Category: Guest Opinions
This is part of a series of interviews of those candidates who are running for elected office in Collin County, Texas. The information in this article is based on materials and interviews provided by the candidate. If you would like to be interviewed by the Collin County Observer, please email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Ramage, 51, met with me so that I could learn about her and her candidacy. She has been married to her husband, Todd for over twelve years and together they have twin daughters, Sarah and Rachel, who are ten years of age. A resident of Frisco, Texas, she and her family are parishioners at St. Jude’s Catholic Church where she is a Sunday School teacher.
Ramage graduated in 1988, from the University of Texas – Arlington with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. She earned her law degree from Baylor School of Law, was on the Law Review Editorial Board, and graduated with high honors in 1992. She has been a licensed attorney in the State of Texas for almost 20 years.
Ramage launched her legal career as a Tarrant County Prosecutor for 5 years where she prosecuted and tried thousands of criminal cases including misdemeanor and felony crimes. For two of those years, Sharon worked in the Crimes Against Children Division where she prosecuted child homicides and sex crimes against minors.
She has been in private practice for 15 years where she practiced in the areas of criminal defense, civil law, and family law. Currently, she provides representation in criminal appellate matters and family law.
Sharon has served as lead counsel in over 100 jury trials and in countless bench trials, contested hearings, and appeals. Most importantly, states Ramage, is her position, which she has held since 2003, as a Special Education Hearing Officer for the State of Texas, presiding as a judge over complex, contested hearings involving public schools and the education of children with disabilities. She is a frequently requested speaker and author at the National Administrative Law Judge conferences on hearing management and evidence.
She has served as a mediator, and this, Ramage believes, is another qualification that contributed to her ability to be a good listener and permits her to be objective when rendering decisions as a judge.
As the owner of an office building, Ramage stated that she also has experience in running a business. She owns an office building and is the president of the association of owners of the office park where her building is located. She understands the day to day needs of effectively and efficiently maintaining the operation of a business. Sharon believes she can apply this experience in managing the day to day operations of the court.
She will follow the law as written and as set forth by the Texas Legislature and the Constitution. Ramage believes it is not the job of a judge to legislate from the bench. She wants each and every citizen to have the opportunity to be heard with respect and objectivity.
Ramage is proud of her endorsements from a range of supporters, including the Texas Home School Association PAC, local attorneys from the civil, family and criminal bar associations, and local business and community leaders.
When asked why she believes she is the best qualified among all the candidates for County Court at Law #2, Sharon finds that although all of the candidates bring some qualifications to the table, she is the best candidate because she:
- has the most experience practicing law as a licensed attorney than all of the other candidates combined;
- is an experienced judicial officer hearing and deciding cases with her 9 years of experience as an Administrative Law Judge;
- has experience in criminal and civil litigation;
- has practiced criminal law for 20 years, prosecuting and defending cases in trial, and prosecuting and defending criminal matters on appeal;
- has the greatest diversity of experience in all areas of the law that are within the jurisdiction of CCL#2; and
- has the ability to be a civil and objective listener to all sides of a controversy.
For more information about Sharon Ramage and her candidacy for CCL#2, please see her website at http://sharonramageforjudge.com/.
I apologize for not updating the blog for some time. Sometimes life gets in the way - but,
I. Am. Back.
First, to put this in context - we cannot vote without a map. We can't set a date to vote without a map. Folks need to know where to go and when to show up. No map - no vote. So right now, we are waiting.
Texas is one of nine states that that is required, pursuant to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to have their Congressional District and Voting maps approved by the United States Justice Department due to a long history of racial discrimination against voters. (Yes, the sad history of Jim Crow laws continues to taint our state.)
The voting map proposed by the Texas legislature was rejected by a federal court in San Antonio because it was determined by that court to violate the Voting Rights Act by failing to protect the rights of minority voters. The San Antonio federal court drew another map. That map was challenged by the Texas Attorney General who appealed to the United States Supreme Court asserting that the map created by the Texas Legislature should be honored.
The United States Supreme Court determined that the map created by the Texas Legislature did, indeed, impede on the rights of minorities, but made no determination on whether it violated the Voting Rights Act. The Supremes did say that the San Antonio federal court overstepped its bounds and “create[d] a minority coalition district, rather than drawing a district that simply reflected population growth." Greater deference should have been given to the Legislature's map but it needs to be fixed up somehow to protect the rights of minorities.
So, did The Supremes tell us what to do? No - that would be too easy.
The Supremes instructed the federal court in San Antonio to create "interim voting districts" and the federal courts would continue to hear arguments from both sides. So, we continue to wait on a primary date and, of course, a map. I will advise you of any developments in this very important matter.
The Board of Collin County District Court Judges has appointed ANDREA STROH as the new DISTRICT CLERK OF COLLIN COUNTY. Stroh is an attorney with the Stroh Law Firm. The prior District Clerk, Patricia Crigger, was removed from office after she was convicted of conspiracy and misuse of county funds.
More from Bill in a later post.
By: Lex Lawyer
Attorney at Law
We have a verdict and a sentence – but I have been asked to bring everyone up to date on what transpired before the verdict. I have studied and analyzed the Closing Arguments – So Get Ready!!!
The State rested on Friday, December 2, 2011 around 2:30 p.m.. The court recessed until the following Monday at 9:00 A.M.. So, everyone shows up in court Monday morning – all ready to hear this rest of this loooooong trial. Guess what? The Defense rests. Judge Nelms was surprised by this and determined that the attorneys would work on the Jury Charge on Monday and they would resume Tuesday morning to read the charge to the jury and to hear closing arguments.
Tuesday – today – Judge Nelms read the charge to the jury. This is a very aggravating time for attorneys and litigants. This reading of a very long charge is required by the law. The jurors get a Charge to read in the jury room but every word is read to them – even the judge sounded bored.
Mentioned in the charge are the legal requirements necessary to find a “conspiracy.” There must be corroboration of testimony to find that a conspiracy occurred. Moreover, an accomplice, (such as the testifying District Clerk employees who used the Blue Book Time), cannot corroborate each other. There must be proof independent of the testimony of the accomplices.
The Charge contained many lesser included offenses. For example, even if the jury finds that government funds in an amount less than $20 was somehow misappropriated, some sort of lesser conviction can occur.
John Helms, Jr., Prosecutor Pro Tem
Helms describes this case as an “abuse of official capacity.” He states, “this is why we are here . . .” Aaaand, we are waiting for what I think is a dramatic video or something. Nothing happens and an assistant or some attorney is fiddling with some switches on a machine. This temporarily throws off the Mojo of Helms (I hate it when stuff like this happens to me – stupid equipment – that is why I stick to posters – nonetheless, not your fault , Helms! - LL) Well the AV equipment isn’t exactly working and finally, an audio recording booms through the courtroom. It is a recording of telephone conversation between Defendant Rebecca Littrell and Lara Roberge, a District Clerk employee. Littrell tells Roberge that she has used over 100 hours [on Crigger’s campaign] of her Personal Time Off (PTO) and will get it back on Blue Book – and she will do the same for Roberge.
Helms states, with steady eloquence, that this case is about “influencing an election.” He begins to review the charge with the jury. He asks one of his assistants to display the charge on the trusty ELMO projector. (For those of you who don’t know, Collin County is blessed with a Battlestar Galactica set up of technology that is the envy of many counties.) Guess what, the ELMO isn’t turned on. Assistants are flipping switches, Helms tries to get it to work. The attorneys mention that the bailiff knows how to work the projector. The Bailiff is in the anteroom “bailifing.” Yoon Kim, attorney for Defendant Sherry Bell, volunteers that he knows how to use the equipment. Judge Nelms is relieved and Kim gets to work. (Kim is a young attorney so he knows what he is doing! LL). Kim gets on the judge’s computer then assists Helms with his computer and, voila, ELMO is working.
NON- SEQUITOR – Kim is quite a gentleman to assist the Prosecution with this. He is a better man than me. I would have stared at the ceiling.-LL
Helms reviewed the charge with the jurors. The element of intent is required for these crimes and Helms said intent could be found because the Blue Book time program was a secret. Helms stated that the law does not require that the object of the conspiracy was accomplished – only that there was an agreement among the Defendants.
He reviewed the chronology of events. In the Fall of 2009, Hannah Kunkle announced her retirement. Patricia Crigger, Alma Hays, and Terrye Evans announced they were running for the office. Hays had a head start on fundraising and campaigning. At a Christmas party, Kunkle told everyone they should support Crigger. Kunkle wrote a letter of endorsement for Crigger.
Concerned that Crigger did not have enough volunteers, the Fuddrucker’s luncheon was held. Helms described the Defendants as the “Brain Trust” of this operation who took seats at the foot of the table. Littrell did most of the talking but all of the Defendants “strategized.”
Helms described various emails sent by Kunkle to friends where she lamented the election and did not want to turn over her office to someone who “didn’t have a clue” on running the place. He described other emails by other Defendants that were introduced in the trial. He casually mentioned that there were “complaints” about how the office was run without mentioning specific testimony or evidence.
Twenty District Clerk employees were involved in this activity, and he named each one. (Why weren’t they indicted? – LL) They were audited by HR. After the FOIA request (by The Observer), Ms. Jacobsen from the HR office asked Crigger about the request and Crigger assured Jacobsen that “nothing was going on.”
Littrell instructed her supervisors to remove the BB time from the computer and keep records on “scraps of paper” – a retreat of technology. The Defendants swiped badges for other employees.
The Blue Book program does not stop until June 2, 2010, the day of the raid by the Texas Rangers. During the raid, Littrell called Linda James, an employee and witness, and said, “the Texas Rangers are here – if you are asked, you don’t know anything.”
After all of this, no one was fired. Instead, they were promoted!!
Helms describes some of the various lesser included offenses in the charge. The misuse of a sum greater than $1500 is a State Jail Felony. The misuse of a sum greater than $20,000 is a Third Degree Felony. Oh yeah, and the misuse of less than $1500 is a Class A Misdemeanor.
Helms then used the spreadsheet prepared by the Texas Ranger to demonstrate how the amount of misused funds were calculated. It was determined that for each hour of time misused by the employees, the cost, INCLUDING BENEFITS – NOT JUST STRAIGHT TIME – was approximately $25. (I do not believe the Prosecution could have reached the Third Degree Felony level without this particular formula - LL)
He stated that the Defendants misused used approximately $26,000 of time poll sitting, block walking, and campaigning for Crigger on County time by this calculation.
Helms said regardless of whether all of the Blue Book time was actually exercised, a crime is still committed. He countered defense arguments that much of the Blue Book time was accrued before the campaign activities by showing the various calendars and ledgers that recorded the time spent on the campaign and said that more time was accrued during the campaign than before.
The Texas Ranger testified that, at the time of the raid, Littrell gave him the Blue Book time schedule when asked. He said the Defendants thought they could get away with this and described their behavior as “brazen.” Sometimes, Helms said, “if you are in an [elected] position too long, you get a feeling of entitlement.”
(I apologize for not having a summary of Robert Hinton’s (attorney for Crigger) argument – we were unable to cover that one. - LL)
Yoon Kim, attorney for Defendant Sherry Bell
Kim focused on the element of intent required by the Charge. Specific mental intent, mens rea, is required for guilt and it is not possessed by Bell. She thought she was doing the right thing. All of the witnesses were co-conspirators and therefore, could not, by law, corroborate the charges of a conspiracy.
He described the testimony of Lorri Robertson. She was indicted and signed a confession admitting guilt. Then the indictment was dismissed. Moreover, Robertson was never indicted of the same crime as the Defendants. He described Ranger Davidson’s Excel spreadsheet as not being trustworthy and much of the Blue Book time was accrued and used before the campaign.
He said, “you cannot trust the evidence to put these women in prison for their lives.”
Deric Walpole, Attorney for Rebecca Littrell
Walpole, sans the sunglasses (thank you - LL), finds the law to be on the side of the Defendants. He describes the Defendants as good people. He described his role as a defense attorney as a difficult one. Many of his clients are not good people and he has to “set fires” (literal not figurative) to divert attention from their misdeeds. But in this case, these Defendants are genuinely good people and he does not need to create any diversions for them.
He reiterated that all of these activities could have been stopped by a telephone call. And sometimes good people make mistakes. All of the PTO was done on the Defendants’ own time. The cost of this trial exceeds the alleged $26,000 in misused funds.
Walpole describes the prosecution as politically motivated and questioned why the prosecution waited until the election had ended to pursue their investigation. Because of the political situation, innuendo was used as evidence and innuendo is not evidence.
He said that Lorri Robertson confessed to nothing that the Defendants were prosecuted for.
John Hardin, Attorney for retired District Clerk, Hannah Kunkle
Kunkle was not indicted until recently – others were indicted many months before. He stated that he did not have sufficient time to prepare for trial.
Hardin related that John Roach, Sr., former Collin County District Attorney, never indicted Kunkle and Roach was a fierce prosecutor. And the fact that Roach did not prosecute Kunkle and Helms did, demonstrates the overzealousness of Helms, the prosecutor pro tem. Then, according to an observer in the court room, Hardin raised his hands above his head and started doing a “dance” toward Helms. While “dancing,” Hardin complained of the overzealous prosecution. He stopped and said “I’m so sorry, I just get upset.” No one objected to this (and I am not judging, in fact, I am impressed – Hardin’s client was acquitted, after all!)
He stated the evidence was insufficient for a conviction. He told the jurors that regardless of their verdict, he would like to get to know them and talk to them. Hardin concluded by stating, “when you leave the courthouse, on this cold day, during Christmas, you should feel good about what you did.”
John Helms, Jr., Prosecution - Rebuttal
Aaaaaaaand finally – we see the finish line. Helms stated that intent is not needed for a conviction. (huh?? – LL) He said a phone call would not have stopped the use of Blue Book time – the Defendants were fully engaged in these actions and were committed to it. There was never an internal investigation by the District Clerk’s office. The only investigation that was conducted was to find out who the whistle blowers are. Crigger’s reaction to the raid was to promote Bell and Littrell. He ended by stating that this is a third degree felony and the Defendants know it.
Hannah Kunkle was found NOT GUILTY
Patricia Crigger, Sherry Bell, and Rebecca Littrell were found GUILTY of all charges against them and accepted two years of probation each.
Attorney at Law
Bill was in the courtroom when the jury annnounced their verdict.
Patricia Crigger - GUILTY on all charges
Rebecca Littrell - GUILTY on all charges
Sherry Bell - GUILTY on her one charge
Hannah Kunkle - NOT GUILTY - Kunkle is acquitted.
Judge Nelms immediately asked Crigger to stand. He said, "you are removed from your office effective immediately. Do you understand?" Crigger replied, "Yes sir."
Bill and I will have updates later this evening regarding evidence and testimony from Day 4 and the Closing Arguments.
Sentencing tomorrow at 9:00 A.M.
LEX LAWYER (In Limine)
Attorney at Law
Bill was in the courtroom when the jury annnounced their verdict.
Patricia Crigger - GUILTY on all charges
Rebecca Littrell - GUILTY on all charges
Sherry Bell - GUILTY on her one charge
Hannah Kunkle - NOT GUILTY - Kunkle is acquitted.
Judge Nelms immediately asked Crigger to stand. He said, "you are removed from your office effective immediately. Do you understand?" Crigger replied, "Yes sir."
Bill and I will have updates later this evening regarding evidence and testimony from Day 4 and the Closing Arguments.
Sentencing tomorrow at 9:00 A.M.
LEX LAWYER (In Limine)
Attorney at Law
In a surprising morning, all 4 defendants rested without any testimony.
The prosecution offered evidence for 3 days, the defense offered no evidence or witnesses. The court will convening at 9 AM for charges to the jury and for closing arguments.
For info to come....
By Lex In Limine
Attorney at Law
Lorrie Robertson takes the stand. She is a supervisor at the District Clerk’s office. She was one of the Defendants who was originally arrested and indicted.
Through the direct examination of John Helms, Jr. for the prosecution, Robertson explained the various calendars and spreadsheets and how they were used to record Blue Book time. She testified that the Blue Book time was kept on the computer until Rebecca Littrell told her to remove it – sometime before the Runoff between Patricia Crigger and Alma Hayes in April 2010. She did so.
Robertson admitted that much of the Blue Book time was for leave not associated with the campaign. She testified that Littrell told her to encourage the staff that she supervised to work on the Crigger campaign. And she did, in fact encourage this.
At the time of the raid by the Texas Rangers, Robertson had another employees badge in her possession. That employee was not at the office but was exercising this Blue Book time. Robertson, as the supervisor of this employee had swiped the badge to make it appear that the employee was at work, when she was, in fact, not.
Yoon Kim, attorney for Sherry Bell, then cross examined Robertson. Robertson admitted that she was originally indicted. In July 2010, she entered into a plea agreement with then assistant District Attorney, (and instigator of most of these types of cases) Chris Milner.
NON SEQUITOR – Milner has a history of prosecuting defense attorneys for typos in their pleadings – alleging some type of government document tampering. Most of these cases have been dismissed and Milner has been mentioned in other publications regarding this over reaching and abusive tactic. He attempted to prosecute the current District Attorney, Greg Willis, for some crime – don’t know the exact charge – but basically Milner did not like how Wills ran his court (when he was a judge). The Grand Jury refused to indict Willis and took the unusual step of preparing a written statement explaining that Willis committed NO CRIME.
After Robertson entered into her plea of guilty to engaging in organized criminal activity, she kept her job and she wasn’t fined. (why don’t the other ladies get the same deal?) Later the indictments against the other defendants were dropped and re-indicted. She was afraid that her ex-husband would attempt to seek custody of her young children if she was prosecuted. So, she agreed to assist the prosecution.
She remained in the office during all of the alleged campaign activities. She reluctantly admitted that the business of the Disrict Clerk’s office never suffered during the campaign. She admitted that Kristy Duty, a prosecution witness and former employee of the Clerk’s office, was “in and out” of the office a lot because she was working with IT. She testified that not all Blue Book time was actually redeemed.
She was a former roommate with Crigger opponent, Alma Hayes, and this caused discomfort in the office. Robertson asserts that Hannah Kunkle excoriated her for supporting Hayes. Bur Crigger advised Robertson that it was not appropriate for Kunkle to do that and she could support whoever she wanted.
Deric Walpole, attorney for Sherry Littrell, cross examined Robertson. Robertson testified that if a judge or anyone else had advised the office what they were doing was illegal, Kunkle would have stopped it immediately.
NON SEQUITOR – Deric – you are a top notch attorney – so please take those sunglasses off your neck!
During the Robert Hinton, attorney for Patricia Crigger, cross examination, Robertson denied ever hearing Crigger proclaim that the Blue Book system would cease upon her taking office. But she found the Blue Book system to be a good program which contributed to the success of the office.
Robertson testified that the day she was arrested was the most embarrassing day of her life. She was humiliated. No one from the District Clerk’s office told her what to do. She hired attorney George Milner (no relation to Chris Milner)
John Hardin, attorney for Hannah Kunkle, cross examined the witness next. Hardin reminded Robertson that they had known each other since she was a child, she played with his dog, etc. etc. ( a lot of folksy introductions going on here – so BORING) Hardin promised the witness that no matter what happened, they would remain friends.
Robertson, through tears, testified that Kunkle was a very special and awesome lady. At the Fuddrucker’s meeting, she only remembers Littrell speaking and alleges that Littrell , when encouraging the staff to work on the Crigger campaign, said “we will figure out a way to get your time back.”
She met with prosecutor pro tem, John Helms, Jr.. Through attorneys, he asked to speak with Robertson. When asked, through Hardin, whether she took her attorney with her to this meeting, she said no “because he is very expensive.” This statement drew laughs from the gallery and the hoards of attorney in the courtroom. Judge Nelms asked the court reporter to make a transcription of that statement and laughed. (Attorneys are, indeed expensive – and they deserve every penny, I say!)
She met Helms for dinner and discussed car racing, oh and, also the District Clerk’s office.
I had to leave at this point and Bill will be covering the rest of the day. I will continue to cover the trial if you find that my posts are helpful to your understanding of this case.
Attorney at Law
By: Magna Carta
Attorney at Law
On Day Three of the District Clerk trial, John Helms Jr. for the Prosecution called Ms. Kristy Duty who worked for the District Clerk's office and remains a county employee in another division.
Kristy Littrell Duty
Duty described the Blue Book system as being a system for recording extra hours that employees worked, redeemable as PTO (Paid Time Off). Initially, when a person redeemed PTO time from the Blue Book, their supervisor would manually enter a PeopleSoft record showing that employee had actually been at work. (PeopleSoft is the software system they use in the HR department and payroll department.) Eventually, HR came to audit the DC office because of the excessive number of manual PeopleSoft entries. (Normally, entries are automatically created when a person scans his or her badge.) Once the HR audit was completed, employees and supervisors adopted the practice of employees leaving their badges with their supervisor when redeeming Blue Book time so the supervisor could "swipe" the employee in and out. This created the PeopleSoft record needed to get the employee paid without requiring a manual entry. Duty described the Blue Book system as being secret in the sense that it was not to be disclosed outside of the District Clerk’s office.
Rebecca Littrell’s attorney, Deric Walpole, cross examined Duty. During Walpole's cross, Duty admitted that the DC employees described the Blue Book system to her during her initial job interview with the DC's office, his point being that if it was so secret, why were they telling a mere prospective employee? Her response was that because her cousin (Littrell) was involved in the hiring process and everyone knew she was going to get the job. [Implicating the “Good Ole’ Boy (Girl?)” network arrogance that is so endemic in Collin County.]
Duty admitted that she had been the beneficiary of the Blue Book system. When she was pregnant and on bed rest, she had to work one weekend to show Crigger and others how to change some accounting codes in the AS/400 system. She received 40 Blue Book hours for the weekend, which she redeemed. Defense attorneys pointed this out more than once. And each time she distinguished her use of the Blue Book as being related to work she did for the county vs. working on someone's election campaign. Initially, Duty testified that her only involvement in the Crigger campaign was that she and Melissa Smith held a garage sale to help raise funds to pay Crigger's filing fee. Later, under cross examination by Walpole, she remembered that she held a Saturday evening meet and greet, close to the Valentine's Day.
Duty described a meeting at Fuddruckers and recounted that Littrell encouraged the staff to campaign for Crigger and they would “get their time back.”
Hannah Kunkle’s attorney, John Harden, cross examined Duty. She admitted that Kunkle never said anything about anyone getting reimbursed for campaign time. Littrell sent a reminder email (using the county computers) regarding the Fuddrucker lunch. Walpole pointed out during his cross that if the Blue Book system was so secret, why did they talk about it openly and freely during lunch hour at a popular restaurant?
Duty testified that when Human Resources notified the District Clerk’s office that they would be conducting an audit, Littrell sent an email to the supervisors instructing them to delete their Blue Book spreadsheets prior to the audit. According to the Blue Book calendar, some employees would take several days off in a row to work on Crigger’s campaign. Sometimes so many people would be out of the office working on the campaign that there were not enough people for the office to function properly. Duty alleged that phones were not being answered, people couldn't take lunch breaks, parties couldn't get their file marked copies, etc. [I never understood what this meant, having lots of experience in getting things file marked. There has never been a delay, in my experience - MC]
On cross, Walpole asked her WHO complained about the service. She said "lots of people." He said "name one." She named two people and punctuated it with a sarcastic "how's that?" Walpole asked Duty to name a single customer who complained. Duty finally admitted she never actually heard any customer complaints--just heard people complaining about people complaining.
