter to the commission. The Observer then asked the Board of the Plano African American Museum to respond.
Printed below are the unedited texts of both sides of the discussion; Mr. Nichols letter and the PAAM Board's reply.
July 21, 2010
c/o Mrs. Liz Casso Hersch
Heritage Preservation Officer
City of Plano
1520 Avenue K
Plano, Texas 75074
Re: Public Comment on FY 2011 Heritage Preservation Grants
Dear Chairman Chaput, Vice Chairwoman Quaintance-Howard, and Commissioners:
I am writing to submit my comments to the Commission on the FY2011 Heritage Preservation Grant applications which you will consider on July 20-21, 2010. I regret that I cannot appear before you in person, but I hope you’ll consider my comments and concerns.
As a former member and chair of the Commission, I know that a difficult task lies before you. Indeed hundreds of thousands of public dollars, and best way in which to use those dollars to promote heritage tourism in Plano, rests upon your discretion and judgment. So, first, I want to thank you for your service to the city and for your dedication to this difficult process.
I am writing specifically about the application for more than $245,000 from the Plano African American Museum (“PAAM”). As a Plano taxpayer I have significant concerns about PAAM’s requests, and I have outlined my concerns below:
Repeated Failure to Abide by Heritage Preservation Ordinances
On November 30, 2004, at my first meeting to sit on the Commission, we considered an application by PAAM for a certificate of appropriateness (“CA”) for a new roof on the Thornton House. Notably, the roof was already installed before PAAM applied for a CA. The Commission and staff chastised PAAM for its disregard for the CA process, and PAAM’s leadership assured the Commission that it would comply in the future.
It’s important to note that, while the membership of the Commission has changed since 2004, the leadership of PAAM has not changed since that time.
And recently, as you are likely aware, in October 2009 the Commission was again asked to approve an after-the-fact CA for a granite sign which had already been installed. The leadership of PAAM, alleging an oversight, blatantly failed to comply with the CA requirements – again. It is hard for me to believe that one can “accidentally” forget about the CA process twice in a five year period, particularly with such large projects as a roof and a granite sign.
It is my opinion that the leadership of PAAM either refuses to learn, or more likely, refuses to comply with the basic Commission procedures which are imposed upon every other business, resident, and
organization in a historic district or historically designated structure. PAAM’s persistent disregard of heritage preservation ordinances should be taken into account when making this year’s grant funding recommendations; especially since the other applicants consistently adhere to basic rules and ought to be rewarded for their strict compliance with same.
Failure to Meet the Objective of Promoting Heritage Tourism
I’d ask the Commission to keep in mind that the heritage preservation grants have a primary goal – to increase heritage tourism in the city of Plano, thereby sustaining our city’s tax base. And, while there are other objectives ancillary to the tourism mandate, the main objective should be the promotion of heritage tourism. PAAM fails to meet this goal.
First, PAAM doesn’t provide any substantive information to the public or to prospective visitors. For example, its Website is defunct. There isn’t as much as a phone number on PAAM’s Website. The “Gallery” page consists of a single picture of the Thornton House, and other pictures from the Douglass Community Art Wall, which was not a project associated with PAAM. The “Events” page lists only a November 2009 “Holiday Fun Run,” which was not funded through heritage grants and doesn’t relate to the museum or the Thornton House. Its “Community” page is listed as being under construction. The “Exhibits” isn’t functional, and the “Home Page” provides only basic narrative. PAAM’s Website does not list any hours of operation, directions to the museum, or even a phone number or address. In this sense, PAAM is failing to take even basic, and free, steps to promote tourism.
Secondly, PAAM has failed to carry out even non-Thornton House events which would promote tourism. You’ll note that for FY2011 PAAM has requested $20,000 for an “Underground Railroad Symposium.” However, also note that for FY2010, this body granted $10,000 for the exact same symposium, which was supposed to occur in the spring of 2010, but never happened! And now, PAAM is asking for twice the money for an event it failed to host when it was funded last year, and has provided no evidence as to why the symposium would now cost twice as much as its previous request or how the previously granted funds were spent.
It seems to me like PAAM consistently bites off more than it can chew. You’ll hear sound bites like “a museum without walls,” an “all volunteer board,” and being “open for business,” but the fact of the matter is that other organizations in Plano are holding truly regular hours of operation, providing ample information for an interested public, and have a clear scope of their mission and function – all for equal or less than the money PAAM seeks!
PAAM Continues to Increase Funding Requests Without Increasing Return
In recent years PAAM’s funding requests have begun to rival those of the Heritage Farmstead Museum and the Plano Conservancy. But, as I’m sure you’ll note, PAAM hasn’t nearly the public presence or reputation as the other two largest heritage organizations in Plano. And, while I’m not asserting that Plano’s heritage should be limited to only two main organizations, I would argue that if an organization is going to ask for the similar amounts of money as the “big boys,” then it should plan on providing the same level of service. PAAM doesn’t. While much younger than the Heritage Farmstead, PAAM’s only a year younger than the Interurban Railway Museum, and both the Farmstead and the Interurban have concrete, established, and functioning programs which absolutely dwarf, in size and scope, the much smaller PAAM – but who is requesting the same dollars.
In 2007 PAAM asked this body for $79,000 dollars and suggested that it would do everything in its power to open its doors soon, but no dates were given. Out of frustration with the history of slow progress by PAAM, this body recommended a funding level of $20,000. It was my job then, as it will be Chairman Chaput’s job, to present the Commission’s recommendations to City Council. PAAM showed up at the budget hearing to complain, but this time, just two months after the Commission had met, PAAM had refined its budget request to a more modest $49,000 for the same projects and PAAM promised a firm open date of October 1, 2008. That date came and went, and PAAM still wasn’t open for business.
Plano is facing extraordinary budget challenges. And while I realize that, per the ordinance, hotel/motel tax revenue cannot be diverted to the general fund, it is essential that the Commission do its part to ensure that every dollar being spent on for heritage preservation is likely to bring folks to Plano to shop, eat, visit, and stay. It is my opinion that, of all the applicants, PAAM is in the furthest position to positively affect tourism in Plano – especially given its exorbitant monetary requests which have not yielded any proportional return in the past.
PAAM’s Historical and Continued Lack of Fiscal Responsibility
PAAM typically fails to meet quarterly reporting deadlines at least once per year. These reports may be cumbersome upon recipients, but they are a necessary step to ensure the Commission’s goals are being met and that recipients are doing as they promised. Much can be inferred about PAAM’s respect for the grant process by its regular failure to make timely reports.
Also, as the minutes reflect, many Commission members, past and present, have repeatedly exhibited frustration with the lack of timeliness in completing funded projects. It seems that, while commissioners consistently request more timely completion of funded projects, PAAM only offers endless explanations and excuses, which at the end of the day, doesn’t change the long history of not completing projects on time, if at all.
Thirdly, PAAM has failed to provide the Commission with a certified audit which is required of all other grant applicants. While PAAM has offered unrelated memos from city staff, the requirement for applicants is clear – a certified audit must be submitted – period. Yet again, PAAM appears to be asking for special treatment and, in effect a waiver, from the Commission on important financial control procedures. I would urge the Commission not to excuse PAAM.
Fourthly, I continue to be disappointed by the lack of non-city funds procured by PAAM. While we can talk about the cancellation of past debts (i.e. mortgages), the Heritage Commission has never been asked to service debts used for the purchase of land. PAAM’s funding requests continue to increase and are not offset by sources outside city funds. As you’re likely aware, a key element of each application is how much of an applicant’s funding comes from the, as well as the length of time on which an applicant has relied on city funds. The trend suggest that the newer an organization, the more likely the Commission is willing to accept more reliance on city funds. But the expectation has always been clear: as they age, applicants need to become less sufficient on city monies. This has categorically not been the case for PAAM, and I feel that continued funding by the city only perpetuates PAAM’s reliance on same.
Finally, the projects for which PAAM has applied for funding this year lack any specificity, and it appears that PAAM’s leadership is content with explaining tens of thousands of dollars of requests under the broad descriptions of “operational” and “service specific.” Surely PAAM could have provided more details to aid the Commission in making a more educated decision. PAAM’s lack of transparency in this grant application, like its other applications, raises many concerns about exactly how money has and will be spent.
Commissioners, I want to assure you that this was a difficult and unpleasant letter to write. I take no pleasure in highlighting the shortcomings of an organization that started with a well-intentioned and ambitious mission. But, these are tough times, and no application should receive a less stringent review, be granted an unwarranted exception, or served with an uneven hand when dolling out public funds.
I urge the Commission to refrain from recommending funding for anything except what is necessary to keep the power and water on at the Thornton House, and to ensure its security. I feel that any additional funds sought by PAAM should be pursued directly from City Council, and should be made to compete with the rest of the city’s budget challenges.
I thank you for your service to our city, and for your consideration of my thoughts.
JUSTIN P. NICHOLS
And the statement of the Board of The Plano African American Museum:
July 27, 2010
Mr. Bill Baumbach
Collin County Observer
Re: Response to July 20, 2010 letter from Justin Nichols to City of Plano Heritage Commission concerning the Plano African American Museum
Dear Mr. Baumbach:
On Friday, July 24, 2010 you called T.J. Johnson concerning the above-referenced letter you received for your publication, the Collin County Observer, and you offered an opportunity to respond. Having reviewed Mr. Nichols’ letter, the Plano African American Museum (PAAM) Board of Directors (BOD) do appreciate the opportunity to respond to Mr. Nichols’ letter.
To our understanding, as a former member and Chair of the City’s Heritage Preservation Commission, Mr. Nichols was charged, as is subsequent Heritage Preservation Commissions, primarily with the mission and responsibility to protect and preserve every aspect of the history and heritage of the Plano community, including our diverse communities. In our view, Mr. Nichols’ letter does little, if anything, to serve this mission. If Mr. Nichols truly was concerned for this mission and, particularly PAAM’s efforts toward the mission, it would seem more logical for Mr. Nichols to first contact PAAM with his issues and concerns, with his thoughts and suggestions, including any indication of what he himself was willing to do to help. It would be more useful for Mr. Nichols to at least have visited the museum and researched his claims and concerns. Instead, we have only ever personally heard from Mr. Nichols on one occasion (outside of a formal commission meeting), which will be discussed later and he has not visited the museum, certainly not within the last four years. And, instead of acknowledging and helping PAAM to celebrate the efforts and accomplishments which have been made toward the Heritage Preservation Commission’s mission, Mr. Nichols chose to nitpick and criticize the efforts of PAAM’s BOD with mistruths (some would say lies), half –truths or distortions of the truth, inaccuracies, innuendo and negative implications.
Consequently, before we address Mr. Nichols’ broad generalizations and issues and misinformation, we must put this response and Mr. Nichol’s comments within the proper context of the facts. Most of these facts are available, as a matter of record in the minutes of the City Council or the minutes of the Heritage Preservation Commission.
- Around 2002, there were discussions and efforts to move the Thornton House to another location near 12th street and Avenue I. The Plano Conservancy, a long-time recipient of City grant funds, sought City funds, $20,000, for this purpose. However, the Thornton House was not moved and, to PAAM’s knowledge, those funds were never applied to any efforts on or for the Thornton House nor were any of these funds distributed to or on behalf of PAAM.
- In 2004, the PAAM BOD included Myrtle Hightower, John Hightower, Ben Thomas and T.J. Johnson. The Chair of the BOD was Charles Grigsby of Frisco, Texas. The PAAM BOD appointed T. J. Johnson Chair in the fall of 2004. The current BOD: T.J. Johnson, Dollie Thomas, Bob Drotman, Angela Fisher, Ron Jones.
- Between 2004-2007, Ted Peters, then Executive Director of the Heritage Farmstead Museum (HFM), a long-time recipient of City grant funds, worked closely with PAAM to restore the Thornton House and, as he had done with the restoration of HFM properties (i.e. The Young House, the Farrell-Wilson House), he used his experience and preservation knowledge to guide PAAM’s efforts to restore the Thornton House. Mr. Peters was the project manager for the restoration project.
- Between 2004-2007, Ted Peters and HFM included a request for funds for restoration of the Thornton House, as a line item in its grant applications and Ted Peters (as the project manager for the Thornton House Restoration Project and until his death), directed the application of City funds and the restoration efforts. No City funds were requested or received by HFM for any other PAAM project or program, except for Thornton House plans or restoration. A total of $88,721 was awarded to HFM and funds were applied for this purpose.
- The first City Grant award to PAAM (2008-2009) $159,798 ($98,000 for operations and maintenance, including salary, utilities and contracts and $56,798 for projects and programs – building sprinklers, oral history, museum design, Thornton House interior restoration). All projects funded were completed as planned. No funds were requested for exterior restoration since the exterior restoration was completed in the previous grant year, as planned with HFM. This was the first City grant application by the PAAM BOD and the first funds requested or received for operations and maintenance of the museum.
- The second City Grant award to PAAM (2009-2010) $145,000 ( $92,800 for operations and maintenance and $50,000 for projects and programs – museum design and an Underground Railroad Symposium).
In his letter Mr. Nichols first alleges: Repeated Failure to Abide by Heritage Preservation Ordinances. He describes two instances involving applications for certificates of appropriateness (CA) “after the fact,” one in November 2004 for the new roof for Thornton House and one in 2009 for approval of the granite museum sign. However, he does not mention the number of other PAAM applications for CA’s or the fact that in 2004 the request he describes was made to the Commission by Ted Peters on behalf of PAAM where PAAM BOD members were present in support and Mr. Peters was specifically chastised for the “after the fact” CA because of his experience with the commission as a long-time representative for HFM and because of Mr. Peter’s experiences with “after the fact” CA applications (a fact which Mr. Nichols knows because he was at the meeting). In October 2009, concerning the granite sign, PAAM board members did attend a commission meeting and offered their explanation for the “after the fact” request. The Heritage Commission approved the granite sign as appropriate.
Mr. Nichols’ next allegation was: Failure to Meet the Objective of Promoting Heritage Tourism. He alleges that PAAM fails to meet the primary goal “to increase heritage tourism in the city of Plano.” He specifically points to the PAAM website and states that PAAM has not carried out a non-Thornton House event. First, Mr. Nichols has never visited the museum or Thornton House and has no clue as to what has been accomplished by PAAM or how PAAM promotes tourism. For example, in the past year Thornton House has enjoyed a number of visitors, including youth groups, teacher groups, small and large groups. PAAM has had a number of requests from groups to tour, such as family reunions and youth groups. For further example, last year PAAM hosted a Holiday FunRun? and Family Fest on November 21, 2009 at the Oak Point Park in Plano. This was also advertised on the DART public transportation system, inviting surrounding areas to come to Plano on November 21. We have also been told repeatedly that part of the interest in Plano by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati and the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Program is PAAM’s enthusiasm and promotion for Plano “as the place to visit.” PAAM has been selected by both organizations as affiliates, an honor and significant accomplishment, to say the least, for PAAM’s small and dynamic BOD.
Next, Mr. Nichols alleges: PAAM Continues to Increase Funding Requests Without Increasing Return. Mr. Nichols expresses concerns that PAAM’s funding requests rivals the HFM and the Plano Conservancy (we assume this reference is to the Interurban Museum), that PAAM does not have the presence or the reputation as the “big boys” and that PAAM does not have the concrete, established or functioning programs as HFM or the Plano Conservancy. As a former member of the Commission, Mr. Nichols knows this comparison is inappropriate. First, 2010 is only the third year that PAAM has requested City funds for operations and maintenance to help PAAM establish the museum at the Thornton House and only the second year that PAAM has received funds for operations and maintenance. Mr. Nichols distorts the truth as he compares PAAM to the (25+ year old) HFM and the (15+ year old) Interurban Museum since, as he is aware, the “big boys” (as Mr. Nichols describes) have very different developmental histories than PAAM. For example, the City owns the land under the HFM properties and owns land and buildings at the Interurban Museum (which is only managed and operated by the Plano Conservancy). Both organizations, under appropriate staff including Executive Directors, were primarily concerned at start-up only with maintenance, displays, exhibits, programs and projects. Unlike these organizations, PAAM, at start up (with a small volunteer BOD and no Executive Director) has had to concern itself with securing the land and buildings, including financial, structural, historical preservation and restoration, before it could focus more heavily on programs and projects. As Mr. Nichols is also aware, all City funds requested prior to 2008 by HFM for PAAM were for the Thornton House only, particularly for restoration but no funds for operations and maintenance. Mr. Nichols distorts the truth, knowing that PAAM is not “only a year younger than the Interurban Railway Museum.” Over fifteen years ago, the Interurban Museum opened its doors for business, with two fulltime staff and HFM with even more staff. Initially, for a number of years (for operations, maintenance and programs) HFM received all of the City funds earmarked for heritage preservation and subsequently Interurban shared those funds and now, for the last two years, PAAM has shared those funds but all three organizations, even today, depend on City funds for more than 85% of their operations and maintenance budgets. PAAM opened its doors with a part-time administrator, in 2008, without an Executive Director. The basic premise is this: If there had been a way to acquire sufficient funds or resources in the beginning, as the other organizations, to secure the property, in all aspects, and to hire full time personnel to recruit volunteers and seek other funding, PAAM would be further along in its development. Instead, with limited funding and resources PAAM has taken an incremental approach designed to methodically and carefully lay a solid and long-lasting foundation for PAAM to get the museum fully operational, i.e. facility first. No doubt both HFM and the Interurban Museum built their programs and offerings over time, much the same as PAAM.
Concerning the 2007 presentation before the Heritage Commission and the City Council, once again, Mr. Nichols, distorts the truth. In June 2007, just after Mr. Peters had passed away, Chuck Laenger, then Interim Executive Director for HFM and T.J. Johnson for PAAM appeared before the Heritage Commission concerning the HFM City grant application. Appearing for the presentation, were PAAM and HFM board members and Jerry Kolesiack, Habitat for Humanity/Project Manager for the Thornton House restoration project. Prior to the presentation, Mr. Nichols sent a number of messages (through others including Chuck Laenger and Dollie Thomas) to T.J. Johnson that “Ms. Johnson had better call [him] immediately or he would make sure that PAAM got nothing.” He did not directly call Ms. Johnson. When Ms. Johnson reached him and inquired of the “urgency” Ms. Nichols indicated that he wanted to visit about the presentation. There was no mention of “frustration with the history of slow progress…” Mr. Nichols did indicate that he was running for City Council and wanted to know if Ms. Johnson would support him. Ms. Johnson congratulated him on his decision to run without comment or commitment concerning any support. At Mr. Nichols’ presentation to the City Council, there was also no mention of “frustration with a history of slow progress…” and the City Council did award additional funds for the only project which HFM/PAAM had requested, the restoration of the Thornton House. Following the presentations, Mr. Nichols approached Ms. Johnson and Ms. Thomas, again reminding them that he was running for City council and hoped for their support. The ladies again congratulated Mr. Nichols without further comment or commitment to his campaign. Mr. Nichols lost his bid for City Council.
Next, Mr. Nichols alleges: PAAM’s Historical and Continued Lack of Fiscal Responsibility. He explains this claim by asserting that PAAM “typically fails to meet quarterly reporting deadlines…,” fails to timely complete funded projects, PAAM “failed to provide the Commission with a certified audit” as required of other grant applicants and PAAM has not procured non-city funding. PAAM has missed two deadlines in the two years it has received City grants, hardly typical. Instead of this broad generalization, Mr. Nichols should have identified the specific projects to which he refers. As of this date, except for the Underground Symposium I, every project for which PAAM has received City funding has been timely completed. PAAM could not host the symposium which was previously scheduled for February 2010 because PAAM did not receive City funding until February 2010 and, therefore, could not commit funds for the symposium which had not yet been received. Again, a mistruth: the City does not require a certified audit for grant applications. An applicant has the option of submitting documentation certified by a CPA, which PAAM has submitted, just as other grant applicants. Unlike other organizations which have had financial issues, PAAM has been subjected to a number of city audits resulting in memorandums of no findings. Furthermore, as of December 31, 2009, PAAM had acquired significant non-city funding and enough non-city funding to pay-off the debt for the block of property from the corner of 13th Street and Ave H to the corner of 13th Street and H Place.
We are perplexed with Mr. Nichols’ letter and the unsubstantiated claims he makes, including his suggestion that PAAM seeks some exception. We are at a loss to explain his mean-spirited, negative and, seemingly vindictive and angry approach. We cannot understand why he seems so angry with PAAM, except perhaps he felt unsupported by PAAM board members in his failed attempt at the City Council. And while we applaud and admire any citizen who seeks public office and public service, we still believe that one had nothing to do with the other. The fact is that PAAM seeks no exceptions. To the contrary, PAAM simply seeks to be treated fairly, reasonably and consistently with other organizations. PAAM’s “well-intentioned and ambitious mission” to help support heritage preservation in Plano and the surrounding area should be supported, as with other organizations. PAAM’s goal is to complement the efforts of our community of museums by encouraging the research, review, preservation and appreciation of the heritage of the diverse communities and cultures in Plano, the All-American City. At the very least, PAAM’s efforts should be applauded and encouraged and should not be disparaged as with Mr. Nichols’ mistruths, inaccuracies, half-truths and negative implications, which certainly do not serve the heritage preservation mission which Mr. Nichols, as least on one occasion, swore to uphold. PAAM serves a significant and important role in the preservation of heritage in this area and has already proven its ability to bring attention and interest in the Plano community. Certainly, it is irresponsible to base his urgings to the Commission to refrain from full support and funding for PAAM on little more than mean-spirited and negative implications, not based on fact or firsthand knowledge of PAAM or the Thornton House.
We invite you to visit the Thornton House at 900 13th street (open from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday), visit the website at www.aamplano.com and judge for yourself. Like other organizations, you will not see perfection but you will see the results of the efforts and accomplishments thus far of a small but strong and dynamic board of directors and the volunteers and staff that support them. We are always open to constructive feedback, ideas and volunteer assistance and we appreciate the opportunity to serve Plano in this very special way.
Board of Directors
Plano African American Museum
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.
I'm on the TCEQ DFW mail list. Every summer, I get several warnings like the one below --
Several years ago, the Council of Governments formed a Clean Air Committee made up of local officials, business leaders, and environmental activists. The committee was co-chaired by Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher and Collin County Judge Ron Harris.
In 2006 the committee released its North Texas Clean Air Plan to put the region in compliance with then existing federal law.
The committee's plan relied in large part on the reduction of "Point Sources of NOx emissions", such as the Midlothian cement kilns and TXU coal fired generating plants. It also called for the adoption of California style auto emission standards. Claiming that the plan put too much of a burden on industrial polluters, the State of Texas refused to submit the DFW plan to the EPA.
Last month, the EPA took over the permitting process for point sources from the TCEQ and denied an operating permit to the Garland Power and Light generating station in Collin County and to two other companies in Texas. Yesterday, the Texas Attorney General challenged the EPA, filing suit in the Federal Appeals Court in New Orleans.
None of these legal maneuverings keep the air in Collin County from remaining polluted for much of the summer.
Sadly, Dallas County, the largest stakeholder in the region, is embroiled with its own lack of faith in its County Judge and did appoint a member to the Committee.
During the May 10 Collin County Commissioners Court discussion on the appointment of a Collin County representative, Commissioner Jaynes nominated Keith Self to serve on the new committee. Jerry Hoagland seconded, saying that, "Clean Air is a big deal." The commissioners court then appointed Judge Keith Self, who seemed surprised at their decision. Self's obvious discomfort caused Matt Shaheen to dryly comment, "aw, you don't get to Arlington enough anyway".
After the vote appointing him, Self quipped, "You know what that's going to do to the COG - when I appear on the Clean Air Steering Committee?".
He's right. Self has in the past compared the NCTCOG to the Central Committee of the Soviet Union. He sees regionalism as a "slide into socialism".
But the simple fact is that Keith Self needs to be a part of any new plan. Collin County is too large to not be a part of any successful proposal. We're all going to have to find a way to get along or Washington will dictate what measures we will have to learn to live with in order to clean up our polluted air.
The first meeting of the 25 member North Texas Clean Air Steering Committee will be at the NCTCOG headquarters in Arlington at 10:00 AM on Thursday. It's role, according to its web page is:
Meanwhile, if you live in Collin County, limit your outside activities tomorrow. We will likely be under a Level Orange air pollution warning.
Homeless shelter director says need must trump Plano residents' opposition
Saturday, July 24, 2010
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
There's no room at the Samaritan Inn.
Collin County's only homeless shelter has 130 beds but needs many more, said Director Lynne Sipiora.
With the economic downtown, the shelter must turn away people day after day.
"That's the worst part," Sipiora said. "It keeps me up at night."
The shelter's solution to overcrowding: Open a second facility in Plano.
But some Plano residents and business owners immediately assailed the Samaritan Inn's proposal, announced this month, for a larger shelter near 14th Street and Shiloh Road.
Opponents charge it would lower property values and increase crime.
"This is the last thing that the east side of Plano needs," one person commented online.