NON SEQUITUR: Duty never held a campaign sign for Judge Roach.
Duty testified that in February 2010, it snowed. Employees were told that they could take half a day off and record it in PeopleSoft as 4 hours of "Office Closed" time. If they wanted to take off the entire day, they needed to record an additional 4 hours of PTO time. She took the entire day off, but somehow her time was recorded in PeopleSoft? as 8 hours of PTO time. Initially Duty testified that she complained about this to Littrell who told her to call Human Resources. She called the payroll department and was told that if Littrell or Kunkle would send an email, payroll would correct the time entry. Littrell, according to Duty’s testimony, told her that Kunkle and Crigger wanted all of her PTO would go on the Blue Book, rather than a PeopleSoft correction. This upset Duty. LATER, during Hardin's cross, Duty admitted that Kunkle had never been involved in her timesheet and Kunkle's name never appeared on any of the emails comprising this transaction.
The next day, still upset about her PTO time AND all the campaign time she saw being logged into the Blue Book, she complained to Judge Roach. About two weeks later, Roach told Duty and a Lara Roberge, who made a separate complaint, that he took the issue to his father, John Roach, Sr., the District Attorney at the time, who, in turn, referred the issue to the Texas Rangers. Judge Roach told them that they should know that as supervisors in the department, they could face jail time for being part of the system they were complaining about.
[Yes, this blew up over 4 hours of PTO time for a person probably making $15/hour. $60 would have kept all this under wraps.]
Duty testified that she was contacted by Texas Ranger A.P. Davidson. She described the Blue Book system to him and thereafter kept him informed of what was occurring in the DC office. She quit her job in the DC office in November 2010 because she did not want to work under the Crigger/Littrell regime.
Duty described the falling out she had with Littrell. Twelve years ago, she and Littrell “got into it.” They were very close (cousins by marriage) when she first moved to Collin County. Littrell and Husband Adam asked her to babysit their child. She agreed. Later, she decided to spend time with her sister so she backed out. Littrell was hurt by this. She thinks this is where the relationship started to sour between her and Littrell. [There is a pungent waft of "pettiness" (this being a polite word) on all sides throughout this story. Little hurts and annoyances leading to big bangs.]
Kunkle discovered a Crigger campaign flyer in the office and was very upset about campaigning on county time. Kunkle said "they shouldn't do this." Hardin made her tell this story several times. Hardin was genteel but insistent and forced Duty to admit she had no personal knowledge of Kunkle’s involvement in anything.
Attorney at Law
The District Clerk’s Trial – Day 3
By: Lex In Limine (LIL)
Attorney at Law
After some preliminary matters, the parties presented their Opening Arguments.
John M. Helms, Jr.
The Prosecution, lead by John Helms, Jr. , prosecutor pro tem, began. With a clear voice and methodical manner, he told the jury of four women and six men that this was a case that involved the abuse of taxpayer dollars and the interference with free and fair elections. Of the 63 employees at the District Clerk’s office, all but one are female. He referred to the office as a “Good Ole’ Girl Network.”
The Defendants, Hannah Kunkle, Patricia Crigger, Rebecca Litrell, and Sherry Bell were the four highest “ranking” employees of the office at the time of the alleged offense. The Clerk’s office set up a rewards and benefits system for the employees and this system was kept “secret” from the Collin County Commissioners’ Court. Helms was quick to emphasize that the Defendants were not being prosecuted for the “secret” reward and benefit system.Helms stated that the crime alleged to be committed by the Defendants is the misuse of labor to promote the campaign of Patricia Crigger. The reward system was “off book” paid leave time that was referred to as “Blue Book” time. Again, Helms repeated that there is no crime in having the secret Blue Book time, but, instead, the use of said time for campaign work is what offends.
Helms produced a poster with snap shots of the Defendants and explained their respective job titles. He described the defendants as “joined at the hip” and a close knit group. The proximity of their respective work spaces added to their camaraderie. Helms said the evidence will show that the absences of the workforce when using “Blue Book” time adversely affected the efficiency of the office.
Helms then described the “anxiousness” felt by the many employees when they learned of Kunkle’s retirement. Kunkle had been in office for many years and they were concerned they would lose their jobs with a new regime. A lunch meeting was held at Fudruckers in January 2010 – two meetings to permit proper coverage of the office. The meetings, allegedly headed by the Defendants, are where Litrell stated that those who worked for Crigger’s campaign would be rewarded with Blue Book time.
Helms stated that in April after the runoff election between Alma Hayes and Patricia Crigger (Crigger won the election handily), the Press (which is The Collin County Observer) made a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for the time records of the District Clerk Employees during the period of the campaign. Records were provided – but none of the Blue Book time was supplied.
The Human Resources Department noticed irregularities in time keeping. This was attributed to supervisors overriding the computer records and entering time arrival and departures in whole/exact numbers. If an employee swiped their card in the reader, the time would probably not be at the exact hour, for example.
The HR department audited the time records. The supervisors then collected the access cards of the employees and “swiped” various employees in or out of work to make it appear they were in the office, when they were, in fact, exercising paid leave pursuant to the Blue Book.
In June 2010, the Texas Rangers raided the District Clerk’s office and confiscated records and computer hard drives. Helms stated that despite the FOIA press request, the HR audit, and a raid by the Texas Rangers, the Defendants never conducted any type or form of internal investigation.
Helms concluded by stating that the Defendants had a “feeling of entitlement” and “undermined the integrity of an election.” Crigger had second thoughts about using the Blue Book time but did nothing to stop it and she benefitted from it.
Defendant Patricia Crigger’s attorney, Robert Hinton delivered the second Opening Argument. Hinton specializes in representing legal professionals and elected officials. An experienced litigator with a folksy and easy manner, Hinton addressed the jury and agreed with much of the characterization of the prosecution. He agreed that the Defendants were “Good Ole’ Girls” – they are just good people. He described Kunkle’s office as the best District Clerk’s Office in the State. (Many an attorney, LIL included, can attest to this – regardless of the guilt or innocence of the Defendants, there is no clerk’s office that matches this one.)
He describes his client, Patricia Crigger, as a “God fearing woman” who worked at the office for 24 years in a career that she began as a secretary. The Blue Book system has been in existence since the “beginning of time” and is necessary because the county cannot offer cash or monetary rewards or incentives because of budgetary constraints.
Over the years, time clocks gave way to computers and swipe cards. Blue Book time was kept manually at first then it was kept on the computer. When the HR department asked the Clerk’s to discontinue manually overriding the time records, they adopted the system of swiping the ID cards of the employees. Every time the HR department asked the clerks to change the way they kept time, they complied. What occurred is not illegal. As an elected official, Hannah Kunkle could do what she wanted with her budget.
The employees at the Clerk’s office feared for their jobs because a Crigger opponent allegedly promised to ‘clean house” if elected. The employees had a garage sale to pay for Crigger’s filing fee (to seek election). Hinton stated that Crigger was the most qualified person in Collin County for the job.
The Fudruckers luncheons did occur and Kunkle promised Blue Book time to those who worked on Crigger’s campaign. But this, according to Hinton, was against the will of Crigger. After the election, Crigger told the supervisors to alert the employees to use their Blue Book time because this practice of Blue Book time would be discontinued in January 2011 when Crigger took office.
Hinton then describes what he learned about one of the Prosecution’s witnesses, Kristy Duty. Duty was a relatively high ranking employee at the Clerk’s office who was assigned to the 296th District Court, presided by Judge John Roach, Jr.. Allegedly, Roach, who was seeking re election at the time, asked that the clerks of his court display his signs, alongside those of Crigger at campaign sites. Crigger did not permit the display of Roach’s campaign signs by the clerks and this “infuriated Roach.” Then Duty made her complaint to Roach.
Hinton concluded by stating “mistakes were made,” and Crigger never agreed to this practice.
Defendant Rebecca Littrell’s attorney, Deric Walpole, gave the third opening argument. (Yes attorneys and non attorneys alike – this is a LOOONG trial and there are many players – usually there are only two sides to a dispute).
Walpole is an experienced criminal attorney who recently defended Warren Jeffs at the YFZ child sexual assault trial, and is a self described victim of the former district attorney. He is an aggressive litigator and wastes no time with pretences. He began by stating that the prosecution of this case is “politically motivated.” He described what occurred as akin to someone waiting in the bushes, watching a fire start, and refusing to call for help until the house burned down. He said that the law is not a sword, it is a shield.
Walpole stated that Duty complained to Judge Roach and surmised the following scenario: “I’m going to Dad, Dad goes to the Texas Rangers, and you are getting arrested.” (Note – the past District Attorney, John Roach, Sr. is Judge John Roach, Jr.’s father)
Littrell has worked for the District Clerk’s office for 24 years and this is all she knows. He told the jurors that the original indictments against these Defendants were for keeping the Blue Book Hours – and nothing more. At this point the Prosecution objected to this but he was quickly overruled by the judge. Walpole continued, that since the District Attorney’s office, then lead by DA John Roach, Sr., had their own “Blue Book” system, the indictment was dropped and Littrell was re indicted with other charges.
He describes Duty as a disgruntled employee who is a cousin by marriage to Littrell. Duty and Littrell did not “get along.” The impetus for this investigation and subsequent trial is Kristy Duty’s chagrin over having to use paid leave for a snow day. Allegedly, Duty had previously arranged to have paid leave on that day. As it turns out, it snowed that day and all the employees were able to take leave pursuant to a snow day. Duty did not want to use her paid leave for that day and requested that HR change her timesheet to reflect this change. HR refused and Duty complained to Littrell. Littrell told her that she can use her accrued Blue Book Time instead. For whatever reason, this offended Duty. So, she then complained to Judge Roach.
Walpole stated that the Defendants are not in a position of power and have no influence over anybody. He stated that the legal standard for conviction in this case requires that the Littrell “intentionally or knowingly” misused government property. And she did not know. And she did nothing wrong. He said that the clerks used Blue Book time to work on the campaigns of County Commissioner Joe Jaynes and County Clerk, Stacy Kemp.
Walpole concluded stating “don’t throw their careers in the trash because someone didn’t hold up a freakin’ sign.”
Defemdant, Sherry Bell, represented by Yoon Kim delivered the 4th Opening Argument. Yoon, a young attorney and former prosecutor, spoke briefly about his clinet. He describes her as a 64 year old with a high school education who worked for the clerk’s office for 22 years. She was advised that she could help the campaign and she did not realize that she was doing anything wrong. There was no intent for a conspiracy.
THE JURY WAS EXCUSED AT THE REQUEST OF JOHN HARDIN
John Hardin then made a motion to sever Hannah Kunkle’s trial from the other Defendants. This motion was denied. Helms, for the Prosecution, requested that any testimony regarding the prior indictments and attempts to indict the Defendants be excluded. This was denied by the court also. Helms protested that he did not want it to appear that he was a party to the prior indictments. Hardin then stated, and this is not an exact quote, “when you step into someone’s shoes, you step into the mud too.”
AND THE JURY IS BACK
Defendant, Hannah Kunkle, represented by John Hardin delivered the 5th and FINAL Opening Argument. Hardin is a prominent, long time, and well known Collin County attorney. He has a folksy and casual manner with the jurors. His style is a conversational one which causes him to segue to various points of information – and the summary here reflects that style.
Hardin addressed each individual juror by name and reminded them that this is the second week of Advent. He described former Constable and husband, Jerry Kunkle’s various illnesses and hospitalizations, including a debilitating heart attack in Colorado, and stated that Kunkle retired to attend to the needs of her husband and family.
Hardin relates that After Kunkle announced her retirement, Kristy Duty and another Clerk’s office employee organized a garage sale to raise money to pay for Crigger’s filing fee. This prosecution “star witness” seemed to want Crigger to win and engaged in the same activities of which the Defendants are accused. Kristy created a flyer for the occasion. Hannah saw the flyer and promptly advised Kristy that “no one is to campaign in the office.”
He stated he did not know what happened at the Fudrucker’s meeting. He said that Judge Roach, an honorable man, was subpoenaed, and will testify at the trial. He mentioned to the jury that there is an article in the March edition of the Dallas Observer that describes the Collin County “Kangaroo Court.” He suggested the jury review the article and then he told them not to do their own research. (Not sure why the prosecution did not object to this one – LIL)
Hardin then segued to the actual election. He said that a Laura Roberge was campaigning at the Election office displaying signs for Crigger and Judge Roach. Sherry Bell called Roberge and told her to stop displaying Roach’s sign. Roberge called Roach and Roach allegedly went to the Election office.
Hardin then describes the raid by the Texas Rangers. The office was shut down during business hours. The Rangers confiscated records, computers, and even hand searched the purses of the employees. This raid was an absolute shock to all in the District Clerk’s office.
Hardin relates that the Defendants, with the exception of Kunkle, were indicted two times before and the indictments were dropped. Greg Davis, then the First Assistant to DA Roach, made a Brady Filing requesting recusal from the case because the DA’s office uses a system called “High Five” to permit exemplary employees to take leave from the office while time records falsely indicated they were actually working. This lead to the appointment of a prosecutor pro tem – John Helms, Jr.. Hardin relates that Helms and his team interviewed various employees. Pursuant to these interviews, Littrell asked Kunkle to write a letter vouching for her and the other defendants. Kunkle did so, and among the various documents that were presented to the subsequent Grand Jury, Kunkle’s letter was among them. This, asserts Hardin, is the reason that Kunkle was indicted in May 2011.
Hardin then describes his repeated requests for a continuance and his difficulty in obtaining discovery from the Prosecution. He stated that Kunkle, upon her announcement to retire, spent many days at the end of her term caring for her husband and was not involved in the minutiae of the office . He conclude by stating that Kunkle specifically forbid any campaigning in the office.
Lex In Limine
Attorney at Law
In my next post, I will describe the testimony of the Prosecutions first witness with information provided by another guest writer, Magna Carta.
[Note: With permission I am re-posting this article from Hunter Biederman's, Frisco DWI Lawyer and Attorney Blog]
Posted on November 25, 2011 by Hunter Biederman
It was a sad day in Collin County. Yet another innocent person was convicted of a crime based on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of an admitted felon and child molester. On Friday, Judge Suzanne Wooten was convicted of 9 counts of bribery, money laundering. Judge Wooten allegedly took money in return for a promise to give favorable rulings.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. In a county and era notorious for overzealous prosecution, observers might already be hardened to the notion of innocent people being convicted of crimes.
- Nationally there have been 280 DNA exonerations.
Part of why I was surprised of this conviction is because I thought there was no way a guilty verdict would ever come from this case. I sat through parts of the trial and never saw any evidence that even remotely pointed towards guilt.
The theory of the case was an odd one to me. In a county where no incumbent judge had ever been defeated, supposedly someone was willing to “bribe” a lawyer to unseat a judge, and reverse rulings already made on their case. The theory was further removed from reality considering Judge Wooten removed herself from the case and never made any rulings that aided the briber.
The prosecutor’s theory (an Assistant Attorney General brought in “AG”) was quite close to the plot of John Grisham’s The Appeal, where a Mississippi Supreme Court justice is pushed to the court to hopefully overturn a big corporate jury verdict. In the book, however, the judge to be didn’t know of the reason he was being placed on the court.
But the fiction in this case became hard reality for Judge Wooten. She now faces up to 20 years in prison. Along with the possible prison sentence she is also subject to the convicted felony tag, the loss of her job as a judge, and probable loss of her law license.
The AG’s theory of the case is that it didn’t matter if the Judge made the favorable rulings or not – the bribe was committed on acceptance of the offer. I guess that is true in theory. I offer to pay an elected official for some favor, they are guilty when they take the money, not when they do the favor.
But a closer look at that idea would show that if the bribed person didn’t do the favor in return for the bribe, then it most likely wasn’t a bribe anyway. The briber in Wooten’s case certainly got screwed out of their $150,000 considering the bribed judge refused to even hear the case much less make favorable rulings.
When I was a prosecutor in Collin County, nobody ever asked me how many innocent people I thought I convicted. As a defense attorney, I am constantly asked how many guilty people I get off. The general public perceives the greater “wrong” to be a guilty person getting away with a crime, not an innocent person getting convicted.
“It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer" ~William Blackstone, c.1760’s
Although not asked about convicting innocent people as a prosecutor, I thought about it during and after my prosecuting career ended. The stock answer in my mind was that I never convicted anyone. They either pled guilty, or a jury convicted them – never me.
My suspicion is that the AG in the Wooten case feels the same way. A jury convicted Wooten – not him. Furthermore, the jury’s verdict justified this prosecution.
Except this AG had even more to gain from a guilty verdict. This verdict cleared his name in an FBI investigation against him. The problem with this outcome is that this prosecution could have been pushed forward out of a hope to clear his name – not for a prosecutor’s stated duty of seeing that justice be done.
Art. 2.01. It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys, including any special prosecutors, not to convict, but to see that justice is done.
At one point the current Collin County District Attorney tried to intervene and take the case back out of the hands of the AG. This was fought by the AG and eventually overruled by the visiting judge.
If a new, uninterested prosecutor were assigned to the case, the outcome might have become more reliable, and easier for me to believe.
Much of the lack of faith in the conviction also comes from the political overtones in this case. An ousted republican incumbent judge, upset at a perceived Democratic challenger that smelled of “RINO.” (Republican In Name Only). She was referred by the ousted judge as “active in the Democratic party.”
So here we have it, an AG working for the Republican elected AG’s office, prosecuting a perceived Democrat. If the undertones weren’t enough, during the trial the prosecution politics a focal point of their case. Questions were asked of how many Republic events Judge Wooten attended before running. Not exactly subtle.
It had always been a joke that its illegal to be a Democrat in Collin County. Unfortunately this trial brings the joke into possible reality.
In the end I am saddened by what seems on all accounts as yet another innocent person being convicted of a crime. If there was any chance at the public having faith in the jury’s verdict, it was lost a long time ago in the face of the overwhelming politics that plagued this case.
Hunter Biederman is a DWI / Criminal Defense Attorney in Collin County. He publishes his blog (www.friscodwilawyer.com) which focuses on the Collin County and Texas legal system. He can be reached at email@example.com or (888) DWI-FRISCO.
The Texas House Districts
The Federal Court Proposed Plan
The 2011 enacted plan
The current plan prior to 2011
The San Antonio Federal Court has released their proposed maps of the Texas House and the Senate District.
The Texas Democratic Party, the NAACP, the LULAC and several Democratic elected officials have sued Texas Legislature's 2011 redistricting maps. The federal courts in Washington, D.C. and in San Antonio have held that the Texas plan dilutes the vote of minorities.
Redistricting is in its nature a political operation. The Republican majority legislature drew several districts to elect more Republicans. That is perfectly legal.
The Democrats however have charged that the legislature gerrymandered the districts to fragmented minority communities to disfranchisement those ability minority elected offices. The federal courts have agreed that the Texas plans are illegal under the Civil Rights Law writing:
The courts decision have left the Texas voters confused. They can not know who can and will be able to run for election in their own districts. The court have promised final maps in the following month.
The court has extended the filing period. Until the decision is final, the court has allowed candidates to file in their previous districts if the court does not act in time.
If the legislature fails to draw a legal map, then their failure gives the authority to the federal courts. And the courts do their decisions for their own logic. The Democratic issues were mostly involved gerrymandering in Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth - not that involved Collin County. Nevertheless, the court offered substantial changes to the county's house districts.
The legislature made some significant changes to the Collin County house districts. The newly created District 33, was carved out of District 89 (Jodi Laubenberg) drawn from Rockwall to Frisco. The federal court is planning to also move of District 70 (Ken Paxton) into the District 33 (and renumbered to Dist. 3).
The maps to the right show:
- The proposed Texas House districts. (Plan 298)
- The 2011 legislature enacted districts.
- The previous districts prior to the last redistricting.
Collin County has two Texas Senate Districts. Senate District 8 encompasses the north-east quadrant of the county, including Plano and Allen. Three quarters of the lesser populated remainder are in Senate District 30.
The legislature was taken a substantial part of Dallas from District 8. The court did not make any major changes to the legislature plan.
Both the legislature and the court has changed the huge 30th District. District runs from Wylie along the Red River to Wichita Falls and south to Erath County. However the legislature and the court have made few changes within the District 30th within Collin County. But the Court has removed very little in Senate District 30 within Collin County. However, the court has made large changes in the remainder of the 30th Senate District by removing Erath County will added the Denton County voters could change the rural demographics adding the ratio to suburbanites in Collin County, and change the locus from Wichita Falls to Denton and Collin County.
(Click the maps to download a pdf larger map)The Texas legislature has maps that show all of the plans here.
The Texas Senate Districts
The Federal Court Proposed Plan
The 2011 enacted plan
The current plan prior to 2011
Judge Kerry Russell, the visiting judge from Smith County has ruled against DA Greg Willis' attempt to remove the Texas Attorney General from prosecuting Suzanne Wooten. Judge Russell was not only impressed with Willis' motion, but called the actions of Greg Willis "subterfuge".
It is unclear whether the District Attorney will file for a writ of mandamus to ask the appeals court to overturn Kerry's decision.
Peter Schulte, Wooten's attorney had also filed a similar motion to Greg Willis' to remove the Attorney General. Judge Russell denied the motion.
Wooten's attorney was also unable to convince the judge to quash her indictments.
The judge also ruled on Wooten's complaints that the prosecution was delaying and withholding evidence that may favor the defense. Again, Kerry ruled against Wooten.
The Collin County Observer will post a full report on today's 3 1/2 hour hearing.
Today, Patricia Crigger, Rebecca Littrell, Sherry Bell and Hannah Kunkle appeared at a hearing heard by visiting Judge Nelms to hear motions.
Robert Hinton John Hardin who is representing Hannah Kunkle, offered a motion to dismiss Kunkle's indictment, and challenged the Special Prosecutor, John Helms, to seek Kunkle's indictment and prosecution. Robert Hinton John Hardin gave several spirited oral arguments. Hinton Hardin told the judge that this is a, "political case... who believes that in a perfect world, this case would go away". Nelms looked surprised and bemused at that comment. He said that his decision requires evidence and he's not hearing any "facts". HintonHardin said that this case has been tainted by John Roach's District Attorney's office. He described the DA's office as having "dirty laundry". Hinton Hardin implies that most of the decisions in this case are not in the file. The judge replied that, "you say you know what's been done [behind closed doors], you say they know, but I do not know it." Judge Nelms repeated that Robert Hinton John Hardin must provide evidence. HintonHardin also argued that Special Prosecutor Helms only had a charter to investigate and seek prosecution for the original 6 district clerks employees. Hinton Hardin also asked the judge to rule that when the special prosecutor dismissed the previous indictments, he had no further authority. Judge Nelms ruled against Kunkle's motions. HintonHardin asked the court for severance, requesting that Hannah Kunkle be given a separate trial, and not tried with the other three accused district clerk employee's.
However, Crigger, Littrell, and Bell's attorneys told the judge that they wanted to be tried together. Walker Barnett, Bell's attorney, told the judge that they understand Kunkle did want severance but that he would not oppose the motion to server the trial from Kunkle.
HintonHardin argued that combining Kunkle with the other three defendants could create a trial in which the other defendants could, "create an antagonistic situation". Hinton Hardin said that the trial could be, "a 'cluster'.... that we don't want to be in at the court, throwing rocks at each other". Hinton Hardin portrayed a situation where the three District Clerk defendants could claim that they only followed Kunkle's policies, and that he might show, that after her retirement, Kunkle was no longer in daily operations and delegated her office to the other defendants.
The judge stated that he was still inclined to consolidate the defendants for economy, and that the defense has the burden to provide evidence to support the motion. He told
Hinton Hardin that he had not "seen any facts" for the severance, but he has give Robert Hinton John Hardin until October to submit a motion.
Walker Barnett asked for more time to prepare for trial because he has only been hired by Bell. An associate of attorney Deric Walpole, representing Rebecca Littrell, told the court that Walpole is in San Angelo defending Warren Jeffs the Eldorado sect leader charged with bigamy and child sexual abuse. He told the judge that trial will likely go for many weeks.
Judge Nelms then re-set the trial for November 28, 2011.
(Patricia Crigger will likely remain in his office for more than two years after being both elected and indicted.)
I apologize to all concerned for the confusion between Robert Hinton and John Hardin.
By Greg Janda, KXAS- NBC TV
Wednesday, Jul 27, 2011, Updated 5:25 PM CDT
McKinney fire officials say an overnight blaze at a Planned Parenthood clinic was started by a "Molotov cocktail."
The health center on Eldorado Parkway was attacked Tuesday night around 10 p.m. Firefighters arrived to extinguish the fire and discovered a wine bottle filled with diesel fuel and a rag for a lighter.
Officials say the fire did damage to the exterior of the building, but did not penetrate the building. Investigation into the attack is still ongoing.
The clinic opened in 2008 and has been the site of multiple protests. This is the first serious attack at the location.
By Matt Goodman, CBSDFW.COM
July 27, 2011 4:31 PM
MCKINNEY (CBSDFW.COM) – Someone hurled a glass bottle topped with a flaming rag and filled with diesel fuel through the front door of the McKinney Planned Parenthood offices just before 10 p.m. Tuesday, a spokeswoman said.
The attack left shards of glass littered in front of the office at 1720 Eldorado Parkway and charred the metal door, but Planned Parenthood staffers hurriedly cleaned the mess and still saw patients Wednesday.
“Since we’re seeing patients today and trying to do repair and cleanup as fast as possible, you may not get an idea of the damage done if you go by there today,” said Holly Morgan, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of North Texas.
The Molotov cocktail failed to make it into the actual clinic and no staffers or patients were there, Morgan said.
Though the McKinney location has been the center of controversy in the area since it opened in 2008, Morgan said the attack was unprecedented – none of the 28 north Texas locations have suffered something like this.
And though the McKinney Police Department still has not identified a motive, Morgan said the arson is even more upsetting because the targeted location does not offer abortion services.
“It’s really unfortunate because that site only provides preventative care,” she said. “But until we know from the police, until they figure out what happened, we can’t really say what the motivation was.”
The McKinney location offers preventive services such as breast and pelvic exams, as well as birth control, diabetes screenings, sexually transmitted infection tests, pregnancy testing and emergency contraception. News Radio KRLD reported picketers at the location earlier in the day.
McKinney police has not identified a suspect.
“Ninety-six to 97 percent of what we do –and that’s an audited number – every year for our patients is preventative health care. It’s breast and cervical cancer screening and well women visits,” Morgan said.
“We even give flu shots.”
Last night after I posted the previous post, the server crashed twice. My logs sure look like the Observer was attacked.
After the servers were repaired, the Observer still did not work properly. Later this morning, I was able to finally repair the blog's database.
Please, I ask you for your patience and my sorry that our readers had to deal with a frustrating site.
Please accept my apologies.
December 5, 2010
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
October 31, 2010
Ed Housewright/The Dallas Morning News
October 27, 2010
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
The District Clerk, Harrah Kunkle, and six indicted clerks are using a duplicate set of books for employee time -- commonly known as "the Blue Books." This is the source of the charge against them for "falsifying official documents."
The District Attorney, John Roach, is using exactly the same type of duplicate books as Kunkle's, instead calling it "High-Five." The same allegation - falsifying official documents - could potentially be applied to this program as well.
Now the DA is now having to tell the court that the District Attorney's office used a similar scenario as the District Clerk.
The District Attorney's Office has recused itself, and will ask for a special prosecutor. The call for a special prosecutor will cause the case many months delay.
It's now likely that Crigger will take office as any trial will take at least six months.
The DA screwed up their six cases. Idiots!
Hunter Biederman at the Frisco DWI Lawyer & Attorney Blog did a great pair of articles on the DA stories:
Collin County DA Recuses Self From District Clerk Case, Frisco DWI Lawyer & Attorney Blog, October 26, 2010
District Clerks Case - Brady Material Filing, Frisco DWI Lawyer & Attorney Blog, October 26, 2010
"State's Disclosure of Evidence Favorable to the Defendant.", Texas vs Crigger , 401-81993-10
"State's Joinder to Defendant Motions to Recuse District Attorney's Office", Texas vs Littrell's, 401-81995-10
Trial for 6 Collin County clerk's office employees postponed until 2011, Dallas Morning News, Ed Housewright, October 26, 2010
District Clerks Case - Brady Material Filing
Posted on October 26, 2010 by Hunter Biederman
Frisco DWI Lawyer & Attorney Blog
Today, Gregory Davis, Collin County's First Assistant District Attorney filed a "State's Disclosure of Evidence Favorable to the Defendant." This is commonly known as a "Brady Material." Brady material, in short, refers evidence favorable to the defense that is known by the State. The State is required to turn this evidence over. Brady material is often the source of heated debates including what is, and is not, Brady material. Brady material requirements stem from the US Supreme Court case of Brady v. Maryland.
Today's filing goes on to detail some specifics regarding the State's High-Five program. I previously reported on this program and detailed the shocking similarities to behavior alleged in the District Clerk's case. This stemmed from the District Attorney requesting a new way to code this time off which was denied by the County Commissioners.
- Approximately 40 employees of the Collin County District ~
Attorney's Office were awarded paid leave in the form of "High Five" leave since January 1, 2003. The Criminal District Attorney awarded the leave in amounts ranging from one to eight hours. The supporting documents show that the paid leave time was awarded for meritorious conduct. The undersigned has found no evidence that any paid leave time was awarded for electioneering or political activity.
- A timekeeper in the Collin County District Attorney's Office allegedly had an "off-the-record agreement" with a person in the Collin County Human Resources Department to alter employees' time records.
- At least two timekeepers in the Collin County District Attorney's Office altered employees' time records to reflect that employees were at work when they were actually on "High Five" leave.
- A timekeeper in the Collin County District Attorney's Office believes that "everyone" in the county was altering employees' time records, including persons in the Collin County Human Resources Department.
- Per a department spokesperson, the Collin County Human Resources Department had no knowledge of the "High Five" leave program prior to June 2, 2010.
- Per a department spokesperson, the Collin County Human Resources Department instructed all timekeepers to accurately report county employees' times.
- An undetermined number of scheduling requests for investigators in the Collin County District Attorney's Office were destroyed without the knowledge of the Criminal District Attorney or the undersigned.
Mr. Davis further states, "While the undersigned believes that much of this newly discovered evidence will be held to be inadmissible at trial, he believes disclosure of this evidence should be made to ensure full compliance with Brady v. Maryland."
This certainly seems to lend credibility to my previous article of the similarities in the High-Five program and what the District Clerks were doing.
So this begs the heated question, "What is the question?" What must the state prove? Not just the behavior, but that behavior must actually be a crime.
Mr. Davis' filing seems to suggest the reason for the time off is what is in question. (I think if this question was posed months ago, that wouldn't be the issue).
It would seem that the State is planning on arguing it IS ok for an elected official to give time off on their own made up program. It IS ALSO OK to lie about that to human resources and say those workers were there when they were not. But apparently it is a Felony if during their time off they decide to campaign.
Collin County DA Recuses Self From District Clerk Case
Posted on October 26, 2010 by Hunter Biederman
Frisco DWI Lawyer & Attorney Blog
Immediately after filing Brady Material - Favorable Evidence to the Defense, the Collin County District Attorney's office joined in the Defense's prior motion to recuse the District Attorney.
In the filing today, Gregory Davis, the First Assistant District Attorney explains that "[a]s a result of newly discovered evidence set forth in the State's Disclosure of Evidence Favorable to Defendant, the State of Texas now agrees that the Criminal District Attorney of Collin County and the Collin County's District Attorney's Office is disqualified in this case."
Both of these filings follow my past article, "How To Gut Your Own Case: Collin County District Clerks Case." which outlined the similarities in the District Attorney's High-Five paid time off program, and the District Clerk's "Blue Book" time.
It would seem that the District Attorney's Office employees, and or their policies have the potential to come into play in the District Clerk's case.
After originally refusing to move the case, the case was subsequently moved to Dallas County and postponed until 2011. But it was originally planned to still be prosecuted by the Collin County District Attorney's office. Instead, an "Attorney Pro Tem" must be substituted to act as the prosecuting attorney.
The judge has not ruled on the motion to recuse, but generally when both sides agree to a motion, it is granted.
Oh yes, and let's not forget what our friends at the Collin County Observer discovered... an AG opinion discussing elected officials roles in setting schedules.
The Texas General Attorney Opinion : Opinion No. GA-0778
Re: Whether a commissioners court may amend the county budget to reduce salaries for the county clerk's office because the clerk closed her office temporarily for a weather-related emergency (RQ-0834-GA)
In the resulting opinion, the AG states: "Elected county officers have a 'sphere of authority' within which they may manage their offices without interference.
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."
How To Gut Your Own Case: Collin County Clerks Case
Posted on October 18, 2010 by Hunter Biederman
The Short Answer? Admit to doing the exact same thing the people charged did.
I have never had a case where a prosecutor has stood in front of a large group and admitted to driving while intoxicated -- or any other crime for that matter.
But that seems to be exactly what the elected District Attorney in Collin County recently did. No, he did not admit driving while intoxicated, but instead stood in front of the county commissioners and asked for assistance on properly "coding" his Hi-Five Paid Time Off program. A program that on its face seems to be doing the same thing he accuses Six Collin County Clerks of doing. Taking time off from work with the permission of their supervisors, but putting in with the county that they were actually present so they can be paid.
The request started off innocently enough. DA John Roach was asking for was a way to change the computer coding of employees time off. Apparently he had already asked HR to do this, but they refused to make the change.
DA Roach explained the program: A supervisor or manager recommends an employee for a certificate that allows some time off. The recommendation is reviewed by manager, division chief and ultimately by me personally (John Roach). The employee "might get an hour off or two hours off "and they must take it within a certain amount of time, usually 30 days. They must get their managers approval, then fill out a scheduling request. That lets us (The DA) know when they’ll take the time off.
Cynthia Jacobson (HR's appointed official) told the Court Commissioners that they only make the change with these programs are approved by the Court. And this program has not been approved by the court.
The meeting then took on a much different tone. The commissioners seemed very disturbed by the elected DA coming up with his own time off compensation program.
One Commissioner asked, "The application should reflect our policies. Do we have policy where people get time off for rewards?" The question seemed rhetorical, because from the way the meeting went, it was clear that no such program exists within the county. There are policies in place that dictate time off, and this isn't one of them.
The commissioners not only refused to change the computer coding, but refused to accept that it was OK for the elected DA to start his own paid time off program.
In response to the District Attorney's statement, "if I have someone doing a really good job, I should have the discretion to reward them for it," the commissioner responded with a resounding, "I disagree."
So if the elected District Attorney feels it is OK to come up with his own paid time off program, why is it not OK for the clerks office to do the same? He charged six clerks with felonies for doing just that.
Here is the major problem I see with the State's case against the clerks. Even if they did exactly what the District Attorney alleges (and they might very well have), do those actions constitute a crime? The clerks supposedly padded their time in the office when they were not actually in the office.
According to the District Attorney paying someone for time off when they are not in the office is legal. But apparently only if they are his employees, not employees of the Clerk's office. Perhaps it is because the clerks didn't first come up with a name as cool as the "High Five" program.
If you would like to view the video, click on the video picture above. You can click on the agenda item below the video to jump to that portion of the commissioner's meeting.
Hunter Biederman is a DWI / Criminal Defense Attorney in Collin County. He publishes his blog (www.friscodwilawyer.com) which focuses on the Collin County and Texas legal system. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (888) DWI-FRISCO
Bill's note: There is a Texas Attorney General's opinion that may not allow the commissioners to overrule an elected officials' right to manage their offices.
The Texas General Attorney Opinion : Opinion No. GA-0778
Re: Whether a commissioners court may amend the county budget to reduce salaries for the county clerk's office because the clerk closed her office temporarily for a weather-related emergency (RQ-0834-GA)
The Grayson County Clerk had dismissed her employees for a short period of time due to a severe thunderstorm and power outage in the building. The Grayson commissioners would not authorize the country clerk to pay the employees for the time, which could be considered a reduction in the payroll budget. An AG's opinion was requested to resolve the dispute.
In the resulting opinion, the AG states: "Elected county officers have a 'sphere of authority' within which they may manage their offices without interference from the commissioners court." On the other hand, the opinion also notes that, "The commissioners court's budgetary power over the expenses of elected county officers does, however, create some tension with an elected county officer's sphere of authority."
In summary, the AG concluded, "Based on the information provided to us, we believe that a court would likely conclude that the Grayson County Commissioners Court may not transfer funds to reduce the salary line item to deprive the clerk's employees of payment for the time period that the clerk dismissed them due to a thunderstorm and power outage in the county courthouse, because such a reduction would intrude upon the elected county clerk's sphere of authority."
In a similar situation recently, the Collin County Commissioners Court did not approve a request by the District Attorney to pay employee salaries for time off during an emergency situation. The DA let his employees go early - and had his offices locked - during the shooting incident at the nearby McKinney police station, although other county offices remained open.
Based on this AG's opinion, it would seem that he has the authority to make that decision, and calls into question whether or not he and the District Clerk have the authority to authorize time off for other purposes?
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.
- Project Overview
- Project Need and Purpose
- Route Study Process
- Development and Analysis of DRAFT
Technically Feasible Alignment
- Public Comments
- Commissioners’ Court Action
Draft Technically Feasible Alignment
Citizens from areas all around the lake have joined with others in Collin County to oppose this route’s approval:
- The $400 to $470 million cost makes this project 7 times more expensive, per mile, than other currently planned Collin County projects.
- The US Army Corps of Engineers own the lake. At this time, the Corps reject this and all proposed routes because they do not meet Federal criteria.
- TxDot’s 2035 Plan mandates cost effective planning, focusing on improvements to existing infrastructure and targeting congestion where it is the worst. This route fails to meet this criteria.
This route should not be placed on the Collin County Mobility Plan 2007 Update, because it distracts from reasonable, cost-effective options:
- Upgrade the currently proposed plans for improvements to Hwy 380, SH78 and other lake area roadways.
- Work within existing ROW as much as possible and target the traffic congestion where it is the greatest.
- Add main lanes, enhanced turn lanes, overpasses, underpasses, and better emergency access lanes.
- Improve intersections with innovative designs such as the Michigan Left Turn recently added in Plano at Preston and Legacy ($2.4 million)
These viable alternatives will increase traffic flow and capacity, lessen the burden on tax payers, and preserve the lake as an asset for all of Collin County.
Lavon Lake Bridge Route Study (FM 1378 to SH 78)
Monday, October 11, 2010, 1:00 p.m
Collin County Commissioners Court
Jack Hatchell Administration Building, 4th Floor
2300 Bloomdale Rd., McKinney, TX 75071.
JOHN R. ROACH
CRIMINAL DISTRICT ATTORNEY
October 5, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Collin County DA Orders Review of More Than 100 Indictments, Halts Submission of New Cases
Collin County District Attorney John Roach has ordered the review and re-submission of more than 100 indicted cases to another Collin County grand jury.
The indictments in question were issued by a grand jury selected by Judge Suzanne Wooten. At the time of the grand jury’s selection, Judge Wooten and at least two other persons were being investigated by the DA’s office for allegedly violating campaign election laws and for other alleged criminal conduct. Mr. Roach’s office later recused itself from the investigation, and the Criminal Justice Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office was appointed by a court to continue the investigation and, if necessary, to prosecute any criminal cases resulting from it. That investigation is still ongoing.
In a statement released by the DA’s office two weeks ago, Mr. Roach announced that the same grand jury selected by Judge Suzanne Wooten had requested and obtained the appointment of a “special prosecutor” to investigate him and/or his assistants.
“Judge Wooten named to her grand jury the father of the attorney who represents her in the criminal case my office was, and the Attorney General is now, investigating.” Roach said. “She also named two grand jurors who are local lawyers, one of whom was dismissed from employment in my office and another who has had personal and professional conflicts with my office. One of those attorneys represents an indicted defendant in a high profile public corruption case my office is currently prosecuting.”
Mr. Roach ordered that all cases indicted by Judge Wooten’s grand jury be reviewed and resubmitted to another grand jury after it was discovered that the aunt of Judge Wooten’s criminal defense attorney (his mother’s sister) was one of the commissioners appointed by Judge Wooten to list the names of prospective grand jurors. Judge Wooten chose from that list when she impaneled her grand jury. Mr. Roach added, “We have also learned at least one of Judge Wooten’s grand jurors, who we believe to be acting independently of the “special prosecutor”, has personally contacted at least one person to be a witness for Judge Wooten’s grand jury.”
At Mr. Roach’s request, an additional grand jury was impaneled on October 1 to review the cases previously heard by Judge Wooten’s grand jury. That new grand jury will also consider all new cases that would otherwise have been heard by Judge Wooten’s grand Jury.
“I took these actions because I have profound reservations about the integrity of the entire process in impaneling Judge Wooten’s grand jury and its subsequent actions, which also present serious ethical questions. Neither I, nor any other citizen of Collin County can have confidence in the composition and operation of Judge Wooten’s grand jury. All persons whose cases are presented to a grand jury have a right to expect, without reservation, that their cases will be considered ethically and within the bounds of the law. I am duty bound to see to it,” Mr. Roach said.
The publisher of the Collin County Observer, Bill Baumbach, suffered what appears to be a mild stroke Sunday evening. He is stable and undergoing testing in a Plano hospital.
With a "normal" patient, the report might also say that he is "resting comfortably," however, being Bill, that just doesn't seem to apply. He was dressed and roaming the hospital early this morning, and is actively thinking about several articles he plans to write for the Observer. To that end he spent time this afternoon reviewing the video of today's Collin County Commissioner's Court meeting and discussing research that needs to be done for upcoming articles. He is in good spirits, and as feisty as usual with family, friends and hospital staff.
That being said, he sometimes has trouble finding the right words and connecting them in the right order, particularly when typing. We are confident that this will be a temporary condition, so for the time being, a team of volunteer copy editors and researchers/reporters will be helping Bill keep the Observer current. We may not be able to post as often as usual, but we will maintain a watchful eye on local government and keep you informed as we head into the final weeks before the November General Election.
We are fortunate that Bill's stroke wasn't more serious than it seems, but he may have been in a much better situation now if he had asked for help earlier than he did. As best we can tell, he started experiencing confusion around 11 a.m. and finally called his son around 6 p.m. Grant immediately recognized that there was something seriously wrong with his father and called local authorities who dispatched an ambulance.
Bill was lucky, but the next person who has symptoms of a stroke may not be so fortunate. We hope you will keep his experience in mind if you or someone near you is exhibiting any of these symptoms:
• Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, particularly on one side of the body
• Confusion or difficulty performing simple tasks
• Speech problems, including using or understanding normal words
• Dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, difficulty walking
• Severe headache, for no apparent reason
• Vision problems
Even if you're not sure, ask someone who can help you or call 9-1-1. And if you're trying to help someone you think may be having a stroke, don't take no for an answer, no matter how bull-headed they are! (yes Bill, this means you!) Delay can mean the difference in life or death, and between a normal life or permanent disability. You can learn more about the warning signs of stroke on the American Heart Association website - www.AmericanHeart.org.
Link to The Texas County and District Retirement System presentation to Collin County, August 27, 2010
Public Hearings on the 2011 budget will be held at:
Monday, August 30, 2010 at 6:30 PM
Central Jury Room - Collin County Courthouse 2100 Bloomdale Road, McKinney, Texas
Tuesday, September 7, 2010 at 1:30 PM
Central Jury Room Collin County Courthouse 2100 Bloomdale Road, McKinney, Texas
Final vote on the budget is scheduled for September 13, 2010
From The County Line blog by Commissioner Joe Jaynes, August 19:
You have seen the numbers before:
Approximately 40% of all current county employees could make over $100,000 per year in retirement.
246 could receive more than $200,000 per year.
More than 500 could receive more in retirement than their final salary just before retirement.
It has been sent out in several mass emails and presented in commissioners’ court.
Those numbers are wrong on so many levels.
They are based on an actuarial table provided by the Texas County and District Retirement System or (TCDRS) which assumes that all employees at Collin County will work until they are 60 with new employees working up to 40 years during which all employees will receive a 4% raise per year compounded annually.
The reality is that no one works at Collin County for 40 years with 4% raises compounded annually. This year we proposed a 1.5% raise and last year we had 2% raise and those raises went only to employees who were our top performers.
More importantly, they do not take into account that we have salary caps for all our employees. For example a truck driver at Collin County “tops out” at approximately $39,000 a year.
The scenario presented above has that same truck driver working here for 40 years (our average length of employment is 10 years) and making approximately $180,000 a year!
The “facts” stated by are just not realistic. The TCDRS said so in a letter sent to the county on August 12. According to the TCDRS, “The data provided…was not intended to be used as an estimate of future retirement benefits to be paid by your plan.”
This, however, did not deter some from the continued presentation of these “facts” in mass emails and in interviews with the Dallas Morning News.
Our county retirement plan through the TCDRS is a 2:1 match plus 7% guaranteed annual interest after a vesting period of 8 years.
Is that plan to rich? That’s a fair question which I look forward to addressing in future emails.
However, in the meantime, I wanted to set the record straight and cut through the reckless and misleading political spin that has been presented.
It is my belief that you should always shoot straight with the taxpayers and that is what I will do as we carry on this conversation.
On another note, my family and I were deciding how to spend the $5.50 annual tax savings that the commissioners’ court recently passed. We decided to go to Starbucks and used the savings to buy and share a skinny vanilla latte. Unfortunately, on the way home it spilled all over the car when we hit a pothole.
and on August 26th, Joe wrote:
The average salary for Collin County citizens, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is $72,801.
The average salary for Collin County employees, according to our HR Department, is $48,030.
Like most governmental entities, Collin County pays less than the private sector. As you know, the rule of thumb for anyone going to work in the public sector is that the pay is lower but the benefits are better.