Sipiora expected the opposition but isn't backing down.
If the Plano City Council rejects a zoning change to allow the proposed shelter, the Samaritan Inn will look for another site in town because of the need, she said.
"As long as I'm around, we'll be looking to expand services," Sipiora said.
She rejects the assertion that the proposed shelter, to be built in phases over several years, would harm the largely commercial east Plano neighborhood.
She points to the Samaritan Inn's track record in McKinney?. It opened in a commercial area near State Highway 5 and U.S. Highway 380 in 1984 and hasn't driven up the crime rate, said McKinney? Deputy Police Chief Scott Brewer.
"These are folks who are just in hard times," he said. "They're grateful. They're not typically going to get out and partake in criminal activity."
The shelter operates out of a converted nursing home, with five wings extending like spokes from a central monitoring station. Two wings house families, one houses men, one women and one administrative offices.
Sipiora compares the shelter to a college dormitory in terms of sights, sounds and feel. Having visited, I agree.
Each room is identical, about 16 feet square, with four bunk beds, a sink and a toilet. Common showers are in each wing. Meals are served on long folding tables.
"No frills," she said.
True, but the shelter is a huge improvement for some residents.
One woman had been living with her three young children in a mini-warehouse unit.
"I can't imagine," Sipiora said.
Other residents have been sleeping on the street or in their cars.
"They arrive shell-shocked," Sipiora said. "We're the last resort."
The Samaritan Inn produced a searing video of interviews with residents, describing their journey. It's posted on the shelter's website, www.thesamaritaninn.org.
"I never thought in a million years I'd end up in a shelter," one woman said. "I have a college degree."
The Samaritan Inn has strict rules for residents. Each must undergo a drug test and criminal background check, take mandatory classes on budgeting and parenting, meet twice weekly with a caseworker and look for a job during the day.
The average length of stay is about six months. Someone leaves, or "graduates," when they have a full-time job and have saved enough money to rent a place.
Sipiora said the proposed Plano shelter also would stress personal responsibility and push people toward self-sufficiency. It wouldn't be a place for the chronically homeless to crash for a few nights.
"I'm hoping it's a matter of education," she said. "I want to believe people will see the need and respond to it."
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....
To the surprise of no one, the McKinney City council voted today to demolish the old county courthouse on McDonald St.
The sale and proposed destruction of the old courthouse has not been without its share of well-deserved controversy. In 2006, at the time of the sale, Commissioner Jerry Hoagland vigorously opposed selling the old courthouse for what amounted to a fire sale price of $8 million. However he lost that argument because the other commissioners believed the City of McKinney when they said they needed the floor space as they were outgrowing their old city hall facility. The plan was that the city would renovate for an inexpensive move-in.
They never mentioned tearing the building down until after the title was transferred.
The Texas Historical Commission also objected to the sale and destruction. The Historical Commission characterized the old 6 story cube as a, "good example of a modern form of architecture known as Brutalism which is gaining notoriety and appreciation among architects and historic preservationists."
A year ago, citing a law that required state permission before a county courthouse could be sold, the Historical Commission fined Collin County $1,000 for violating the law on preserving old courthouses.
The vote was anti-climatic, but the McKinney City Council has made it official:
The old Collin County courthouse on McDonald Street will be demolished.
Council members have discussed the fate of the six-story building near the square since the city bought it from the county in 2006.
In recent months, council members have leaned toward demolishing it.
But they delayed the vote while the University of North Texas decided whether to acquire the 31-year-old building.
Recently, UNT decided it couldn't use the courthouse, said McKinney Deputy City Manager Rick Chaffin.
"I think it's time to clean up the site and begin to think about what we might do with it in the future," City Council member David Brooks said.
The council set no timetable for demolition.
The Texas Historical Commission fought unsuccessfully to save the courthouse, calling it an example of Brutalism, an architectural style common in the 1970s.
link to this article at the Dallas Morning News' McKinney? Blog...
Anna officials say liquor sales have boosted revenue
July 17, 2010
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
Anna is a one-stoplight town whose main drag features a feed store, a trailer park and The Malt Shop, a drive-in that looks unchanged from the 1950s.
Stereotypical small town? Yes, except for a little place called Coyote Liquor Den.
Anna – population 8,250 – is the only place in Collin County to allow liquor stores. And five years after the contentious election that let them in, Anna remains small and still miles from the suburbia creeping north, a laboratory of sorts for examining the effects of liquor sales on a community.
"I can't think of a situation that would be better," said Scott Testa, a business professor at Cabrini College in Philadelphia, who has studied alcohol trends. "No data collection is pure, but Anna has fewer factors that could skew the data."
Testa notes that arguments over alcohol sales center on the economic benefit vs. the perceived social harm. That's not lost on folks in Anna, which now has four liquor stores but not a single 7-Eleven or Starbucks.
"I still don't like to see liquor and beer signs around town," said Buddy Hayes, a 50-year resident and president of Texas Star Bank. "But sales have been excellent. I certainly appreciate what they've done for the city."
How communities fare with expanded alcohol sales is getting new attention because of elections this fall in Dallas and University Park to eliminate "dry" areas.
Anna's sales tax revenue has more than doubled since liquor stores were approved by just 19 votes. In 2005 Anna received $353,781, according to the state comptroller. In 2009, that number had swelled to $767,497 – an increase of 117 percent. That increase far exceeds Anna's 63 percent population growth during the same period.
Liquor store owners and managers in Anna were reluctant to discuss sales, except to say business was good. State and city officials don't break down sales taxes by product, so it's hard to measure liquor's exact impact. In recent years, a number of businesses – including a supermarket, an auto parts store and restaurants – have opened.
But the liquor stores have played a major role in padding city coffers, said Mayor Darren Driskell. "The sales tax dollars have been a huge boon for the city."
The windfall has helped build two parks, Natural Springs and Slayter Creek, and buy land for more, City Manager Philip Sanders said. It's allowed the town to expand its police presence from a single officer to a force of 11, open a new police station and reconstruct older streets, he said.
Meanwhile, officials say, the forecast ills of liquor stores haven't materialized.
The Collin County Substance Abuse Program assesses and refers juveniles and adults who have drug and drinking problems, said its director, Tommy Blakeman. Many are referred by courts.
Blakeman said he hadn't noticed any increase in alcoholism or alcohol-related crimes since the Anna liquor stores opened. He said he frequently gives community presentations and hasn't heard people lament the vote.
Police Chief Kenny Jenks said driving while intoxicated and other alcohol-related crimes haven't increased. Sexually oriented businesses haven't arrived. And, officials say, the liquor stores haven't caused the surrounding neighborhoods to deteriorate.
"Some of the nicest stores in town are the liquor stores," say Hayes, the banker. "And it's clean all around them."But while many Anna leaders laud the liquor stores, former City Council member Billy Deragon has a more skeptical view.
He worries about the effect on Anna's image of having Collin County's only liquor stores. Three of the four – Anna Liquor, Fossil Creek Liquor and Goody Goody – sit visibly on U.S. Highway 75 at the town's only exit.
"I still feel it's a negative that the first thing people see when they come into Anna is liquor stores," Deragon said. "Someone could say sexually oriented businesses are economic development. It's a question of where do you draw the line."
In Dallas, where voters will decide in November whether to eliminate areas that don't allow beer and wine sales, groups on both sides have sparred vigorously. However the arguments have primarily involved the accuracy of economic projections, not whether crime will increase.
Alcohol elections invariably stir strong emotions, said Testa, who has consulted for liquor companies.
He said research doesn't support the claim that greater availability of alcohol leads to higher crime.
"Certainly, there are cases where people with substance abuse problems commit crimes," he said. "To say it doesn't happen would be absolutely false. But those are relatively low. Even in towns that are dry, you still have those issues."
Another expert, however, cautions that alcohol sales affect communities differently and can produce negative results.
Traci Toomey heads the University of Minnesota's Alcohol Epidemiology Program, which researches ways to reduce social and health problems associated with drinking.
"Quite a few studies have looked at the density of alcohol establishments and various types of health and crime outcomes," Toomey said. "The preponderance of research evidence does suggest [that] as we increase the number of alcohol establishments in a given neighborhood, we see an increase in a wide range of problems.
"Some have shown violence, some higher levels of sexually transmitted diseases and some more traffic crashes, although I think the evidence is a little more mixed."
Rick Ballard, executive director of the Collin Baptist Association, said he hasn't heard of specific problems arising from Anna's liquor sales.
But he said the wider availability of alcohol can have insidious effects. For instance, underage drinking can increase and excessive drinking by adults can strain families, he said. "You can't necessarily put a statistic on it, but there are enough ills and damage to the family that you don't really want it around you."
'The citizens spoke'
Liquor sales didn't arrive in Collin County without a fight. A 2003 ballot proposal in Anna failed by a wide margin. The 2005 measure, to allow retail sales of all kinds of alcoholic beverages, passed with 51.5 percent of the vote.
Dan Lovitt, who led the petition drive to call the first election, said he was surprised by the strident opposition. Opponents circulated fliers that said DWI arrests would soar and strip clubs would arrive if voters approve liquor sales.
"I was amazed," said Lovitt. "It really opened my eyes to what politics can be like. I guess I went in kind of naïve."
Voters have rejected liquor sales in the Collin County towns of Fairview, Lowry Crossing, Melissa and St. Paul.
Ballot proposals for sales of beer and wine have fared much better. In the past decade, voters in Allen , Frisco and McKinney? have approved the sale of beer and wine at grocery and convenience stores. Parts of Plano have allowed beer and wine sales since 1977.
Deragon, the former Anna City Council member, said he felt so strongly about the problems liquor stores pose for Anna that he led a petition drive in 2007 to overturn the 2005 election.
But the subsequent election revealed a far different mood among voters.
With almost twice the turnout, more than 77 percent voted to keep the sale of beer, wine and liquor. Deragon said he has given up on efforts to rid Anna of alcohol.
"The citizens spoke," he said.
Link to this article at The Dallas Morning News....
The Observer comments:
The voters in Frisco also spoke, but that hasn't prevented the City of Frisco from spending almost a million taxpayer dollars to purchase land to try to block the election's outcome and thousands more dollars in legal attempts to use the courts to circumvent the will of those same tax payers.
It's been over 5 years since former Marine Ronnie Foster got together with some friends and a McKinney City Council member to come up with a plan to design and build a memorial to those local servicemen and women who gave their lives for our nation.
On Monday, the Collin County Commissioners Court approved a $300,000 grant for the Memorial Park. Those funds when added to what had already been donated by the City of McKinney and many other donors, represented the final sum needed to finance the $1.3 million memorial.
The memorial, located on a quarter acre site in Town Center at Craig Ranch will feature an American flag that will be lighted and will fly 24-hours a day, as well as a fountain. The names of the Collin County fallen will be listed on the walls in that area. A ribbon-like walkway will extend from one end to the other. On the east end, a Shumard Red Oak tree will be planted and dedicated to each branch of the Armed Forces.
According to Mr. Foster, ground breaking on the Collin County Veterans Memorial Park in McKinney could begin in October or November.
Photos and plans for the memorial can be seen on Mr. Foster's Collin County Freedom Fighters website.
Some reputations you don't want.
Some you're afraid you may deserve.
For as long as I remember, Collin County has endured being criticized as the refuge of the self indulgent new rich - famous for its thousands cookie cutter McMansions, Hummers, and sushi bars, but lacking both culture and noblesse oblige.
The telecom bust of the 80's tarnished Collin's gilt lustre and for a time it appeared as if we would shed our image of parvenuian invincibility. Not so.
Not even the current recession with its accompanying unemployment and scenes of McMansions being sold at the courthouse steps has slowed our fascination with very visible excess.
Witness the latest from the tony Village of Fairview, where the average home is valued at $356,751 --
Fox News reports that there is a new movie theatre opening there in May. In iconic Collin County excess, theatre goers will be able to sample fast food such as "Maine lobster rolls followed by roasted portobello sliders and a nice gewürztraminer" along with the movie. Viewers will sit in one of only forty plush recliners which feature call buttons for food, bar or pillow service.
All for only $22 a seat, plus food and drinks. Sorry, but good taste is not on the menu.
The Dallas Morning News' Valerie Wigglesworth, writing in the Frisco Blog fills us in on the latest developments to bring a low income housing project to Frisco:
Sat, Apr 03, 2010
Valerie Wigglesworth, Reporter / The Dallas Morning News
One developer remains in the running for the state's housing tax credit program to build a low-income apartment complex in Frisco, according to a city news release.
Stewart Creek LLP completed all the paperwork with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for the proposed 150-unit North Court Villas complex on the south side of Stonebrook Parkway just east of Woodstream Drive. The other developer, VDC Frisco Reserve I LP, has withdrawn from the process. It was proposing to build 200 units near Bicentennial Park at McKinney? Road and Sunset Drive.
The Stewart Creek project is one of 28 developments competing for $9 million in tax credits available this year to urban areas in Texas' Region 3, which includes Frisco and the Dallas area, according to the state log of applications (Region 3 applications start on page 4). Based on self-rankings by developers, the Frisco project ranks 27th out of 28th.
If the Frisco project is approved, it will also be eligible for $2 million in a low-interest loan from the Dallas-based Inclusive Communities Project as part of an agreement with the city of Frisco. Under the agreement, 50 units of the complex would be made available first to certain Dallas Housing Authority clients with Section 8 vouchers.
That controversial agreement has drawn lots of opposition from Frisco residents. It also spurred the formation of a Facebook group called Frisco Resident's [sic] Against Section 8 Housing in Frisco, TX, which has 257 fans.
From a City of Frisco press release:
(April 2, 2010) The City of Frisco has received notification from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs that one developer has submitted a completed application for the 2010 Competitive Housing Tax Credit (HTC) program for a proposed low income housing complex in Frisco.
The developer, Stewart Creek, LLP, submitted the completed application for the proposed North Court Villas complex. The proposed complex would be built on 10 acres on the south side of Stonebrook Parkway between Woodstream Drive and Preston Road. The project is now one of 28 developments competing for the $10 million in tax credits available this year to Texas’ Region 3. The total amount requested for the 28 projects submitted is $41 million. Based on a self-ranking submitted by developers with their completed HTC applications, the North Court Villas development is currently ranked 27th out of the 28 projects in line for funding.
If Stewart Creek, LLP's development is awarded funds from the HTC program, then the developer will also be eligible for $2 million in grant money from the Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (ICP) through an agreement with the City of Frisco. Under the ICP agreement, developers must set aside 50 units or 25 percent of the complex’s units, whichever is greater, for Section 8 vouchers. North Court Villas would have 50 units available for Section 8 voucher holders.
In February, the Frisco City Council approved requests from Stewart Creek, LLP and a second developer, VDC Frisco Reserve I, LP, for letters of support to submit with their 2010 Housing Tax Credit Applications. The council submitted letters on behalf of both developers; however, VDC Frisco Reserve I, LP has withdrawn from the process to compete for funds for a proposed complex near the intersection of McKinney? Road and Sunset Drive.
Residents may voice their opinions about the proposed development when the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs holds a public hearing on Wednesday, April 14 at 6:00 p.m. The meeting will be in the auditorium of the J. Erik Johnson Central Library, located at 1515 Young Street in downtown Dallas.
Residents may also submit written comments through June 15. Comments should be mailed to:
Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs
Multifamily Finance Division
P.O. Box 13941
Austin, TX 78711
The Department of Housing and Community Affairs will also accept written comments by fax: (512) 475-0764, or email: Raquel.email@example.com
Read more about proposed low income/Section 8 housing in Frisco online at FriscoTexas.gov/affordablehousing.
The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs board is expected to decide which projects to fund in July.
City of McKinney Press Release
For Immediate Release
Bond election held in McKinney
Six propositions on ballot worth $51.35 million
McKINNEY, TEXAS (March 29, 2010) – On May 8, McKinney residents will vote to make decisions about the future growth of the city. A bond election will be held with a ballot including projects totaling $51.35 million centered on land acquisition, parks and recreation, public safety and streets improvements.
“McKinney’s bond election will have a huge impact on the next steps in the growth of our community. This year, we don’t have an election for representatives of our citizens, but the bond election is just as important. It is vital to the future of McKinney? that every resident vote and let city leadership know their decisions for the future direction of our fast-growing community,” said Mayor Brian Loughmiller.
The following propositions appear on the bond election, with voters deciding whether or not the McKinney City Council is authorized to issue general obligation bonds for these projects.
- $12.5 million for park and recreational facilities, including land acquisition, construction, improvements and expansion
- $11.35 million for public safety facilities, including land acquisition, construction and improvements
- $15.5 million acquiring, constructing and improving streets and associated drainage improvements within the city, including sidewalks and railroad crossings, traffic control and signalization devices, street lighting, public streetscaping and landscaping improvements, curb and gutter replacements and related improvements
- $5 million for public works facilities improvements, construction and land acquisition
- $4 million for construction and improvement to flood control facilities including creeks, dams and lakes
- $3 million for connectivity and improvements of municipal parking facilities in the Historic Downtown area
Early voting is available for McKinney voters starting Monday, April 26. For a complete list of times, dates and locations, visit www.mckinneytexas.org.
Election Day Polling Locations: Saturday, May 8 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
McKinney City Hall
222 North Tennessee Street
Precincts (Distritos) 2, 3, 4, 9, 45, 96, 98, 100, 114, 128, 160, 161, 179
Valley Creek Elementary School
2800 Valley Creek Trail
Precincts 97, 102, 129, 156
Scoggins Middle School
7070 Stacy Road
Precincts 38, 126, 169
Burks Elementary School
1801 Hill Street
Precincts 1, 44, 57, 99
Collin College Central Park Campus
2200 West University Drive
Precincts 13, 16, 20, 43, 150
Dowell Middle School
301 East Ridge Road
Precincts 12, 122, 131, 140, 149, 155, 173
Fire Station #7
861 Independence Parkway
Douglass community speaks out against plans to outsource center
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
By Kim Nguyen / Plano Star-Courier
Ten speakers voiced concerns to the Plano City Council on Monday about the planned negotiations to transfer operations of the Douglass Community Center to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Collin County.
By allowing the BGCCC to take over control of the Douglass Community Center, the city would save more than $400,000 annually.
Tempting as it may seem – city leaders recently projected a budget deficit of $15 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year – members of Plano’s historically black community say that the move would negatively affect the center’s identity. The speakers requested the council halt negotiations and work with Douglass Community members to find alternative ways to recoup lost funds in the city deficit.
“We are concerned because the Douglass Community Center is more than just a community center for Plano residents,” said T.J. Johnson, a member of Douglass Community Visions, an advocacy group that promotes the significance and livelihood of the community. “The Douglass Community Center is not limited to Douglass Community residents. The center is there for the Plano community at-large.”
Douglass Community Visions promotes and protects awareness of the city’s historically black community. Group members say the current issue with the center is causing an “identity crisis” in the community, as there has not been a clear decision of whether the Douglass Community Center is part of the city as a revenue-producing recreation center or a free community center.
“A community center has programs and may rent some rooms to receive some revenue, but most of the programs are free,” said Eleanor Evans, resident of the Douglass Community. “It was not designed to bring in revenue, but the city wants the center to act as a recreation center, which does produce revenue.”
Evans said the center has long been a site where Plano residents – from the Douglass Community and beyond – meet, socialize and host functions.
“The center is a meeting place for residents of the Douglass Community and churches grew out of the center,” she said. “A lot of people have a vested interest in the center.”
Transferring control from a city facility to a non-profit organization would also diminish the historical significance of the Douglass Community Center. As the former Plano Colored School and Frederick Douglass High School, the building and property have huge historical value in the area, said Dollie Thomas, a lifelong resident of the Douglass Community.
“We want to protect the community and preserve its historical significance,” she said. “It may be one of Plano’s oldest communities, but it is a viable community. We want to work with the city to treat the Douglass Community for what it is – a historical district.”
Thomas said another fear of Douglass Community Visions is the closure of the facility.
“Everyone is going through some rough financial times,” she said. “But later on down the line, if Boys and Girls Clubs decide they can’t handle the Douglass Center and it’s not on the city or the school district’s budget, then the doors will close.”
Douglass Community Visions is not limited to members of the Douglass Community or its community center.
The Rev. Sam Fenceroy of the Mount Olive Church of Plano said the council would not “wipe out a historical area just to do it.”
“It’s easy to look at numbers and pick out a big one,” he said. “But I believe that when we met with the city staff (earlier in the year), they realized that the community is too vital to lose.”
Regardless of how the negotiations turn out, Tanya Greene, president and CEO for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Collin County, said she hopes to continue providing Boys and Girls Clubs programs at the Douglass Community Center.
“I can definitely empathize with their concerns and I understand where the concerns are coming from, but that is the farthest thing that we would want happen to the Douglass Community,” she said, regarding concerns raised about the center losing its identity. “We want to work with the community to continue to preserve (the center’s) history and identity.”
The Boys and Girls Club of Collin County has provided services and programs at the Douglass Community Center since 1992, and Greene said she hopes to continue its open partnership with the children and families in and around the community.
“Since we started the process, we have asked repeatedly for a list of programs and what we can do to support the community,” she said. “In dealing so closely with families, we certainly want to keep communications open so everyone can understand what we do because we play a significant role in the community.”...
From a North Texas History Center Press Release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
North Texas History Center given its largest donation
McKINNEY, Texas (March 18, 2010) – Plagued by financial troubles, the North Texas History Center was recently given a glimmer of hope.
This week, the NTHC received a special gift from a generous donor. This $20,000 contribution is the single largest unsolicited donation in the organization’s history.
“This contribution makes a huge difference to our ability to survive,” said Vicki Day, executive director at the NTHC. “Our funding problems aren’t solved, but this gives us hope to keep fighting every day.”
The donation was made by the Ruth LeVan Fund through the Renaissance Charitable Foundation in memory of Helen Gibbard Hall.
“We are so grateful for the support shown from those who care about preserving our history.” said Day.
About the North Texas History Center
Since 1957, the Collin County Historical Society, now known as the North Texas History Center, has been dedicated to collecting and preserving North Texas history. The NTHC shares local history with students from across North Texas and visitors from around the world. Located at 300 E. Virginia just east of the square in downtown McKinney, NTHC is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday thru Saturday.
For additional information, contact the North Texas History Center at (972) 542-9457 or visit our website www.northtexashistorycenter.org.
Collin County at bottom of federal funds distribution
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
By JESSICA MEYERS / The Dallas Morning News
Collin County, known for its corporate headquarters and explosive growth, has a new distinction: The county reportedly receives the smallest amount of federal funds per person among the country's 200 largest counties.
A Brookings Institution report released this week looked at 2008 federal spending tied to the census in an effort to understand how the upcoming count will affect the distribution of more than $400 billion from federal programs. The bulk of federal assistance goes to states through grants for low-income households and highway infrastructure. States' per-capita funding is tied to income inequalities of high pay and high poverty, Medicaid income limits and the percentage of rural population.
Collin County didn't receive much federal money largely because it doesn't have an income disparity that pulls those funds, said Andrew Reamer, who authored the report. The county got $182 per person in 2008. Suffolk County, Mass., which includes Boston, received the most funding per person at $6,032.
"In wealthier counties, people don't use Medicaid, so they aren't likely to benefit," Reamer said.
Medicaid alone makes up almost 60 percent of federal assistance spending. The low-income health program accounts for most of Collin County's funding, as well. But these services are less utilized than in Texas counties of similar size, said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the state's health and human services commission.
Collin County, which has a 6 percent poverty rate, has 31,064 people enrolled in Medicaid. El Paso County, with roughly the same population, has 133,079 in the program. Hidalgo County has 195,559.
That doesn't mean residents can slough off the upcoming census, Reamer said. "If Collin County is undercounted, it may not get its fair share from the state of Texas," he said, pointing to both fiscal and political ramifications. Businesses uses census data to identify markets, and an inaccurate count could lead to mistakes in investment, he said. The data will also be used to draw new legislative boundaries.
The 2010 census may also reveal just how short-lived the county's current distinction is, said Terry Clower, director of economic development and research at the University of North Texas. The county is becoming "more income diverse," he said.
The big news last week (aside from the elections) was the on again, off again, ready to go, not ready start of construction for the Performance Hall for the Arts of Collin County. Presently the project is in official "go mode", but the Frisco City Council may put the brakes on the project if it approves a second referendum on the bond sales for the hall.
During the same week, the North Texas Historical Center announced that because of funding cuts by the Collin County Commissioners Court, they may have to close their doors forever. The Historical Museum is in the old ca. 1911 post office building in McKinney.
At the center of the downtown McKinney square sits the old Collin County Courthouse, now the home of the McKinney Performing Arts Center (MPAC).
MPAC too is facing an uncertain future as the McKinney City Council has begun a 're-visioning process' that could spell the end of the Performing Arts in downtown McKinney.
All three projects, are victims of the poor economy. Local cities and the county are expecting tax revenue shortfalls and are looking for ways to trim their budgets. Because private donations are also affected by the downturn, these cultural institutions are in financial trouble.