This is why Collin County like most counties and virtually every city in this county and region has a retirement plan based on a 2:1 match plus a varied amount of interest. The Collin County amount of interest is 7 percent.
It is important that we break this down. The 7 percent interest is state law, however, it is actually below the S&P 500 average for a person who is retiring after 20 years of service. For example, if a twenty year retiree had invested in the stock market for the last 20 years their return would be over 10 percent per year. Check out the following link to run stock market averages over various times: http://www.moneychimp.com/features/market_cagr.htm
Once an employee retires, Collin County matches the employee’s final account balance with a $2 match for every dollar saved.
Sound too generous?
On the surface it does, but once you look at our county’s retirement history it really comes out to be a much smaller amount than others have previously claimed.
For example, check out these averages for Collin County retirees. All the information below is provided by the Texas County and District Retirement System or (TCDRS):
Average Age at Retirement: 62
Average Service at Retirement: 18 years
Average Monthly Payment at Retirement: $1,500
Average Salary Replacement Ratio: 39%
It is also important to note that out of all the employees that will work for Collin County over the next twenty years only 1 in 4 will actually retire and draw their $2 match.
Listed below are projections, again provided by the TCDRS, which shows the number of future retirees and the average benefits:
2009 281 retirees with an average benefit of $22,269
2010 337 retirees with an average benefit of $23,678
2015 567 retirees with an average benefit of $30,153 which in 2010 dollars amounts to $24,529
2020 782 retirees with an average benefit of $36,230 which in 2010 dollars amounts to $24,815
2025 949 retirees with an average benefit of $44,541 which in 2010 dollars amounts to $25,687.
The dollars that Collin County will pay its future retirees will come from the following areas:
Employee Deposits: 11 percent
Employer Contributions, i.e., Collin County taxpayers: 13 percent
Investment Earnings: 76 percent
As you can see this is a plan that no one will grow rich on nor is it one that is unfair to the taxpayers.
To completely fund this plan Collin County will set aside $40 million over the next 20 years. To put this into perspective, this 20-year figure is less than half Collin County’s yearly $85 million payroll.
This commissioners’ court has taken proactive steps to address this “unfunded liability.” As a matter of fact, this year we took $5 million out of our $132 million in reserves to ensure that this is paid off ahead of schedule.
As this issue of public sector retirement funds becomes a problem for places like California and Illinois, Collin County stands out as a shining example of your local government actually having a handle on this very complicated issue at a minimal cost to the taxpayers.
So when you read postings that 246 county retirees will earn $200,000, that over 40% will earn over $100,000 and that Collin County is $40 million “in the hole,” the bottom line is that they are just not true.
John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things.” Hopefully the facts presented here will clear up any confusion that has been stirred up on this issue.
Please plan to attend our budget public hearing on Monday, August 30 at 6.30pm and Tuesday, September 7 at 1.30pm. Both public hearings will be held in the Central Jury Room at the Collin County Courthouse.
And from County Judge Keith Self's Facebook page:
The Pension Plan Saga
by Keith Self on Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 8:09pm
The world has changed. The private sector has moved almost exclusively to 401(k) pension plans where employees manage their retirement assets in the marketplace.
But government plans have not changed with the times. Our county pension plan still matches 250% and guarantees 7% interest, an unrealistic expectation in the marketplace.
By the way, I just received a letter of clarification from the retirement system in Austin. The letter states that "It is projected that the average current employee will retire with 13 years service. After adjusting for 13 years assumed inflation, the estimated average annual benefit for those employees who will receive a retirement benefit would be $59,634 in today's dollars." If that's correct, it's amazing!
This government pension plan issue is getting attention all over the nation, but changing our retirement system will not be easy. Word is moving quickly.
One fine employee who has served long and honorably with the county wrote that he would make $150 LESS (his capitalization) per month than his current salary if he retired next year. That is EXACTLY my point. When did government retirement start to mean that you make a full salary for the rest of your life? It certainly does not mean that in the private sector.
How many of you would love to see a retirement plan where you receive only $150 LESS per month than your final salary?
I'm getting feedback on lower paid employees. Let's be honest. Lower paid private sector employees may not contribute to a 401(k) at all because they are just trying to feed the family. Yet that same employee is helping pay that 250% match and 7% interest on government plans.
Our more mature private sector workers and retirees have seen their 401(k) plummet in value over the past several years, yet they are also helping pay that 250% match and 7% interest on government plans that are insulated from the realities of the marketplace.
My whole effort is to more closely match our public sector pension plans with private sector pension plans.
This issue reminds me of two previous compensation issues in our county:
1) There was the great "Salary Saga" (Dallas Morning News actually named it) of 2006 when the Commissioners Court voted themselves a 17% pay raise the year before I took office. The court had been taking heat for their longevity pay for over a year. When the court finally cut their own longevity pay and auto allowance, they replaced them almost dollar for dollar in salary. As you can guess, the public didn't take kindly to a 17% government pay raise. Something like 400 folks showed up at a public hearing. After several votes, the court settled on something less than 17%.
2) Collin County used to give 8% pay raises to retirees in this same system that we are discussing. That's right, 8% Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) to folks already retired. The state stepped in to stop that several years ago.
One more point: When is someone going to think about the future taxpayers of Collin County? The federal
government is saddling our kids and grandkids with unimaginable future debt and our own county cannot sustain our retirement program. Yet everyone is writing about themselves and their entitlements - does no one care about the future and about our children? The federal government gets all the coverage, but what about our children and grandchildren right here in Collin County? We enjoy a great life here - will it still be available for our grandchildren, or will taxes to support full government salaries for life drive them out?
Do you remember when General Motors was described as a health care provider that happened to make cars on the side? I don't want Collin County to be described as a retirement plan manager that happens to provide public services on the side.
Government retirement should not mean full salary for life. What's so controversial about that?
District Judge Ray Wheless sent out an email this week:
Dear Judge Self, Commissioner Jaynes, Commissioner Ward, Commissioner Shaheen and Commissioner Hoagland:
The following information is posted by the County on its official website:
* The fastest growing county in Texas, and one of the fastest growing in the U.S.
* The 6th most populous county in Texas
* Among counties with more than a half-million people, the highest sustained growth rate since the last Census in 2000, at 52.1 percent
* The wealthiest county in Texas
Collin County has experienced major changes since 2000:
* The population has grown by more than 52 percent
* The number of households has grown by 35 percent
* Asian and African American populations have more than doubled
* The Latino population has increased by 85 percent
* The Caucasian population has grown by 35 percent
* Householders aged 65 and older have increased by almost 65 percent
Paychecks & Such
* County residents' per capita income is 28 percent (or $10,000 per year) higher than the national rate
* Our median family income here is almost 34 percent (or $30,000 per year) higher than the U.S. median
* The 2006 county median household income was estimated at $74,051
* Less than two percent of county families were estimated to have received public cash assistance in 2006
* Only four percent of county families were estimated to fall at or below the 2006 federal poverty line ($9,800 annual income for one individual and $20,000 for a family of four)
What is not posted on the County's website is that, notwithstanding our explosive growth and wealth, our criminal justice system has made Collin County one of the safest places in the U.S. to live. And we have done that by attracting top quality personnel.
One of the primary reasons I left my law practice in 2000 and assumed the Bench was the retirement system Collin County offered. With my appointment to the District Court, I personally don't have to worry about the County's plans for reducing its retirement contributions. However, the cuts you make now will affect the type of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers the County has in the future. In other words, the total compensation package must be attractive enough to interest the best lawyers from private practice and the best prosecutors from the D.A.'s office to seek out judicial positions. If not, then only the less successful private attorneys will seek the County Court positions and our best prosecutors will choose to enter private practice.
Many of our law enforcement personnel and assistant district attorneys came to work for the County because of the current retirement match. If that is reduced, they may well have less reason to continue to work for Collin County. My bailiff, and every Sheriff's deputy, can earn more working for the Plano or Frisco Police Department than by working for the County. And our assistant district attorneys can obviously earn more in private practice. The retirement package is critical to keeping these high quality employees on board with the County.
In conclusion, we have established a high quality criminal justice system that has made Collin County a very safe place to live. Reducing our employees' benefits sends the wrong message about our priorities.
Judge, 366th District Court
Collin County, Texas
And from Justice of the Peace Judge Terry Douglas
I am truly disappointed in our County Judge and his push to take away your retirement benefits and to hack away at your insurance benefits.
I am one elected official that understands that you went to work for the benefits that County provided. We all know that it was not for the pay. I for one know that the benefits are what keep quality people in the County in order to better serve our citizens.
When I first applied to Collin County in 1979, I was actually offered a choice between Plano PD and Collin County . I obviously took the lower paying job with Collin County . I started work for Collin County for $880.00 a month, but the County benefits appeared to be better at the time. I know that you too have the qualifications to do the same job at a better paying City government job or with the private sector. If the County Judge gets his way it will destroy not only the morale of the county, but it will destroy the service that we supply to the citizens because our qualified people will seek employment elsewhere.
I am very proud of the job that each of you does and I am sorry that you have become the pawns of what appears to be a political agenda. Just remember that our only voice against radical politics is our vote. Always vote that’s one thing they can’t take away from you.
May God Bless the Employees of Collin County , Texas
From Sheriff Terry Box:
A Message From Sheriff Box
Posted on August 24, 2010
I would encourage everyone to attend the public hearing on the 30th at 6:30PM at the Central Jury room and let your opinions be known. I will be there speaking my opinion about how our County Judge is completely using the calculations in an improper manner.
You have to fill out a card to be able to speak at the hearing I would encourage someone to go by the 4th floor Comm. Courts and get several cards or make a copy and have them filled out before the meeting, this will save a lot of time. Your can write your thoughts on the card to be read in Court or you can say you want to address the Court.
You have the right theme we have to stay competitive with our local Police Depts. I am asking all department heads and employees to be at these meeting to make their wishes and opinion known.
from David Smith, Democratic Party candidate for County Judge:
I will address retirement funding. I have walked the walk in this area before. I will be able to address this in a responsible manner from both fiduciary and employee morale perspectives.
The incumbent's recent foray into this is irresponsible for several reasons.
1. He is proceeding with partial information and disinformation.
2. He is proceeding in a manner that is sharply alienating county employees.
3. His conduct appears to be designed to give him a good election issue rather than actual cost reduction.
Although in office for 3 1/2 years, the incumbent apparently came across some information about the county employees retirement program a few weeks ago. He sent some disinformation out about it that was designed to be sensational and inflammatory. He made proposals which were unlawful, demonstrating his lack of knowledge.
In doing this, he also blindsided his employees. Worse, he is rallying his supporters to speak out against employees.
And, while maybe getting what he feels is good press among his supporters, he has been ineffective in implementing his recommendations. Virtually every budget proposal he unveiled a few weeks ago has met one of two fates:
A) Defeated by the full Commissioners Court on 2-3 votes
B) Withdrawn due to being clearly unlawful or unfounded
If you want to implement major changes in a retirement plan as part of an annual budget cycle, objective information about the plan should be circulated, discussed and understood by the decision-makers months in advance. You also need to look at retirement benefits and costs in the context of total compensation and costs. And you need to look at not only your own operation but also the operations of those with whom you compete for employees.
(By the way, a good time to start looking at funding for the retirement plan would have been in 2008, when the economy tanked. Why no interest until now?)
Also, you also need to engage your employees. All of them may or may not ultimately agree on a course of action, but they need to understand what you are doing and why.
Most county services are dependent on people for their delivery. The ability to retain good people and maintain good morale is absolutely essential.
If you are going to successfully implement a compensation change, you need buy-in or a good understanding not only from employees but also from those responsible for the operations (other elected officials and department heads) and the other decision makers (other members of the commissioners court).
Someone recently wrote me to succinctly describe the incumbent's conduct and his reaction:
"I am a Republican but this is political grandstanding for the upcoming election. . . . When your signs are ready, I want one."
Walking the Walk - General Motors and local public sector
In the 80's, I was part of the EDS management team that moved thousands of General Motors information technology workers from a financially unsustainable compensation and benefits package to an EDS package more like the rest of the private sector.
In the 90's, I was part of a two member Finance Committee and eight member City Council that made adjustments to City of Plano employee compensation and benefits to improve city finances while retaining high employee morale and first-class government services.
In the current day, I am prepared to work with all concerned to successfully make any and all needed changes to county employee compensation and benefits, again to improve public finances while retaining high employee morale and first-class government services.
The incumbent does not appear to demonstrate comparable knowledge, experience or commitment.
A few notes about the county employees retirement system in response to the prior disinformation:
First, it should be understood that we are talking about a state retirement system in which county employees participate (not a county retirement system). The commissioners court does have discretion over the employer contribution to employee accounts in that system. Other aspects of the system are set by state law. As the incumbent quickly learned a couple of weeks ago, the county does not have the discretion to replace it with something else nor make other changes. County officials can ask state legislators to make changes. But, if this was not the subject of an interim study, major change is not likely in the coming state legislative session. Certainly, major change cannot take place in the current Collin County budget sessions.
Second, if you look at the system, you may find it is not actually mathematically doomed to failure, etc. See http://www.collincountybuzz.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=632:collin-county-retirement-facts&catid=85:local-news&Itemid=197 for an excellent article written by Commissioner Joe Jaynes.
In any case, I look forward to examining all aspects of county employee compensation and benefits, again, all with the objective of improving public finances while retaining high employee morale and first-class government services.
And a note about maintaining employee morale:
Disappointingly absent from the recent budget sessions was discussion of cost reductions other than employee compensation and benefits. There was no talk of things such as more paperless filing or home confinement with ankle bracelets (instead of jail confinement), all of which can save taxpayer dollars.
You need employee support and, better, employee initiative to implement such things. The incumbent is apparently not welcoming this.
David M. Smith
Candidate for Collin County Judge
and finally from the "unofficial" Collin County Deputies Association website:
In Defense of Keith Self…
Posted on August 22, 2010
The following is a reader contributed article:
In Defense of Keith Self:
There have been a lot of questions posed to Keith Self regarding how he calculated that 40% of Collin County employees would earn $100,000+ in retirement. Self has stated that this information comes directly from TCDRS, and he is correct it does. If you go to TCDRS.org the homepage has a simple calculator to determine your potential future salary in retirement. According to the website if you start at $49,000/year as a Deputy for Collin County and work for 25 years, then your potential future salary in retirement would be right around $130,000. Well there you have it, Self was correct! It is all right there on the internet.
And now for the rest of the story….
Keep in mind that a financial model is only as accurate as the assumptions used to create it. What Self failed to check were the assumptions. This model on the TCDRS homepage is based on a 5% salary increase annually! At 5% increase/year after 25 years a Deputy would be earning $169,000/year in salary. Obviously, with salary increases like this one’s retirement account would get quite large. As far as I know, no employee of Collin County is receiving 5% annual increases in salary.
Like many before him Self simply fell victim to what he read on the internet without checking his facts. It happens all the time. On another note, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona that would be perfect for Mr. Self if he is interested in buying. I have it listed on Craigslist right now.
The Great Shell Game
Posted on August 28, 2010
On August 18, Judge Keith Self stated on his Facebook page “Yesterday, with our county unemployment rate near 8%, making jobs the #1 issue for our citizens, a majority of the Commissioners Court stood with the taxpayer.” Judge Self felt that lowering matching county retirement contributions, increasing employee medical costs and lowering the tax rate would make Collin Count competitive for businesses looking to relocate.
The tax reduction agreement was August 17. On August 11, the Collin County Business Press published an article stating “The booming North Texas area was home to six of the top 25 cities posting population gains during the past year, according to new U.S. Census Bureau estimates released June 22.” This was published 6 days prior to the vote and was released by the U.S. Census Bureau on June 22, nearly two months earlier.
Where is the panic Judge Self speaks of?
Could it be that these people are moving to Collin County because of the beautiful mountains, white sandy beaches, lush rain forest or Plano’s popular River Walk? Or, could it possibly be that they are moving here because of the explosive job growth created by businesses relocating here, to Collin County, because of the already existing low cost of doing business?
Collin County’s own website states that “People are moving here. Businesses are moving here. And they’re all staying.” What’s happening with the foreclosure rate in Collin County? According to recently published report, it’s down 1% compared to an increase of 3% in the rest of the FW area.
In November, County Judge Keith Self gave this 18-page presentation – Collin County: Still First in Growth — at the 2009 State of the Community. Key words, “First in Growth”. It was a very impressive presentation, honestly.
In response to the one quarter of a cent tax decrease, Keith Self told the Star Local “the decrease will make business look to the county.”
So Keith Self is now taking credit for businesses relocating to Collin County? Was Collin County not doing a pretty good job before he stepped in to save the day?
In an August 11, 2010 article by the Collin County Business Press entitled Pro-business attitude leads to growth, they state “Businesses are always looking to find the low-cost areas to do business, and Collin County always comes out on top.”
Apparently, businesses already thought Collin County was a pretty good place to relocate to before Self’s worthless tax cut, which by the way, will be felt more by losing $25 million in infrastructure dollars than the measly $5.50 savings passed on taxpayers.
I’m sorry, I just don’t, and cannot, buy in to Judge Self’s misguided assessment that this county is in dire circumstances. He has provide virtually no data to support his rhetoric and judging from his confusion of the TCDRS retirement data, I’m not wholly confident in his ability to interpret economic and growth indicators. Future blunders may end up costing this county dearly, just as the current one is bound to do.
It appears that Self is playing a shell game for political purposes. Cut government fat on one hand, and cut taxes with the other. It makes it appear that he saved the county money in both categories but it’s really a wash. The county may be saving by reducing matching retirement funds, but it also loses much needed funds by cutting the tax rate. You can’t spend what you don’t have. In reality, citizens lose because less roads can be built, and county employees lose because they lose a portion of their retirement. It will, however, look pretty spiffy in campaign pamphlets.
Judge Self needs to be held accountable for his decisions that affect not only county employees, but the county as a whole. He may have been a good soldier, but his ability to lead a county is suspect at best. Fortunately, we have three out of four commissioners who can think on their own and who have the best interest of this county, and it’s future, at heart.
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 email@example.com, or through his Web site at http://chuckbloom.blogspot.com.
Lynne Sipiora: Collin County needs to shelter its homeless
Lynne Sipiora, Executive Director of the Samaritan Inn
Published in The Dallas Morning News
July 30, 2010
Five years ago come September, I accepted the position of director of the Samaritan Inn, Collin County's only homeless shelter. In an amazing baptism by fire, my first week on the job was also the first week the evacuees from Hurricane Katrina arrived in Texas.
I remember thinking, as I walked around the mountains of laundry detergent and piles of canned goods, that public awareness and fundraising would be a cinch.
Well, I was right and I was wrong.
I was wrong because the outpouring of generosity for Katrina victims did not seem to transfer to the people who were living in their own storm of poverty every day. An act of nature is nobody's fault, but when your house is foreclosed, somehow, to some people, it is.
And I was right because an amazing group of loyal supporters have kept us going and have recognized that, even though it's not seen on the news daily, people are still suffering.
Since that September, thousands of people have passed through the Samaritan Inn and found the support they needed to become independent once again.
"Who is your typical client?" I am asked often, and the answer is always anyone and everyone.
They are 20-somethings, the middle-aged and senior citizens; they are day laborers and middle management; they have high school diplomas and advanced degrees. They are white, African-American and Hispanic. Poverty, it seems, does not discriminate.
Two of our four wings are devoted solely to families, and they have been filled continuously for the last 18 months.
Intake interviews occur daily; our waiting room is regularly packed with moms, dads, crying babies, squirming toddlers, anxious school-aged kids and humiliated teenagers. More often than not, there is no room for any of them.
We have long known we needed another facility, and Plano seemed the logical place because the majority of our residents come from Plano. The city itself committed to providing more housing for the homeless in its five-year plan. City staff agreed to submit an application for a HUD loan and use those funds to purchase property that would be donated to the Samaritan Inn. The Samaritan Inn would then commit to raising the money to construct the facility and operate it.
A piece of property was identified, and then the opposition began.
Critics said our program would increase crime and decrease property values; they said businesses would suffer and everyone who was homeless in Dallas would immediately come north.
None of these things have happened in McKinney, and we don't expect them to happen in Plano. However, we respect the concerns and have tried to address them thoughtfully and responsibly.
These are the facts: Everyone who resides at The Samaritan Inn goes through an extensive intake interview, a mental health assessment, a criminal background check and a drug test. We are not a jail, a halfway house or a drug rehabilitation center; we are a program that helps willing people regain their independence and dignity. That's our mission statement – always has been, always will be.
We don't presume to know the best location in Plano for our program, and we have absolutely no interest in the political debate, but we do know that while it's being figured out, hundreds of people in Collin County don't know where their family will sleep at night.
A moral, spiritual and civilized society takes care of one another, and that is all we hope to do.
Lynne Sipiora of McKinney is executive director of the Samaritan Inn, Collin County's only homeless shelter. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. A town hall meeting about the Plano shelter plan will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at First United Methodist Church, 3160 E. Spring Creek Parkway, Plano.
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
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
Published today in the National Law Journal:
Death penalty process must be fair
The high court should right the wrong in the Hood case, stemming from the judge's and prosecutor's affair.
Published in The National Law Journal, March 29, 2010
I'm a longtime supporter of the death penalty, but what's happening in Charles Hood's case in Texas isn't right. If we are going to have the death penalty, we need to make sure that the process is fair and accurate.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (the state's high court for criminal cases) recently granted a new sentencing hearing for Hood on a technical issue related to jury instructions but has refused to address the central issue in this case: The judge and the prosecutor at Hood's trial had a long-term secret affair prior to the trial and concealed the relationship for 20 years. This was a secret that the pair kept even when they knew Hood was on the brink of execution and was trying to verify the rumors of the relationship.
The trial judge and the prosecutor did not come forward voluntarily or abide by their ethical or constitutional duties to divulge this information. Indeed, they denied it or refused to cooperate when asked directly about the affair by Hood's counsel five years ago. Their admissions came only when they were forced by a Texas trial court to testify under oath in 2008.
Now that the world knows the truth and the state courts have failed to correct this injustice, it's imperative that the U.S. Supreme Court intervene in Hood's case and grant him a new trial with an impartial judge and an ethical prosecutor.
The trial judge and the prosecuting attorney's affair breaches every standard of fairness that you would expect a defendant to receive during a capital case or, for that matter, a noncapital case. Hood could not have gotten a fair trial under these circumstances. His trial was infected with an incurable conflict of interest.
The judge and the prosecutor kept the affair secret for their own personal reasons, but they also concealed it from the people who were entitled to the information. If Hood's counsel had known about or had proof of the affair at the time of trial, he could have moved the judge to recuse herself.
The Court of Criminal Appeals, rather than setting things right, issued a two-sentence boilerplate denial of Hood's judicial bias claim. We all want justice to be blind, but the whole world can see the Texas court's foolishness in turning its back on the egregious breach of ethics in this case.
The passage of time doesn't make it any less of a breach. The only thing for which we can be thankful is that an execution has not already occurred.
As governor of Texas, I oversaw 19 executions. This was a grave responsibility. I have seen frailties in the criminal justice system first-hand as a practicing lawyer and as an attorney general of Texas. Thus, before each execution, I reviewed in agonizing detail each individual's case to be as certain as humanly possible that he had received a fair trial.
Hood was convicted of killing the couple with whom lived in Plano, Texas. I'm not saying he is innocent or guilty. I'm saying that the way we determine guilt or innocence in this country is with a fair trial, and defendant Hood did not receive one.
A BLOW TO PUBLIC CONFIDENCE
The harm to Hood is obvious, but the damage does not stop there. If the system fails to correct itself, it will deliver a blow to public confidence that cannot be easily remedied. Citizens can rightfully wonder how many other defendants were denied their right to a fair trial because the presiding judge and the prosecuting attorney concealed the true nature of their relationship.
People often mistake criticism of death penalty procedures for opposition to the death penalty across the board. I believe that the death penalty is appropriate for the most heinous crimes, those in which 21st century forensics or other probative evidence prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and after constitutional safeguards have been carefully observed.
During the past 20 years, DNA and other advances have gone a long way to hold criminals accountable, but modern science does not address every failing of the criminal justice system. Hood's case shows, at the most basic level, that there are huge flaws in our procedures and human frailties in the people who administer them.
The U.S. Supreme Court should take Hood's case to reinforce not only the standards that are to be applied in Texas courts, but in courts across the country, and strengthen the faith that the American people have in their judicial system. There's only one thing that can cure an unfair trial. That's a new trial. This time, it should be a fair one.
Mark White served as governor of Texas from 1983 to 1987 and as attorney general of Texas from 1979 to 1983. In February, along with 20 former judges and former prosecutors, he filed an amicus brief in support of Hood's petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court.
For prior Collin County Observer coverage of the Charles Dean Hood case click here
Justin P. Nichols of Plano: Local political forums encourage apathy
Sunday, March 14, 2010
The Dallas Morning News - Local Voices
Justin P. Nichols is a Plano resident and former candidate for the Plano City Council in 2008.
Voters just went to the polls to decide dozens of political contests. But before the election there were countless forums and debates sponsored by various groups. Some groups host forums for the benefit of the public, and some give candidates a chance to cater to a particular type of voter. But the one thing all these proceedings had in common was terrible dullness and boredom – hence why few news sources, if any, covered them.
The typical political "debate" consists of too many candidates being given too little time to introduce themselves with a canned intro, followed by a handful of questions that are asked so candidates can show off their canned responses.
Don't we want some political vigor – some democratic passion?
Sure, it's easy to take a jab in a mailer or through a press release, but it's another thing to call out opponents at a forum. Why aren't there any debates that offer real insight into candidates' personality and positions?
The question, "Why do you want to be elected?" doesn't give me all the information I need. I want to see tough questions asked – questions that no one sees coming – questions that only get whispered in gossip circles. I want to see candidates address each other.
I would have liked to see Kelley Adley ask Justice of the Peace Mike Yarbrough, "Why aren't you willing to get up early on Saturdays to perform arraignments like your fellow JPs?" In turn, it would have been interesting to see Yarbrough ask Doug Reeves, the other candidate in the race, "How many times will you run against me?"
Someone should have asked judicial candidate Linda Drain if she was at all ashamed to have been endorsed by former prosecutor Tom O'Connell, who has recently brought a lot of negative publicity and discredit to the Collin County legal system. After all, Republicans hammered President Barack Obama for associating with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers. He had to address that in debates. Asking tough questions about supporters is fair play – Republican or Democrat.
Besides being interesting and somewhat uncomfortable, these types of questions are good because they allow voters to see the off-the-cuff side of candidates, and they keep candidates on their toes. If you think about it, pre-election debates are the only time candidates are compelled to answer questions. If elected, the most someone can do is make a statement at a public meeting, and the official doesn't have to respond at all.
I'm sure some folks will tout the traditional civility of Collin County campaigns.
But Collin County has outgrown the good ol' boy network, and elections will no longer be decided at a country club over cigars and brandy. Rather, to win an election these days, it will take a fight to win each vote.
I just wish there were public forums where true political discourse occurred. I'm not advocating outright brawls or cheap shots, but I do advocate for more vigorous debate and excitement at these events. Plus, having been a candidate myself, I believe those vying to be elected wouldn't mind these events being a bit livelier. They have to sit through them, too.
Apathy and voter fatigue are already challenges to an engaged electorate, and I think it would help if local debates more closely resembled the Roman senate than an afternoon of tea and crumpets.
Justin P. Nichols is a Plano resident and former candidate for the Plano City Council in 2008.
link to this Local Voices opinion at The Dallas Morning News....
Today is George Washington's 278th birthday.
With the extreme discord that seems to have totally taken over national politics and which threatens even local political institutions, it seems fitting to this author to let our first President weigh in on the matter.
From President Washington's 1796 "Farewell Address":
"...To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions, which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a Constitution of Government better calculated than your former for an intimate Union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This Government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true Liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established Government.
"All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.
"However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
"Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the constitution, alterations, which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments, as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard, by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that, for the efficient management of our common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.
"I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.
"This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.
"Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
"It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
"There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume..."
United States - September 17, 1796
Bully for the Constitution Project and the former federal judges and other officials who signed an amicus brief requesting the Supreme Court of the United States hear the Charles Dean Hood case, in which the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied a habeas petition without giving a reason after the trial judge and the prosecutor admitted an affair before and possibly during his trial, then lied about or concealed their misconduct. Reports the Dallas News Crime Blog:
See the Constitution Project's press release. According to the petition, "Amici are deeply concerned that, if the judgment [by the Texas CCA] is allowed to stand, the Due Process Clause’s guarantee of fundamental fairness—especially in death penalty cases— will be imperiled, and public confidence in the courts will suffer."
The brief asserts that "the Due Process Clause forbids a trial judge from presiding over a criminal proceeding in the circumstances presented here." SCOTUS should intervene, they said, because it "has an extraordinarily strong interest in preserving the reputation of the judiciary—in particular affirming the courts’ willingness to recognize and remedy appalling acts by a judge and officer of the court that violate fundamental fairness."
It's worth mentioning that all but one of the sitting members of the Texas CCA served on Texas' high criminal court with the judge in question - Verla Sue Holland - so there's an appearance that they declined to correct this obvious error out of an excess of collegial deference (read: cronyism). Only three CCA judges - Cochran, Price, and Holcomb - dissented to that embarrassing ruling. (Good for them, btw - I'm sure there was pressure to do otherwise.) So whether or not SCOTUS reviews the case, the majority of judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals have already affirmed their un-willingness to "recognize and remedy appalling acts by a judge and officer of the court that violate fundamental fairness."
This is perhaps an even more embarrassing, despicable spectacle than Presiding Judge Sharon Keller's defiant insistence that she'd repeat her behavior from the "We close at 5" imbroglio. Keller, at least, is just one vote on the court. But here, five others joined her in shirking their responsibilities to protect their ex-colleague, and not on the spur of the moment, as in Keller's infamous decision that got her into trouble, but in a deliberative setting when they had full power to right the wrong.
One bad apple could perhaps be overlooked, but in this case the barrel's spoiled. Hopefully SCOTUS will take the case and clean up the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' mess, again.
See related Grits coverage:
Observer coverage of Charles Dean Hood case:
NLJ - When procedure trumps justice, Nov. 3, 2009
Sex, lies and lethal injections, Sept. 18, 2009
Hood gets his appeal (maybe), May 5, 2009
Charles Dean Hood gets another 60 days to live, Jan. 28, 2009
AG questions 1/3 of Collin death sentences, Sept. 22, 2008
Collin County needs to review capital cases, Sept. 18, 2008
Crossing the line: Sex and justice, Collin County style, Sept. 8, 2008
Atlantic - Travesty in Texas, Sept. 8, 2008
Attorney General files for possible stay in Hood case, Sept. 4, 2008
Recently, a questionnaire was sent out to the candidates for Collin County Court at Law Judges along with the Justice of the Peace candidates. The questions were put together by myself, the Collin County Observer, and McKinneynews.net. Most candidates answered and below is their responses which all came in within the deadline we gave (one week). If others return their answers, I will update this post to add them at that time.
I already know of one candidate, Shawn Ismail who we got mixed up with through email (sorry Shawn), and is planning on completing the questionnaire soon.
Collin County Courts at Law hear criminal and civil cases. A County Court at Law is court of general jurisdiction, hearing both civil and criminal law cases with a heavy emphasis on criminal cases. The criminal cases filed in a county court at law are misdemeanors -- those criminal offenses that carry a maximum punishment, upon conviction, of not more than 1 year confinement in jail.
Civil jurisdiction in a County Court at Law is generally invoked in lawsuits that involve controversies up to $100,000. A County Court at Law also has appellate jurisdiction over cases appealed from justice of the peace and municipal courts.
Justice of the Peace courts hear Class C Misdemeanors (traffic citations, toll violations, truancy cases, public intox, bad checks, etc),and civil cases with a maximum of $10,000 in controversy.
The questions posed are below:
Below are the candidates answers:
Justice of the Peace, Prec. 3
John Payton [did not respond]
The Collin County Observer can't help but note that while a sitting District Court Judge and an incumbent Court at Law Judge answered the questions put to them, neither sitting Justice of the Peace found it worth their while to respond on time.
I guess they have their own priorities; one of them is not responding to voters questions.
Hunter Biederman at the Frisco DWI Lawyer's Blog recently collaborated with The Collin County Observer to offer an in-depth questionnaire to the 4 candidates for Collin County Criminal District Attorney.
At the FDWIL blog, Hunter looks at the candidates' responses and offers his opinion of their "best answers". I think you'll find his take thought provoking, I did.
Please be aware that Hunter offers the disclosure that, "I have been a supporter of Greg Willis' campaign. Although I haven't "campaigned" for him, I have sent in a donation to his campaign."
District Attorney Candidate "Best Answers", Hunter Biederman - The Frisco DWI Lawyer's blog
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.
Last night The Observer interviewed Keith Gore, who is challenging Judge John Roach, Jr. for the bench on the 296th District Court.
Once again, I have to apologize for the sound quality, the background noise IS distracting, but as in my other Starbucks interview, I think the conversation important enough that the Observer's readers will want to see it. I do promise to find a quieter place for future interviews.
All candidates for public office in Texas are required to file periodic campaign finance reports listing their contributors and expenses. The January semi-annual report was due on January 15, 2010. It covers all contributions and expenses from July 1 through December 31.
In furthering the interests of open and fair campaigns, The Collin County Observer is publishing summaries of the state legislative candidates' filings.
Listed here are the contributions, expenses, and campaign account balance as of December 31. Also listed are any loan balances to the campaign.
To help the voter judge where a candidate gets support, also detailed are any contributions of $1,000 or more.
Collin County is represented by 4 Texas Legislators whose districts are include large portions of the county. Our state legislators are elected for 2 year terms. This year only one state representatives position is contested - District 66. Jerry Madden, Ken Paxton and Jodie Laubenberg are the 3 incumbent state representatives who are running uncontested in both the primary and general elections.
District 66 encompasses west Plano, generally west of Custer and south of SH 121. Brian McCall has served as the representative for District 66 since 1991. He recently announced his retirement, setting the stage for a contested primary.
Texas Legislature - District 66
Contributions July - Dec. $41,466
Expenditures July - Dec. $14,281
Campaign account balance Dec. 31 - $106,635
Loans - $80,000
Major contributors (+- $1,000):
Harry Bauge - $1,000
Blackridge - $1,000
Bruce Gibson - $1,000
Nan Griffin - $1,000
Allyn Harris - $1,200
Nancy Harvard - $1,000
Hillco PAC - $1,000
Martin and Mack Jackson - $1,000
Bill Kramer - $1,000
Charles Kramer - $1,000
Michael Loehr - $1,000
Mabrie Jackson for City Council - $2,441
David McCall - $2,500
Jenny McCall - $1,000
Andy Pierce - $1,000
Bobby Ray - $2,500
Joe Rice - $5,000
TEXPAC-Tx Medical Association PAC - $1,500
Contributions July - Dec. $104,772
Expenditures July - Dec. $15,736
Campaign account balance Dec. 31 - $106,635
Loans - $4,731
Major contributors (+- $1,000):
Scott Conrad (in-kind) - $2,100
Sharon Ketko - $1,500
LEAD Enterprises LLC (in-kind) - $50,000
Jason Luse (in-kind) - $7,500
Peter Morrison (in-kind) - $11,433
Peter Morrison - $1,200
Paul Owens (in-kind) - $21,332
Patricia Richard - $2,000
Contributions July - Dec. $18,835
Expenditures July - Dec. $83,524
Campaign account balance Dec. 31 - $15,311
Loans - $80,000
Major contributors (+- $1,000):
Louis Beecherl - $1,000
Micheal George - $1,000
John V. Lattimore - $5,000
John Tatum - $1,000
Nicholas Taylor - $10,000
In this series on campaign finance reporting:
Plano voters will notice something missing when they step into the voting both next year – the McCall name.
Collin County has been represented in Austin by Brian McCall for nearly two decades, but the veteran House member has announced that his current term will be his last.
The McCall name has commanded respect in Plano as well as through the state Capitol. His community can take pride in the person it has sent to Austin since 1991, both for what he accomplished and the way he did it with integrity.
Before this year's legislative session neared, McCall was part of a small group of Republican lawmakers who sought change in the House's authoritarian, partisan leadership.
Joining with Democrats in deposing Speaker Tom Craddick, they rallied around Joe Straus of San Antonio and pledged more evenhanded guidance. They promised that all lawmakers would have a shot at getting their bills to the House for a vote – not just those whose ideas fit the leadership agenda.
McCall became one of the Straus lieutenants and controlled the flow of legislation through his chairmanship of the Calendars Committee.
Members credited him with making good the promise of fairness for members regardless of party, and the statistics backed up the praise.
Going back to his early terms in the House, McCall made a difference. He passed legislation in 1995 to create the state's DNA registry, which has evolved into an invaluable tool for freeing innocent people and convicting the right ones, and also passed the state's first anti-stalking bill. In 1999, he authored a tax-cut bill credited with saving taxpayers more than $3 billion.
His tenure in the House been notable, too, for the principled way he conducted himself. That is exemplified by his decision to return the $150,000 in political contributions that he collected since the end of the 2009 session, his last.
In searching for a replacement, the Plano community should ask prospective candidates if they will sign onto what we can term the McCall doctrine. Here are four main points, taken from McCall's retirement announcement from last week:
- Show up for work every day of every session and keep my head in the game.
- Be a gentleman, even in a rough-and-tumble political environment
- Always have respect for, and a willingness to defend, the process.
- Think for myself instead of being hypnotized by the various scorecards of the special-interest policy groups du jour.
- Remember that the job is temporary.
Erica Johnson has something to say about the redistricting battle going on in the eastern part of the Plano Independent School District.
Although she lives in Parker, which is in the affluent portion of the area, she has been active in trying to drum up support for a school zone plan that will balance the Middle and High School student demographics in the East Plano area. "It's about doing the right thing", she says.
Monday, she took her campaign to the county commissioners' court. While admitting that the court had no jurisdiction in school rezoning, she told the commissioners that she wanted them to understand the importance of the issues. I heard her presentation, and thought it worth posting on the Collin County Observer.
With her permission, below is the text of Erica Johnson's comments to the Collin County Commissioners' Court.
What is going on with PISD?
The district is building two schools in the east cluster, a middle school (Otto) that opens fall 2010 and a high school (McMillen) that opens 2011. Conflicts will always arise whenever there is discussion of new school boundaries, but it's a little different this time. Plano is now an aging city, and the areas that used to be small pockets of poverty that were easily absorbed into a school are now widespread serious depressions of poverty.
When the new middle school opens, we will have four on the east side. Two will go to the older high school (Williams) and two will go to the new high school (McMillen). The district planned all along to put the two affluent schools together at the new school and the two older lower income schools at the old high school. This was the plan even before the bond was passed. Promises were made to the more affluent neighborhoods that if they supported this bond, they would get the new schools. This group of parents has been anxiously awaiting these promised schools, many because they can't wait to get out of Williams High School with its perceived bad reputation and older less desirable neighborhood.
Here's the problem. If you put the two poor high schools together, you have in effect segregated 90% of the east side Hispanic population. You will also have segregated 92% of the economically disadvantaged into one school. The district would like us to believe that they must do this in order to maintain a "neighborhood school" philosophy, but there are many problems with that argument. One of the two middle schools slated to go to the new high school is equidistant between the old and the new high school. There are many neighborhoods that do NOT attend the middle or high schools closer to their home. Everyone can agree that the elementary school is what serves as a "neighborhood school", but because of the way Plano is laid out, most leave their immediate neighborhoods to attend middle, high and senior high schools.
Here's a few more glaring examples of the district applying the "neighborhood school" philosophy when it suits them, and affecting segregation when it does not.
- 6 years ago, when the new Murphy Middle School opened, a large and vocal group of parents fought their way out of their neighborhood school (Armstrong) and into Murphy Middle. They had been feeding into Armstrong Middle, but the district allowed the Stinson elementary to feed into the further Murphy Middle, which opened at over capacity with portables and left Armstrong Middle way under. Today, Murphy has 1492 (capacity 1312) students and Armstrong has 773 (capacity 1177) and is currently rated academically unacceptable. When Stinson was still at Armstrong, it was rated recognized, by the way.
- Mendenhall Elementary. There are two buses, paid for by the district, that leave from the neighborhood zoned for Mendenhall. One bus full of white children goes to Aldridge Elementary, not even an east cluster school. Another bus full of Hispanic children goes to Mendenhall, which according to this year's free and reduced lunch figures is at 82% economically disadvantaged. Aldridge is at 16%.
- Children in a trailer park almost within sight of Hunt elementary in Murphy are bussed all the way across Parker to Hickey elementary.
- There is a trailer park that is literally across the field from the new middle school (Otto), yet they will be bussed all the way to Armstrong Middle School.
If one was a conspiracy theorist, one might see a pattern of removing the poor Hispanic children out of the Murphy and East Richardson schools and putting them anywhere else.
The district appointed a committee to look at the realignment and issue a recommendation. When it became apparent that the committee was not going to recommend the way they had intended, the school board disbanded the committee and is now conducting "research" to determine the best solution. There is no longer any oversight, accountability or public input. This decision is going to be made by a group of elected officials, only two of them who have children in the district, and at least one of whom has been quite vocal about telling the Murphy/East Richardson contingent that they have nothing to worry about, because the decision to keep them all together in the new schools has already been made.
The future of our children, communities and even the city of Plano is at stake, and no one is listening to us.
More Collin County candidates facing primary challengers
Sunday, November 8, 2009
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
Collin County Judge Keith Self bucked the political establishment in 2006, defeating longtime incumbent Ron Harris.
Now Self faces a prominent challenger from a well-connected family.
Plano school trustee John Muns, a real estate developer, wants to unseat Self in the Republican primary in the spring. Muns' father, James Muns, served as Plano mayor from 1992 to 1996. His mother, Betty Muns, sits on the Arts of Collin County Commission.
The Self-Muns face-off tops a long list of contested Collin County races in the March 2 GOP primary. Besides commissioners court, the races include district attorney, district clerk and several judgeships.
Muns, 49, said he would seek to build coalitions between county government and other entities.
"I try to come up with solutions that are a win-win for both sides," said Muns, who has been on the Plano school board for 16 years.
Self, 56, said he has helped lower the county property-tax rate, limit spending and make government more transparent.
"This is a great year to be running as a fiscal conservative, in an era of uncertainty and overreach by the federal government," said Self, who heads the commissioners court.
Self is viewed as representing a new, more conservative wing of the local GOP. Some identify Muns as part of the moderate bloc that has long dominated the party.
In the past, Collin County incumbents often drew no opponents. But with the county's explosive growth, more candidates are emerging.
Republicans still hold all county offices, but Democrats probably will field several candidates, said Shawn Stevens, county Democratic Party chairman.
Two of the four county commissioners are also up for re-election next year, and both face challengers.
Kathy Ward, who has held office for 16 months, faces lawyer Duncan Webb. She was appointed commissioner in July 2008 after the death of longtime commissioner Jack Hatchell. She won election in November 2008 to finish the unexpired term.
Ward represents Precinct 4, which includes west Plano.
"I will continue to work hard for the taxpayers, and I believe that message will resonate," said Ward, a former county GOP chairwoman.
Webb, like Muns, is a longtime Plano school board member.
"I have a lot stronger background and a lot more experience related to business, legal aspects and running a large public entity," Webb said.
In the other contested commissioners race, 29-year incumbent Jerry Hoagland is being challenged by Karl Voigtsberger and Cheryl Williams.
Hoagland said his accomplishments include helping form the Collin County Community College District, consolidating county offices in north McKinney? and bringing Pizza Hut Park to Frisco.
"The growth of Collin County has certainly challenged me and, I think, anybody who has sat on commissioners court," Hoagland said.
Voigtsberger and Williams both say it's time for a change in Precinct 2, which includes east Plano, Murphy and Wylie. Voigtsberger, a former engineer, ran unsuccessfully for county tax assessor-collector in 2008.
"My experience as an engineer in the computer manufacturing sector has equipped me with a mindset that makes logical decisions based on the facts," he said.
Williams served on the Plano City Council from 1995 to 1999. She owns a management and accounting consulting firm.
She said she would improve the county's economic development efforts and transportation planning.
"Over the last several years, I have heard growing concerns expressed about Collin County government," Williams said.
link to article at The Dallas Morning News....
In his continuing series of profiles of the judicial races, Frisco's DWI Attorney, Hunter Biederman takes a look at the candidates in the race for Court at Law #4.
His original article can be read on his blog, The Frisco DWI Attorney & Lawyer Blog.
Recently, the former judge of County Court Four, Judge Ray Wheless was appointed to the 366th District Court. This leaves an open court. I have heard of many names that may be running for the open seat. As with before, I am only profiling those candidates who have either directly told me they are running, or have a campaign website up. If you are running for this bench and would like to be added here, please let me know and I will add you.
LINDA WYNN DRAIN
Linda Wynn Drain is a currently in private practice as founding partner of Nolte, Drain & Rosenthal, PLLC in McKinney. Her experience includes experience includes criminal, civil, family, juvenile, personal injury, and wills & probate law. Mrs. Drain served as an Assistant Criminal District Attorney and Felony Prosecutor for Collin County’s District Attorney’s Office. She is also a founding Member of Collin County Bench Bar Foundation.
Mrs. Drain “believes in the conservative principles of personal responsibility and strict interpretation of the law. Managing a fiscally responsible court docket is a function of applying these principles. Accomplishing these common sense goals will serve every citizen in Court 4 and every taxpayer of Collin County.”
More about Mrs. Drain’s experience and plans for the bench can be found on her campaign website at www.lindawynndrainforjudge.com.
Dale Rose was a criminal prosecutor in Dallas County and has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in civil cases. His first career was as a police officer for the City of Garland where he was the youngest candidate ever accepted. He worked in that capacity for 6 years, before beginning his second career as an attorney.
“Shortly after my graduation from law school, I knew that I wanted to be a Judge sometime in my legal career. Knowing that the Collin County Court's at Law are "general jurisdiction" courts (hear both civil and criminal cases), I knew that I would need a lot of trial experience from both the criminal law and the civil law side. Based on this, in my 17 years as a lawyer, I have tried over one hundred thirty (130) jury trials in both criminal and civil litigation.”