Given the current 'hard times', it makes sense, at least on the surface, to kill funding for arts and history in order to preserve core functions, such as roads and public safety. No elected official, especially in this economy, is wiling to ask voters for a tax hike for the Arts.
But there are good arguments to be made for funding these entities.
One is simple economics.
While it is true that when times are hard, the prudent consumer stops discretionary spending, it is also true that in those same hard times, the savvy investor builds his portfolio. He buys when prices are low.
In the case of the Arts Hall, proponents argue that construction costs are cheaper than they have been in a long time, and much cheaper than they will be in the future. This is the time, they argue, just as America did in the Great Depression, to invest in our community. The costs are low, and the project will bring in much needed jobs.
During the Great Depression, this country invested not only in building parks, roads and buildings, but also in the arts and history. For example, "Federal One" consisted of, The Federal Art Project, The Federal Music Project, The Federal Theatre Project, The Federal Writers Project and The Historical Records Survey.
These programs were created because the government saw an opportunity to preserve its people's culture - culture that was threatened by economic and technological forces that could have doomed the traditional arts.
Now, no one I know is remotely suggesting that Collin County embark on its own New Deal, but it is critical to recognize that our past and our culture is also threatened today. The poor economy has greatly reduced the availability of private donations. If the public subsidies are also killed, we may loose our historic treasures like the old courthouse and post office forever.
Preserving MPAC and the Historical Museum require small, not huge investments.
If we as a community value our own culture, we can easily find a way to afford these projects.
We need to force budget cuts on all three of these programs. But they should be cuts, not mortal blows.
In the end, having a diversity of cultural venues enhances our communities and our quality of life. They bring people to our cities. They make our neighborhoods more attractive investments.
They are who we are.
Can we afford to loose them?
From North Texas E-News
Town hall meeting planned March 9 to discuss McKinney Performing Arts Center
By City of McKinney
Mar 5, 2010
McKINNEY, TEXAS (March 3, 2010) – A town hall meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 9 at 5:30 p.m. in the Courtroom Theater at the McKinney Performing Arts Center (MPAC). Mayor Brian Loughmiller will speak on the city’s arts facility and take questions from attendees.
The meeting is open to any citizen who wants to attend and present their opinion surrounding MPAC and council’s previously released plan for the future of the city’s arts facility. Unlike the public input meetings, this town hall will give residents the opportunity to directly address and to be addressed by the Mayor during a Q&A session.
This town hall is part of the ongoing process to determine the future course of MPAC. The process started with initial feedback from arts groups who regularly use the facility. One of two scheduled public input meetings hosted by the McKinney Arts Commission (MAC) has been held to review the proposed plans, ask questions and give feedback. The MAC serves as the advisory board to the City Council about expenditures of city funds designated for promoting or sustaining the arts in McKinney.
UPDATE, March 8, 2010
The Frisco City Council voted today to leave intact the planned bond sales for the Arts of Collin county Performance Hall. From a City of Frisco press release:
FRISCO CITY COUNCIL TAKES "NO ACTION" DURING SPECIAL CALLED MEETING INVOLVING ARTS OF COLLIN COUNTY PROJECT
(March 8, 2010) "No Action" was taken during this afternoon's 'special called' Frisco City Council meeting, which revolved around Frisco's position on the Arts of Collin County project.
By voting to take "no action", Frisco continues to be a partner in the Arts of Collin County project.
Today's "no action" move means there will not be a proposition on the May ballot asking voters to revoke Frisco's remaining $16.4 million of the $19 million dollars in bonds approved by voters in 2002 for the Arts of Collin County.
History museum loses funding, in jeopardy of closing
by STEVE STOLER / WFAA-TV
Posted on March 5, 2010 at 4:57 PM
Updated today at 5:54 PM
A rally will be held on the steps of the North Texas History Center in McKinney Saturday morning in an effort to drum up support to save it. The museum is in jeopardy of running out of money and closing its doors.
The building that houses the center is historic itself. It was built as a U.S. Post Office in 1911. Collin County now owns it and leases it to the history center. County commissioners, who act as landlords, recently decided to cut museum funding 75 percent and stop funding altogether next year. "I was surprised and horrified," said museum executive director Vicki Day.
The museum houses historic artifacts from five North Texas counties, from authentic flags, a covered wagon and civil war uniforms, to military weapons, a mask worn by Abraham Lincoln and slave shackles.
Students from area schools, including the Bonnema kids, often come to the center to learn hands-on about their heritage.
“It’s real-like. It’s not in a book. You can actually feel it,” said Boone Bonnema, a student. His grandfather, Arch Bonnema, also likes the hands-on approach. “It becomes more real to them when our grand kids can go there and try on clothes and actually touch and hold some of the old tools that our grandparents had to do to make things that are all electric for us."
History Center officials say they had a five-year plan to become self-sufficient without any county money. But the commissioners’ sudden move has left them struggling to find a way to survive. “If we're lost, that means history is lost. You can never retrieve it. It's gone forever," said Day.
Many of the supporters who will attend Saturday’s rally will be dressed in civil war uniforms. After the rally, they will march to the downtown McKinney square, where they will ask people to help save a local treasure.
The Arts of Collin County's Executive Director, Michael Simpson, is firing back at those on the Frisco City Council who are proposing that a referendum be held to allow the voters to rescind the decision they made in 2002 when they voted to approve issuing bonds for the Arts Center. Simpson, who is the former mayor of Frisco is sending the below email to Frisco voters urging them to support the Arts Center:
From: Arts of Collin County
Date: Fri, 05 Mar 2010 11:12:51 -0600
To: Bill Baumbach
Subject: URGENT - Arts of Collin County Facts
Important Facts on the 2002 Bond Election
At the last Council meeting there was a lot of talk about what happened in 2002 when the vote was taken to approve the bonds. Also, about 12 months later when it was discussed at three different Council meetings in October and November 2003 before the council decided to move forward with the project.
Here are the facts:
September Election-2002 Total Vote- 2,403 total Votes 1,624 (67% in favor) –Refer to City Ordinance 02-09-106
About one year later, when the council had to start deciding to move ahead with the agreements with the other cities, there were three (3) council meetings held where public input was taken. The facts are:
(the information below is directly from the Minutes of the meetings from the City Secretaries office)
Council Meeting-Oct, 21, 2003 A total of 11 citizens spoke-7 spoke in favor of moving ahead. 1 other was in favor and asked to find a way to make it work.
Council Meeting-Nov. 4, 2003 A total of 3 citizens spoke- 2 spoke in favor.
Council Meeting-Nov. 18, 2003 A total of 2 spoke-1 for and 1 against. At this meeting the council voted to move ahead with the project and not revote.
At three different council meetings-a total of 16 speakers (some the same each meeting) spoke and 10 were in favor.
If this item was so contentious among the voters as has been expressed by certain council members, why did only 16 speak out of the 2,403 who went to the polls and voted on the bond?
Again, ask your City Council to not revote this item, but to make a business decision on whether or not to move ahead on this item and determine when they might sell the bonds to build the arts hall.
Arts of Collin County
In other ACC news, The Arts of Collin County announced a $100,000 in-kind donation of sandstone from Sunset Stone. The sandstone will be used on the interior walls of the Arts of Collin County’s 2,100-seat performing arts hall.
Sunbelt Stone is owned by Scott and Lisa Carpenter, formerly of Plano and now a Highland Park resident.
Frisco voters have already approved bonds to build the Arts Of Collin County's Performance Hall.
Recently the beleaguered project got a huge shot in the arm when construction bids came in at $16 million less than planned. Donor's have already added $10 million to the public funds promised. And the City of Allen announced they would give the ACC a $5 million loan guarantee so that construction could begin.
But don't break out the shovels yet. From Thursday's Dallas Morning News:
An effort to put Frisco's bonds for the planned Collin County arts hall before voters again could cripple the project if they're turned down, Plano's mayor says.
Some members of the Frisco City Council want residents there to vote again to authorize Frisco's remaining $16.4 million in bonds for the project. They say the original 2002 vote was based on Frisco, Plano, Allen and McKinney teaming up. McKinney later opted out.
"The city gave its word," Frisco council member Pat Fallon said during a council meeting on the subject Tuesday that went late into the night. Fallon and some others on the council want a referendum on the bonds in May or November.
"If they feel this is the will of the people, why not ask them?" Fallon said Wednesday.
The council will meet Monday afternoon to decide whether to put the question on the ballot.
And if Frisco votes against re-authorization, what then?
"The deal dies," said Plano Mayor Phil Dyer, whose city would be left with Allen to figure out how to make up Frisco's share of the construction costs. The two cities would also have to pick up Frisco's portion of the operating costs once the arts hall opens.
Plano couldn't afford that, Dyer said.
As to what Frisco should do, Dyer said it's not his place to say.
Allen Mayor Steve Terrell said this is just the latest of many hurdles that the Arts of Collin County has faced over the years. He doesn't expect the project to be derailed forever if Frisco pulls out.
"We'll just keep going and try to make it happen," he said.
The man in charge of making the 2,100-seat performance hall happen, meanwhile, says he is frustrated by what he calls a misguided effort.
Mike Simpson, executive director for the Arts of Collin County, was there Tuesday as the Frisco City Council debated.
And Simpson, who was Frisco's mayor during the original vote, said the council thought long and hard before deciding to proceed with a three-city project. The matter was settled back then, he said. After seven years of Frisco's involvement, this shouldn't be an issue, Simpson said.
What the council should be debating, he said, is whether this is the time to move forward. Simpson has a construction bid that's brought the total costs for Phase 1 to $68.9 million, down $17 million from earlier estimates.
He's ready to finalize the contribution agreements and set a date for breaking ground in Allen.
"Did they not think I would get the job done?" he asked.
Frisco City Council member Jeff Cheney said Tuesday that he has struggled with the three- vs. four-city issue and what's right.
"Circumstances change," he said. "I'm not afraid to ask the voters."
Frisco Mayor Maher Maso said the city prides itself on weighing the facts and getting things done. "There's too much to do here to dwell on this," he said. "A very real and valid dialogue needs to take place about if now is the right time [to build]."
History center in McKinney fighting to survive
Monday, March 1, 2010
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
Vicki Day is trying to preserve the museum that preserves Collin County.
The 28-year-old North Texas History Center in downtown McKinney could close because of a sharp cut in county funding and private donations, said Day, executive director.
"We are in serious jeopardy of running out of money shortly," she said.
The museum took an unexpected financial hit when Collin County commissioners slashed its funding from $134,950 in fiscal 2009 to $32,000 this year, Day said.
"I was so surprised," she said.
Commissioners say they told Day last year the museum needed to become self-sufficient through private fundraising.
It had been receiving far greater county funding than other historical organizations, said County Judge Keith Self, who heads the Commissioners Court.
"The North Texas History Center is a wonderful organization, but they are just one of many historical organizations in the county," he said.
Commissioner Jerry Hoagland said the county had to focus limited funding on core functions, such as building roads and operating courts and the jail.
"These are tough economic times," he said. "You have to make cuts that are not always popular with people."
Civil War event
The history center had hoped a Civil War re-enactment last November at Myers Park in McKinney would raise $50,000. Instead, the event lost $7,000, worsening the museum's outlook, Day said.
Attendance didn't meet projections, and recent heavy rains prevented people from parking on the grounds, she said. As a result, organizers had to rent buses to take people to and from the park. In addition, insurance costs to hold the event exceeded expectations, Day said.
Commissioner Joe Jaynes, who took part in the Civil War re-enactment, voted against cutting the museum's funding. He said another year of higher county funding might have helped the center hold a successful Civil War event.
"Those re-enactments can basically be a cash cow, but you need three or four years to get it going," Jaynes said.
In search of help
Day said the history center may seek money from the city of McKinney, which currently does not provide funds. It may also approach the county commissioners again, she said.
"It's worth the county getting involved to help us survive," she said. "We've got a collection that is very unique."
About 8,000 students a year from Collin and surrounding counties visit the North Texas History Center, Day said.
On Friday, two fifth-grade classes from Daffron Elementary School in Plano attended and saw a Civil War exhibit.
"It's wonderful," said Cindy Burns, one of the teachers. "We teach the Civil War in school, and this really gives them the opportunity to see how it affected their ancestors."
The museum is housed in an old post office, built in 1911, at Virginia Parkway and Chestnut Street, a block off the square in downtown McKinney. It has exhibits with photographs and a variety of artifacts on the main floor and in the basement.
The museum has tried to sell memberships and get corporate sponsors for exhibits, but had little success, Day said. It receives revenue from school field trips, ticket sales and gift shop purchases.
The history center is holding a "Save the Museum" rally on its front steps on Saturday. It's also having a dinner and lecture on March 27 with Arch Bonnema, a Collin County resident who funded an expedition to Iran in search of Noah's ark. Tickets are $75.
"This could make a world of difference for us," Day said. "We hope we can clear about $7,000."
Jaynes said he hopes the museum can remain open. Although he supports it, he doesn't believe county commissioners will approve any additional funding.
"The court has let its will be known," Jaynes said.
The Observer comments:
My wife and I went to see the "Reluctant Confederate" exhibit at the NTHS last Saturday.
The building is a real jewel, and the exhibit was interesting and informative. Anyone interested in the history of their community will be entertained and educated by a trip to the North Texas History Center.
Note to Joe Jaynes -- put your Confederate uniform back on before the next court and fight a little harder for these guys. They deserve our support.
There's a new Wylie City Hall going up on FM 1378.
More properly, it is the new Municipal Complex and it will contain not only City Hall, but a new library and recreation center. The $41.5 million complex is due to be completed later this year, and it will include at least 2 pieces of original art commissioned by the city. To help in the selection of the new artwork, the city council appointed a Public Arts Advisory Board made up of members of the community. The board spent some moths interviewing artists, finally picking 3 for each of the two locations, who were asked to make presentations of their ideas to the board.
Last week, after the presentations, the Advisory Board recommended 2 artist's concepts for final approval by the city council.
For the main entrance, the board picked a piece that consists of a series of 7 granite stones 12 to 14 feet tall - each bearing a descriptive inscription. The artist is Steve Gillman.
Also submitted was "Pearl for Wylie" by Cliff Garten:
And an arch, reminiscent of a covered wagon by Brower Hatcher:
For the library entrance, the board chose a piece titled "Community Symphony" by Living Lenses (Louise Bertelsen and Po shu Wang). The spheres contain speakers which connect to a synthesizer and two keyboards - one in the library and one in the recreation center. Words and phrases typed on the keyboards are converted into braille and then converted to music.
The other two proposals for the library entrance were:
A 1 1/4 times larger than life cast bronze and fabricated steel sculpture representing two figures in a canoe. The figures are cast bronze and the canoe is fabricated steel. The piece measures 25 feet long 42 inches tall and 40 inches wide, by David Phelps. (my favorite)
And "The Story of Wylie" by artist Madeline Wiener.
The City Council will make the final awards at its meeting on March 9.
The Heard and the North Texas Municipal Water District are still battling over the district's plans to install a sewer line under the museum property.
The Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary offered an alternate route across its 289-acre site. But the water district rejected it.
"Efforts to resolve the dispute ... have failed," the museum says in a news release. "The lawsuit will be set for trial."
The museum and wildlife sanctuary, which opened in 1967, draws more than 100,000 visitors a year.
It fears the sewer line will damage native prairie grassland and wetlands.
The water district says the line poses no environmental damage.
The Observer Comments:
"The water district says the line poses no environmental damage"
Wow! So the Water District is telling the Wildlife Sanctuary how to protect its habitat.
I assume that now The Heard's environmentalists will feel free to tell the NTMWD how to maintain water pressure.
For more coverage on this issue, see:
Eco-terrorism: Collin County style, CCO, December, 2009
Heard museum worried about sewer line planned on property, The Dallas Morning News, December 20, 2009
Panel sides with water district on plans to run sewer line under McKinney's Heard museum, The Dallas Morning News, December 16, 2009
Heard museum in McKinney battles water district over sewer line, The Dallas Morning News, October 29, 2009
From an Arts of Collin County press release -
GROUNDBREAKING IN SIGHT FOR ARTS OF COLLIN COUNTY WITH CITY OF ALLEN SUPPORT
COLLIN COUNTY, TEXAS – (FEBRUARY 24, 2010) – The Arts of Collin County and its Owner cities are working diligently to toward the ground breaking of Phase I. During the City of Allen City Council meeting on February 23, 2010, the Council voted to proceed as the guarantor of a line of credit from a financial institution to support the gap in fundraising related to pledges not to exceed $5M. In any 501(c-3) organization’s capital campaign project, like building a new church, pledges are a large part of individual and corporate donations. Pledges allow donors to pay out their gifts over a period of years or utilize planned giving vehicles such as life insurance policies, estate trusts and other resources. The Arts of Collin County has received a total of $10.4M in private donations. Of the $10.4M in private donations, pledges yet to be received are $8.1M. Of the pledges, 82% is in pledges from businesses which we are confident will be paid out over the construction period.
“All three owner cities in the Arts for Collin County - Allen, Frisco and Plano, have worked together during the past several years to craft a project that will have a significant economic impact to our region and serve as a cultural icon that will benefit generations to come. With the Allen City Council’s approval to guarantee a bridge loan, we are closer than ever to getting the shovels in the ground,” states Mayor Stephen Terrell, City of Allen. “The City of Allen is making this step forward because ACC will have an Allen address. Land donation and infrastructure development for the project have occurred and fundraising efforts to date have been successful. It’s time to make the project a reality,” continues Terrell.
“The guarantee by the City of Allen, allows the Arts of Collin County to move forward with the process of awarding the guaranteed maximum price contract to the Hunt Construction Group,” states Mike Simpson, executive director of the Arts of Collin County. “The next step is to finalize the contribution agreements between the Owner cities of Allen, Frisco and Plano; gain approval of each Owner cities council along with our Board of Directors and then the award the guaranteed maximum price contract which will allow us to announce a date for groundbreaking in early 2010,” continues Simpson.
The initial guaranteed maximum price for construction of Phase I has been estimated at $69.9M by Hunt Construction Group which is a cost reduction of $16M from the estimated costs of $86M in March 2009. The final maximum price will be presented by Hunt on February 26th which may result in additional savings.
As a public/private partnership, it is required that 100% of funds are committed in order to move forward on construction.
To date the following funds can be applied towards Phase I construction: $19M from each Owner city: Allen, Frisco and Plano; $850K from Collin County and $2.3M in private donations which have been received. (The remainder of private funding is in the form of pledges which will be paid out over time.). The land which has been donated by Briar Ridge Investments was not included in the original cost estimates and at the time of the donation in 2005 had a market value of $22M, which is the largest donation ever received in Collin County.
“The Allen City Council’s directive has been very clear to proceed with a funding mechanism that would facilitate construction for the Arts of Collin County. In order to take advantage of lower construction costs which represent a cost savings of about $16 million, the time to act was immediate,” states Peter Vargas, Allen City Manager.
The Arts of Collin County will continue to fundraise to complete the gap and plan for the future phases of development and operations. The Phase I construction process will span across two and a half years, and fundraising and programming events will continue as the performance arts hall and arts park are brought to life. The most prominent opportunities to meet these goals is a naming rights partner for the 100+ acre arts park, performance arts hall which and the theater itself, plus many other valuable sponsorship components.
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.
From a City of Frisco
City Creates Informational Web Page About Proposed Affordable Housing
The following information is distributed from the City of Frisco's News and Information service.
Tonight, February 16, 2010, the Frisco City Council will consider an agenda item related to proposed low income housing developments in Frisco.
The City of Frisco has created a web page that shares a brief history outlining some significant events and/or programs related to affordable housing in Frisco.
To find out more, go to www.friscotexas.gov Click on ‘Communication’ and
then ‘Proposed Low Income/Sect. 8’
Also see - DMN - Frisco affordable housing plan gains board's support but meets resistance
David Melton, who has written often in The Dallas Morning News Voices columns, has authored an interesting piece on the ongoing City of McKinney review of the McKinney Performing Arts Center.
The McKinney Performing Arts Center (MPAC) is housed in the old Collin County Courthouse on the downtown square in McKinney. It is an imposing and historically valuable asset, but and expensive one to keep up, and always seeming to be in need of renovations.
I have been to several productions and one banquet at MPAC. I love the building, and it seems to be a wonderful venue for small productions. But it is underutilized and the size limitations of any artistic productions limit its ability to generate enough revenue to sustain it.
I hope this article spurs a vigorous debate, and The Collin County Observer is willing to publish a responsible reply from an opposing point of view.
Link to city of McKinney public input form on the future use of The McKinney Performing Arts Center
David Melton of McKinney: Solutions needed for McKinney arts center
Sunday, February 14, 2010
The Dallas Morning News Local Voices / Opinions
In recent months, there has been a lot of serious debate within the McKinney City Council about what to do with the McKinney Performing Arts Center, the old courthouse in the middle of downtown.
Several years ago, there was a major push for the McKinney Community Development Corp. to spend $9 million rehabbing this structure. The money was spent, and what the city ended up with was a structure that probably needed another $10 million to be spent.
Windows need to be replaced, and it would help to replace the roof. All of this money spent was projected to make the place presentable so it would be a major tourist attraction and arts center.
Years went by, and the arts center never lived up to potential. The MCDC was told that it would have to pay for the deficit each year to the tune of over $500,000 per year.
For the first couple of years, I sat on the MCDC board, and we were not even consulted about the cost. It was just added to our budget by the city, with the result being over $41,000 per month allocated to MPAC to keep it going.
Today, with the city running short on operating funds – struggling with cutting jobs and overhead, and delaying major projects – I often pause for thought about the millions of dollars that have been spent on MPAC.
I raised the ire of a good number of people when I suggested that the city hire four bulldozers and put one on each side of this building and let them go to work and meet in the middle of the rubble. The arts people went wild over the idea and suggested that I was out to destroy downtown McKinney.
I still believe that a large pavilion could be erected where MPAC now stands and it would enhance the overall image of our town and be a much better way to spend our tax dollars.
I am happy that the City Council is looking at MPAC seriously and trying to come with some solution that will work better for all concerned. I realize that the building has been registered as a historical site and that their options are limited.
But it's time the city do something to stop throwing good money after bad.
David Melton is a semi-retired insurance executive who lives in McKinney.
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....
I'm taking a much desired break from all the fun. The Observer will be back sometime over the weekend.
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."
Tuesday night’s [Frisco] city council meeting offered it all: alcohol, morality play, property rights, and pleas to be heard. It wasn’t a Texas shoot-out, but a gun was mentioned.
The hot topic: Did city council want to hold a public hearing on establishing a process for future alcohol-selling establishments to request waivers or variances from required distances from schools, churches, etc. Distances now vary from 350 to 800 feet, depending on specifics. Texas law allows a city to establish a variance process for future development.
“There are two considerations before you today. No alcohol sales near schools, which is, of course, a laudable goal,” Will Russell told council during the public hearing on whether to have a public hearing.
“But also property owners having a forum for hearing a variance or an exception to an ordinance,” Russell continued. “I think it’s important we have a forum for property owners to come to be heard.”
Ultimately, the council members voted 4-2 for staff to proceed with a public hearing to gauge interest and need for establishing a waiver-request process.
But not before the potential for a variance for alcohol sellers was compared to a five-day waiting period for a gun.
“You load the gun and put it in the drawer, and take it out after the five days,” Councilmember Bob Allen said.
“Now, that’s a cute political trick,” said Councilmember Scott Johnson, “comparing this to a loaded gun.”
Council members Allen and David Prince opposed using the public hearing process. Voting in favor were council members Bart Crowder, Jeff Cheney, Pat Fallon and Scott Johnson.
“The question is, while acknowledging it’s a good thing to have separation as a general rule, does common sense ever say, ‘well, in this case, all parties agree that it may be appropriate to consider a variance’,” Crowder said. “Right now, we don’t have the ability to consider a variance.”
Councilmember Prince said it’s wrong to presume restaurants won’t develop if they can’t or don’t want to sell alcohol.
“I’m not in favor of holding a public hearing on the situation,” Prince said. “I don’t think there should ever be a reason to compromise the distance between alcohol, children and schools.”
The public hearing will be included on a future council meeting agenda. More on the heated exchanges and Mayor Maher Maso's call for decorum can be seen on video at www.friscotexas.com/meetings.
Note: This is the second in a series examining crime statistics in Collin County. The first looked at domestic violence rates.
Collin County residents enjoy a low crime rate. In fact many move to Collin County to escape the high crime associated with life in the big city. How safe are you really?
SELECTED CRIME RATES FOR MURDER, RAPE AND BURGLARY
The City of Dallas has a murder rate of 13.3 per 100,000 in population, while Collin County's overall murder rate in 2008 is less than 1/7th of that at 2.0.
Burglary rates are about a third of Dallas, with Dallas at 1,657.2 and Collin County at 514.7. The differences are less dramatic for rape. Dallas' rate is 39.1 and Collin County's is 22.6.