Mr. Rose is a former President, Vice President and Secretary of Collin County Bar Association. More information about Mr. Rose’s experience and plans for the bench can be found on his campaign website at www.roseforjudge.org.
Hunter Biederman is a DWI / Criminal Defense Attorney in Collin County. He publishes his blog (www.friscodwilawyer.com) which focuses on the Collin County and Texas legal system. He can be reached at email@example.com or (888) DWI-FRISCO.
Bill adds another candidate he just learned about:
Chrysti Bryant is a graduate of the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. Chrysti served as a member of the Law Review. While in law school, she worked as an intern with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, Appellate Section.
Her campaign web site describes her as, "a civil trial attorney who has distinguished herself by defending those who have been targeted by personal injury lawsuits. She has been involved in numerous cases ranging from minor automobile accidents to complex multi-party litigation. Chrysti previously worked alongside law enforcement as an attorney with the Texas Department of Public Safety suspending the driver’s licenses of drunk drivers."
She describes her judicial philosophy as, "strictly applying the law to the facts of each case and will not legislate from the bench." She then states that, "Anyone who appears before her will receive a full opportunity to present their case. However, frivolous lawsuits will not be tolerated."
Ms. Bryant formerly volunteered with the City of Plano Teen Court program and Legal Aid of Northwest Texas. She is an active member of Faith Church of Plano and works with its youth ministry and small group ministry.
Other articles in this series by Hunter Biederman:
Hunter Biederman, aka The Frisco DWI Attorney has once again written a great preview of another Collin County judicial race. His original article can be read on his blog, The Frisco DWI Attorney & Lawyer Blog.
Recently, Judge Greg Willis stepped down from his Collin County Court Six bench to pursue a run for Collin County District Attorney. Several attorneys have announced a run for his former bench. I have heard many names thrown out as possible candidates. I am including only those who have personally told me they are running, or anyone that has a campaign website up. If you are planning on running for this court, contact me and I will add you to this article.
Mr. Ismail established a general practice in Plano doing primarily litigation, criminal defense and immigration law. He handles matters ranging from consumer protection and business litigation to misdemeanor and felony criminal trials.
Mr. Ismail has been active in the legal community as President of the Plano Bar Association, Frisco Bar Association, Collin County Young Lawyers Association and am currently a director of the Collin County Bar Association.
Mr. Ismail believes that “without access to the Courts, the administration of Justice is weakened for all. At the same time, access to the Courts is also dependent on Judges grasping a wide range of legal issues as well as being aware of sound public policy. A Judge must at all times be conscientious of who they serve.”
Mr. Ismail has a website, www.ismailforjudge.com which details his experience and plans for the bench.
Terri Green is in private practice in Plano. According to her website, she handles Family Law; Civil Litigation; Probate Litigation; Wills, Trust and Estate Planning; Criminal Defense Counsel (Misdemeanors); and Teen Court Judge (Misdemeanors).
Her civic involvement includes work with the Junior League of Plano, Collin County Bar Association, Frisco Bar Association, Frisco Rotary and Preston Trails Community Church. She’s also involved in the Collin County Republican Party and has served as a grand jury commissioner and on the board for the Frisco Chamber of Commerce.
Mrs. Green believes she “will be an asset to the county and help the county ease up the court dockets, Green said. With my qualifications and background I will easily be able to step on the bench and administer justice at the county courthouse without any training or supervision. I will immediately be able to alleviate overcrowding.”
Mrs. Green has a website, www.terrigreenforjudge.com which details her experience and plans for the bench.
Jay Bender is a current private practice attorney and a former Assistant District Attorney who worked in both Collin County and Dallas County. Mr. Bender spent 8 years in the US Navy serving his country.
Mr. Bender had a website up, www.benderforjudge.com, although at recent glance, it looks like it is going through some construction. Once is back up, i will include more information about his plans for the bench.
Hunter Biederman is a DWI / Criminal Defense Attorney in Collin County. He publishes his blog (www.friscodwilawyer.com) which focuses on the Collin County and Texas legal system. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (888) DWI-FRISCO.
I will add:
DON H. HIGH
Don High is a Plano resident since 1989 and municipal prosecutor for the City of Wylie since 1995.
He earned his law degree from Baylor Law School, and began his career as a tax accountant with Price Waterhouse and Company in New York. He is currently in private practice, handling all aspects of legal representation. He is a Board-Certified Criminal Law Specialist and his experience includes stints with the Collin County District Attorney and practicing private law with the firm of Grubbs, High, Goeller, and Associates. Since 2002, High has operated a general law practice in Dallas and Collin Counties as the Law Offices of Don High.
He is a 2007 graduate of Leadership Plano. He has also served on the board for Live from Plano as its treasurer, and has performed in the show for many years.
In a speech to supporters, High introduced his campaign theme, “It’s High Time”, and pointed out the level of criminal law experience required to effectively serve on the bench, noting that over 80% of the County Court’s business is criminal law.
More information about High’s experience and campaign platform is available at www.donhigh.com.
Hunter Biederman, aka The Frisco DWI Attorney has once again written a great preview of a Collin County race. His original article can be read on his blog, The Frisco DWI Attorney & Lawyer Blog.
This election cycle, the 219th District Court has an opening. Judge Curt Henderson has announced that he will not seek re-election. Until recently, there was only one candidate, Scott Becker, actively campaigning for the bench. It was rumored that Greg Willis would run for the bench, however, he has announced plans to become the next district attorney. On Friday, a new candidate, Angela Tucker sent out a press release, stating her plans to run for the 219th. Angela previously entered the race for Collin County Court 3, but changed her plans to seek the district bench instead.
Here are the candidates:
Scott Becker is a current prosecutor with the Collin County District Attorney's Office. He serves as a felony prosecutor handling cases ranging from drug cases to murder cases. Prior to his time as a prosecutor, Mr. Becker had his own law practice handling criminal, civil, and family law cases.
Scott has gained the endorsements of the Collin County Deputies Association, the Plano Police Association, the Frisco Police Officer's Association, the McKinney? Police Association, and the Allen Police Association.
Mr. Becker told us, that "throughout my career I have enjoyed serving the community through the law; first in private practice with individual clients, and now as an assistant district attorney serving the community on a broader level. Now I feel the next place I can serve best is from the bench. Having handled so many different types of cases both criminal and civil, from each side of the bar, I have gained valuable perspective on the importance of making sure everyone who enters the courtroom feels the judge handles their issues professionally, and they were treated equally under the law. "
Mr. Becker lives in McKinney? with his wife Jana and their two children.
More information about Mr. Becker can be found on his website www.BeckerForJudge.com.
Angela Tucker has practiced both civil and criminal law. After spending four years as an Assistant District Attorney, she opened her law office and currently is a partner in a local firm.
Mrs. Tucker has stated she is, "committed to representing the people of Collin County by serving as the next Judge of the 219th District Court. To maintain high legal standards, it is imperative that we elect judges who have a strong work ethic, high moral standards, and diverse experience.”
Mrs. Tucker lives in McKinney? with her husband and two children.
Mrs. Tucker has told me that she will have a campaign website up soon. Once it is up, I will post it here.
Full disclosure notes: I am, and have been a supporter of Scott Becker for his election bid. I cannot say enough good things about him and believe he would be a great judge. I even designed the website for his campaign. However, Angela Tucker is a great attorney and an wonderful individual as well. With two great candidates in this race, Collin County can't lose.
I have not written about a recent DWI incident because I didn’t want to soil the names of prosecutors accused of wrongdoing. Those accused have now found their names in print and put on TV. I have chosen not to add their names to this article.
The truth is, if these reporters personally knew the stellar reputations of the two prosecutors accused and the great reputation of the defense attorney accused versus the young prosecutor accuser, they wouldn’t have been so quick to believe what they heard from the accuser.
The 30 second recap of the story is that an “iron-clad” DWI case was effectively dismissed by a Collin County prosecutor by holding a trial and not putting on any evidence.
The first conclusions asserted are that the citizen accused is definitely guilty and there would be plenty of evidence to prove his guilt in court.
The second conclusion was that the actions of the prosecutor was motivated by some ulterior motive.
Assuming the citizen is guilty and there is enough evidence to prove his guilt can often be a big leap in a DWI case. I do not know the facts of the case. But from courthouse talk, I am told that the citizen burped seconds before the breath test. Anyone who regularly practices in the area knows that this would invalidate the breath test. Additionally, the state’s own experts who are required to certify the test will not do so if someone burps within the required 15 minute observation period. This is because the machine would be testing the mouth alcohol instead of the alcohol from the lungs. No jury would ever hear the results of the test.
If a prosecutor has this knowledge, they may a) try to put on the evidence anyway, knowing it is no good, or b) self-regulate and not offer the breath test evidence. Apparently the prosecutor chose the latter. So then, what is left is the facts of the case without the breath test.
Without going into too much detail, often young, just out of school prosecutors think cases are “iron-clad” when they are anything but that. As a DWI attorney, I could give a list of DWI not guilty verdicts in cases with seemingly significantly worse facts where prosecutors thought the case was a slam dunk. Especially in cases where there are no chemical tests. There is a reason why the State is pushing so hard for blood tests when people refuse breath tests – because it is difficult to obtain convictions on opinion testimony alone of some police officers.
I have heard that the citizen accused in this case looked stellar on the tape. Just because a person is weaving and cant stand on one leg doesn’t mean they are guilty of DWI. So again, the prosecutor may have had doubts about the guilt of the person, who is by law required to "seek justice" can then either, a) put on the evidence anyway, or b) do what apparently was done in this case – not put on the shaky evidence.
I believe the WFAA report deceives the audience in what I gather is an attempt to shield the true source of his story – a young prosecutor accuser. The report purports to display two citizen callers as the people who are upset about the trial results. And they very well may be upset, but certainly they did not bring this story to the attention of the reporter. You see, this “story” was known for a while by many local attorneys. The young prosecutor accuser sent a long email to a law professor about his views on the indigent’s representation in local courts. In the email, he blasts his fellow prosecutors for effectively dumping the DWI case for their own personal gain. His email did not mention the names of the prosecutors, but gave enough personal information about them to make them easily identifiable to anyone in the tight knit Collin County legal community.
WFAA’s story relates and shows that the “incident report spells out what happened next.” Smelling of alcohol and stepping off line during a walk and turn test. So the reporter has the incident report of the event. Where did the reporter get it? Witnesses aren’t given police reports and never went to court. The case is expunged and you cannot get the paperwork from the court or from open records. So it would seem that maybe young prosecutor gave it to the reporter? This prosecutor proclaimed in his email to the professor that he “got the file from the ‘disposed’ files and made sure that none of it was attributed to me. I made copies of the file.”
Under the law, the reporter of the story didn’t do anything wrong, but our hero young prosecutor accuser might want to study up on expunction laws:
Violation of an Expunction order is a Class B misdemeanor. Ironically enough, it the same level crime as the DWI in question. It would appear likely that the accusing young prosecutor may have committed the same level crime that he is complaining was not effectively prosecuted. I wonder if he would object if someone prosecuting him were to drop the case if they felt the evidence against him was shaky?
This weekend I re-posted a story broadcast by WFAA on an alleged "fix" of a DWI case out of Plano. WFAA's Brett Shipp told a story of a senior prosecutor at the Collin County DA's office who took a supposed ironclad case away from a junior assistant district attorney (ADA), and presented the case to a visiting judge without offering any evidence or witnesses, thereby assuring the defendant would be found not guilty.
The junior ADA was fired after the story came to light.
Since I posted this article I have received several emails from respected defense attorneys who warned me that the whole story had yet to come out. Every one of these defense attorneys spoke up for the Felony Division Chief Curtis Howard. Remember these are defense attorneys - they make their living defending accused in cases prosecuted by Mr. Howard and Ms. Walker.
This is an example of the comments I received:
The "whistle blower" was a young and very green recent law school graduate. He was fired for more than just "whistle blowing". What caused his termination, I'm told, is that he wrote a letter to his law school professor, who then incorporated most of the original letter into an email the professor then sent to a wide distribution. By September, most defense attorneys in the county had seen it.
In his letter, the young ADA talks about disparate justice that is afforded to wealthy clients but not to indigents. He first levels charges that the Collin County DA's office takes advantage of defendants without lawyers. He then tells the story of the DWI to show how a good, paid lawyer could use the system in ways not available to the less wealthy suspect.
The writer than critiques the county's indigent defense system, accusing the local defense bar of often doing as little as possible to earn the low fees paid by the county.
The Collin County Observer will print the entire letter in the next few days. I hope it will spark some interesting discussion on the county's (and for that matter the nation's) ability to ensure equal justice for rich and poor.
In my comments on the WFAA report, I aimed most of my criticism at DA John Roach. I stand by my comments. The DA has not acted in a way that will reassure the citizens that the wheels of justice in Collin County are greased with fairness for all.
If, as Mr. Biederman implies, the evidence was not compelling enough for a conviction, the DA's own policies may have left Kerrie Walker with no choice but to either force a bench acquittal or got to trial with a weak case that would likely result in an innocent verdict. The current DA does not allow prosecutors to ask for a dismissal of DWI cases. He insists that all cases filed be prosecuted.
Added to the issue of the lack of ability to dismiss a weak case is the current practice by the DA's office of rating prosecutors by their number of jury trial convictions. Every week, each county prosecutor must turn in a report listing the number of jury trials heard and the number of convictions gained. The resulting numbers are a primary tool used to rate the performance of staff.
Bench trials, those decided by a judge, are not included in the reports.
Did Walker act in the best interests of the State and in the best interest of justice? That is the real question.... and one I don't think can resolved without a detailed review of both the evidence and of the District Attorney's policies.
John Roach should immediately request an independent review of this case by a trusted out of county jurist. If the State's attorneys and the defense lawyer acted improperly, then appropriate and severe penalties should be sought.
But, however, if their actions were in the pursuit of justice, then they must be exonerated as fully and thoroughly as was done for the defendant.
Last night I published the first of several judicial election profiles for the 2010 primaries.
Today, I received a letter from Angela Tucker who informed me that:
My apologies to Ms. Tucker for not including her in the candidate listing. I hadn't heard that she was running.
I have updated the election profile for County Court at Law #3 to include a 3rd candidate, Angela Tucker.
Ms. Tucker has withdrawn from this race and has announced her candidacy for the 219th district Court.
"Collin County Citizen", who is of the Observer's regular commenters has written an interesting, informed analysis of the dynamics behind the 2010 commissioners court races.
He wrote this in response to my October 20th posting, "2010 Elections - Commissioners court races".
Without endorsing all of it, I hope you find his view of the upcoming elections to be provocative and informative.
Commentary on: 2010 Elections - Commissioners court races
by "Collin County Citizen"
An interesting dynamic is that [John] Muns and [Duncan] Webb are running together.
The Muns family is as old-Plano as you can get. We're talking pre-Shapiro days. Heck, they built the Shapiro dynasty. In fact, throughout the 90's and even today, it is said that one can't win elective office if an opponent is endorsed by Muns (Sr.). The fact that Jr. is running is interesting. Surely Sr. isn't interested in a race in his latter years. The county judge's race will once again pit Plano against McKinney. [In 2006, newcomer Keith Self beat 16 year incumbent County Judge Ron Harris in the GOP Primary. At the time of his defeat, Harris lived in McKinney, but he had previously served on the Plano City Council. ed.]
Plano lost in 2006, but they didn't count on McKinney's growth and power. Essentially, though, Allen and Frisco will swing this election.
Don't forget that there is some connection with [County Judge Keith] Self and the Willis'. Of all people - Self had [Court at Law Judge] Greg Willis swear him into office - which is very odd for Self to select a freshmen judge who was appointed by the administration Self ran against. The comes the governor's appointment of [Judge Jill] Mrs. Willis. Something is there. Since Willis is the favorite for DA - this could influence the race as well. Plus, Mrs. Willis has to run for election too!
The Webb v. Ward race will be more of a micro-sphere of Plano politics. Webb has been relatively uncontroversial on Plano ISD's board. In fact, I can't think of anything he's done which caused any waves. He's very much in and subservient to the Muns power-group. If you caught Duncan Webb at Sunday afternoon tea - his company would be John Muns, Pat Evans, David McCall?, and Robbie Robinson. That company should speak volumes.
What I don't get is why run someone against Ward? She was hand picked by Self, but doesn't seem to be following in Self's shadow like Shaheen. Why not target Hoagland (of course, that would require someone looking across 75, which is not something that's done often)? Ward has done a good job - she's conservative, but she appears and is compassionate, and did a much better job than Self or Hoagland in Austin. I think people are more mad about the surprise way in which Ward was appointed than the job she's done.
But, what Webb does is solidify and expand the "establishment of Plano" to come out. Now it has two of its guys running. It's the establishment grasping for its power back - the reins got too loose. I would suggest, though, that the run Muns and let Webb support him. Put all the money and effort behind Muns - he'll need it.
Another interesting fact - a Muns (Jr. or Sr.) or Webb have never run for party office. They aren't used to primaries. While the Muns definitely affect party politics, surviving a primary is a different story, and the party loyals who vote in primaries aren't the same people at Gleneagle's for tea on Sunday.
I can't wait to see!
Collin County Citizen
* This event is not a component of the Plano ISD curriculum and is therefore not a mandatory activity.
* Viewing the broadcast is not a planned classroom activity for September 8.
* Like many historical events, the address will be made available for students and teachers via the digital video library.
* The video will also be posted on this home page.
"As a district we believe that the best approach is to record the message rather than showing it live and then determine how it can best be used. At the elementary level, since this historic message is intended to help students get focused and begin the school year strong, this may mean honing in on important aspects or portions of the message and using at one of the good morning assemblies or on Patriot Day, Constitution Day or during Celebrate Freedom Week. At the secondary level, it may mean utilizing in a speech/journalism class to discuss the power of public speaking or the use of different types of media to communicate a message. In a history or government class it could be used to discuss the office of the Presidency and the example of government in action, etc. At any level it could be part of a civics/social studies/current events lesson or a goal-setting activity."
"As long as the president is not talking about his agenda or policies, we all need to encourage our kids to do better.”
Fred Moses, Chair Collin County Republican Party
Ted Moore, Superintendent, Lovejoy ISD in an email to parents
"So, let’s call it what it is: an attempt to wrap some legitimacy around our school officials’ unwillingness to stand up to the ridiculous pressures being placed by the ultra-right wing blog-o-radio personalities and the local parents that have been whipped into a froth. Even worse, they compound the problem with a collection of wishy-washy language that basically amounts to the establishment of the fictional “Office of Presidential Filtering” described above. In their grand wisdom, unidentified “school officials” have reserved for themselves the duty of editing President Obama’s presentation for use in specific classes such as “speech or journalism,” “history or government” or even the more unwieldy “civics/social studies/current events.”
"I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t we set aside partisan bickering and show some respect for the elected leader of our nation? This is not just some political hack pushing an agenda. It’s the President of the United States of America. If you don’t agree with his politics, that’s fine. You have every right to speak out against his policies and, even more grand, vote for someone else during the next election. You can certainly – and I highly encourage this – have an open and genuine conversation with your children about the message and the messenger, if you like. In the meantime, perhaps we can try and teach our children to respect the office and just shut up and listen. No editing. No repurposing. No “determining how it can best be used.” More importantly, no prejudging that somehow this President deserves to be censored based on the ranting of a bunch of media hot heads and the over-reaction of a few parents in the school district."
Alan Biehl, writing on The Frisco Line
"The Allen ISD Learner Services Department has reviewed a summary of the address and feels it is appropriate as part of the school district’s social studies curriculum for grades 4-12.
"In order for parents and staff members to view the address first, the program will not be aired live. Instead, it may be used by social studies and government classes beginning Wednesday, September 9."
Postings on the Wylie View, a local discussion board:
"We cannot afford to pull our kids out of school, nor can we afford to turn our backs on our president. For better or for worse, he was popularly elected, and we are obligated to listen and respect the citizen who now leads us. Accusing the president of indoctrinating children and questioning his motives just undermines us all."
Deborah Mitchell writing in The Dallas Morning News
Postings on Allen Talk, a local discussion board:
- "Marxist garbage is what it is. I did pull my child out and public schools ain't happening. You can step back and take a deep breath, but I want my country back. Sensibility has been thrown out the window. Check out Saul Alinsky and Rules for Radicals. The Community organiser was developed by an extreme left intellectual called Saul Alinsky. Read up on him and how Obama's agenda is in step with his. Then you'll want that step you took back and the deep breath."
- "How can you fairly label this as "conservative hysteria" when some of the most consistently conservative voices on this board are defending the idea?
I personally am fine with it - the President wants to talk to school kids about staying in school - go for it. "
Postings on Lovejoy Schools Opinion Forum, a local discussion board:
- "I believe LISD's superintendent decision is disrespectful of a sitting President and a form of censorship; moreover, denial of a learning opportunity; and may provide an opportunity to stimulate thought among young people, educators and parents."
"We must ask if a sitting President decided to exercise a common practice of personably visiting any one of LISD's campuses, would the LISD Superintendent deny that sitting President access to the entire student body of that campus or the District; moreover pre-approval of the content of the sitting President’s materials. If yes; the current decision would be consistently applied. If no, than the current decision appears politically convenient and the easy way out; the only differences are delivery, the technologies and the mediums; and the lack of the public pressures or embarrassments, of not being accommodating to a sitting President."
- "Has anyone noticed there has been 168 hits on this one topic in the last 45 minutes, and who says this site zero traffic.
"We need to protect our children from all of this, our sitting president is leaning towards socialism!!!! We need to focus on teaching, by doing the right things for our students every single day and that will keep them in school. It's what is said to them on a daily basis from the teachers they trust and have respect for.
"Not one day of listening to a political speech.
"Prayer is needed right now for our Nation and our children."
The Healthcare Committee of Collin County(HCCC) will to host an evening panel discussion on Mental Illness in Collin County on Tuesday, August 3, at 7PM at the Collin College McKinney Campus Conference Center.
This meeting is open to the public, and the public is encouraged to ask questions of the panelists.
The HCCC has assembled a panel of local experts in the delivery of mental health care services to indigent Collin County citizens.
The discussion panel will include:
- Matthew Ferrera - Special Initiatives and NorthSTAR Unit Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Austin, TX
- Sharon DeBlanc - Manager of Prevention, Education and Outreach for Value Options NorthSTAR Coppell, TX (also, current President of NAMI Collin County)
- Sherry Cusumano - Past President of NAMI Collin County (National Assoc. of Mental Illness)
- Dr. Randy Routon, PhD, Executive Director of LifePath Systems a major provider of Mental Illness services in Collin County.
- Hon. Weldon Copeland - Judge of Collin County Probate Court 1 - and judge of the mental illness court.
Most Collin County residents are unaware of the scarcity of resources available to those who suffer from mental health issues. Texas is ranked 48 of the 50 states in per capita spending for mental health services, and the NE Texas region is near the bottom of the list in Texas. Collin County receives the least amount of funding in the NE Texas region.
One result of the lack of dollars for treatment is that the Collin County jail has become the largest provider of mental health treatment services in the county.