However as was noted when we looked at Family Violence rates, some areas of Collin County are much safer than others.
Women living in the rural, unincorporated areas of the county served by the Sheriff's Department and in McKinney stand twice the chance of getting raped than their counterparts in Allen or Plano.
The differences in burglary rates is the most striking. Rural burglary rates in the county are a whopping 1,026.7. This is lower than Dallas, but higher than the national average of 730.8, Texas' average of 946.5 and a whopping three fold increase over Allen's 358.0.
In fact, rural Collin County burglary rates exceed those of all but 5 states and exceeds the national average for suburban areas by 20%.
|Crime Rates per 100,000||Murder||Rape||Burglary|
|Nation - all||5.6||30.0||730.8|
|Nation - surburban areas||3.5||38.2||813.9|
|New York - all||4.2||15.2||336.1|
|California - all||6.2||24.7||648.4|
|Texas - all||5.6||32.9||946.5|
|Collin County - all||2.0||22.6||514.7|
|Collin County Sheriff's Office||1.2||48.0||1,026.7|
I've heard several law enforcement and prosecutors boast that, "If you don't want to do the time, don't come to Collin County to do the crime". Our judges and juries are well-known for having a low tolerance for law breakers, and they routinely assess longer prison terms than our neighboring counties would.
But a criminal will only face a jury and a possible long prison term if he is caught and brought to trial.
The Collin County Jail
The US Department of Justice, the FBI and the Texas Department of Public Safety all compile statistics on crime rates and clearance rates. The clearance rate is the percentage of reported crimes solved by either arrest or something extraordinary, such as the death of the perpetrator.
According to statistics gathered by the Texas Department of Public Safety, there's a very good chance that in Collin County, if you do the crime, you won't be caught.
You probably won't get away with murder here. In 2008, the national murder clearance average was 63.6%, and the state average was 80%.In the same year, Dallas cleared 65% of their murders.
Our clearance rate for the 14 homicides in 2008 was 50%. In 2007 however, Collin County law enforcement cleared 100% of the 5 homicides reported. (The relatively small numbers of murders here means just 2 or 3 unsolved cases on one year can skew the statistics greatly from year to year.)
For rapes the disparity between our county and the rest of the nation is dramatic. The national clearance rate is 40.4%, in Texas it is 44%, but here in Collin County we solved only 27% of the 158 reported rapes in 2008. the Dallas Police solved 61% of their reported rape cases, over twice the rate of Collin County.
Only Plano's clearance rate of 41% exceeded the national average, and no Collin County jurisdictions came close to the average rate in Texas. (I am discounting the 100% clearance rate in Farmersville and the 50% in Celina. Since there was only one reported rape in Farmersville and 2 in Celina, the sample is too small for meaningful comparisons)
Allen, which had 7 rapes reported wasn't able to solve a single one in 2008, according to these DPS statistics. Frisco only cleared 13% of its 15 reported rapes, and McKinney 29% of its 51 reported cases.
Similarly our clearance rates for burglaries are much lower than other jurisdictions. Nationwide, the police were able to solve 12.5% of the reported burglaries, in Texas the rate was 10%, but in Collin County only 7% of our 3,602 reported burglaries were cleared. A statistically small but dramatic example can be found in the small town of Lavon. They were able to close none of their 8 burglaries, which given the small population caused the burglary rate to be 1,900.2 per 100,000.
Less dramatically, but of more importance was Frisco's 4% clearance rate on 503 burglaries, Allen's 4% of 298 cases, and McKinney's 5% on 504 reports. The Sheriff's office matched the county average at 10% of its 384 reports and Plano solved 9% of 1,550 burglaries.
|Nation - all||63.6%||40.4%||12.5%|
|Nation - surburban areas||66.7%||41.4%||13.6%|
|Nation - cities over 100,000 pop||64.6%||38.8%||11.3%|
|Texas - all||80%||44%||10%|
|Texas - Cities over 100,000 pop||81%||44%||8%|
|Texas - Counties over 100,000 pop||66%||43%||8%|
|Collin County - all||50%||27%||7%|
|Collin County Sheriff's Office||100%||6%||10%|
United States Department of Justice, FBI report on 2008 Crime in the United States
The Texas Department of Public Safety, Crime in Texas 2008
The Texas Department of Public Safety, Crime in Texas 2007
United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics
Grits for Breakfast, September 25, 2007, "'Clearance Rates' for serious crime disturbingly low"
The Dallas Morning News, September 28, 2008, "Crime clearance rates show Dallas police's success varies"
When I first moved to Wylie almost 20 years ago, the town seemed to be ringed by huge junkyards. Both the north and south entrances to the town along SH 78 consisted of several of those unsightly, muddy wrecking yards. Most are gone now, and Wylie City officials have really worked hard to improve the looks of our main roads.
But one junkyard remains on the northern outskirts of town -- on Highway 78 between Lavon and Wylie.
Looking at Monday's commissioners court agenda, I was surprised to see a public hearing for a variance to approve a wrecking yard request for that same old "Millers Wrecking". Since the law regulating wrecking yard requires that they not be within 300 feet of a "church, school, park, hospital, nursing home or residence", and there is one home within that 300' radius, a variance must be granted before the junkyard permit can be issued.
According to staff documents submitted to the commissioners, the junkyard has changed ownership, and is now engaged in buying cars from police impound lots, and salvaging the parts from those cars or export to (no kidding) Venezuela. Steven Deffibaugh, the county's Fire Marshall inspected the site, and reported that the new owner has ",made tremendous improvement on the property and repairs to the fence and ground itself".
Deffibaugh, however, also noted that, "This has been a site of numerous complaints from neighbors concerning wrecking yard operations."
Before I came to an opinion on the merits of granting the variance, I thought I'd find out what position of the City of Wylie would take on the issue.
I called my councilman. He didn't know anything about a public hearing, I called another councilman - same response. It turns out that the county never informed Wylie City officials that there would be a public hearing on this known nuisance. I have tried to contact Lavon city officials, but since it was a holiday weekend, my efforts were not successful.
It would seem only reasonable for the county commissioners court to hold up on any public hearing on this until after they have notified the City of Wylie, the city of Lavon and nearby property owners. It would also behoove the commissioners court to order a review of their policies so that all interested parties are notified af any public hearing that they may have an interest in.
Farmersville family left in cold after city orders 'green' system cut off
December 9, 2009
STEVE STOLER / WFAA-TV
FARMERSVILLE - Rex and Sherry Thain have lived in their Collin County home for 19 years. They decided to go "green" 10 years ago and installed a geo-thermal heating and cooling system.
The Thains said it seem like a good idea at the time, and so did the former Farmersville city manager. But, times change and so has the city manager, and that's the problem.
The Thains live in one of the oldest homes in Farmersville near Lake Lavon. They received a letter from the city saying their geo-thermal system is illegally connected to the city's water line. The city said it violates ordinances and the safe drinking water act. The new city manager, who believes the Thain's connection to the city water line is illegal, ordered them to disconnect from it immediately.
"The new city manager said he doesn't know why the original city manager authorized it," said Rex Thain.
With no water coming into their geo-thermal system, the Thains cannot heat their house. So, when the temperature dropped, they moved in with some friends.
"It's just shocking, really," Thain said. "We can't comprehend it."
The family's supporters came to Farmersville City Hall Tuesday night holding signs and wearing T-shirts that read: "Never Give Up."
"To do this in the middle of the winter season to this community is very unfortunate and completely unacceptable," said Gwen Snyder, a family friend.
The Thains could solve the problem by digging 10 wells. But, they said it would cost more than they could afford. They fear if the city doesn't provide some relief, they could wind up losing their house.
"I understand when people steal cable or do things they shouldn't be doing, but everything we did was above board," Thain said.
The city wouldn't comment at Tuesday's meeting because of an insurance claim that has been filed.
I couldn't believe this when I found it. The NTMWD sued the McKinney's Heard Wildlife Sanctuary to force the sanctuary to allow the water district to tear up a 110 foot wide swath for more than a half a mile in the preserve to dig a ditch for a new sewer line.
It's going to happen, unless public pressure convinces the directors of the water district to reroute their sewer off the preserve.
The Heard is a jewel. A natural oasis amid the sprawl that is overtaking northern Collin County. For almost 50 years it has been a public treasure and a refuge for a myriad of birds and wildlife. Can no place in this county remain untouched by development?
We urge you to take action on preserving the 289-acre wildlife sanctuary for wildlife, you, your family, and future generations at the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney?, Texas.
The North Texas Municipal Water District wants to put a 3,500 foot long, 42 inch diameter sewage line through the sanctuary prairie land and underneath the wetlands. They would also impact land of a total of 110 feet wide along the length of the 3,500 foot sewage line for accommodation of construction vehicles.
There would be short term and long term damage to the sanctuary including displacing animals that may never return, disrupting native prairie foliage, trees and grasses, contaminating the wetlands, causing a permanent odor, and disturbing the environment for regular maintenance visits and possible emergency situations with the pipeline.
The Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary also has the oldest bird banding program in Texas (established in 1978) and is recognized as an important birding area by The National Audubon Society. Many migrating bird species may never return. The Heard is becoming an island in one of the fastest growing areas in the United States.
Sign this petition to urge the North Texas Municipal Water district to go around the sanctuary and to help support the preservation, health, and future of the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary for wildlife, for you and for nature education.
No, not a politician - but a real wild cat; albeit de-clawed and rather tame. Last seen near Parker Rd. in St. Paul.
From the Dallas Morning News' Crime Blog --
Collin County authorities seek escaped exotic cat
November 27, 2009
Jennifer Emily / Reporter / The Dallas Morning News Crime Blog
Collin County authorities are asking for the public's help to find an exotic animal that escaped from the St.Paul/Lucas area.
The missing serval is privately owned and authorities say it is not considered dangerous. But authorities say that anyone who sees the 40-pound African wild cat should not approach it and call 911. The serval could act aggressively if threatened.
The cat is orange with black spots and is wearing a black collar and red harness. The cat was neutered and declawed. It also has a heart condition.
It was last seen in the area of Aztec Trail and Parker Road. The owners had passed an inspection in August to ensure it was outfitted to house an exotic animal.
UPDATE December 1:
The lost serval was found close to his home and captured unharmed
Just shy of the southern terminus of FM 1378, the road crosses Muddy Creek. The road winds through several sharp curves as it crosses the creek and lines up for its intersection with FM544.
The 13.5 mile creek drains parts of Lucas, St. Paul, Wylie, Sachse, and Garland before emptying into Lake Ray Hubbard.
Muddy Creek isn't much to look at. It's been dammed, channelized and now disappears into a damp woods on either side of the road. What was once a meandering creek now runs in a straight line. But a close look nearby shows the former path of this ancient waterway.
Muddy Creek is ancient. Throughout its history, the creek has periodically flooded the damp wetlands that surrounded it. Most of the flooding ended with the construction of a small reservoir on the creek in the late 1950's.
People have lived in North Texas for over 14,000 years - and for them Muddy Creek was a path through the swamps and underbrush. It was a source of fish, shellfish and water. It was a gathering spot for the animals the natives hunted. It was a place to camp, hunt and gather all sorts of food.
Yet Muddy Creek, as ancient as it is, and as changed as it is, now finds that it stands in the way of development.
Just north of the Creek, the City of Wylie is building a huge Municipal Complex that will house City Hall, the library and a recreation center. Part of the land the new complex sits on is in the flood plain of Muddy Creek.
For years, the county and the city have been trying to widen and straighten the twists and turns of FM 1378 near the creek. In 2003, the citizens of Collin County approved a bond issue that, in part, promised to widen the state road. In the 6 years since the bond passed little has been done to widen the road. Muddy Creek's past stood in the way.
The Texas Department of Transportation owns the Farm to Market roads in Texas, but they could not seem to find the funds to finish planning for FM 1378. Earlier this year, TxDOT finally threw in the towel and ceded the road to the City of Wylie. Now Wylie, with financial assistance from county bonds and from the toll revenue from SH 121 will complete the work needed to straighten and widen FM1378.
Money wasn't the only delay, however. Muddy Creek and its ancient past have for several years virtually stopped any road construction.
Long before the farm road was there, long before Wylie was here, long before any white man had ever thought of a New World, Muddy Creek was there and it was home to a people who used it as a hunting and fishing camp.
In 2006, six feet under the banks of the old creek bed and in the path of the new highway, archeologists working for TxDOT found "a significant" Caddo Indian site. They named it 41COL172. Since no structures have been located, 41COL172 appears to be a camp used by the Caddoans around 1200 to 1300 A.D. and perhaps as early as 1000 A.D. Only 3% of the site has been excavated in 2 digs since 2006. Yet even those small excavations yielded enough artifacts for 41COL172 to be eligible for inclusion in the National register of Historic Places.
Caddo communities spanned the southern forests from the Mississippi river to East Texas. They built huge earthen mounds near their largest villages. Atop these mounds they worshiped their gods. They were primarily farmers. They lived in bee hive shaped huts near their fields of corn, pumpkins and vegetables. Occasionally however, members of the community would leave their farms for hunting trips on the prairie.
Few Caddos lived on that long-gone prairie that is now Collin County. Did the Muddy Creek hunters come from small bands that lived on the Trinity River, or from the larger Caddoan communities in East Texas? A small piece of painted pottery excavated at 41COL172 may hold the key to help archeologists figure out where these hunters lived.
Hundreds of bits of animal bones were found at the Muddy Creek excavation. Bones from buffalo and from white tailed deer testified to the success of the hunting. Also discovered were mussel shells, arrow heads, and pieces of stone tools.
TxDOT's report notes that,
Mitigation. The city and county plan to hire Geo-Marine Services of Plano to conduct excavations to remove and catalog all artifacts that would be lost by construction of the highway. Archeologists will then catalog their finds and create a display that will be used for the education of students and the Wylie public.
The ancient history of our region lies mostly underground. As we develop the county, we will find other prehistoric sites, maybe not as well preserved as 41COL172, but one or two maybe even be grander. Most, like the portion of 41COL172 will be forever destroyed by our modern need for growth and progress.
At some point however, we as a society will feel the need need to look around us for our past. Will we have "mitigated" all of it? Will we turn all of our heritage into neat display cases?
Much of the Muddy Creek hunting camp will be undisturbed by the construction of FM 1378. It should remain that way until some time in the future, when researchers will want to dig again - seeking clues to our understanding of our own past.
National Register Eligibility Assessment of Archeological Sites 41COL172 and 41COL173, Collin County Texas, Geo-Marine Inc. for the Texas Department of Transportation, November, 2007
Pages from the Wylie City Council packet, October 13, 2009
Pages from the Collin County Commissioners Court packet, November 9, 2009
From the McKinney Chamber of Commerce:
Veterans Day Ceremony at future site of Veterans Memorial Park
The City of McKinney will honor all veterans with an emphasis on those from Collin County at a ceremony at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7 at the site of the Veterans Memorial Park in McKinney, 6053 Weiskopf Ave. The event will be a full celebration of all military personnel who have served and are currently serving our country. The service is on Weiskopf Ave. south of Collin McKinney Parkway and the Tournament Players Golf Course Clubhouse in Craig Ranch.
New to the ceremony this year is the Community Covenant presentation, designed to develop and foster continued support of military personnel and their families, both at current duty station and as they transfer from state to state. The program, originated with the Army but extending to all military branches, is tailored at the local level and brought to McKinney by Congressmen Sam Johnson and Ralph Hall, Mayor Brian Loughmiller and Collin County Judge Keith Self.
“McKinney is extremely proud of our hometown heroes who we are memorializing in the future Veterans Memorial Park, those who are serving now, and those who have joined or returned to our community after their service has ended. The Community Covenant and the ceremony on Veterans Day underline our appreciation for the priceless service military personnel give to all of us,” said McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller.
The Veterans Memorial Park in McKinney will honor all veterans and memorialize those who lost their lives from Collin County by engraving their names on a wall to be built at the park. The McKinney Armed Services Memorial Board has raised a total of $720,500 to build the park, including a $350,000 donation from the McKinney? Community Development Corporation. The estimated cost of the project is $1.1 million.
Ronnie Foster, a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran from McKinney and McKinney Armed Services Memorial Board member, also will address the crowd at the Veterans Day Ceremony. Foster generated interest to build the park by gathering names of Collin County veterans who never returned home from wars overseas. So far, 322 names of Collin County residents who died in the service of their country have been confirmed.
To start the ceremony, the McKinney North High School Choir will perform the Battle Hymn of the Republic and God Bless America. The McKinney Fire Department Honor Guard and the Pipes and Drums unit will present the colors. A fly-over in the Missing Man formation by four AT-6 aircraft out of Aero Country Airport in McKinney will end the program.
For more information about how to donate to the memorial, submit a name for the wall or to purchase a brick paver, visit www.mckinneytexas.org.
Frisco to consider health risk study of battery plant
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
By MATTHEW HAAG and VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH / The Dallas Morning News
Frisco's city officials and state regulators agreed Monday to look into doing a health risk study related to lead emissions from a battery-recycling plant in the city's center.
The commitment comes as concerns grow about health effects from lead pollution from the Exide Technologies plant, just south of downtown.
A year ago, Exide submitted an application to state regulators to increase production at the plant, which is on Fifth Street and near several neighborhoods. The city is protesting the permit and has filed a request for a contested-case hearing, which is a legal proceeding similar to a civil trial.
Recently, state regulators gave notice that an area around the plant is not expected to meet the new, more stringent federal air quality standards for lead that go into effect in Collin County in 2012. The non-attainment area is expected to be the only one in the south-central U.S.
On Monday, Frisco Mayor Maher Maso and City Manager George Purefoy drove to Austin to discuss the smelter with Mark Vickery, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The agency oversees the company's operations and is reviewing its application to expand.
Article highlighting application
The meeting, which had been planned for some time, came a day after a Dallas Morning News article highlighting Exide's application and the proposal for non-attainment.
Exide officials declined to comment for the article, saying they couldn't discuss pending applications.
The company has said in documents that a production expansion won't increase lead emissions.
The plant's lead emissions comply with current federal air quality standards, but its emissions make Collin County one of only 18 counties nationwide not expected to meet new, more stringent air quality standards.
No amount of lead exposure is safe, but it's especially detrimental to children, who can suffer from learning problems and brain damage.
Maso said at the start of a town hall meeting Monday night that the discussion with Vickery went well, but he didn't elaborate. Exide was not listed on the agenda, which limited what city officials could say.
Maso said future meetings will be planned to discuss the plant.
"Rest assured we are monitoring it and are on top of it," Maso said.
He noted that the city has been working on the issue for a while.
"I personally don't feel Exide has been responsive to our city," Maso said. "This isn't just a Frisco issue."
He said after that meeting that some residents have demanded that the plant be closed.
"I'm not sure I disagree with that," he said. "If they won't be open and transparent, they have no place in Frisco."
The health risk study, if approved, would be the first in the city since 1995, when a study identified three children living north of the plant with elevated lead levels in their blood. The study could not conclusively connect those levels with the plant's emissions.
The city had handouts available at the town hall meeting that included copies of the city's protest letter and a map with a one-mile and two-mile radius around the plant. The packet also included a format for residents interested in filing their own protest with state regulators.
Maso said people living within a mile of the plant have standing to protest, but he also urged others outside that area with concerns to send one in.
The city's sample protest letter included the following statements:
•"I am adversely affected because the documented degradation of air quality in the vicinity of the Applicant's facility has had a negative impact on me and my family."
•"An increase in the amount of allowable emissions will significantly impact me and my family."
•"My family has been adversely impacted by harmful particulates and odors from the Applicant's facility."
•"Withdrawal of the application will resolve my immediate concerns although I believe Exide's lead emissions are having a negative long term health effect on me and my family."
A summary of the city's meeting with TCEQ also stated that Vickery "agreed to further research the methodology used to determine the designated non-attainment area for the new EPA lead standards and Exide's specific permit amendment."
Exide seeks to boost finished lead production limits to 500 tons a day, up from the current limit of 400 tons a day. TCEQ is reviewing the request.
Built in 1964, the plant crushes old automotive and industrial batteries, uses heat to extract the lead and converts it into lead oxide to make recycled batteries. In the process, some lead is released into the environment.
A few months ago, Exigent proposed spending more than $1.3 million to upgrade the plant's pollution control in hopes of moving its application forward. The upgrades would help trap so-called fugitive emissions – the lead released through a crack in a building or by a truck leaving the plant.
In November 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency gave notice that the federal air quality standard for lead emissions would become 10 times more stringent – from 1.5 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air to 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter.
The plant's current lead emissions are projected to exceed the 0.15 lead standard, according to state data.
Also see: DMN - Frisco officials fight plans to expand lead smelter
It's been several years since I first heard of Exide and it's Frisco lead smelter.
I did some research on the plant back in 2006. At that time it was (and still is) the largest point source of hazardous pollution in Collin County.
EPA reports detail releases of Antimony, Lead and Arsenic into the air, ground and water around the plant.
Because of Exide Technologies lead emissions, Frisco has been declared Texas' only non-attainment area for lead pollution. (Map of non-attainment area.) In the non-attainment area are homes and schools.
The TCEQ notes on their "Air Pollution from Lead" web page (which includes a lot of data and facts on the Frisco smelter) that:
On January 1, 2010, the rest of the country will be required to adopt a new, stricter lead emissions standard from 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter to one tenth that amount. Collin County, however is exempted from the new standards until 2012. A June, 2009 TCEQ memo shows that sampling around the Exide plant is expected to be 1.42 micrograms per cubic meter or nine times the new standard.
EPA TCEQ came to Frisco in April of 2009, not one city or county official attended, no citizens showed up either. The report noted that:
Now Exide wants to expand its Frisco operations, and the City of Frisco has begun to take notice.
It's about time.
The Dallas Morning News' Matthew Haag and Valerie Wigglesworth have written a well researched and informative article on this important threat to our children's health.
Frisco officials fight plans to expand lead smelter
Sunday, October 18, 2009
By MATTHEW HAAG and VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH / The Dallas Morning News
Thousands of people in the heart of Frisco are exposed to toxic lead pollution from a battery recycling plant that wants to expand production.
Exide Technologies Inc. operates the decades-old lead smelter that's flanked by Frisco's downtown, a high school and several neighborhoods and businesses. Its lead emissions make Collin County one of only 18 counties nationwide not expected to meet new, more stringent air-quality standards. It is expected to be the only such designation in the south-central United States.
Recent research shows that lead poses a greater risk to people than scientists once thought. And it's especially detrimental to children, who can suffer from learning problems, diminished IQs and brain damage.
Exide, whose plant is not in violation of current air-quality standards, responded to only a few specific questions. Exide also declined a request to make available Don Barar, its plant manager in Frisco.
The company issued a brief statement that said in part: "The desire and intent of Exide Technologies is to operate responsibly and in compliance with applicable regulatory requirements."
City of Frisco officials object to the production increase and are challenging Exide's plans through a trial-like contested case hearing with state regulators. Their letter to state officials says the expansion "will have a negative impact on the City and its residents."
Late this summer, Exide officials proposed spending more than $1.3 million to reduce the plant's lead air emissions in hopes of moving its application forward. The projects outlined in documents sent to the state would capture so-called fugitive emissions – the lead released through cracks in a building or by vehicle traffic leaving the plant.
But City Manager George Purefoy said, "I don't understand logically how they can increase production and not increase the amount of emissions going out of the stacks."
City grew up with plant
Frisco is in a unique position: Few, if any, burgeoning suburban cities nationwide have a lead smelter in the middle of town.
Gould-National Battery Inc. originally built the plant in 1964 on 55 acres along South Fifth Street with views of rolling prairies. At the time, the city's population was less than 1,900.
But Frisco grew up. Farmland has been eaten up by subdivisions. And the city's population has exploded to more than 106,000.
Exide Technologies acquired the plant in 2000. It's one of nine battery recycling plants worldwide operated by the company based in Milton, Ga. It employs 130 people
The Frisco plant crushes used automotive and industrial batteries, uses heat to extract the lead and converts it into lead oxide to make recycled batteries. The process releases some of the lead into the environment.
A year ago, Exide submitted a request to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to allow the Frisco plant to break down more batteries. Finished lead production limits would increase to 500 tons a day, up from the current limit of 400 tons a day.
TCEQ is still reviewing the request. Officials there said they cannot comment on pending permits.
A key question remains unanswered: What impact would a production increase at Exide's plant have on already elevated lead-pollution levels?
In its application to the state, Exide said its production change wouldn't increase the plant's lead emissions, but it didn't offer any evidence.
Exide's 100-page application to Texas regulators didn't include an air modeling study – common in such applications – that estimates lead levels in the air around the smelter.
In addition, the map Exide sent to state regulators to show what's near the plant is so outdated that the Dallas North Tollway isn't listed. Neither are Pizza Hut Park, Frisco Square, Frisco High School and several newer neighborhoods.
Purefoy said the city didn't know about the expansion proposal until after Exide submitted it in October 2008. Later that month, Purefoy fired off an e-mail to Mayor Maher Maso after a meeting with Barar, the plant manager.
"I told him that the city was committed to reducing the emissions falling on our citizens every minute from the plant," Purefoy wrote. "And if Exide wasn't committed to the same goal then the relationship between the city and Exide was taking a dramatic change of course."
In November 2008, the EPA gave notice that the federal air-quality standard for lead emissions would become 10 times more stringent – from 1.5 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air to 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter.
"After being quiet for 15 years on the lead front, it's now a priority for the EPA," said Guy Donaldson, chief of the planning section for the agency's Region 6, which covers a five-state area that includes Texas. "It's happening now because the scientific evidence says you have health effects at these levels."
The new standard for lead, which wouldn't be enforced in Collin County until 2012, is the level expected to protect public health.
A monitoring station on Exide's property recorded violations of the 1.5 standard in 1985, 1989 and 1990. The plant, then operated by another company, received violation notices in 1989 and 1990. A year later, the EPA designated the facility a nonattainment area, meaning it violated air-quality standards. The area was declared back in compliance in 1999.
The new proposed nonattainment area is at least twice as big as the one designated in 1991.
'Any exposure is bad'
In recent years, the tools for measuring the effects of lead exposure in people have become more precise, allowing scientists to detect lower levels in blood and measure damage in greater detail.
"Lead is toxic even at the lowest levels we can measure," said Philip Landrigan, an international leader in public health and a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. "Any exposure is bad, but more exposure is worse."
Health effects are particularly acute in children, who breathe in more air than adults relative to their size. Lead exposure can cause learning disabilities, decreased growth, hyperactivity and brain damage.
In adults, high lead levels can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease. Pregnant women exposed to lead also put their unborn babies at risk.
While lead-poisoning symptoms aren't always apparent, Landrigan said, there could be some underlying health effects. The only way to know for sure is to test the amount of lead in a person's blood, he said.
Frisco conducted a health risk assessment in 1994 and a follow-up in 1995 that focused on three families who lived a few blocks north of the lead smelter and east of the new City Hall. The studies found elevated levels of lead in three children but couldn't conclusively connect them to the plant's emissions.
Purefoy, Frisco's city manager, said last month that he hopes to conduct a larger health study to determine any effects from lead.
Shift in relations
Exide officials have told Texas environmental regulators that a production increase won't cause a jump in lead emissions. Yet, California air-quality regulators overseeing an Exide plant near Los Angeles say production is directly tied to emissions.
Last year, they ordered the Exide plant there to cut its production almost in half to reduce lead pollution.
"It was a very quick-acting measure to make sure the lead levels were reduced immediately," said Sam Atwood, spokesman for California's South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Federal data from 2007 show the California plant's overall lead emissions were less than those from the Frisco plant. But weather patterns, smokestack heights and other variables can determine how lead emissions affect the surrounding air quality.
Frisco's request for a contested case hearing on Exide's application requires the company to address the city's issues in a formal setting.
The legal standoff represents a shift in relations between the city and the plant.
"Every time we found an issue, a problem, in the past, they have always stepped up and taken care of it," Purefoy said.
In 1992, for example, after it was found that battery pieces had been used as fill decades earlier in building a parking lot, company officials worked with the city to clean up the contaminated material. And later, when contaminated water from the plant's operations made its way to the city's Stewart Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, the company took responsibility for containment and cleanup.
"I believe we may have the distinction of having the only wastewater treatment plant in the country that ever produced hazardous waste," Purefoy said.
The wastewater treatment plant was closed in the late 1990s. But some areas at the plant recently have tested positive for lead and cadmium. The city wants Exide to pay the $400,000 to $500,000 in cleanup costs.
The Observer has been following the county's progress towards constructing a controversial bridge over Lake Lavon that will connect Lucas to the eastern shore of the lake and will, if built, provide a route via an expanded Parker Road from Plano to the eastern Outer Loop.
As is also true with the entire Outer Loop project, county officials have no idea how to pay for the bridge - they assume it will have to be a toll road, probably constructed and operated by a private company in what's known as a Public Private Partnership (PPP). Meanwhile however, the county is speculating with $376,000 in bond and reserve funds to finance the engineering studies needed before the bridge and connecting roads can be built.
Opposition to the bridge is already being organized, with a group called "Save Lake Lavon" organizing homeowners and sailing enthusiasts who want to preserve the rural feel of the area. Also, the anti toll group TURF (Texans United for Reform and Freedom) have stated their opposition to the toll bridge in an email sent out last week.
All sides of the debate will have a chance to be heard this Wednesday, when the county and its engineering firm (HNTB) hold a public hearing in Wylie on the proposed "preferred right of way" (preferred route) for the bridge and connecting roads.
The County Toll Bridge Public Hearing is scheduled to be held on Wednesday, October 7 at 6:30 P.M. at the Wylie Municipal Building, 2000 Highway 78 North in Wylie.
The Dallas Morning News published an article by Ed Housewright yesterday on opposition to the toll bridge:
Residents protest proposed bridge over Lavon Lake
Monday, October 5, 2009
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
Joe Simmons traded the congestion of Plano for the tranquility of Lavon Lake a year ago.
Joe Simmons worries that a proposed six-lane bridge across the southern end of Lavon Lake would destroy his serene lifestyle.
He moved his family to a home on 3 acres with a lake view. He drives down a secluded road to reach his hilltop property in eastern Collin County.
"I love it," Simmons said. "It's nice and quiet. The air is fresh, and there's lots of wildlife."
He fears that a proposed six-lane bridge across the southern end of Lavon Lake would destroy his serenity.
Simmons and many other lake residents plan to attend a public hearing Wednesday night in Wylie to protest the project. They say it's too expensive, isn't necessary to relieve congestion and would bring unwanted development to the lake.
"One of the plans comes right through my front yard," said Jerry Jones, who has lived on the lake for 21 years. "I'm going to fight it tooth and nail as long as I can."
County officials stress that the bridge isn't warranted now and may never be built. If it is, construction might not begin for 20 years or more, they say.
For now, officials want to select an alignment in case the county's growth necessitates a bridge. Several proposed routes will be presented at the hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Wylie Municipal Complex.
"I think everybody thinks we're going to come out next week and start construction," said County Commissioner Joe Jaynes, whose district includes the lake. "That's just not the case."
Not enough people
The portion of Collin County east of Lavon Lake is largely unincorporated. It doesn't have enough people to justify a major connector across the lake, said Commissioner Jerry Hoagland, who also represents part of the lake area.
Eventually, however, the county's population is expected to more than double to about 2 million people.
"Then it would likely be a viable project," Hoagland said.
The project would actually consist of two bridges. One would start on the lake's west side in Lucas and connect to the peninsula in the center. A second bridge would extend to the eastern shore near the town of Lavon.
Irma Batres has lived on the lake's east side for 12 years. She calls her modest home a "handyman's special," but she doesn't want to lose it to make room for the bridge.
"It's beautiful out here," Batres said. "It's a little piece of heaven. You can see hawks and cranes."
The homes around the lake vary greatly. A new brick house may sit next to a dilapidated frame one.
County Engineer Ruben Delgado said officials have no timetable to acquire right of way for the bridges and thoroughfare. Even if commissioners choose a preferred route after this week's hearing, no design work is planned in the foreseeable future, Delgado said.
"It could stay a line on the map forever," he said.
(AP) The recession has hit middle-income and poor families hardest, widening the economic gap between the richest and poorest Americans as rippling job layoffs ravaged household budgets.
Newly released census figures show the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans - those making more than $138,000 each year - earned 11.4 times the roughly $12,000 made by those living near or below the poverty line in 2008. That ratio was an increase from 11.2 in 2007 and the previous high of 11.22 in 2003.
Large cities such as Atlanta, Washington, New York, San Francisco, Miami and Chicago had the most inequality. Declining industrial cities with pockets of well-off neighborhoods, such as Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffalo, also had sharp disparities.
Plano, Texas, a Dallas suburb, had the highest median income among larger cities, earning $85,003. Cleveland ranked at the bottom, at $26,731.
Link to article....
The Collin County Observer has learned that Bill Boyd, managing partner of Boyd•Veigel and probably the most well known attorney in Collin County history, died this morning of an apparent heart attack.
Friends of Boyd told the Observer that he was exercising on a treadmill at a local fitness center when he collapsed.
Bill Boyd was born in McKinney on August 8, 1938. He received his B.A. in 1960 (economics major, with honors) and L.L.B. in 1963 from Southern Methodist University. Bill was a member of Phi Delta Phi. He was on the SMU Moot Court Team which won the State Bar Competition and competed in the National Moot Court Competition. He served on the Board of Editors of the Southwestern Law Journal. He was admitted to the State Bar in 1963.
Bill Boyd, a life-long Democrat, was elected District Attorney of Collin County his first year out of law school and served a four-year term. He was elected to the Board of Directors of the National District Attorney's Association from Texas and served as a director until the end of his term as District Attorney.
Bill's father was Speaker Sam Rayburn's campaign manager as well as supporter and friend of Lyndon Johnson throughout his career. Bill was a life long friend of Lady Bird Johnson and many other well known state and national politicians.
Boyd joined his father, Roland Boyd in private law practice in 1969 and, immediately after leaving the District Attorney's Office, he was employed to represent Charles Watson, the member of the Manson family who was charged with the Sharon Tate murders. He represented Charles in his extradition fight from Texas to California and took the case to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Watson was only the first of many high profile clients Bill Boyd represented in his 40 year career.
He successfully represented a former Lieutenant Governor in a civil suit in federal court in New York. He successfully represented a former Attorney General and his family in a civil suit in Dallas concerning a business transaction. He has represented a number of public officials in federal and state criminal investigations including the Chief of Police of Dallas, Mack Vines, who was indicted and acquitted for perjury.
Recently, Boyd represented former Judge Verla Sue Holland in her attempt to avoid giving a deposition about her affair with former DA Tom O'Connell.
I had several opportunities to talk with Mr. Boyd during my campaign and later for research for the Observer. It was impossible to meet him and not be impressed with his intellectual dexterity and his breadth of knowledge of politics, politicians and the law.
I will post details of any services as soon as they become available.
Update August 30:
From the Dallas Morning News - Mr. Boyd is survived by his wife, Barbara White Boyd; his sons, William Bradley Boyd and Blake Edward Boyd; his sister, Betty Skelton; and three grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Betty Boyd.
Funeral services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church of McKinney, 1615 W. Louisiana St.
Are Collin County leaders gnashing their teeth every time they’re reminded of Dallas’ shiny new arts district opening this fall? In almost seven years of efforts, the Arts of Collin County — a partnership between Allen, Frisco, and Plano to create an arts hall and park — has only managed to help build a road.
And while Dallas raised more than $330 million in funding during a nine-year campaign, the Arts of Collin County Foundation collected just $9 million (granted, in only about four years of concentrated effort). For some reason, the Foundation disbanded, saying that the Arts of Collin County Commission could take it — and the remaining $12-16 million shortfall — from there.
Then last year, the executive director who had been hired to usher the project into existence figured his work was done and headed off to North Carolina. That was shortly after project leaders asked McKinney to consider yet again participating in the project and ponying up $19 million as the other cities already had. McKinney refused even to take it back to the voters that had rejected it already.
Mike Simpson, the former mayor of Frisco, was tapped late last year to get the project out of its purgatory. You certainly can’t fault the man’s optimism. Last week, the Arts of Collin County Commission voted to start taking bids. Though they remain well short of their stated fund-raising goals, it seems they’ve found some new math to lead them to salvation:
The project has $60 million that was approved by voters in Allen, Frisco, and Plano, and Collin County leaders. They’ve also raised about $9 million. That gives them $69 million.
The original estimate for the first phase of the project was $85-88 million. They now believe that construction costs have fallen to the point that it should only run them about $81 million.
So there you have about $12 million to go. Through competitive bidding, Simpson says the savings could be “the equivalent to getting a $6 to $9 million donation.” Let’s assume the best case scenario, and say that that $9 million savings lets the project come under the $81 million estimate, at $72 million.
Suddenly you’re $3 million away from your goal. Which doesn’t seem all that much. Maybe they could finance the rest? But are the cities, like Plano, in shape to support that?
Hey, Bill Lively, after you’re done with the Super Bowl, Collin County could use your help.
Collin County's Connemara Meadow Preserve being restored to its former glory
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
By SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News
Rich Jaynes knows he's unusual in his love of grasses, particularly species native to Texas. So he was teasing, but just a little, when he showed off some sideoats grama to the dozen people he was leading on a nature walk at Connemara Meadow Preserve."See this guy right here?" he said, caressing a straw-colored stalk. "This is the state grass of Texas! Who doesn't have a tear in their eye? This is a beautiful grass. Don't call it 'grandma.' Then you'd be offending it. Fighting words."
Not a few people love Connemara, a haven of green and quiet off busy Alma Drive on the border of Plano and Allen. And those who know it best say the meadow is making a comeback, in biodiversity and overall health, after a period of heavy use.
But public access to the privately owned conservation area remains limited to weekend tours led by volunteers like Jaynes. Those in charge of the meadow would like to see it open again on a daily basis – on the meadow's terms.
That means gentle use, no pets, and a staff member on-site to make sure nature, not recreation, is the priority.
"I would love to have the funding to hire a sanctuary manager," said Gailon Brehm, who heads the meadow committee of Connemara Conservancy. "We could provide almost full-time access, with the volunteer team we have."
Through the 1970s, Frances Montgomery Williams worried that open space was disappearing because of development. In 1981, the Connemara Conservancy Foundation began with her gift of the meadowland, part of her family's property. The foundation's mission would expand to land protection across North Texas, through arranging conservation easements.
Meanwhile, the public began to find its way to Connemara Meadow Preserve, which offers an upper and lower meadow, stands of hardwoods, and a wetlands border in the form of Rowlett Creek.
For about two decades, the preserve drew crowds for an annual outdoor sculpture exhibit. Others came just to get away, enchanted by a place that offers a near-total retreat from development, though subdivisions and highways are just beyond the trees.
"I used to come out here for picnics," said Dick Grote, who joined the recent nature tour. "It was the greatest cheap date in Texas."
But over the years, as population swelled nearby, Connemara became a de facto dog park.
Kirk Evans knew the place from his boyhood in Allen, and was alarmed by what he saw when he and his wife moved back in 2001.
"There was dog mess everywhere," the Allen ISD science teacher said. "We were kind of bummed."
Conservancy leaders tried to require that dogs be kept on leashes and picked up after. But there was no enforcement, so little changed.
"We decided to close it and take a breath," Brehm said.
Sprucing it up
That was about three years ago. Since then, areas that had been worn to bare soil have become lush again. Evans and students at Norton Elementary have installed bluebird boxes and planted sideoats grama.
Jaynes discovered a patch of blackland prairie, and has recruited volunteers to help him transplant big bluestem – a native grass – from land that's being turned into a highway near Celina.
"If you look at a patch of Johnson grass, you won't find anything but Johnson grass in there," Jaynes said of that non-native species. "In blackland prairie, you'll find dozens of species of plants growing in harmony with native tall grasses."
Evans and fellow educators have had hundreds of students at Connemara in recent years, and adults have experienced the place through Saturday plant and bird-watching tours.
But the "Temporarily Closed" sign nearly always remains in place.
Hoping to correct that, conservancy leaders have hired an executive director with a fundraising background. Luanne Samuel will raise money for the meadow preserve and the organization's broader conservation work.
To have an on-site manager – counting salary, benefits and expenses – will cost about $90,000 annually. Samuel plans to target corporations, foundations and individuals.
Plano, Richardson to spend $200,000 to make new police gun range safer, quieter
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Plano and Richardson are planning more than $200,000 in upgrades to a newly constructed police gun range after experts deemed it potentially unsafe and too noisy.
The cities decided to pursue the improvements in the wake of tests revealing that airborne lead levels violated federal law during the most intense shooting sessions.
The $2.7 million enclosed facility, which serves both cities as a training ground, opened last September in southeastern Plano next to a former shooting range.
But Plano closed the new facility several weeks after it opened over concerns that the lead-laden dust generated from gunfire was not dissipating.
One officer reported developing a sore throat during a shooting session, officials say.
The facility also became the source of noise complaints from neighboring residents.
Plano Police Chief Greg Rushin ordered the range closed last fall "out of an abundance of caution."
Officers have used a shooting range in McKinney? in the interim.
The departments plan to install fans to improve the facility's airflow, as well as clean the range more frequently and monitor the level of lead in the blood of its employees.
Moreover, officers will switch to ammunition that features lead-free primers – the tiny, explosive caps that allow bullets to fire.
Ventilation issues are hardly unique to Plano's range.
Police departments from Florida to New York have grappled with similar problems, especially at indoor shooting facilities.
Those departments have taken similar steps to improve air quality and protect the health of police officers.
Murphy residents will be anxious to see if the noise issues are truly resolved. In the short time the range was open, I heard of numerous noise complaints from residents over a mile away.
The police were shooting everything from pistols to machine guns at that range.
Commission moves forward with building arts hall
By Heather M. Smith / Plano Star Courier
August 24, 2009
On Thursday, the Arts of Collin County Commission members decided to move forward with the arts project and begin the process of attaining bids for building.
The decision was based on a July meeting between Mike Simpson, executive director for the ACC, and Boora Architects and Hunt Construction Group. According to representatives from the two companies, there was a 15.6 percent reduction in costs from May 2008. However, Simpson believes that by engaging in more aggressive notions of “bidding now,” the ACC could save 18.8 percent on construction costs.
“Costs are as low as they’ll ever get,” Simpson said. “It is the recommendation of me and the staff to go ahead and take actions to gets bids.”
Simpson said if the ACC begins soliciting construction bids, by Nov. 16 it could have a preliminary guaranteed maximum price (GMP). He said by December, the ACC could have a finalized GMP and begin construction in January, if everything goes smoothly. Steve Matthews, president of the commission, said they have held off from a financial standpoint and the market has “been good for the ACC.”
“To build now could be equivalent to getting a $6 to $9 million donation,” Simpson said. “I don’t believe the prices will ever be this low.”
While the ACC is moving forward with the bidding process, it is continuously working on fundraising opportunities. During its regular meeting, commission members approved an updated listing of donor naming opportunities.
Some of the new naming opportunities include a dancing jets fountain along the festival walk, parking lots and sculptures. The ACC plans to offer sculptures for the gardens at a variety of prices. Mary Vail-Grube, administrative director, said the ACC plans to work with individual donors and make decisions on the naming opportunities based on their interests.
For information visit www.artsofcollincounty.org.
The Texas Historical Commission is mad at Collin County for selling the old McDonald St. Court House to the City of McKinney. You see, the Historical Commission is charged by law to preserve historic court houses.
While the county commissioners might not think of the 1979 building as "historic", and the City of McKinney obviously does not (they are planning to demolish the building), the Historical Commission disagrees.
The Historical Commission has characterized the old 6 story cube as a, "good example of a modern form of architecture known as Brutalism which is gaining notoriety and appreciation among architects and historic preservationists."
Regardless of the historical sensibilities of the state commission, the property has already been sold to McKinney, and now the commission has it's revenge.
Citing state law, the historical commission notes:
The Texas Historical Commission then levied a $1,000 fine against the county for violating 442.008.
On Monday morning, the Commissioner's Court will ratify a contract agreeing to the plea bargain and accepting the fine.
Military recruiting rises among middle-class, suburban youths in Dallas-Fort Worth area
Collin County is seeing the area's only sustained boost in Army enlistment.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
By JESSICA MEYERS / The Dallas Morning News
Suburban areas like Collin County are being invaded by the armed forces, which are seeing a new kind of recruit – middle-class kids with high school and even college educations.
Matt Lawson, a 17 year old Frisco recruit
Cody Barron, a 17 year old Frisco recruit
Donald Moreland, a 24 year old Plano recruit
Edwin Dorn, professor at UT's LBJ School of Public Affairs
Steady income, college funding and heightened recruiting efforts during an economic downturn are attracting more affluent youth in Texas and across the country to the military.
"It just seems right," said Matt Lawson, a 17-year-old who graduated in June from Wakeland High School in Frisco. He and his 22-year-old brother, Zack, enlisted together last month.
"It's about service to the country, respect, honor, but also better opportunities," Matt Lawson said. "There aren't any jobs."
Armed-forces recruitment is up nationally, with the Pentagon reporting that all active branches met or exceeded their target recruitment goals in June. About three-quarters of new recruits now come from neighborhoods at or above the median household income. And 96 percent have a high school diploma, up from 90 percent two years ago.
The numbers don't surprise Edwin Dorn, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs and a former undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
"A bad economy is always good news for recruiting," he said.
"If the economy goes down enough, middle-class suburban kids begin to find the military attractive. They expected to go to college and are finding their parents can no longer afford to send them."
Collin County recruiters say they're seeing the results – filled stations and new centers sprouting up to meet demand. The Army just opened a recruiting station in Allen. The Navy has plans to open a Frisco center in a few months, and the Air Force hopes to establish one there next year.
The chairs in Frisco's Army recruiting office were all claimed on a recent morning – not an unusual sight, said Army Staff Sgt. Steve Blais, who transferred from rural Wise County several months ago to head Frisco's recruiting station.
"When I pulled the list and saw all the high school and college graduates here, I couldn't believe it," he said.
"Everything has gone up with the economy the way it is and the opportunity for steady income and paid student loans," he said. "People want nothing more than to be marketable."
Growth in Collin
Collin County is seeing the area's only sustained boost in Army enlistment.
Last year it had 2.4 active-duty recruits for every 1,000 people 15 to 24, according to the National Priorities Project, which analyzes Army data. That's up from 1.6 in 2004, with an increase each year.
Rockwall County's numbers are slightly higher than Collin's but have slipped recently. Dallas County, whose enrollment has also dropped in recent years, reached only 1.5 recruits per thousand in 2008. That puts it under the national average of 1.6.
One of the biggest appeals, Dorn said, is the revamped GI Bill, which begins this month and significantly increases education benefits. Service members who spend at least three years on active duty receive free tuition at any public college or can apply the payment toward tuition at a private university.
Dorn also credits the spike to efforts to expand the military and the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates vowed this year to increase the size of the Army by 22,000 troops, a move Dorn said led to "reaching into the areas such as the suburbs that have not traditionally been as lucrative targets as inner cities and poor rural areas."
The Frisco City Council voted just before midnight Tuesday to move forward with a special-use permit to allow a 24-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter to build at Preston Road and Hickory Street.
The vacant land has been zoned for retail since 1983, but some neighbors feared the mega-retailer would be too much for their residential area off Hickory Street. More than 150 people packed the council chambers for Tuesday’s public hearing, which lasted almost four and a half hours.
Council member Jeff Cheney had to recuse himself from the discussion and vote because of a conflict of interest. The remaining five council members voted 5-0 to direct staff to prepare an ordinance to support the special use permit.
“I believe by supporting this, I’m working for the betterment of Frisco,” council member Scott Johnson said in explaining his support.
Wal-Mart plans to build a 184,985-square-foot store on 22.5 acres of the 36-acre site tucked behind the Burger King. Other retail on the remaining acreage is expected to come later.
Wal-Mart officials went beyond the city’s minimum standards on landscaping, parking, open space and other amenities. They added more design and sustainable building features. And they included a pocket park to the north, agreed to improve Gary Burns Drive and install a traffic light at Hickory and Preston.
Because of neighbors’ concerns, the store volunteered to restrict deliveries from occurring between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The store has also agreed to move its property line 25 feet to the east, landscape that area, transfer that land to the adjacent townhomes and build an 8-foot wall to further separate the store from the residential area.
Council member Bob Allen said he put a priority on whether this development would create a sustainable neighborhood and give the older neighborhoods a fresh and new approach.
“Overall these are things that get you the best deal that can be gotten,” Allen told residents at the meeting in explaining his reasons for supporting the project.
But April Angele, spokeswoman for FriscoFirst.org, a group of neighbors opposed to the project, said all those extras weren’t enough. She said her talks with city officials have been all about working “to make this poison pill easier to swallow,” she said.
“It’s a bad idea, no matter how you dress it up.”
From a City of McKinney press release:
Free concert benefits Veterans Memorial Park in McKinney
McKINNEY, TEXAS (Aug. 3, 2009) – The more than 300 Collin County servicemen who have lost their lives in the line of duty will soon have a place of honor in McKinney. The McKinney Parks, Recreation and Open Space Department is planning the Veterans Memorial Park in McKinney on land at Craig Ranch.
The park got a generous start with a $350,000 grant from the McKinney Community Development Corporation, and many private and public donations have followed. However, additional financial support from the community is needed to complete the $1.1 million park. To raise more funds, a free benefit concert has been planned, raising money with raffle drawings and donations. The concert kicks off a four-band line-up on Thursday, Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. at Towne Lake Park in McKinney.