Collin County's mental health care needs are serviced by a network of providers who are paid by an HMO-like entity named NorthStar which is controlled by a private company, Value Options.
The Collin County Commissioners Court has been pressuring NorthStar to release additional resources and funding to Collin County citizens, but with only limited success. The Commissioners Court is expected to commission a study by the University of North Texas on the present system. It is widely believed that the county wants to back out of the NorthStar system.
What would replace it is unknown.
Tuesday's symposium will allow interested citizens and consumers an opportunity to gain an understanding of the present system of mental health care services.
The discussion is second in a series hosted by the non-partisan Health Care Committee of Collin County. In June, the HCCC hosted a discussion on indigent health care that drew a crowd of over 100 people.
The Healthcare Committee of Collin County is a non-profit grassroots movement concerned about health care accessibility for the indigent and/or uninsured.
The meeting will be held on Tuesday, August 3 at 7:00 PM in the Collin College McKinney Campus Conference Center (Look for the main entrance across from the Clock Tower on Campus) - Room D106 Section B
The college is located at 2200 West University Drive, McKinney, TX 75070.
In the interests of full disclosure, I add that I serve on the board of the HCCC.
Both Plano and Frisco recently circulated announcements to subscribers soliciting applicants for City Boards & Commissions. Many other Collin County cities and towns are going through a similar process this summer, with a goal of making appointments in the summer or early fall. Other communities fill vacancies as needed throughout the year.
If you'd like to make a real difference in your community, serving on a board or commission is a great way to do it. You’ll learn the "nuts & bolts" of municipal government and meet neighbors who share your concerns - and are future leaders in your city and North Texas. If you check the biographies of your mayor and city council members, you’ll find that most of them served on one or more municipal boards and commissions first. And, many of our current legislators launched their political career as a city council or school board member.
City boards and commissions can serve some very important and, in some cases, powerful roles. Some, like Economic or Community Development Boards manage large budgets or, like Planning & Zoning, Board of Adjustments or Board of Appeals, serve in a quasi-judicial capacity, making decisions that impact governments, businesses and families in significant ways. Others serve in an advisory capacity and have little real power, but may provide valuable volunteer resources for city staff and elected officials.
Most boards and commissions meet on a monthly basis, but some meet only as needed. Before you apply, read any information available and, if possible, attend a meeting of the board you’re interested in joining. Municipal boards and commissions are subject to the provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Open Records Act and may be subject to other requirements such as a local code of ethics. Most communities have requirements such as being a resident, a registered voter and having no outstanding debts to the city (including library fines and parking tickets).
If you’re interested in learning more about how the appointment process works in your community, here is some brief information and relevant links:
- Allen - deadline August 7th - Boards and Commissions
- Anna – deadline was June 12th - application
- Blue Ridge – call City Hall - (972) 752-5791
- Celina – call City Hall - 972-382-2682
- Collin County - application
- Dallas – no deadline listed - Boards and Commissions
- Fairview – no deadline listed - Boards and Commissions
- Farmersville – no deadline listed - Home page
- Frisco - deadline July 20th - application
- Josephine – call City Hall - 972-843-8282
- Lavon – complete online application - application
- Lowry Crossing – call City Hall - 972-542-8678
- Lucas – no deadline listed - Commissions and Boards
- McKinney - deadline was June 26th - home page
- Melissa – no deadline listed - City Boards
- Murphy – deadline was May 31st - Boards and Commissions information
- Nevada – call City Hall - (972) 853-0027
- New Hope – call Town Hall - 972-548-2489
- Parker – call City Hall - 972-442-6811
- Plano - Informational Receptions Saturday, Aug. 22nd and Thursday, Aug. 27th. Deadline Aug. 28th - Boards and Commissions
- Princeton – no deadline listed - Boards and Commissions
- Prosper – no deadline listed - application
- Richardson – no deadline listed - home page
- Royse City – no deadline listed - application
- Sachse – no deadline listed - Boards and Commissions
- Saint Paul – call Town Hall - 972-442-7212
- Van Alstyne – call City Hall - (903) 482-5426
- Weston – call City Hall - (972) 382-1001
- Wylie – deadline May 31st - Boards and Commissions
Plano ISD candidates: Latest campaign filings
Thu, May 07, 2009
Matthew Haag/Reporter, Dallas Morning News
Here's a rundown of the latest campaign filings from candidates for Place 6 and Place 7 on PISD school board. The reports were filed May 1 and list both contributions and expenses from early April.
Here is where the candidates stand:
Balance: $1.885.30 (includes contributions/expenses before April)
Outstanding loans: $5,308.75
Outstanding loans: $1,500
Hasn't filed any reports this year. In fact, he didn't file reports in his previous school board campaigns, as well.
Does the election process choose the best judges?
Should Texas look to alternative to the election of judges? During the last few years, we Texans have watched as judges in our highest courts have been accused of wrong doing, of ethics violations, of conflicts of interest. Some have even been indicted.
Many think that Collin County is not immune - that we have had our share of weak or incompetent judges.
The last 2 Chief Justices of the Texas Supreme Court have called for reform in the judicial selection process. The current Chief Justice, Wallace B. Jefferson has gone on the stump, trying to convince Texans that they must find a smarter way to seat qualified judges.
On Friday, the Dallas Morning News published an op-ed article by Judge Jefferson. I found it to be both provocative and compelling.
Wallace B. Jefferson: Why not elect judges on merit, not whim?
Wallace B. Jefferson, Chief Justice Texas Supreme Court
Published March 12, 2009 in the Dallas Morning News
You don't know who I am. I don't blame you.
I have been on the statewide ballot three times, in 2002, 2006 and 2008. I was elected each time by impressive margins. Yet a July 2008 statewide poll found that 86 percent of the electorate had "never heard of" me. I won because Texans voted for Rick Perry, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John McCain.
My parents gave me a good ballot name. My beautiful wife and three handsome sons adorned political advertisements on network television. But these things tell you nothing about my intellect, integrity or temperament.
My success depended primarily on a straight-ticket partisan vote.
I lost Bexar County last November, although it is my home. I am the first African-American justice and chief justice on the Texas Supreme Court, and I am the descendant of a slave who was owned by a Texas judge. The irony of my pedigree, however, could not secure a victory in Harris County, where the black voter turnout reached record numbers.
I campaigned hard on merit: I have handled cases successfully in the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and the Supreme Court of Texas. I was endorsed by every major newspaper in Texas. They said I was fair, impartial and independent. I was the choice of most lawyer associations. Ultimately, though, my qualifications were not relevant.
Even if I had never appeared in court, lost every endorsement and fared poorly in polls that assess qualifications, I would still have won in Texas. The state voted for McCain, and I was the down-ballot beneficiary.
Currently, merit matters little in judicial elections. We close our eyes and vote for judges based on party affiliation, even though a party label does not ensure a judiciary committed to the rule of law. We reject worthy judicial candidates whose names are hard to pronounce.
The men and women we elect in this arbitrary process make decisions that affect all of our lives. We don't know who they are.
In a close race, the judge who solicits the most money from lawyers and their clients has the upper hand. But then the day of reckoning comes. When you appear before a court, you ask how much your lawyer gave to the judge's campaign. If the opposing counsel gave more, you are cynical. Aren't you entitled to a fair hearing?
We must eliminate cynicism, money and partisanship in judicial selection. We should adopt a system for judges that has two primary components. Judges should achieve office by merit rather than whim, and voters should hold judges accountable, based on their records, through subsequent retention elections.
For the foreseeable future, I will win elections not because I am best suited for the job, but in spite of my qualifications. When a judge's victory is based on party over principle, money over merit, cynicism over the rule of law, voters lose.
Let's change the system so that the law governs neutrally. What more can we ask of democracy?
link to article....
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.
As the official candidate lists have yet to be released, I've compiled this list from published reports in the area newspapers. I apologize in advance if I've made any error or missed a candidate.
I'm missing candidate names for Prosper ISD and several smaller towns and school districts. I'll fill those in as I get them. I mean no disrespect.
Please use the comments section to let me know of any errors, omissions or missing links, so that I may make the correction.
Traditionally, these local races garner only low voter turnouts, and it is difficult for many candidates, especially in the smaller towns, to find venues to get their message out to the voters.
As an experiment in Democracy, The Collin County Observer will post, without edit or editorial comment, one article (or YouTube video) by any registered candidate. Candidates may use the opportunity to tell the voters about themselves and why they are running. Please keep the article to 800 words or less (if you can).
Early voting runs from April 27 to May 5. Election day is May 9.
Allen ISD, Place 1 Jayne J. Grimes(I)
Allen ISD, Place 2 Benny Bolin (I)
Allen ISD, Place 3 Jason Shepard
Celina City Council, Place 2 Wayne Nabors(I)
Celina City Council, Place 3 Dewey Isham(I)
Celina City Council, Place 4 Dick Smith(I)
Celina ISD, Place 5 Jeff Wade
Celina ISD, Place 5 Sandra Lerma
Celina ISD, Place 5 Pam Peters
Celina ISD, Place 6 Brooks Barr(I)
Celina ISD, Place 7 Lance Haynes(I)
Celina ISD, Place 7 Tim Terzis
Farmersville City Council, Place 1 Shirley Horton(I)
Farmersville City Council, Place 3 Billy Long(I)
Farmersville City Council, Place 5 Lee Warren(I)
Farmersville City Council, Place 5 Fred Langford
Farmersville ISD (2 positions) Chris Reavis
Farmersville ISD (2 positions) Karrissa Edwards
Farmersville ISD (2 positions) Robert Norman
Frisco City Council, Place 1 Bob Allen
Frisco City Council, Place 1 Harold Colvin
Frisco City Council, Place 3 Patrick E. Fallon
Frisco City Council, Place 3 Rhonda K. Martin
Frisco City Council, Place 3 Phil Ramirez
Frisco City Council, Place 3 Hunt Reifschneider
Lucas City Council, Mayor Bill Carmickle
Lucas City Council, Mayor Ann Guzman
Lucas City Council, Seat 1 John Ellrich
Lucas City Council, Seat 1 Mark H. Barratt
Lucas City Council, Seat 2 Kerry Leath
Lucas City Council, Seat 2 Jonathan Spinks
Lucas City Council, Seat 2 Rebecca Mark
Lucas City Council, Seat 2 Larry Essary
Lucas City Council, Seat 3 Don Zriny
McKinney City Council, Mayor George Fuller
McKinney City Council, Mayor Brian Loughmiller
McKinney City Council, Dist. 1 Randall Wilder
McKinney City Council, Dist. 1 Don Day
McKinney City Council, Dist. 1 Maurice Malvern
McKinney City Council, Dist. 1 Alonzo Tutson
McKinney City Council, Dist. 3 Travis Ussery, Jr
McKinney City Council, at-large Gilda Garza
McKinney City Council, at-large David Brooks
McKinney City Council, at-large Curtis Rath
McKinney ISD, Place 1 Maria McKinzie (I)
McKinney ISD, Place 2 Mark Rude(I)
Plano City Council, Place 2 Ben Harris
Plano City Council, Place 2 Susan Plonka
Plano City Council, Place 4 Lissa Smith
Plano City Council, Place 6 (Mayor) Phil Dyer
Plano City Council, Place 6 (Mayor) David Fincannon
Plano City Council, Place 8 Lee Dunlap(I)
Plano City Council, Place 8 Greg Myer
Plano City Council, Place 8 Imran Khan
Princeton City Council, Mayor Steve Deffibaugh(I)
Princeton City Council, Mayor Ken Bowers
Princeton City Council, Place 1 Billy Combest(I)
Princeton City Council, Place 2 Rick Wheeler(I)
Princeton City Council, Place 2 Brandon Kilpatrick
Princeton City Council, Place 2 Jeremy Jones
Princeton ISD (3 positions), Glenda Beauchamp(I)
Princeton ISD (3 positions), Chuck Campbell(I)
Princeton ISD (3 positions), Rick Jondron
Princeton ISD (3 positions), Clinton Lowrance
Princeton ISD (3 positions), Tim Tidwell
Wylie ISD, Place 3 Barbara Goss
Wylie ISD, Place 3 Allen M. Morris
Wylie ISD, Place 4 Lance Goff(I)
Wylie ISD, Place 4 Cris O'Neal
Extended responses from many of these candidates can be found on the Dallas Morning News Voter Guide.
Family Focus Parental Rights and Standards of Evidence in the Event of Divorce
by Dave Cary
Collin County Viewpoints:
In our schools and places of worship, in our homes, and at work, most residents of Collin County express a pride in America, in Family Values, Democracy, our Founders, and in our Constitution and way of life. We speak in Collin County of the belief that the values and principles espoused by our Founding Fathers and embodied in our Constitution have resulted in the most decent, prosperous and free nation in the history of mankind. God is in his heaven; all is right with the world.
Or is it? At the same time, Collin County has a burgeoning divorce industry. The fourth largest divorce firm in the nation has a major office in Collin County and the amount of money extracted from the destruction of our families and the destruction of the parent/child bond in Collin County is staggering. Clearly, we should examine why we have attracted such a powerful local presence of people who make money if our families are destroyed.
Standards of Evidence:
One reason may lie with the Standard of Evidence used by our courts to modify Parental Rights, the fundamental rights to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of our children free of unwarranted governmental interference. If it is too easy to attack Parental Rights in the event of divorce, we encourage the destruction of our families and the bonds between our parents and children with all the attendant social ills. This attracts people who have a vested interest in the destruction of our families. What then, are the Standards of Evidence? In civil cases (and divorce is treated as a civil case) there are basically two Standards of Evidence: a standard of a Preponderance of the Evidence and a standard of Clear and Convincing Evidence.
Preponderance of the Evidence:
The Preponderance of the Evidence, is the standard required in many civil cases. The standard is met if the proposition is more likely to be true than not true. Effectively, the standard is satisfied if there is even just a slightly greater than 50 percent chance that the proposition is true. When a judge modifies Parental Rights after deciding the evidence supports one side with a 50.001% probability, we have to ask ourselves whether this is rigorous enough to protect our Parental Rights and parent/child bonds from all but serious circumstances. If you think about it, this amounts to little more than a coin toss.
Clear and Convincing Evidence:
To prove a proposition by Clear and Convincing Evidence, the party with the burden of proof must demonstrate that it is substantially more likely than not that the proposition is in fact true. This is not the standard of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt used in criminal cases but it clearly is more than the close to crap shoot provided by the Preponderance of Evidence standard.
Which Standard Should Be to Used Modify or Attack Parental Rights?
After the above discussion on the Preponderance of the Evidence and Clear and Convincing Evidence standards, this is simple to answer. The answer depends on whether, when it comes to Parental Rights, we presume that our government knows best, subject to a parent proving the negative that it doesn’t; or whether we presume our parents know best, subject to the government proving its case. We have to error on one side or the other. Of the two, which side would our Founders error on? If it were your child, which side would you error on?
Most Collin County residents probably believe that governmental intervention should be one of the last resorts. Unfortunately, our county government and district courts behave as if they believe government intervention to attack Parental Rights in the event of divorce is the first course of action. Is this what we mean by Family Values?
What Does Our Constitution Say?
Parental Rights are fundamental rights protected by our Constitution akin to other fundamental rights such as the right to vote. This has been established by the US Supreme Court as recently as the year 2000 in the decision handed down in Troxel v. Granville. After all, if a government controls our children, it controls us and therein lies tyranny.
To review laws concerning the modification of fundamental rights such as Parental Rights, courts must use a standard of judicial review know as Strict Scrutiny, the most stringent standard of judicial review available. Under our Constitution, a law modifying Parental Rights (i) has to be justified by a compelling or crucial governmental interest, (ii) the law or policy must be narrowly tailored to achieve just that interest, and (iii) the law or policy must be the least restrictive means for achieving that interest.
All of our judges are suppose to evaluate whether our laws comply with our Constitution. We have to ask ourselves, do our courts comply with the requirements of the Constitution when it comes to modifying Parental Rights? It is hard to see how we can answer in the affirmative when we see how routinely and easily our courts modify Parental Rights. The question becomes tragically laughable when we realize our courts apply the coin toss standard of the Preponderance of the Evidence and that is against our Constitution. Laughable, except our children are placed at risk.
But Is it Even a Civil Case?
We treat divorces as civil cases. For some reason, we then extend that to Parental Rights and treat Parental Rights issues in the event of divorce as a civil issue. The two issues are very different and one may divorce one’s spouse but that does not mean the children should be forced to divorce the other parent. Marital disputes may be civil actions but Parental Rights are fundamental rights.
Can you name one other fundamental right which is challenged by civil action? There isn’t one except in extreme times such as during war. Fundamental rights are challenged by criminal action and that takes a higher Standard of Evidence: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. This includes Parental Rights.
But isn’t it Different if it is Parent Against Parent Such as in Divorce?
There are those who say that it is fine for our courts to attack Parental Rights when it is parent against parent. To address this concept, we have to ask under what other circumstances we allow a person to attack his or her spouse with impunity. For example, if a person murders a stranger we know it is wrong. But if that same person murders her or his spouse, is that just fine? The answer is an obvious “no” and the answer is equally “no” when it comes to a spouse attacking another's Parental Rights except under unusual circumstances. It is always wrong to modify one’s Parental Rights except as we would modify any other fundamental right and our courts should quit encouraging it.
But What is in the Best Interest of the Children?
The answer partially lies in whether we should assume our government will do a better job of parenting or will we. Ask most children of divorce what they would want and they would tell us they would want most a close relationship with both parents. Additionally, numerous studies demonstrate that children are healthiest if, in the event of divorce, both parents are equally involved in their lives. There are even studies that indicate that the incidence of divorce would go down if we protected Parental Rights in the event of a divorce. It turns out it is remarkably destructive to a child to impair its parent/child bond except for extraordinary circumstances and we certainly should not do it lightly. Does this surprise us?
It seems the Founders of this country were smarter than we know as are our children. If only we were so smart. The best interest of the children is to protect Parental Rights and that requires a higher Standard of Evidence.
How Should we Approach Parental Rights in the Event of Divorce?
The answer is simpler than one would think and it involves protecting Parental Rights, not wantonly attacking them. In the event of divorce, both parents are to be instructed they are to be treated as equal citizens in accordance with the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. No Parental Rights will be modified except as freely agreed to by the parents themselves or if is found that one is unfit to be a parent using a high Standard of Evidence. Evidence of such unfitness would be established if one parent wantonly attacked the other parent’s Parental Rights. In other words, no action to attack Parental Rights should even be entertained by the courts unless a threshold Standard of Evidence has been met. Overnight, the number of destructive custody suits would drop like a rock.
The parents should come up with their own plan as after all, they are parents and they are the ones responsible for the care of these children. In those instances where both parents agree, the court should so order. In those areas where they disagree, the court should divide things equally, including child custody. The courts’ role is really to enforce the parents’ agreement and protect Parental Rights. If we take this approach, think of the money we would save; think of the societal destruction we would avoid; think of the children who would be better off.
We often bandy about praise in honor of Family Values, the Founders of our country, and our form of democracy embodied in that sacred document, the US Constitution. For our democracy, our Founders mutually pledged their Lives, their Fortunes, and their sacred Honor. The question arises as to whether we are worthy of the Founders who proceeded us; whether these words of praise are just empty words or whether we mean them. If we don’t follow these words, we don’t mean them. And if we don’t mean them, we can’t be that shining city on a hill, the last best hope for all human kind.
We need to respect Parental Rights by requiring a high Standard of Evidence before we modify them under all circumstances; we need to tell our court officials to do so; we need to instruct our leaders, whether political, religious, or other, to do so.
Barbara Walters is the president of the Texas Democratic Women of Collin County, and Bea Warner is the outgoing secretary of the TDWCC. Both ladies traveled to Austin this week to take part in Collin County Days at the legislature. They've asked me to publish their impressions of the 2 day event.
I am pleased to do so
Collin County Legislative days
By Barbara Walters
and Bea Warner
Two of us from TDWCC attended Collin County Legislative Days in Austin 2/9-10. It was a well-organized and informative event with: Gov. Perry speaking at lunch and all County Commissioners present. Senator Shapiro (SD8) and Senator Estes (SD30) spoke to us about their committee assignments (Education and Agriculture respectively). TX Representatives from all CC House Districts were there, as well as mayors and city council members from the major cities. Several speakers commented on the great gains of Democrats in Collin County and in Texas and how people are looking to this tri-county area for big changes and see our turnout in Nov. helping to move Texas to a two-party system.
Health Care Panel highlights: Panelists were: Arlene Wohlgemuth, Founder of Three Point Strategies, Devon Herrick, PhD, National Center for Policy Analysis, Anne Dunkleberg, Center for Public Policy Priorities. Their focus was on the rising costs of Medicaid and Medicare for Texas as well as physician and nurse shortages. They speculated about the impact of the economic stimulus package for Texas and what that will do to help / hinder the state budget. All three are against socialized medicine and government bureaucracies. They advocated health saving accounts or retail medicine solutions, but none of them answered the question, "Who will pay for those who can't?"
Transportation Panel highlights: Panelists were: Deidre Delisi, Chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, appointed by Gov. Perry through 2013 and Steven Polunsky, Committee Director of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee led by Sen. Corona (R-Dallas) and vice-chair Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin). We were impressed that 16 issues were addressed during the interim between legislative sessions. Funding is a big issue whether through bonds or the gas tax. Collin County attendees are concerned about the $2.1 billion being held hostage by TxDOT and the continued diversion of gas tax revenues for non-transportation needs.
Workforce Development Commission Highlights: Panelists were Doug Ridge of the Tx Workforce Commission and McGregor Stephenson of the Tx Higher Education Coordination Board. They attribute Texas’ still relatively strong economy to effective linkage between businesses moving into areas like Collin County and the educational system’s ability to train the workers needed at all levels before a given company even opens its doors. Upcoming sectors of economic development include nuclear and wind power and biotech. Our biggest competitors are Brazil, Eastern Europe and Ireland.
Taxes and Spending Highlights: Panelists were Michael Quinn Sullivan, President and CEO of Empower Texas (a PAC), Mary Katherine Stout, Director of Budget, Planning and Policy (Governor’s Office) and Will Newton, Executive Director of the National Federation of Independent Business/Texas. Panel members were like-minded re: the need to preserve what’s left of the “Rainy Day Fund” after it’s been dipped into to pay a roughly six billion dollar shortfall in the state budget. Shortfall, they say, was due to the enactment of the ‘gross margins tax’ in an (unsuccessful) attempt to reduce property taxes.
Over breakfast we got to hear bipartisan intelligence from Harvey Kronberg of the Quorum Report and Ross Ramsey of Texas Weekly. They definitely see the two-party system returning to Texas. The almost-even split in the House: 75 Republicans (plus Speaker) and 74 Democrats, in a year when Gov. Perry and Sen Hutchison will be looking at everything they say through the lenses of their gubernatorial race, is going to make the TX Legislature a very exciting and unpredictable show!
Chuck Bloom is a former publisher-owner-editor of several Texas community newspapers for more than 25 years before retiring, winner of dozens of journalism awards and former president of regional press groups. He published this piece today in his blog. The latest statistics show the unemployment rate in Collin County rose to 5.5% in December.