“The purpose of the McKinney Veterans Memorial Park is to recognize the service of all veterans. By having their names engraved on a wall within the park, we will give special recognition to those from Collin County who lost their lives defending our country,” said Director of Parks, Recreation and Open Space Lemuel Randolph. “With local support through events like this, our community can really take pride and ownership in this special park.”
Ronnie Foster, a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran from McKinney, has gathered 326 names of servicemen and women from across Collin County who died in every war or conflict beginning with World War I. His band, the Dog Town Honky-Tonk Blues Band, will perform at the concert.
“I began researching the names after a former high school classmate asked about my friend and fellow Marine, Bill Bryan. Bill died in Vietnam. I want Bill and every Veteran to be remembered for their service,” said Foster.
Concert attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, blankets and picnics. Free parking will be available. For a complete list of raffle items, visit the Collin County Freedom Fighters Web site at www.ccfreedomfighters.com. All proceeds will go to the construction of the Veterans Memorial Park in McKinney.
For more about the park plans, to view an artist rendering or find out how to donate, visit www.mckinneytexas.org. To submit the name of a veteran from Collin County who has died in the line of service, contact Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you wish to make a donation, please make checks payable to the City of McKinney and mail to the following address:
City of McKinney
P.O. Box 517
McKinney, TX 75070
Contributions are deductible under the Internal Revenue Code. A letter will be mailed to you documenting your donation for tax deduction purposes.
I hope that Collin County Observer readers will turn out to help raise funds for this important memorial.
Frisco at center of Denton County alcohol sales lawsuit
August 2, 2009
By VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH / The Dallas Morning News
In Frisco, there are some hard feelings over hard liquor.
The city government is backing a lawsuit filed over a May election that opened the door to all alcohol sales in southeast Denton County, including part of Frisco.
City officials say residents weren't fully informed about the election and the result doesn't represent the will of the voters. The lawsuit, filed last month, seeks to declare the outcome invalid.
Al Gibson of Frisco and Richard Belyan Jr. of The Colony are suing Denton County commissioners over the election held in the Justice of the Peace Precinct 2. Exactly how the two plaintiffs became involved is unclear. They couldn't be reached for comment, and their attorney declined to make them available for an interview.
That attorney is Richard Abernathy, who is Frisco's city attorney. "The folks that hired me were upset, concerned about the election and whether it was legal," Abernathy said.
Gibson and Belyan may not have to pay Abernathy for his work. On Tuesday, the Frisco City Council will consider an indemnity agreement to cover all legal costs as well as offer protection by the city in any future lawsuits.
"This is a voting rights issue," Frisco Mayor Maher Maso said. "People have a fundamental right to know what they are voting on."
In this case, he said, that didn't happen.
The alcohol measure was on a separate ballot at a separate polling place from the city council and school board races because of the different governments handling elections.
"Who in their right mind believes it's OK to have to go to three different places to vote? That's just wrong," Maso said.
But not knowing about the election is not enough reason to challenge it. And state law does not allow a city to contest an election; only registered voters may challenge the results. In the process of exploring options, Maso said, Gibson and Belyan agreed to be plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that the election is void because it did not use the proper boundaries. It claims that Denton County Justice of the Peace Precincts 3 and 6 voted to stay dry in elections held in the late 1800s and early 1900s and that portions of those precincts are now in Precinct 2.
Abernathy contends that changing the alcohol status requires an election be held within the boundaries of the original precincts rather than the current Precinct 2.
John Hatch, who has been involved in dozens of alcohol elections as a partner with Texas Petition Strategies, said that state law changed in 1989 to require historic boundaries be used in alcohol elections involving justice of the peace precincts.
May's alcohol measure landed on the ballot after a petition process funded with about $130,000 from the developer of the Castle Hills community near Lewisville.
The motivation was to bring high-quality restaurants and stores to the development, spokesman David Margulies said.
Mailers and prerecorded phone calls promoting the election targeted Castle Hills's 7,200 residents and the more than 6,000 people who signed the petition to put the measure on the ballot.
"Frisco was not on the radar," Margulies said of the campaign.
Precinct 2, which encompasses The Colony, Little Elm, Oak Point, Hebron and parts of Frisco, Carrollton and Plano, has about 61,770 registered voters.
The vote was 643-474 to allow sales. Turnout was 1.8 percent.
Kyle Fair, owner of Majestic Fine Wines and Spirits, said he hopes to open four liquor stores in Precinct 2. One would anchor a shopping center at Legacy Drive and Main Street in Frisco. The others would be in Hebron, Carrollton and unincorporated Denton County on U.S. Highway 380.
"We can't go forward with construction because the lawsuit is trying to get the whole thing thrown out," he said. "Every day that goes by, we lose revenue."
His application for an alcohol permit is one of at least two submitted to Frisco. The city says it is working to get its ordinances updated to comply with the new law.
Meanwhile, Frisco is looking to involuntary annex more than 2,573 acres in its extraterritorial jurisdiction in Denton County that are affected by the election. Once the annexations are approved, businesses wanting to sell alcohol would be required to seek a zoning change and follow the city's regulations.
A couple of months ago, I wrote of a young lady from Mexico I called Alandra who had her baby taken away by a Collin County jury and FPS.
Alandra never had a chance to take care of her son, the state took her baby from her while she was still in the hospital recovering from the cesarean section.
For over 2 years, Alandra had only seen her son for 2 hours a week. Her visits take place in a supervised counseling center. Her son is being raised by white, Anglo foster parents who don't speak Spanish. Alandra doesn't speak English, only Spanish and her native Nahuatl.
The State, concerned that she was not 'bonding' with her son, filed suit to terminate her parental rights. The foster parents want to adopt her son.
Alandra did nothing wrong. She never threatened her boy, she never harmed him. She is only guilty of being young, poor, and lost in a foreign culture - and of living in Collin County while poor.
After the jury terminated her parental rights, Alandra's attorney appealed the decision to the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas. The appeals court ruled that the mother had been wrongfully denied her son and reversed the decision of the jury. However, the court's decision allowed time for the State to appeal before returning the boy to his mother.
Since the jury verdict in May, FPS has not permitted Alandra to see her son. He is lost to her for now, and as he grows up she becomes even more of a stranger to him.
On July 1, the Collin County District Attorney filed a brief with the Supreme Court, but last Thursday, the court rejected the DA's filing because it was not in proper form. The DAs office made a rookie mistake; in the filing, it referred to the boy by his name. Court rules require that juveniles can only be identified by their initials.
However, the court then gave the State 30 more days to refile the paperwork. Thirty more days added to the time that Alandra will not see her son. Thirty more days where the boy will grow up without knowing his mother.
After the DA refiles, Alandra's attorneys have 30 days to respond. Then after a while, the court will rule. How long it will take is anyone's guess, but these cases can drag on for a year or more.
Meanwhile Alandra waits. She has managed to keep a job, an apartment and is in a stable relationship. She visits with her lawyers, but not her son. She loves her son, so she waits.
Also waiting for the court's decision are the foster parents. They have indicated that if the court rules for Alandra, they may file a seperate suit to terminate her rights, so they can adopt him. That could take another year or more to wind its way through the courts.
And during all that time, Alandra and her son will remain strangers - stuck in two different cultures, two different religions, and with two different languages. Strangers.
Last night, much of Wylie went dark, or at least as dark as it could get with a full moon up.
According to Barry Young, the Area Manager for Oncor Electric, a large buried cable broke about 5PM, casting 2,100 Wylie customers back to the days before air conditioning made Texas' summers livable.
While most customers had their power restored by 11:00PM, a few (like this author) did not see their lights and air conditioning come on until almost 2:00AM.
Oncor's Mr. Young told me that the cable break was most likely caused by "ground shift", the shrinking and swelling that our Texas black dirt goes through in the summer heat and rain. The "ground shift is a powerful force - the cable that broke was no small bunch of wires, but as big around as a man's arm. According to Mr. Young, this 1,000 MCM take-away cable supplied all the power from a major switch located on Brown St.
The cable was repaired around 11:00, but when the lights came on, a "High pot" or pole-mounted transformer blew, keeping a few like me, hot and dark for a total of 8 hours.
When we got home from work at 7PM, it was over 100F outside, and rapidly approaching 90F in the house. Trying to call TXU to report an outage is not a task for the faint-hearted. It took almost 30 minutes to get a service rep on the line - and during the long hold, TXU kept repeating a message that one could report power outages online rather than hold.
TXU's recording failed however to give any explanation on how to connect to the internet without electricity.
WFAA TV reports -
Fathers who lost loved ones work to change 911 system
11:19 AM CDT on Friday, June 12, 2009
By SHELLY SLATER / WFAA-TV
When you call 911 you expect help, but there are no federal standards for training 911 dispatchers.
Now a Collin County man who blames the 911 system, in part, for his son's death is asking why not?
Michael Cantrell is teaming up with a new friend who knows his pain.
Nathan Lee's wife, Denise, was kidnapped and murdered in Florida.
She called 911 and so did a witness, but the call was never dispatched. Police never knew she needed help.
Tragedy brought the two fathers together.
Cantrell's son, Matthew, accidentally hanged himself in their backyard soccer net.
The family's call to 911 heeded little help.
Dispatchers gave no medical advice and then transferred the call, wasting precious minutes they believe could have saved their son.
"We've kind of built a long distance friendship over the last couple of months," Lee says of Cantrell.
And now, with the same motivations, the two men are pushing for federal standards for 911 operators.
"Like federal air traffic controllers, it's a federal mandating thing, but for some reason 911 isn't," Lee said.
"It's not magic," says Cantrell, "when you call 911 that everything is going to go smoothly."
The men are appealing to the federal level to create a uniform 911 system.
Currently, regulations can vary by state, even by county.
Lee says that's not good enough.
"In my eyes you truly are the first line of defense for homeland security," Lee told a group of emergency professionals. .
From better training to better equipment, the hope is to eliminate error.
Previous CCO coverage:
Family sues City of Murphy over tot's death, CCO, May 21, 2009
Revisiting the Cantrell tragedy - Murphy 911 and emergency response times CCO, December 14, 2008
Murphy City Manager's report on toddler death clears officer's actions CCO, November 18, 2008
Cover up in Murphy? Is city telling the real story of toddlers death? CCO, November 17, 2008
Budget crunch forces Collin County agency to scale back Meals on Wheels for seniors
Thursday, June 11, 2009
By VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH / The Dallas Morning News
Evening and weekend deliveries of Meals on Wheels will be eliminated and transportation services for seniors will be scaled back as the Collin County Committee on Aging copes with a $1 million budget deficit.
Terry Dougherty, Meals on Wheels volunteer
The McKinney-based nonprofit will continue delivering meals at lunchtime but restrict the service to those seniors most in need. Specific changes to the agency's bus service are still being worked out but will probably mean fewer trips until at least Oct. 1.
"It was the most difficult decision we have ever been forced to make," board chairman Mark Heidenheimer said in a written statement.
The nonprofit's president and chief executive officer, Marilyn Stidham, said the financial problems snuck up on the agency, which operates on an annual budget of $5.5 million.
"It was a perfect storm," she said, citing the increasing demand for services coupled with higher prices for food and gasoline and the slowing of donations and other funds. "The need outstripped our funding."
Stidham said she kept hoping the agency's cash flow problems would work themselves out as they have in the past. But they didn't.
"If there were any way we could provide the services, we would," she said.
Stidham said the agency is still evaluating the number of clients affected. As of Monday, 112 seniors were cut from the lunchtime deliveries. The 85 to 90 meals delivered in the evenings have been reduced to six to eight meals that are paid for through a specific state program.
And for the first time, the agency has started a waiting list for its meals program. Clients with the greatest needs will be served first. That means that a new referral with a greater need could bump someone already receiving meals to the waiting list. More than 20 people are on the list, which will be reviewed weekly.
Seniors will still be able to get meals at area senior centers, but for some, the problem will be in getting to a center. Most of the agency's clients are homebound and can't drive.
A meal costs $5.25. Any senior able to pay that full price will be able to stay with Meals on Wheels. Stidham said families and churches are stepping in to pay the cost for some. The agency's volunteers are also sending in donations.
I found this on the Dallas Morning News' Frisco Blog.
Couldn't resist posting it.
The Plano Police Department will host the Annual Peace Officer Memorial Day Service for Collin County on Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 1:00 p.m. to honor Texas Law Enforcement Officers who have been killed in the line of duty.
The public is invited to attend this service to be held at Haggard Park, 15th Street and Avenue H in downtown Plano.
Participants in the service will include officials of the City of Plano, Collin County, and Honor Guards from several agencies. A reception will be held immediately following the service.
Parking is available at the east side of Haggard Park and south of Haggard Park in front of the Raymond Robinson Justice Center.
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.
Former Plano City Councilman Richard Bode died on May 1 after a long battle with cancer.
Mr. Bode served on the Plano City Council from 1990 to 2000, and was Mayor Pro Tem from 1996 to 2000. He was very involved in the Plano community, serving on the Leadership Committee of the John Paul, II, High School in Plano (2000-20030, Plano women's shelter Hope's Door (2000-2009) and the Collin County Adult Clinic in Plano.
I am told by one of his friends that just a few days before he died, he performed one more service to the community when he mailed in his absentee ballot.
A Memorial Service will be held Monday, May 4, at 10 a.m., at Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church, located at 1914 Ridgeview Drive, in Allen, with a reception to follow. His ashes will be interred at the Columbarium at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Plano at a later date.
More information can be found in the obituary published in today's Dallas Morning News.
Facing slow growth, Dallas exurbs stuck with unused services
Saturday, April 11, 2009
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
For the constellation of towns at Dallas' frontier, the tough times have brought a reckoning.
In places like Celina and Sanger, Princeton and Ponder, the steady march of the suburbs has all but stopped.
Builders have gone under. Vacant lots now checker many subdivisions. And communities that not long ago were seemingly destined to become Dallas' next great megaburbs are tempering their forecasts.
"Growth has come to a halt," said Sheri Clearman, city secretary of Ponder.
While the economic crisis has touched every corner of North Texas, it has wreaked particular havoc on the ambitions of communities at the outer edges of suburbia.
Most believe the slowdown constitutes a temporary halt to the region's relentless advancement into the North Texas prairie. The region still ranks among the nation's fastest-growing areas despite the sour economy.
Yet for towns on the perimeter, becoming the next Plano, Frisco or Grand Prairie is not as automatic as it once seemed. And some outlying communities that were girding for a housing explosion are now experiencing whiplash.
Slackening growth prompted Princeton to shrink the size of a proposed 2 million-gallon water tank by 500,000 gallons. Prosper might not have enough money to open a $1 million emergency dispatch center that the town started building when times were rolling.
In the Rockwall County community of Fate, revenues from building permits are projected to decline as much as 40 percent this year.
An even more pronounced slowdown is unfolding in rural Celina, located amid windswept ranches at growth's vanguard in northwestern Collin County.
Celina's population has tripled to about 5,000 over the past decade, compelling City Hall to earmark millions to expand water and sewer service.
But growth has come to a virtual standstill in recent months. Celina now finds itself saddled with an expensive water system meant to serve thousands of new homes that have yet to materialize.
The community previously processed hundreds of new home permits each year. Last month, the city did not receive any.
"You have to plan for enough capacity," City Manager Jason Gray said. "But when [the growth] doesn't turn out to be true, you still have those fixed costs sitting out there."
Housing growth has served as Celina's lifeblood in recent years. It has anchored upgrades to the school district and other public improvements, such as a quaint brick-lined city square.
Yet with Celina's trajectory flattening out, the community has felt the squeeze.
Membership is down at the local chamber of commerce. The school district has pushed back its expansion plans. And dwindling sponsorships have put a popular summer balloon festival in jeopardy.
"We've been in growth mode for the past four or five years," said Scott Tingle, a Celina homebuilder. "But the Celina area is just about shut down right now."
The Collin County Observer has learned that Plano native and long time attorney Homer Reynolds III died Sunday night of an apparent heart attack.
Mr. Reynolds was a partner in the firm of Siebman, Reynolds, Burg, Phillips & Smith, LLP. He has served on the boards of several local corporations and charities, including the board of Presbyterian Healthcare System, Inc.
Mr. Reynolds has led in several recent high profile cases. He was Collin County Auditor Don Cozad's attorney in Cozad's legal battles with the county commissioners court, and he represented the Plano's Heritage Farmstead Museum board after it became apparent that its recently deceased Executive Director had embezzelled over $150,000 from the organization.
Homer Reynolds was a 1980 graduate of Plano Senior High School. In 1984, he graduated from SMU, Magna Cum Laude with a dual major in history and political science and he earned his J.D. from the SMU School of Law in 1987.
Update April 7:
From the texasjudge.com website.
Update April 19:
A reader comments:
By now, many of you may already know about the upcoming memorial service planned to celebrate Homer's life. If not, please join Homer's family and extended family of friends this coming Saturday, April 25 at 11 a.m. at St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Plano to reminisce and wish Homer eternal peace.
Mrs. Helen Starnes, age 83, of McKinney passed away March 28 in Frisco. She was born on June 17, 1925, in Chambersville, Texas, to Floyd and Ruby (Redden) Thompson. On Nov. 30, 1942, she married Walter Howard "Curly" Starnes in McKinney. Mrs.Starnes worked for Collin County for more than 41 years.
She was appointed Deputy Clerk under Mr. James Webb on April 17, 1961. She served as Chief Deputy under Mr. Webb from December 1975 until May 1980.
On April 4, 1981, Mrs. Starnes was elected County Clerk, where she served until her retirement on December 31, 2002. She was also a lifetime member of Chambersville United Methodist Church.
She is survived by her son, Dicky Starnes and his wife, Sharon; grandson, Rowdy Starnes; and great grandchild, Brooklyn Starnes all of New Hope, Texas.
Mrs. Starnes was preceded in death by her parents; husband, Curly; brother, Burl Thompson and sister, Margie Foust.
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 31 in the Turrentine-Jackson-Morrow Chapel with Dr. Danny Buster officiating.
Interment will follow at Ridgeview Memorial Park. The family will receive friends for a visitation from 6 to 8 p.m. p.m. Monday at Turrentine-Jackson-Morrow Funeral Home. To convey condolences or to sign an online registry, please visit www.tjmfuneral.com.
Judge John McCraw, Jr. served as district judge in Collin County's 219th District Court from 1997-1986. After leaving the bench, he founded what is now the McCraw Gantt law firm, and for many years he has served as a visiting judge in courts all over the region.
But not only does McCraw judge, he digs too.
He is an avid amateur archeologist and one with family roots in Collin County that go back to the days of the Republic of Texas.
On Friday, March 27, Judge McCraw will give a talk about his experiences and finds digging while in Collin County at a presentation sponsored by the North Texas History Center. The program will begin at 7PM at at The Pantry Restaurant, 214 E. Louisiana in McKinney.
Tickets for this event which benefits the North Texas History Center are Adults: $25 or $20 for members, children $15. Purchase tickets via telephone at 972.542.9457 or in the NTHC online gift shop.
Frisco's Allen Biehl writes for The Frisco Enterprise and posts many of his columns on his blog, The Frisco Line. Beihl is certainly one of the better local commentators. I enjoy his writing - it is usually thought provoking, and is rarely predictable.
On March 6, he published this piece on the Texas Legislature's attempts to control the governance of HOAs.
On the hierarchy of human needs, shelter ranks pretty high. Depending upon your situation, it’s likely right up there with food, water and watching football. Sadly, it’s this need that is most imperiled by today’s economic downturn. Foreclosures are at an all-time high, as homeowners struggle to meet their mortgage payments.
Consider, then, the case of homeowners who have met their mortgage obligation, yet still face foreclosure. You see, Texas is one of the few states that allows Home Owners Associations to initiate foreclosure for non-payment of fees. Granted, HOA dues are a contractual obligation that buyers know about before they sign on the dotted line. But unpaid fees can be made up of more than just dues. Penalties. Fines. Special assessments. All can add up – and in some cases, compound – until a homeowner is facing a hefty sum.
The scary part this is that, unlike most other governing bodies, HOAs are not subject to the same rules that apply to city or county governments, or even school districts. HOAs are guided only by their by-laws and declarations, which may vary widely from group to group, and may not even be publicly disclosed. They’re often controlled by people with little or no experience in public policy. This has led to cases where homeowners have racked up serious fees, often for minor “offenses” having nothing to do with dues. Push comes to shove and the next thing you know, they’re facing the loss of the roof over their heads.
At least two Texas legislators have had enough. Burt Solomons (R-Carrolton) has filed House Bill 1976 to try and curb some of the power HOAs wield in Texas. State Senator Royce West has filed a similar bill (SB429) in the Senate. Solomons' bill seeks to curtail HOAs in several areas, but the most significant is that it removes their ability to foreclose on a homeowner’s mortgage due to unpaid fines. They can still file a lien against the property, but in most cases they’ll have to wait until the property is sold to collect.
Taking the fight one step further, Solomons’ bill would change how HOAs do business. First of all, it requires that HOAs follow the same Open Meeting guidelines as every other government entity. No more closed door sessions and behind the scenes machinations. Everything out in the open, folks.
It put a tear in my eye reading that the McKinney city council has named a park along Wilson Creek after my friend Bonnie Wenk.
Bonnie was both passionate and gentle, a southern lady who loved the water and the trees and her fellow man. She worked for many years to protect and preserve the creeks, dams and lakes that make up much McKinney's green space.
I know she would be honored to see the Bonnie Wenk Park along Wilson Creek.
McKinney City Council picks a name for the Wilson Creek greenway site.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
By Katie Knickerbocker, McKinney Courier-Gazette
Choosing names is often a difficult process but McKinney City Council members were all in agreement at the council meeting Tuesday March 3. They voted unanimously to name the Wilson Creek greenway site after late McKinney resident Bonnie Wenk.
District 1 Representative Gilda Garza said it was her honor and privilege to make the motion approving the Parks Board recommendation to name the site Bonnie Wenk Park.
Wenk was an environmental activist, teacher and writer, Garza said, as well as a member of the East Side Coalition, LULAC and the NAACP. She also worked on the 2003 Strategic Plan.
Marta Gore referred to Wenk as “an awesome unsung hero” during citizen comments at the start of the meeting. Wenk’s family was in attendance and gave comments after the motion passed.
“I cannot tell you how thankful I am to the park board and to the city council,” daughter Julia Shahid said. “Our family is extremely proud tonight.”
Shahid, a professor at Austin College, said she was in Malaysia on a trip with students when she was informed of the proposal to honor her mother. She said she was elated, honored and just blown away that someone thought that much of her mother.
“Her number one interest was environmental issues whether it had to do with the trees, whether it had to do with water, and the fact is, my mother, my daughter and myself, we were all involved in monitoring the water in Wilson Creek so this is really so perfect,” Shahid said.
Wenk's son Jack Wenk told the council he thinks the new name is something his mother would be very proud of.
Garza said the plans for Bonnie Wenk Park include a dog park, climbing boulders and open spaces for soccer/lacrosse among other amenities.
Downtown Frisco residents wonder where city stands on revitalization
Monday, March 2, 2009
By ELIZABETH LANGTON / The Dallas Morning News
FRISCO – When City Hall relocated to Frisco Square, city leaders promised not to forget the historic downtown they left behind.
The city maintained ownership of the buildings it abandoned on Main Street to preserve them and rent them out. The City Council formed a board to steer development and spur economic vitality.
But 2½ years later, the area has seen no significant change.
New businesses moved in, but others left. A city-owned building sits vacant, which the city manager characterized as a "black eye." And anticipated waves of private development have yet to materialize.
"I know that a lot of people feel like we have been forgotten," said Shelley Decou, who owns Horse Hardware on Main Street.
Some residents wonder whether the aging center of a former railroad stop has any role in the future of what is now a suburban boomtown. But city leaders say they still support the revitalization concept.
"I have made a commitment to downtown, and a lot of merchants have, too," Mayor Maher Maso said at a recent council meeting after a suggestion surfaced to sell the old City Hall at Main and Fourth streets.
The buildings, constructed in the early 1900s, at times housed banks, a hardware store and a popular pharmacist before the city moved in about three decades ago. To accommodate growth, Frisco opened a new City Hall in 2006 at nearby Frisco Square.
The Frisco Association for the Arts leased some of the abandoned property, and Ski Frisco Sports also moved in. The city reclaimed some of the space for the Municipal Court.
But the corner spot failed to attract a tenant. Several restaurants found the renovation costs too high, and other entrepreneurs couldn't see past the gutted interior.
"It's the center of our downtown," said Tamee Harty, who owns the nearby Sound Perfection and plans to open an adjacent café this week. "So when it's occupied, it will bring a lot of energy."
The council-appointed Downtown Advisory Board, on which Harty serves, suggested that the city make the site more attractive with updated restrooms, electrical rewiring and ceiling repairs.
Several council members initially questioned the logic of spending the estimated $75,000 to $200,000 and suggested selling instead.
The Collin County Observer questioned the request for the armored car in Cities queuing at the trough published on February 8. We are glad to see the press picking up on the issue.
Frisco requests armored car from stimulus check
Thursday, February 12, 2009
By STEVE STOLER / WFAA-TV
FRISCO — Hundreds of cities across the country are asking the federal government to pay for a slew of projects, including zoos, museums, a polar bear exhibit and even a water park ride.
It's all part of the U.S. mayors economic stimulus proposal to congress.
So what are North Texas cities are asking for?
The City of Allen's wish list includes items you'd expect: A new water tower, more space at the animal shelter, a training center for police and firefighters and $20 million to help build the Collin County performing arts hall.
But take a look at Frisco's $259 million request: Among the road projects is an armored carrier for the police department.
"The better we can be prepared to handle a crisis incident or a high-threat situation, the better off the citizens of Frisco are going to be," said Ray Jewett, from the Frisco police tactical unit.
Frisco's mayor says with all his city's sports venues and schools, it's a smart idea to have an armored carrier.
But some folks argue Frisco is already safe; it's ranked the 16th safest city in the country, based on the number of murders, rapes, robberies and other major crime.
"They need that tool to go in and extract an injured citizen or for protecting themselves when they go into a dangerous situation," Mayor Maher Maso said. "I'm happily putting that on our list of needs."
Frisco taxpayer Mike Devore says he's all for new roads — but not the armored car.
"When I think of an armored personnel carrier, I think of a high-crime area. Frisco doesn't exactly fit that bill. I would think there's better uses to spend the capital," he said.
The Lone Star Foundation keeps a close eye on public policy. The chairman of the group, David Hartman, calls the armored car foolish spending. He says it's not helping people get back to work, and ultimately it's taxpayers who are footing the bill.
From a press release issued by Greg Abbott, Texas Attorney General:
Attorney General Abbott Launches Restitution Program For Countrywide Customers
Lender settles investigations in Texas, 10 other states to resolve deceptive lending allegations
AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today launched a restitution program that will make $7.46 million available to eligible Countrywide Financial Corp residential mortgage customers. Though the State’s 2008 agreement with Countrywide will provide $345 million in total benefits to Texas homeowners, the restitution announced today is specifically set aside for Countrywide customers who lost their homes to foreclosure. Last year, the attorney general initiated an investigation into allegations that Countrywide encouraged homeowners to accept loans they could not afford, failed to fully disclose risky loan terms to borrowers, and wrote loans for unqualified borrowers in an effort to increase market share.
“The restitution program announced today provides financial assistance to Countrywide customers who lost their homes,” Attorney General Greg Abbott said. “Last year we investigated Countrywide and reached a sweeping agreement that included loan modification opportunities for nearly 30,000 Texas homeowners. With today’s announcement, we are implementing the final portion of our agreement and making restitution funds available to Texans whose homes were lost to foreclosure.”
The state’s settlement with Countrywide included the following:
• $7.46 million in restitution for Countrywide's Texas customers who lost their homes to foreclosure--or whose payments were 120 days behind as of October 6, 2008;
• $335 million in loan modifications for about 30,000 Texans; and
• About 1,400 Texans who are in default – or are likely to be in default – on their subprime mortgages and who “voluntarily and appropriately” turn over their residence in the “Relocation Assistance Program,” are eligible to receive up to $2,000. The Relocation Assistance Program is expected to provide $2.8 million in benefits to Texas homeowners.
Under the agreement’s home loan modification program, eligible home owners can modify the terms of their residential loans so that monthly mortgage payments are more affordable. Modified loan terms will vary according to each home owner’s circumstances. The potential modifications include interest rate freezes, interest rate reductions, loan term extensions, conversions from variable to fixed rate loans, and principal reductions. Eligible borrowers who participate in the program will not be charged late fees, loan modification fees, foreclosure fees, or pre-payment penalties.
Bank of America, which acquired Countrywide last year, will distribute to eligible homeowners program application forms. Texans who believe they may be eligible for the loan modification program should visit Countrywide.com or call (800) 669-6650.
For the month of December, Collin County’s unemployment rate increased from 5.3 percent in November to 5.5 percent. The county’s unemployment rate remains below the state and national rate.
Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 6 percent in December, while the U.S. unemployment rate climbed to 7.2 percent. Texas’ unemployment rate has consistently remained well below the national rate for the past year. The Texas unemployment rate for December is up from 5.7 percent in November and 4.2 percent a year ago.
“Our state’s economy has been fairly resilient during these months of economic uncertainty, but the national economic storm has reached Texas,” said Tom Pauken, chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). “The challenge we face now is to minimize the impact of the national trends by continuing to promote our strong business climate and address the skills needs of Texas employers.”
Texas saw broad industry losses in December. Hardest hit were Trade, Transportation and Utilities and Manufacturing, with losses of 8,100 and 8,000 jobs, respectively. Texas’ over-the-year figures fared better with nine of 11 industries posting positive job growth.
read more (subscription may be required)....
McKinney City Council decides FM543 connector route will skirt trees
Thursday, February 5, 2009
By ELIZABETH LANGTON / The Dallas Morning News
The City Council has sided with the trees in a long-running dispute over the path of a future east-west route through north McKinney.
The FM543 connector will link North Central Expressway and Lake Forest Drive. The council on Tuesday directed staff to align the road so that it avoids as many trees as possible near the Geren Trail neighborhood, prompting applause from dozens of arbor advocates.
Baylor Health Care Systems, which subsequently stands to lose more of its 45 adjacent acres, argued that the city should instead seize equal amounts of land from neighboring properties.
In 2001 the Texas legislature allowed for the creation of the Denton County Transit Authority.
Less than 8 years later, construction of a 21 mile rail link from Denton to DART is about to begin, at a cost of only $15 million per mile. Meanwhile buses running a full capacity transport workers from Denton County to Downtown Dallas.
I say "only $15 million" because compared to the US average cost of $35 million per mile for light rail, and the anticipated $75 million per mile (in 2008 dollars) for Collin County's Outer Loop, Denton's A-Train is a real bargain.
Meanwhile, what is Collin County doing? Building toll roads?
Denton County transit agency's rail service coming around the bend
Monday, February 2, 2009
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Dallas and other cities have long held the transportation spotlight in North Texas. But Denton County has grand ambitions of its own.
Eight years after county leaders first envisioned a multimillion-dollar rail line from Denton into Dallas, the concept is nearing reality.
Stakes and spray paint mark the 21-mile train line's path, which runs not far from Interstate 35E on an old freight route. Details such as where stations will be built and what the sound barriers will look like are just about decided. Construction could start as soon as next month.
And a far-flung slice of the region now reachable only by asphalt will soon become connected to Dallas by rail.
"With this ribbon of transit, we will become more focused on the metropolitan area," Denton Mayor Mark Burroughs said.
Not all have bought into the $314 million project, known as the "A-train" and managed by the fledgling Denton County Transportation Authority.
Some believe the succession of sprawling malls and subdivisions along I-35 is hardly ideal terrain for train service. Others think the line will fail to draw many passengers when it launches in December 2010.
And though local leaders have secured the funding, critics are skeptical of whether the county can pull it off.
"We're way too early for rail," Corinth City Council member Jim Mayfield said. "Rail is the future, but it's way in the future."
Path of the A-train
Still, the vision keeps unfolding.
The diesel line will start in downtown Denton and move south through five stops – one south of Denton, one in Highland Village and two in Lewisville – before ending in Carrollton around Trinity Mills.
Getting from the A-train to DART's future Green Line will take a short walk across the station platform. A typical trip from Denton to downtown Dallas using both lines will take some 70 minutes.
Denton retirees Gary and Cheryl Christopherson said a rail option has become all but a necessity for the fast-growing county – population 600,000 and rising. "This is a good first step," said Gary Christopherson, 68, a retired computer engineer.
Supporters believe the A-train will help curtail air pollution and give commuters a welcome alternative to I-35E, a snarling river of traffic, ramps and merging lanes. The train line is pegged to open just as the interstate is scheduled for a major face-lift.
"The big game plan is getting as many people off the roads as possible," said Dianne Costa, mayor of Highland Village.
The University of North Texas and Texas Woman's University also stand to benefit. Both Denton schools are home to many students and staff whose only option right now is to drive between Dallas and Denton County.
"This project will make it clear that we are part of the vibrant growth of the region," said UNT President Gretchen Bataille.
Big-ticket public projects often take decades to build. This endeavor has come at lightning speed.
State lawmakers passed a measure in 2001 allowing Denton to form a local transportation authority. County voters later overwhelmingly supported the idea.
In 2003, Denton, Highland Village and Lewisville approved a half-cent sales tax increase to help pay for the project. That money, plus a $250 million infusion from the State Highway 121 toll road deal, will help cover construction.
WFAA is accusing Mayor Dorman of inflating the population of Melissa in order to make it look like the city is growing.
In their 'coverage', WFAA says that the mayor uses the number of water meters times 3.3 people. According to Mayor Dorman, that adds up to 5,000 folks living in the City of Melissa. WFAA points out that using water meter counts means that 10 people must live on the football field.
The article implies that Dorman is using a high body count to justify seeking a Home Rule referendum, and to trumpet his own real estate holdings.
Home Rule would allow Melissa to expand its ETJ and more easily annex adjacent land.
In another article, a WFAA headline blares that the housing slump has made Anna into a modern day ghost town.
OK! I've been in Anna recently - there, like much of the county, there's a lot of new vacant homes for sale. And there are developments that just aren't building out right now, leaving empty lots or bare foundations. But I sure didn't see a ghost town.
DFW November home sales dropped 33% from last year's pace, and along with the rest of the Metroplex, Collin County is being hit hard. Many smaller communities like Melissa, Celina, Lavon and Wylie have seen such explosive growth in the last few years that the downturn is a real sea change.
More troubling is the explosive growth in home foreclosures, up 18% this month from last year. As the economic downturn deepens, we can expect many of our neighbors to struggle - and some will fail to keep their homes.
But I don't think we've added any "modern day ghost towns" (at least not yet) and I suspect that Melissa has closer to 3,300 souls (as estimated by NCTCOG).
2009 will be a tough year for our citizens, cities and county. However I fail to see how goofy population games or hysterical headlines help anyone.
Plano's City Council has agreed to pay a Seattle-based development firm up to $1.1 million in taxpayer money for a new apartment and retail complex on the downtown DART rail line.
The project, to be just south of 15th Street near Haggard Park, represents Plano's latest effort to revive its aging downtown area since DART arrived in late 2002.
Developer Pinnacle plans to build a complex several stories high that includes shops, more than 200 apartments and a parking garage for the city's Police Department. The project will add some $20 million to the city's tax rolls, planners say.
The project was supposed to break ground in the fall, but was delayed, in part, because of the uncertain economy.
Plano has agreed to give away a section of public land to the project and pay for sidewalk and other upgrades. The council approved the money on Dec. 22, its last meeting of 2008.
All told, the city has pumped more than $20 million in taxpayer funds into its downtown area.
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.
Development slow to follow Dallas transit rail at Plano's Parker Road station
Sunday, December 21, 2008
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
The arrival of DART's Red Line has sparked a rebirth in downtown Plano, where new apartments and eateries have opened along decorative brick streets.
A far different landscape has emerged just one station away at Parker Road, the rail line's northern end and one of DART's busiest stops.
Empty lots abound. Sidewalks are cracked and broken. And the area's odd mix of buildings – big box stores, a day laborers' center and a bowling alley among them – makes for a disjointed suburban stew.
"There's a lack of a sense of place," City Council member Pat Miner said.
For all the examples of light rail fueling community turnarounds, DART's Parker Road stop has proved to be an exception. Six years since the Red Line was extended north to Parker Road, the station and its surroundings have changed little.
The lack of progress runs counter to a trend toward transit-centered building, which has grown more popular as traffic has worsened, fuel prices have risen and more people have embraced city-style living.
Several North Texas cities, including Carrollton, Garland and Rowlett, have anchored redevelopment efforts around future or existing DART stops. Planners in Dallas hope a station scheduled to open next year at Fair Park will help revive dilapidated neighborhoods nearby.
Plano, too, has lured new apartments and stores around its downtown station. In recent years, the city has invested about $20 million into downtown street upgrades, tax breaks and other projects.
Planners regard the Parker Road area as an untapped frontier for redevelopment that could enliven one of this suburb's poorest sections. Yet efforts have languished.
After reading the article, I was curious to see how Collin County's nursing homes fared. So I went online to the Medicare site, and looked them all up.
I can report that we did just a little better than the rest of the metroplex, however 27% of our nursing facilities received Medicare's lowest rating - one star, described as "much below average".
All told, more than half of the nursing homes in Collin County are rated as "below average" or "much below average" according to the rating system used by Medicare.
I know how bad some of these places can get. My father died in one of these local "one star" Medicare/Medicaid homes after a short stay when he was discharged from the VA system. The whole building smelled like urine, and on the faces of the patients was the look of hopelessness and despair.
Medicare rated 15 of the 18 nursing homes listed in Collin County. Of those 15:
1 (7%) was rated at the highest overall rating of 5 stars described as "much above average
5 (33%) were rated 4 stars for "above average"
1 (7%) got 3 stars or an "average" rating
4 (27%) earned only 2 stars, a "below average" rating
4 (27%) received the lowest, one star rating, described as "much below average".
The lowest 4 are the McKinney Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, The Collinwood, the Baybrook Village Care and Rehab Center, both in Plano, and Hillcrest Nursing and Rehabilitation LP in Wylie.
The 4 listed as "below average" are, North Park Health and Rehabilitation Center in McKinney, Prairie Estates in Frisco, Prestonwood Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Plano, and Settlers Ridge Care Center in Celina.
Only one nursing home, The Park in Plano, was rated as "average".
The 5 above average were Victoria Gardens of Frisco, Victoria Gardens of Allen, Life Care Center of Plano, Hinton Home, Inc. in Farmersville, and Heritage Manor Healthcare Center in Plano.
The highest rated nursing home in the county, and the only one 5 star rated is Homestead of McKinney.
The ratings averaged the scores for health inspections, staffing and quality measurements.
The ratings can be found at Medicare's Nursing Home Compare website.
Last month, there was renewed media interest in the sad death of a Murphy toddler. The child was strangled after being caught in a backyard soccer net in 2007.
The news media focused on an emotionally charged 9-1-1 call by the child's distraught mother leading to a 2-1/2 minute delay in summoning the EMT's.
It seemed to me that the 6 minute police response and the 8 minute EMT response time after dispatch was unusually long for a city as small and compact as Murphy.
In order to try to obtain some basis for critiquing the emergency team's responses, I sent open record requests to both Murphy and the neighboring City of Wylie.
The results are sobering.
For the Murphy Police Department, the average response time (averaged over 15,530 calls in 2008) was almost 7 1/2 minutes. Most of that time - 4 1/2 minutes was spent before 9-1-1 actually issued a dispatch to the patrol officers.
However in Wylie, the average response time (averaged over 27,230 calls in 2008) was 4 3/4 minutes. The time 9-1-1 needed to dispatch averaged only about 1 minute.
The statistics for Fire/EMT response are just as disturbing.
In Murphy, the average response time for Fire/EMT was over 8 minutes. In neighboring Wylie, it was 4 1/4 minutes.
Benchmarks set by the National Fire Protection Association (Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments) call for a response time of 4 minutes or less, achieved 90% of the time.
Studies have proven that reduced response times save lives. One 10 year old study showed that reducing the EMT arrival time from 8 minutes to 5 minutes almost doubled the survival rate of patients in cardiac arrest.
Another study, from 2005, showed that while 8 minute response times did not positively impact survival rates, moving to the 4 minute average did have a significant effect on overall patient survivability.
The Wylie fire department has an ISO 1 rating, which is the highest rating offered by the Insurance Services Office, who rates fire departments on a scale of 1 (best) to 10 (worst). Murphy's ISO rating is 4.
Looking a little deeper into the sub-par Murphy statistics, I discovered 2 things that far outweigh the smaller size of Murphy's public safety departments.
First, in 2006, Murphy made a decision to bring 9-1-1 operations "in-house" as part of the police department's communications division. In 2007 (at the time of Matthew Cantrell's death) the authorized staffing for police communications was 5 persons. That was increased to 8 in 2008, but decreased to 7 in the 2009 budget.
Second, according to those I've talked to, the City Council stopped receiving regular response time statistics from the city manager "a few years ago".
It would appear to this writer that the city's slow response times are the result of management neglect, poor implementation of the 9-1-1 system, and by lack of oversight by the elected city council.
Cover up in Murphy? Is city telling the real story of toddlers death?, CCO Nov. 11, 2008
Murphy City Manager's report on toddler death clears officer's actions, CCO Nov. 18, 2008
Collin County Viewpoints:
by Dave Cary
People in Collin County are proud of their community. Collin County likes to refer to itself as one of the reddest counties in the union with all of the attendant values. People often refer to the regularly attended religious organizations, the schools, and the emphasis on Family Values. There is a lot to be proud about in Collin County and yet, there are some concerns.
The Destruction of our Children:
A growing number of people are becoming alarmed at the increase in disfunctionality in our children. Child pathologies seem to be on the rise, as do drug addictions, teenage pregnancies, teenage abortions, and gender confusion. Collin County seems to go through cycles of concern regarding teen drug usage, suicide, etc. Many of our children seem to grow up without purpose or drive. It is very hard to miss that something fundamentally wrong is happening to some of our children.
The Destruction of our Families:
Many of us believe that it is no coincidence that at the same time we have an increase in damage being done to our children, we have an increase in the breakdown of our families. Study after study shows that divorce is very damaging to our children and that children do best when they have both parents involved in their lives. Mothers and fathers tend to have very different parenting styles, but it is the interplay of the parenting styles of both which result in the best adjusted children. Fathers and mothers are equally important in a child’s life. Instinctively, we know this.
Parental Rights are a Key to Protecting our Families and Children:
At the same time we have record child pathologies and a record number of divorces, we have unprecedented unwarranted interference in our families by our Collin County courts. Many times our courts attempt to make parental decisions instead of allowing parents to do so, often for no other reason than a difference of opinion. In fact, in most instances, our courts modify Parental Rights, (the right to raise our children as we see fit, free of governmental interference) by using what is called a Preponderance of Evidence, which for practical purposes, is the same standard of evidence used to adjudicate a traffic ticket and is the lowest standard of evidence available. In effect, Parental Rights are abrogated based on what amounts to a coin toss or a political expedient.
Our bankruptcy laws require a “Clear and Convincing” level of evidence which is a higher standard of evidence. Clearly, we as a society have our priorities backwards. No wonder our families are being destroyed. Parental Rights are at the heart of what it means to be a family.
Parental Rights are Constitutional Rights
Parental Rights are Constitutional Rights, which speak to the core of what our nation stands for. Numerous higher courts have held that Parental Rights are Constitutional Rights, including the Supreme Court of the United States.
Constitutional Rights may be abrogated only by using a standard of strict scrutiny. Under our Constitution, Parental Rights may only be temporarily modified if there is clear evidence that a child’s life or limbs are at immediate risk. They may be permanently modified only through due process of law using a standard of Clear and Convincing evidence. This is to protect our children. It is clearly very harmful to disrupt a child’s relationship with either of his or her parents for no clearly serious reason. In addition, the XIVth Amendment to the Constitution is clear that all citizens are to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. There are no second class citizens.
Instinctively, we know that Parental Rights are Constitutional Rights. Most of us would give up any right, including the right to vote, before we would give up the right to participate meaningfully in the care and education of our children. We love our children that much. When we violate such Constitutional foundations, we strike at the very foundation of our country and our county. It is meaningless and pharisaic to tie yellow ribbons around our trees to welcome home our fighting men and women who often find their Parental Rights violated by our county courts when they get back.
Our Divorce System Seems Designed to Create Destruction:
Most of us have been fortunate enough to have met a couple who have been married for 50 years and most of us feel that is a great thing. What many of us don’t realize, is that every great marriage usually has had at least one moment of truth where the
marriage was at a crossroads of either going on to new heights or descending into bitter destruction.
It is sad to observe that the biggest reason couples descend into bitter destruction, is that one way or another, our Collin County court system got involved. This just shouldn’t be.
Our divorce system assumes a “winner takes all” attitude. One person for all practical purposes gets the children and the other has minimal involvement as what has been called a “noncustodial parent”, in effect, a weekend visitor. Over time, it is inevitable that the “noncustodial parent” loses involvement with the children, if only because there is minimal opportunity to be involved. Parenting is all about working with the homework and insuring children do the dishes and providing daily life lessons such as getting up and going to work each day and providing an extended circle of family and friends. Both parents are equally important in this process, though they tend to parent differently. It is hard to imagine a greater incentive to insure a bitter and protracted battle; one that guarantees ongoing hostility and conflict, than a system which pits one parent against another to determine who gets to continue to be a parent. A parent is forced to fight whether he or she wants to, just to survive. In the end, all we are left with are bitter parents who may have lost faith in our Constitution, financially exhausted families to further burden our Social Security system and tax base, and children who have been unfairly and unethically placed in the middle who go on to all sorts of pathologies and create a new significant drain on our treasury. Why is this good?
A Financial Disaster for Our Families and Our County:
One of the biggest financial disasters which can befall a family is a divorce. First, there is the direct cost of litigation which depletes family resources until they are exhausted. The “winner takes all” assumption guarantees lots of fees to a lot of people engaged in the Family Dissolution Law industry. The courts seem to be careful to insure that one party is always placed in a position of constant vulnerability regarding Parental Rights so that as future family resources are available, they too can be exhausted. This distracts parents from maximizing their earnings and represents a serious revenue loss to the government. Honestly, what do we think would happen to people whose Parental Rights are violated?
At the same time, the cost of the machinery to maintain this unequal playing field which encourages divorce is immense. A significant portion of the effort expended by our Collin County district courts is focused on divorce and the aftermath. We spend all this money on maintaining the machinery of divorce, then turn around and spend all this money to treat the subsequent pathological ills.
All of these funds lost could go to health care, retirement, creating employment, and national defense. Surely, we are smarter than this; surely, we are more compassionate than this.
How we Fix the Problem:
Few would disagree that parents are in the best position to decide what is best for their children. Equally, few would disagree that, in the event of divorce, both parents equally love their children and want what is best for them. Often what is keeping them from coming together on this issue is the “winner take all” approach with its artificial imperative to fight.
Imagine how much better it would be if the law made it clear that parenting is the responsibility of the parents, not the courts. Parents would be ordered by law to come up with their own parenting plan, jointly if possible, individually if not. In the event there is a dispute, barring the establishment of Clear and Convincing evidence that a parent is unfit through due process of law, the courts would be ordered to split things down the middle, including custody. Once that reality sets in, parents would be much more cooperative....
In most cities, a park is a place where trees and nature combine to provide a respite from the city noise and bustle.
Not so in Wylie, where a park is where the kids go to play ball, or where the new City Hall is to be built.
On Saturday morning Wylie officials will preside over the groundbreaking for the new Municipal Building / library / recreation center complex on land acquired by the city for a park.
Inside Collin County Business reports on the latest ball field/park improvements in the Southeast Collin County town of Wylie. (my home town)
The Collin County Parks Foundation Board awarded the City of Wylie a $400,000 grant to be used for Founders Park improvements and expansion. It is anticipated that construction should start in early spring 2009.
In November 2005, Wylie voters approved $6.965 million for improvements to Founders and Community parks. Of that, approximately $5.5 million is to improve Founders Park, a 65-acre park located just south of Wylie High School.
City staff is working with Halff Associates on the improvement project. At this time, proposed new amenities at Founders Park include 14 soccer fields, two baseball fields, concessions/restroom facility, hike/bike trail and additional parking.
Improvements are proposed to include a 8-foot concrete hike/bike trail, replacement of field lighting, additional t-ball field, new bleachers, new concessions/restroom facility and improved irrigation system. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2010.
Simpson named executive director of Arts project - UPDATE
By Rick Mann, Staff writer / Frisco Enterprise
Monday, November 24, 2008
Former Frisco Mayor Mike Simpson was hired Monday as the executive director of the Arts of Collin County, replacing James Baudoin who resigned in July. The board of directors for the arts project make the announcement at the Allen City Hall.
Simpson was named the new arts director after a subcommittee of the Arts of Collin County Commission narrowed the field from 50 nationwide applicants. His relationship with the cities of Collin County and his passion for the arts project were two of the main reasons stated for his hiring.
“We’re excited to have Mike in this role,” said Steve Matthews, president of the ACC. “He has been a success in everything he has done. His established relationships in the community, countless accomplishments as mayor and knowledge of public and private financial projects make Mike uniquely qualified to help lead [this project].”
Matthews said the ACC felt Simpson was the best-suited candidate for the position.
“As the mayor of Frisco, Mike was one of strongest champions,” Matthews said. “He spent his time as mayor of Frisco enriching the lives of those who lived in Frisco. Now he will have an opportunity to do the same thing for all the people of Collin County. He knows all the players in the area and brings with him lots of contacts. No one knows the process better than Mike.”
Raising the necessary funds to get the project under construction is Simpson’s first order of business.
“These are tough economic times but I read everyday about people giving money for projects they deem important,” Simpson said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to raise the money we need to get started.”
The ACC needs close to $20 million before ground can be broken on the property located southeast of Custer and State Highway 121 in Allen. Simpson believes he has the right plan to get the funds in.
“I want to continue going after the large naming gifts,” he said. “Every performing arts hall has naming opportunities and this is no different, whether it’s for the land or the building. We will continue to seek large contributions.
“We will also involve everyone in the county. Individual families who have children who perform and might perform in this hall just might want to contribute. We want to make it easy for them to do so. This arts hall will be very important to those families and important to the future of the kids,” he said.
The final point to his plan is to involve everyone else.
“With the first two parts we have both ends of the contributing spectrum. We also want to include those people who want to give $10,000, $15,000, $50,000. We want to make sure that everyone who wants to be involved can be involved.”
Plano's Heritage Farmstead Museum board says director took $150,000 before he died
Sunday, November 23, 2008
By WENDY HUNDLEY / The Dallas Morning News
Before his death, the executive director of Plano's Heritage Farmstead Museum took more than $150,000 from the museum's coffers by making unauthorized payments to himself, his creditors and "fictitious third-party vendors," court documents allege.
Details were revealed in a civil petition filed last month by the Heritage Farmstead Association, a nonprofit organization that operates the museum. The group wants to depose the widow and other family members of Ted Peters, who served as executive director of the museum from 1994 until his death two years ago.
After his death, Plano police began investigating allegations that funds were missing, but no criminal charges were filed and the case is closed. The civil action provides insights about how the funds were spent and links the misuse allegations to Mr. Peters for the first time.
The farmstead association petitioned the court because it is considering suing members of the Peters family to recover the missing funds.
"The purpose of the lawsuit, if there is a lawsuit, will be to reimburse the farmstead association and the city of Plano for the money that was fraudulently taken from the farmstead by Ted Peters during his tenure as executive director," said Plano lawyer Homer Reynolds III, who represents the organization.
Robert Scott, an attorney for Mr. Peters' widow, Fonda Peters, and other family members, said his clients do not have any of the disputed assets.
"This is a tragic set of circumstances, and we've always been willing to talk," Mr. Scott said. "This is the first attempt to talk with my clients, and it's been done with a lawsuit."
At a hearing earlier this month on the group's motion, a Collin County judge ruled that the family members could be questioned but limited the scope of the depositions and the documents they must provide.
Last year, the museum's board reported "irregular business transactions" to the city, prompting the criminal investigation.
Mr. Peters, who was paid $30,000 a year and had charge of the museum's financial books, was never publicly named a suspect.
In 1994, he was chosen from more than 100 candidates to run the 4-acre museum in south central Plano that depicts prairie life in the 19th century. The museum is supported by the city through hotel and motel taxes.
When Mr. Peters was hired, officials didn't know that he was an ex-felon who had just received 10 years of probation for financial misdealing when he was a lending officer for a Greenville, Texas, life insurance company.
Orchestra music played in the background of the lobby -- set up with small intimate tables and candlelight -- while people mingled before the main event.
The Arts of Collin County hosted the event Thursday night at Frisco's Westin Stonebriar Resort where over 120 interested residents listened to a report on the progress of building a world-class arts park and performance hall.
"This is very impressive," said Shelie Shonk, a Frisco resident. "I think this project is something to be proud of and it's definitely something this community needs."
In the lobby, Frisco High School's Chamber Quartet provided background music while attendees enjoyed hors d'oeuvres and wine. As the people migrated into the banquet hall, Alice Hobbs, executive director for the Plano Symphony, said how excited she was to be there.
"This is so wonderful for the community," Hobbs said. "This is something we've needed for a long time."
The Former Frisco Mayor Mike Simpson delivered his presentation on the status of the performance hall. Members from the Frisco City Council attended as well as million-dollar donators [sic] Stan Graff and Betty and James Muns.
Simpson stressed to the crowd that Collin County has everything - retail, sports venues, and great schools - everything except a performing arts hall. He said the addition of a performance hall to the area can improve the quality of life for residents. He said the goals of the ACC commission are to develop the finest regional arts park in America while integrating all types of arts, to create a family focus and gathering place for families and to create a pedestrian environment.
"One of the things people don't know enough about is how far we've come and how far we have to go," Simpson said.
During his presentation, Simpson informed the crowd that out of the estimated $90 million it will cost to complete the project, the commission only needs another $22 million. The project already has a countywide advisory committee, a master developer plan, the site standards are complete, the theater is designed, approved and ready for construction and Melissa and Fairview joined as member cities. The design for the performance hall, completed by a "world-class design team," has already received two awards.
The vision of the ACC is to create an environment where all citizens can share and enjoy in the full diversity and vitality of the arts, the former mayor said. Simpson said the benefits of Collin County having an arts park and performance hall will be the significant impact on the economy, the improvement of the quality of life, the ability to nurture and grow the arts and it will create an inviting lifestyle for residents.
According to Simpson, for every one child that is involved in sports, there are 3.4 children involved in the arts. The ACC performance hall will provide a place for children in the area to perform and see world-class shows, he said. Studies have shown that arts can impact learning and can improve testing scores, Simpson said.
"What people will see in the future is more presentation by this group," Simpson said. "There will be more face time and a lot more education about how much we have accomplished."
Arts of Collin County and Former Frisco Mayor Mike Simpson will give an update on the ACC Performance Hall and Arts Park
* What it means for you and your family
* Where we are to-date
* Significant accomplishments
* Next steps to groundbreaking
* How you can help
November 20, 2008, 6:30 p.m.
Westin Stonebriar Resort
1549 Legacy Drive
Frisco, TX 75034
6:30 p.m. - Reception with hors d’oeuvres and wine
7:15 p.m. - Presentation on the ACC Performance Hall and Arts Park, Mike Simpson, Former Frisco Mayor and Steve Matthews, ACC President
7:45 p.m. - Questions and Answers
8:15 p.m. - Close
Judge overturns Plano zoning decision that blocked church
Thursday, September 25, 2008
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
A judge on Thursday overturned a Plano zoning decision that had kept a small Vietnamese church from moving into a building it bought.
State District Judge Greg Brewer sided with the Plano Vietnamese Baptist Church, saying the city Board of Adjustment was wrong to refuse the church a zoning variance in April.
Pastor Thomas Le and about 75 church members and supporters attended the hearing and cheered the ruling.
“I thank God,” Mr. Le said. “I’m kind of overwhelmed right now.”
Liberty Legal Institute, a Plano-based religious advocacy group, represented the church in its suit against the city.
“This is what America is about,” said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel. “The idea that these people escaped Vietnam but had not been allowed to enter their own church is unthinkable.”
Assistant City Attorney Victoria Huynh argued the Board of Adjustment acted correctly. It rejected a city staff recommendation to grant the Plano Vietnamese Baptist Church an exemption to a city ordinance that requires churches to sit on at least 2 acres.
The church has 1.2 acres in a diverse residential neighborhood at Avenue G and 17th Street near downtown Plano.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
By VICTOR GODINEZ / The Dallas Morning News
Hewlett-Packard Co. said Monday that it plans to cut about 24,600 jobs as part of its purchase and reorganization of Electronic Data Systems Corp.
H-P did not provide an exact breakdown of where the cuts will occur, but the vast majority will come from Plano-based EDS, which has about 140,000 employees worldwide. That includes about 7,000 workers in the Dallas area and 48,000 in the U.S.
The rest of the cuts will come from H-P's workforce.
The layoffs will occur over the next three years, and H-P said it plans to replace about half of the jobs.
But many of those replacement hires seem likely to come from low-cost areas such as India, as H-P said in a news release it is aiming for "a global workforce that has the right blend of services delivery capabilities to address the diversity of its markets and customers worldwide."
The cuts are part of H-P's plan to integrate the information technology outsourcing company that it bought for $13.9 billion last month.
Census data ranks Plano as wealthiest large city in U.S.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
By BRUCE TOMASO / The Dallas Morning News
Plano is the wealthiest large city in America, according to the Census Bureau.
A Census report issued this week shows that among cities of 250,000 or more, Plano (whose estimated population is just over that threshold) has the highest median household income, $84,492.
Rounding out the top five:
• San Jose,. Calif. ($76,963)
• Anchorage, Ala. ($68,726)
• San Francisco ($68,023)
• San Diego ($61,863).
The results apparently surprised Plano officials.
"I'd never heard that before, but it's good to know," Mayor Pat Evans told USA Today.
City of Murphy
August 19, 2008
Parade in Honor of Nastia Liukin, 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist
Murphy, TX - The City of Parker will host a parade and reception in honor of 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist, Nastia Liukin on Saturday, August 23, 2008 at 10:00 a.m.
The parade will start at Victory Church proceeding west on Parker to Dublin, loop around and head east on Parker back to Victory church. A reception will follow the parade at South Fork Ranch in the Pavilion.
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.
The latest foreclosure statistics show only a 7 percent increase in the Dallas-Fort Worth area from a year ago.
But more than 3,700 homes are still scheduled for foreclosure sale in September’s county auctions, according to statistics released Thursday by Addison-based Foreclosure Listing Service.
The biggest September foreclosure gain is in Collin County, where the number of homes facing forced sale jumped 38 percent from a year ago.
Foreclosure totals were unchanged in both Dallas and Tarrant counties.
The period ending with September’s foreclosure auctions will be the second quarter in a row that total postings in the area have declined.
So far this year, 37,572 residential properties have been posted for foreclosure – an increase of 20 percent from the first nine months of 2007.
DALLAS-FORT WORTH AREA FORECLOSURE POSTINGS
Residential properties scheduled for foreclosure auction in September for each of the counties and change from a year ago.
|Dallas County||1,692||No change|
|Tarrant County||1,098||No change|
|Dallas-Fort Worth area||3,721||7%|
SOURCE: Foreclosure Listing Service
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 looks pretty good in two "best" lists published today.
Forbes Magazine rated Collin County as the 14th of 20 "Best places to raise a family". The Forbes article stated that the county was, "Home to the burgeoning northern suburbs of Dallas, Collin County is a great value play for families. An affordable median house price of $191,000 means access to a school system that boasts a 1,103 average SAT score and a graduation rate of 93%."
However Forbes also noted, "One caveat: a sub-par crime rate of 34.7 index crimes per 1,000 people. That's four times higher than Hunterdon County, N.J., the safest county on our list."
Salary.com rated Plano as, "The best city in which to build vast personal wealth".
According to a recent article in the Dallas Business Journal, "Salary.com's "2008 Salary Value Index" surveyed 69 metropolitan areas with more than 250,000 people and ranked the best and worst places to build personal wealth and raise a family.
Rounding out the top five cities where it's easiest to get rich include No. 2 Aurora, Colo.; No. 3 Omaha, Neb.; No. 4 Minneapolis and No. 5 Albuquerque, N.M."
No mention was made of how those who failed to achieve "vast personal wealth" could obtain decent health care.
The Collin County Observer has learned that County Commissioner Jack Hatchell of Plano died last night, presumably as a result of his long battle with cancer.
Commissioner Hatchell was a graduate of Texas A&M, an army veteran and a registered civil engineer. Previous to his serving as Commissioner for Collin County Precinct 4, Mr. Hatchell was a city councilman in Plano.
Commissioner Hatchell was a long serving board member of the NCTCOG. Earlier this month, COG presented him with the William J. Pitstick Regional Excellence Award. He was commended for his outstanding public service career in local and state government and his proactive leadership on transportation issues.
Mr. Hatchell attended last week's commissioners court meeting, where he cast the deciding vote for the county's homestead exemption. At that meeting, Mr. Hatchell was obviously emotionally moved when the commissioners recognized him for receiving the Pitstick award.
As a personal note, I have always had the greatest respect for Commissioner Hatchell. His knowledge of transportation issues was exhaustive. He was always willing to share his wisdom with a candor not often seen in elected politicians. In his dealings with me, he unfailingly displayed the dignity and fairness of a gentleman.
At this time, no funeral arrangements have been released.
My prayers and condolances go to his wife Pat and to his children and grandchildren. He will be missed.
Dallas Morning News coverage is here
McKinney Courier-Gazette coverage is here.
Frisco Family Services Center supporters and board members heard an update and presentation of future goals for the center at the annual “State of the Agency” address Thursday night at the Senior Center at Frisco Square.
"[some] who were previously donors to the food bank have had to learn how to become clients."
Executive Director Jill Cumnock addressed the crowd of about 50 on changes that have occurred as the economy has declined. She said that some clients who were previously donors to the food bank have had to learn how to become clients. She said many of them are from the housing industry.
“We are definitely seeing a different clientele,” Cumnock said.
She also said that the agency has seen a spike in its gasoline voucher program as oil prices have surged, and FFSC is planning to begin distributing child-care vouchers in a similar program that would allow parents to leave their children in safe hands as they work until a first paycheck hits the bank.
The report indicates that Collin County experienced a slower growth rate than in previous years. The County grew from 724,900 on January 1, 2007 to 748,050 on January 1, 2008. That translates into a 3.19% annual growth rate.
Lavon led the region with an almost 26% growth - adding 400 new residents. Melissa, Princeton and Fairview all sustained a double digit growth rate, while Farmersville, Lowry Crossing, Lucas and Parker grew by less than 2%.
McKinney gained the largest addition of people, adding 6,200 new souls to reach a 2008 population of 118,200. Plano and Frisco came close - each growing by more than 5,000 new residents.
According to the COG report, "North Central Texas has added 131,000 persons during 2007 for a January 1, 2008 total population of 6,538,850. This marks the twelfth consecutive year to add over 100,000 persons. A decrease in growth during 2007 can be explained by a slow down in new single-family completions."
"Over 40 percent of the region’s growth in 2007 was located in five cities. Dallas (1,300,350) led the region by adding 19,850 new residents. Fort Worth followed, adding 16,000 new residents, bringing the city’s total population to 702,850 persons. McKinney? (118,200) added 6,200 persons. Frisco pushed its total population to 97,600 by adding 5,500 residents. Plano (260,900) rounded out the top five in absolute growth by adding 5,200 persons."
"In 2007, single-family home construction slowed significantly across the region. Nearly 39,000 new single-family units were completed, which is 9,000 fewer than in 2006. On the other hand, the region saw a sizable increase in new multifamily units in 2007. Close to 11,600 multi-family units were added, up from 8,300 in 2006."
|Final Census 4/1/00||Revised Estimated Population 1/1/07||Estimated Population 1/1/08||Growth Rate 2007-2008|
|Remainder of Collin County||36,382||50,300||52,000||3.38%|
The Complete NCTCOG 2008 Current Population Estimates report can be downloaded here.
Data tables, presentations and other population information from NCTCOG can be found here.
DMN - Collin County arts hall, already facing shortfall, now needs new director
Sunday, June 15, 2008
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
The troubled Collin County arts hall, which faces an $18 million shortfall and uncertain date for a groundbreaking, needs a new executive director.
James Baudoin, who has overseen design for the $85 million performance center, has taken a similar job in Asheville, N.C.
Mr. Baudoin said Sunday he had hoped the Collin County hall – a joint project of Allen, Frisco and Plano – would be further along by now.
"It's not moving at a galloping speed," said Mr. Baudoin, who was hired in 2005. "It will get built. But it's moving incredibly slow, slower than I care to work."
He said he's excited about the chance to design the hall in Asheville, a city of about 75,000 in western North Carolina. Like the Collin County hall, it will have 2,100 seats and host a wide range of performances.
Frisco Mayor Maher Maso, a longtime supporter of the Collin County hall, said he does not believe Mr. Baudoin's departure indicates the project is in jeopardy.
"This is nothing negative," said Mr. Maso, who also serves as vice president of the Arts of Collin County Commission. "I hope it's not perceived that way. The reality is, we've accomplished a lot. It's moving slower because of the number of entities involved."
Saturday, June 14, 2008
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
Plano Mayor Pat Evans looks at the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts with envy.
Supporters have donated $300 million to build the downtown center, scheduled to open next year. Meanwhile, $7 million has trickled in from donors for a less-ambitious Collin County arts hall.
"It's a little discouraging," Ms. Evans said.
The $85 million Collin County performance center, a joint project of northern suburbs Plano, Allen and Frisco, faces a daunting budget shortfall and uncertain groundbreaking.
Civic leaders began planning the 2,100-seat hall almost a decade ago. Organizers have $60 million in public funds and an ambitious design. But nearby McKinney has refused to join the effort, and the cost has soared 25 percent to $85 million. The result: an $18 million gap and some tough questions.
Should Collin County, despite its demographics, have undertaken an arts hall in the same league with the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas? Did big-time aspirations override fiscal prudence?
Proponents say no.
"I haven't changed my opinion that this project still makes sense," said Frisco Mayor Maher Maso, a longtime backer.
City officials now must make a politically volatile decision – whether to commit more public money to the project, despite longstanding assurances that they wouldn't. By covering the shortfall, the cities could ensure groundbreaking this year.
"Until people see dirt move, they're going to have doubts because it's been a long time," Ms. Evans said.
Unfinished Plano children's shelter being torn down after storm damage
Thursday, May 22, 2008
By ANNETTE NEVINS / Special Contributor, The Dallas Morning News
Workers began dismantling the twisted framework of My Friend's House on Thursday, six weeks after major storm damage forced construction of the children's shelter to stop before it was completed.
The demolition of the structure – the latest slowdown in a project already plagued by delays – means the 24-bed, short-term shelter won't open until at least early next year.
But officials with CITY House Inc., the nonprofit overseeing My Friend's House, say they've been encouraged by an outpouring of donations and support. They also learned this week that insurance will pay for the teardown and rebuilding of the shelter.
"We appreciate so much the continued generous outpouring of the community," said Kathy Blank, director of outreach and volunteer services for CITY House.
High winds from an early-morning April 10 storm caused irreparable damage to the shelter, which was about midway through construction.
Air pollution expected to hit unhealthy levels in DFW
By SCOTT STREATER / Fort Worth Star-Telegram staff writer
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Ozone pollution is projected to reach unhealthy levels across the Dallas-Fort Worth region for the first time this year today and throughout the weekend.
The highest ozone for today is forecast to occur on the northeast side of the Metroplex, primarily in Collin County. But by Sunday, state regulators say, it could reach unhealthy levels at areas like Eagle Mountain Lake in northwest Tarrant County, and in Denton.
The prime reason: A continental air mass will move air pollution from the West Coast and Midwest into the Dallas-Fort Worth area by late Friday, where it will mix with pollution generated by cars, trucks, construction equipment and industry in the region, said Bryan Lambeth, senior meteorologist at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
"If the winds are light and temperatures are hot and the background conditions are high enough, we could see some very high ozone this weekend," Lambeth said. "We'll be watching that carefully."
So will Ernie O'Donnell, 77, a retired Fort Worth pastor.
For O'Donnell, who has asthma and emphysema, the advisories mean taking a daily walk through his southwest Fort Worth neighborhood extra early in the morning.
"I can tell when it's bad," he said. "When the pollution is there, I'm not getting enough oxygen to really function effectively."
Monday, April 28, 2008
Plano Star Courier Editorial
A project as grand, broad and potentially spectacular as the Arts of Collin County isn’t going to move forward without some headaches and defections. The commission that heads the project is suffering both defections and headaches right now.
But now is not the time to abandon the plans to build an arts hall that all of Collin County can call its own.
Now is the time for leadership and tough decision-making.
Plano Mayor Pat Evans and Frisco Mayor Mike Simpson, in the face of mounting criticism, displayed the type of regional leadership necessary to get this project completed. They suggested that Plano, Frisco and Allen provide additional dollars necessary to speed along the construction of the arts hall. The money needs could reach as high as $8-plus million. The hope is that once steel starts rising from the ground then private donations will pick up and that guaranteed money from the cities won’t be necessary.
It’s a gamble and it’s a gamble with taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. But unless private benefactors step up this is what’s going to be needed. If the arts hall project is going to be more than a dream then more money has to be raised. In order to prime the private donor pump it appears the cities will have to step up once again. If they don’t there’s a good chance the project will die.
Steve Matthews: Financing Collin County's arts hall
Friday, April 18, 2008
Dallas Morning News Community Opinions
"Well ... there you go again."
Ronald Reagan's quip ran through my mind as I read the most recent missives from the Arts of Collin County's resident critics in Plano. Of one thing we can always be sure: Whenever there is information about Collin County's proposed arts district, we'll receive the input of the same negative, vocal group.
These are the folks who routinely criticize any initiative in Plano, particularly those intended to improve the community's quality of life. Interestingly, these same critics also claim that Plano has lost its leadership role in a host of arenas, as if there were no connection between the two.
The columnist David Brooks referred to this as "the gospel of the mediocre man: to ridicule somebody who tries something difficult, on the grounds that the effort was not a total success." While we can always expect to hear from this crowd and anticipate their stance regardless of the topic, I am much more interested in what the rest of our community thinks.
Since 2002, more than 150 volunteers and staff supported by the cities of Allen, Frisco and Plano have labored to create a visual and performing arts district for Collin County. To do so by working with three cities proved to be unprecedented, challenging and more time-intensive than anyone anticipated. Yet here we are, ready to build.
The cities set out to develop the finest regional arts center in America and to create a community gathering place independent of participation in the arts. The centerpiece is a 2,100-seat multipurpose performance hall, which will host a tremendous variety of performances and activities. The design for Phase 1 is complete and ready for construction. When completed, the facilities and surrounding park will serve our communities for decades to come. If you haven't already, I urge you to visit www.artsofcollin county.org for a preview.
Steve Matthews has served as the chairman of the chambers of commerce in Allen, Frisco and Plano. He is the current president of the Arts of Collin County Commission.
The McKinneyNews.net writes that McKinney voters may get a second try at approving funding for the Arts of Collin County project. The article notes that some on the city council and some council candidates support McKinney's participation.
The article quotes unopposed city council candidate Ray Ricchi saying,"Collin County Community College was voted on twice after being shot down, why not this?"
McKinneyNews.net Staff Report
Sunday, Apr 13th
With an estimated partial-opening set for spring of 2010, Arts of Collin County is a project in full swing.
Arts of Collin County (ACC) is a public-private collaboration co-owned by the Cities of Allen, Frisco and Plano that is developing a 124-acre arts park on S.H. 121 just east of Custer Rd. The stated purpose of the project is "To create an environment where all citizens can share and enjoy in the full diversity and vitality of the arts." To this end, ACC has partnered with Allen, Frisco and Plano - whose contributions have put them into the owner cities category - and, to a smaller extent, Melissa and Fairview, designated member cities for economic contributions to ensure the project's success.
There is, however, one big fish still waiting to be hooked. The City of McKinney remains the lone holdout among the major players in Collin County.
Following the announcement that the three member cities of the Arts of Collin County Commission will consider backing a loan to help the project get started, there has been some negative feedback. But two area mayors still believe providing a guarantee on funds needed is appropriate.
Plano Mayor Pat Evans and Frisco Mayor Mike Simpson said they are 100 percent committed to the arts project and both believe it’s critical to the future of Collin County.
Their feelings weren’t echoed from all corners, however.
“The city leaders are fools if they think we will support a loan to the [Arts of Collin County],” said Jack Lagos, a well-known opponent of the project. “We already have $19 million invested in this purported $85 million project. In addition, the county has budgeted $3 million.
“The ACC Foundation, which is supposed to provide private donations, has not been forthcoming and forthright in its contribution disclosure. They failed. This arts hall project was to be $60 million from the taxpayers and the remainder from the private sector. How many times will they go back to the public trough? Not this time.
“The consequences for our public officials are more than not being re-elected. Remember, the city charter provides citizen legislation which can overrule when elected officials behave irresponsibly.” Evans said that while a discussion is probably coming on funding, it’s still a ways off.
“At the next council meeting we will be discussing with the Arts Commission the guaranteed maximum price for the project,” she said. “We have to have that figure before we can go any further. Whether Plano, Frisco or Allen guarantees the money is a ways off.
“But Plano residents have indicated over the years that they support the arts project. We just have to find a way to get the funding necessary to get it underway.”
Currently, the commission has $60 million of the necessary $85 million to begin construction. There is a reported $8 in donations that could also be counted toward the monies needed for the construction. Evans believes that once construction is underway that even more donations will come forward.
Plano, Frisco and Allen should do whatever it takes to avoid committing more general revenue to construction of a shared arts hall. Critics are howling at the proposal to close a funding gap – if even temporarily – by using operating funds from the cities' budgets. Frankly, they are right to howl.
We understand that it is not unusual for cities to use general funds to overcome unexpected costs in bond projects. That happens all the time. But this is not a typical bond project. Voters from four cities were asked to participate in the Arts of Collin County project, and McKinney? voters decided not to. The bonds approved by voters are backed mostly by property tax payers in those cities, and to go back to that well without holding a new election would conflict with the will of the voters.