The state of things to come
I’d like to report to you on what will become an increasing sight here in Collin County, Texas, USA, one of the wealthier counties in Texas.
On Tuesday (Feb. 10), there was a relatively small job fair held at the Plano Centre, a small convention facility, sponsored by dice.com, a fairly new online job search site. In all, there were 11 companies represented, including the likes of Raytheon, Lennox, City of Dallas, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, Region 10 Education Center (TEA), e-rewards, a few consulting firms and others.
This space was reserved prior to recent layoffs at Texas Instruments and other North Texas companies so organizers obviously did not know the size of the crowd to expect.
The event started at 11 a.m., but at 10:45 a.m., there was already a very long line waiting for the doors to open (several hundreds of unemployed job seekers). The room employed soon was filled to the gills with people waiting in line for more than two HOURS just to drop off a resume (accepting no applications, except on line but didn’t tell anyone) with one firm.
By 1 p.m., the procession to ENTER the Plano Centre wrapped around the building, not counting the crowd inside the lengthy hallway, trying to get into the room. Some estimates had more than 2,000 people looking for jobs at this event.
My wife was one of those involved and kept bumping into former Texas Instruments colleagues – all trying to do the same thing – find a new working life.
Such scenes will be repeated over and over and over as reality comes to Collin County – the weakening and worsening economy is striking at the heart of exurban America, as represented by cities like Plano, Frisco, Allen and McKinney. Since Texas admits the affects of the national recession are delayed before appearing in this state, we are only beginning to witness what the rest of the nation already knows.
Times are tough and about to get MUCH tougher before it gets better.
Fortunately, for this household, my diligent spouse has managed to obtain one of the rare nuggets that others tried so hard to mine – a job interview (with the city of Dallas - but not YET official; no one is returning phone calls and she is getting antsy about it). She was instantly the envy of others; merely wishing to have someone consider them for a new job, let alone hire them.
Such is life is the NEW America RIF (reduction in force … or … rising in fear).
After I posted "Holy fugitive, Batman", I received a few comments and emails implying that I was unfairly representing the process that has led to Collin County law enforcement dealing with over 12,000 "Failure to pay tolls" arrest warrants.
So I asked the Public Information office at NTTA if they cared to respond. They did, and here is their response.
Once again, thank you for the opportunity to respond to your article.
Most NTTA drivers, more than 95% of those who travel on North Texas toll roads to be exact, pay their tolls through a TollTag, ZipCash or the violation/invoice process.
However, the individuals to which you reference have driven on the toll roads and - for whatever reason - have not only failed to pay tolls, but have also failed to contact the NTTA to pay, and have not responded to several notices/invoices sent by us for payment.
At that point, the process for enforcing toll payment is handed over to the court of the local jurisdiction in which the violation occurred. This process is outlined in the Texas Transportation Code Section 366.178.
As such, the warrants you reference are for "failure to appear" and not the failure to pay as you mention in your story. The original citation is for failure to pay tolls, but the citations are issued from the Department of Public Safety if someone doesn't call, respond, come in, contact, or make arrangements with the Court. The NTTA has no authority to issue warrants for failure to pay a toll. Rather, these warrants are issued by the court because these individuals did not appear.
It is also important to note that these individuals who receive "failure to appear notices" have used the toll roads multiple times before any of this process starts and an invoice for payment is sent.
The NTTA and DPS use all means available to send toll invoices to the correct address, and there are multiple checks along the way to identify the vehicle's registered owner. Moreover, the NTTA has a court coordinator to assist patrons with any questions or concerns about their toll bills.
There is a simple message for drivers who chose not to pay: If you drive on the toll roads - pay the tolls like everyone else.
Thank you in advance,
Asst. Public Information Officer
North Texas Tollway Authority
Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast asked what I think is a very important question, "Licensed peace officers are some of the most expensive employees on every local government's payroll. Does it really make sense to use them as bill collectors for the toll booth operators?".
I know I would feel better sleeping at night knowing my local deputies and police officers were stopping/solving crimes instead of chasing down toll jumpers.
I have little sympathy for those who drive on the toll roads and refuse to pay. I just don't think that collecting tolls is the highest (or even proper) use of the limited resources in our criminal justice system.
It appears to me that the NTTA is saving money using the automated toll system by passing collection costs down to the police agencies and violators.
As to the "failure to appear" vs. "failure to pay", I appreciate the distiction. I used the term "failure to pay tolls" because that is the description used on the Sheriff's Department warrant page.
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....
The Dallas Morning News is publishing a series of profiles of homeless residents of the Samaritan Inn. The series is written by Lynn Sipiora, the Executive Director of the Samaritan Inn.
DMN - Lynn Sipiora: Homeless in Collin County
The thing about second chances is that we all deserve them
Published in The Dallas Morning News
Friday, November 21, 2008
Editor’s note: November is National Homeless Awareness Month. This month, Lynne Sipiora, executive director of Collin County’s only homeless shelter, will spotlight Samaritan Inn residents who represent three of the most common types of homeless people in the county: the untreated mentally ill, the working poor and the recovering substance abuser. Names have been changed to honor the relationship between the shelter and its clients. For more information, visit www.thesamaritaninn.org or e-mail Lynne at email@example.com.
Part I is available here.
Part II is available here.
The thing about second chances is that we all deserve them
The homeless people we see at the Samaritan Inn regularly fall into one of three groups the working poor, the untreated mentally ill and the recovering substance abuser, but there is no doubt that the recovering substance abuser is the least likely to elicit sympathy and compassion from the community.
Tim was a junior when he first smoked a joint at a Collin County high school. If you asked him why he tried it, he would tell you he was just curious. Lots of kids smoked pot, and it didn't seem to be a big deal -- they still went to class; they still graduated; they still went to college. Unfortunately Tim didn't end up doing any of those things. He added a couple of Vicodin to the mix, and then he tossed in some Valium, and finally he made his way to Meth.
By age 17, Jack had dropped out of high school and was primarily interested in staying high.
"It was always on my mind," Tim said, "where to get it, when to use it and then how to get it again when the high wore off. It was like a full-time job."
Of course, Tim couldn't hold a full-time job, so he stole the money he needed to buy the drugs from his family and his friends.
"You just don't think about the consequences when you're in that frame of mind. All you know is you need money -- doesn't matter how you get it or from whom. The truth is drugs ruined my life."
A lot of research has been done to determine why some people can dabble in drugs and move on and others like Tim are destroyed. The biological factors include a genetic predisposition and/or a pre-existing medical or mental illness, but the psychological factors are a lengthy laundry list that probably contains at least three or four things that we could all relate to.
Unfortunately, Tim drew the short straw and made bad choices and quickly spiraled out of control. His parents, who lived in a gated community in a beautiful home, tried to intervene, but when their attempts failed time and time again, they told him they could no longer be involved in his life.
It's important to remember that drug abuse is more then just a lousy habit; it changes the chemistry of your brain. It overstimulates the pleasure center by flooding it with neurotransmitter dopamine, which produces euphoria, and once the brain has a taste of that, it wants more and then it takes more to replicate it.
Tim lived on the street for six years -- sometimes taking an odd job here and there, and sometimes panhandling, but always using drugs.
"Look, I know I caused this," Tim explained. "I can't blame it on anyone else. I had a privileged childhood, good parents who loved me, I was a Cub Scout, I played soccer, but stuff just got out of control. Finally I just got sick of feeling so bad all the time."
Tim when to an in-patient treatment center and, at 26, has now been clean for six months. He has a full-time job, and he recently got a GED. He's considering community college next fall, but the fact is he's still scared. Addiction is a chronic brain disorder -- it's not enough to just stop using, you have to make behavioral changes as well and you must always be on high alert.
"They tell me it will get easier," Tim says, "but it's hard, really hard. When things go wrong, drugs still call to me. I mean look at how people struggle to deal with losing weight -- they start and stop and start again -- but I don't have that luxury, I can't just have a taste, because then its all over."
So Tim is living at the Samaritan Inn now, planning to be fully independent within a few months.
Will he relapse? Statistically, it's more than likely. Those who can successfully beat addiction are definitely in the minority. Yet some people do, and as long as they do, and they are the ones who make us believe in mercy and second chances.
The Dallas Morning News is publishing a series of profiles of homeless residents of the Samaritan Inn. The series is written by Lynn Sipiora, the Executive Director of the Samaritan Inn.
DMN - Lynn Sipiora: Homeless in Collin County
Published in The Dallas Morning News
Friday, November 14, 2008
Editor’s note: November is National Homeless Awareness Month. This month, Lynne Sipiora, executive director of Collin County’s only homeless shelter, will spotlight Samaritan Inn residents who represent three of the most common types of homeless people in the county: the untreated mentally ill, the working poor and the recovering substance abuser. Names have been changed to honor the relationship between the shelter and its clients. For more information, visit www.thesamaritaninn.org or e-mail Lynne at firstname.lastname@example.org. Last week’s column is available at dallasnews.com/opinion blog.
Homelessness is on the rise, and homeless families are the fastest growing number in the homeless population. Single moms, single dads and intact families show up at our door every day after spending weeks on a relative’s couch or living in their cars.
The soaring foreclosure rate affected Carol, 50, and her 12-year-old daughter, Jenny. And Carol wasn’t even a homeowner.
Carol had rented a small home in a tidy neighborhood for 10 years. Her rent was relatively low, and she took meticulous care of the place. She and her daughter mowed the lawn, weeded the flower beds and repainted whenever necessary. They loved their little house and expected to live there forever, but the owner of the home went into foreclosure.
By the time Carol got the news, she had five days to find another place. Problem was, Carol didn’t make much money and, as a result, had minimal savings.
“I tried to keep about $50 saved up for Jenny,” she said, “for school field trips and supplies or little gifts for when she was invited to a birthday party.”
Every place Carol looked required the first month’s rent and one month security deposit, totaling over $1,000.
“Believe me,” Carol explained, “I wasn’t looking for much.”
Carol and Jenny had no relatives or friends who could help, so they moved into a hotel, and her money disappeared even faster. And then the car wouldn’t start. And then she lost her job.
And then Carol was out of options.
Jack and Eileen and their two school-age children did not live in a rent house. They had a one-bedroom apartment. They gave the children the bedroom and slept on a foldout couch in the living room. It was tight, but it was all they could afford. Jack and Eileen both worked hard — Jack at a gas station and Eileen at a fast-food restaurant — but they earned minimum wage. Minimum wage is not a living wage, not even times two.
Still, they scraped by for a long time until their daughter got an ear infection. She needed to see a doctor. They had no insurance, so they paid cash at a walk-in clinic. She needed a prescription medication, so they paid cash at a pharmacy. They took turns staying home with her and lost about a week’s wages.
And then Jack and Eileen were out of options.
Their daughter’s relatively minor illness caused them to spend half of their rent money, and they were evicted.
And get this: At a combined annual income of $27,248, Jack and Eileen were $5,240 dollars above the poverty line, making them ineligible for most subsidized health care clinics.
“Couldn’t the landlord have waited just a bit, so you could catch up?” I asked
“Wait for what?” Jack asked. “We would never catch up.”
If you work, you shouldn’t be poor, but people are. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.7 million workers are paid at the federal minimum wage of $6.55 per hour, and you simply can’t make it on that. So government steps in and offers social welfare programs, and if and when people take advantage of them, they are accused of being lazy and entitled.
Guess what? Some are.
Guess what? A whole lot aren’t; they are simply trying to survive.
At the Samaritan Inn, we offer food and shelter, but we also offer an opportunity for people to take a breath, to save some money, and to get a GED or enhance their skills so they can find higher-paying jobs.
Don’t like social welfare? Then consider making a donation to our program or any program like it that gets results.
Do it because it makes good fiscal sense. Or, better yet, do it because you believe that a person who goes to work every day shouldn’t have to worry about where they will sleep every night.
link to article
In Saturday's Dallas Morning News, Lynn Sipiora, the Executive Director of Collin county's only homeless shelter, The Samaritan Inn, profiles one client of the Inn.
"Andrew" is well educated and had a good job, but untreated depression and unemployment led to his divorce and subsequent homelessness. According to Ms. Sipiora, there are three leading causes of homelessness in Collin County - mental illness, poverty, and substance abuse.
Collin County has no "in-county" hospital for mid or long term treatment of the mentally ill. Our largest provider of mental health services is the Collin County jail.
Editor’s note: November is National Homeless Awareness Month. This month, Lynne Sipiora, executive director of Collin County’s only homeless shelter, will spotlight Samaritan Inn residents who represent three of the most common types of homeless people in the county: the untreated mentally ill, the working poor and the recovering substance abuser. Names have been changed to honor the relationship between the shelter and its clients. For more information, visit www.thesamaritaninn.org or e-mail Lynne at email@example.com.
Go to any major city in any state of the country, and you will see homeless people walking the streets with shopping carts or asking strangers for change.
It’s part of the urban landscape and the origin of most people’s perception of the homeless — but it’s simply not an accurate one anymore.
Homelessness has moved to the suburbs.
The Samaritan Inn, Collin County’s only homeless shelter, is at capacity almost every night of the year, and the people filling those beds are not who you might expect.
Meet Andrew, 56, average height and build, well-dressed and articulate. He was the youngest of three boys, born to a suit-and-tie kind of dad and a stay-at-home mom in a solidly middle-class neighborhood. He graduated from UT-Austin and was hired by a prestigious advertising firm right out of college.
Andrew enjoyed an exciting career and won several national and international awards for his work. He was successful and focused, so focused that he didn’t marry until he was 39.
“I met Joan at a party,” Andrew told me, “and the very next day I called her. We had drinks at a restaurant and talked about our mutual interest in design.”
Less than a year later they married and settled into a home in Dallas. They happily welcomed a daughter into their family in 1994 and a son in 1997.
Life was good — the way they expected it to be.
Then an investment in a new business failed, three of their four parents died in a span of six months, and Andrew lost his job. As weeks of unemployment turned into months, they were forced to sell their home. Andrew fell into a debilitating depression.
The last estimate of the homeless in Collin County I heard of put the number of those without a place to live here at 300. Some other estimates, which also count those in jail and in state mental hospitals who have no place to return to at over 1,200. The Samaritan Inn has the ability to shelter 120 but much of the time, turns away 35 or more a day because it is full.
The 2007 "Point in Time Homeless Count" counted 151 homeless individuals in our county. 72% of them were women and children. The leading cause of their homelessness was self-reported as "domestic problems or abuse", followed by "unemployment". Most of the people I know who are involved in helping families have told me that the "Point in time" census misses the majority of those here who are homeless.
Collin County does not have large homeless encampments like we've seen in Dallas. It's hard to find these people, so they don't appear in any census.
Kids who have run away from home or who have been thrown out by their parents live on sofas at neighbor's or friend's homes. (When my sons were in high school, we sheltered one such boy who was kicked out of his house at 16.) One Wylie school board member told me that at any time there are a dozen homeless kids here in Wylie. Getting them to school is a major problem, especially if they have no way to shower or get decent clothing.
CITY House in Plano runs a 15 bed emergency shelter located near downtown Plano. CITY House is the only emergency shelter in Collin County serving homeless, runaway or abandoned youth.
Many adults and families are living out of their cars parked in different places every night to avoid police attention. A very few are on the street.
Last month, the US Census bureau published the 2007 Community Survey. It details the extent of poverty in our county. Last year, while our per capita income was a respectable $37,279, 6.5% of our neighbors lived below the poverty level. Families fared worse. The median family income was a whopping $92,351, but 4,000 families had less than a $15,000 annual income.
Johnny Todd has a lousy job: The Collin County constable evicts people who don't pay their rent.
With the battered economy, Constable Todd is busier than ever. He's not just ousting renters. He's also evicting homeowners who fall hopelessly behind on their mortgage.
He witnesses foreclosure fallout firsthand.
"You'd be surprised at the ones we move out," Constable Todd said. "Some just have a mattress in the bedroom and sheets over the window. They couldn't afford a doggone thing."
All five Collin County constables handle evictions. But Constable Todd, whose Precinct 4 includes west Plano, Frisco and Prosper, does the most by far.
In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, Mr. Todd's office served 2,842 eviction notices – a 28 percent increase from just two years ago.
Many people who receive notices come up with the rent or mortgage in time to avoid eviction. But others take no action, and a justice of the peace orders their possessions hauled out.
Constable Todd and his deputies don't actually remove the furniture, clothing and other belongings. Instead, they stand guard as movers hired by the landlord or mortgage company close a chapter in someone's life.
"A lot of people are distraught about losing everything," he said. "We have to escort some off the property. We try to console them."
Economic conditions for poor families are worse this year than last and are not expected to get better soon. The cost of living is rising and unemployment growing. Evictions and home repossessions are soaring and can be expected to get worse. In Collin County, 21,000 families spend more than 35% of their income for rent or a mortgage. Many of these families are at grave risk of being homeless.
Grits -Former judges and prosecutors: Investigate official misconduct before executing Charles Dean HoodSeptember 3rd, 2008
Today, the top notch criminal justice blog, Grits for Breakfast posted an excellent article on Judge Dry's decision to recuse himself from the civil suit by convicted killer Charles Dean Hood against former Collin County Verla Sue Holland and retired Collin county DA Thomas O’Connell.
Here is Grits post:
September 03, 2008 / by Grits for Breakfast
Here's another dramatic turn of events in the Charles Dean Hood case: Attorneys for Mr. Hood learned today that State District Judge Robert Dry has recused himself. Dry had earlier acknowledged he personally knew both the Collin County judge and prosecutor involved who allegedly carried on a romantic affair during Hood's capital murder trial, but before now he'd refused recusal. (UPDATE: Here's an initial AP report on Dry's recusal, which he announced citing a "previous business relationship with the ex-husband of now-retired Judge Verla Sue Holland.")
No word on whether Dry's decision means next week's hearing will now be expedited to occur before Hood's execution date, which presently is set for Sept. 10. But pressure is mounting for Governor Perry to delay Hood's date with death long enough for courts to investigate allegations of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct. Relatedly, this came in today from Hood's attorneys via email:
Today, a letter from 22 former federal and state judges and prosecutors (pdf) from Texas and across the country was delivered to Governor Perry urging him to grant a 30-day reprieve to Charles Dean Hood who is scheduled for execution on Wednesday, September 10, 2008. The former judges and prosecutors are asking the governor to grant a reprieve to allow the Texas courts to conduct a meaningful review of the allegations of a secret romantic relationship between Judge Verla Sue Holland, who presided over Mr. Hood’s 1990 capital murder trial, and former Collin County District Attorney Thomas O’Connell, who prosecuted the case.
The letter states: “We write because our long experience as jurists and law enforcement officials leads us to believe that justice cannot be served unless the courts are able to consider whether Mr. Hood’s conviction and sentence are invalid.”
Signatories to the letter include: John J. Gibbons, former Chief Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; W.J. Michael Cody, former Attorney General of Tennessee; J. Joseph Curran, former Attorney General of Maryland; William S. Sessions, former Chief Judge, United States District Court for the Western District of Texas and former Director of the FBI; Kenneth J. Mighell, former United States Attorney, Northern District of Texas; Jay Burnett, former Criminal District Court Judge, Texas; and Sam D. Millsap, former District Attorney, Bexar County, San Antonio, Texas.
The former judges and prosecutors say that “Mr. Hood’s claim appears on its face to have substantial credibility.” In June, a former assistant district attorney who worked in the office with Mr. O’Connell filed an affidavit stating that “[i]t was common knowledge in the District Attorney’s Office, and the Collin County Bar, in general, that the District Attorney…and Judge Verla Sue Holland had a romantic relationship.” Mr. Hood’s trial attorney and a private investigator have also signed affidavits corroborating this claim.
To-date, the Texas courts have refused to consider the charges on their merits or allow an investigation before the scheduled execution. Judge Robert Dry of the 199th Judicial District Court has scheduled a hearing on Mr. Hood’s request to take investigatory depositions of Judge Holland and former District Attorney Tom O’Connell on September 12, 2008 – two days after the scheduled execution.
“It is an irrevocable wrong to send a man to his death without ever hearing this critical evidence,” the letter from the former judges and prosecutors states.
Earlier this summer, the nearly 500-member Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers and three dozen of the nation’s leading legal ethicists also called Mr. Hood’s conviction into question (pdf). They say the affair constitutes a violation of Mr. Hood’s constitutional rights and must be investigated.
Bottom line: If Judge Holland or Mr. O'Connell had once ever denied these charges, the controversy would have died down by now. Their refusal to address these scandalous allegations unnecessarily fueled the fire. Whether the affair occurred or not, it's obvious that the interests of justice were poorly served by their silence.
Community asked to participate in soldier send-off
WYLIE July 25, 2008 - Soldiers from Wylie's National Guard Armory are leaving Monday, July 28, for Iraq.
Support groups are hoping residents of Wylie and the surrounding community will show the soldiers their support by lining the roadway waving American flags and displaying yellow ribbons.
According to information from the Army, the soldiers are set to depart from the Armory at 7:30 a.m. They will travel from Spring Creek Parkway south down Hwy. 78 to Ballard Avenue, turn right on South Ballard and proceed through the downtown area.
They will turn right onto Brown Street and then head back toward Hwy. 78, take a left on Hwy. 78 and head toward Lavon.
They will turn on Hwy. 205 toward Rockwall.
Donnita Nesbit Fisher
C&S Media Publications, Inc.
The Farmersville Times
The Princeton Herald
The Sachse News
THE WYLIE NEWS
Frisco Mayor Maher Maso's goals for city are quality of life oriented
By Minnie Payne / Pegasus News
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Frisco Mayor Maher Maso
FRISCO — When 44-year-old Frisco Mayor Maher Maso moved to Frisco in 1992, the population was 6,500. According to Maso, the city’s population as of July 1, 2008 was 101,393, and it’s the seventh fastest growing city in the United States.
“I like the way Frisco is headed,” Maso said. “My fundamental goals of keeping taxes low and improving our roads and transportation are very quality of life oriented.
“Public safety is also important, because we have a lot of families here and people want to feel safe in their community.”
Because the city has accomplished a lot, he said that he wants to keep it moving in the same direction by partnering with the school districts, colleges and county.
“Frisco alone can’t create a successful community,” he said. “It takes many different groups working together. I firmly believe in regionalism.”
Maso also believes in open communication. Aside from city council meetings, the second Monday of each month from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. has been set aside for informal coffees on the fifth floor of city hall.
“The gatherings aren’t just to have coffee and pastries,” he said. “We have round table discussions where I learn from citizens, and they learn from me.”
The next coffee with the mayor is Aug. 11.
Maso grew up in North Seattle in the Shoreline area where he graduated from Shoreline High School in 1982. He attended North Seattle Community College for approximately two years and then continued working with his father in a family-owned service station business.
“At age 20 I learned I had testicular cancer, which completely refocused my understanding of life,” he said.
In 2003, he earned a B.S. degree in Business Management from the University of Phoenix, and he is presently pursuing his MBA from the University of Texas at Arlington, from which he is scheduled to graduate in November.
Maso presently serves as vice president of the family-owned privately held corporations of Maso, Inc., a retail services firm, and CMTEX Corp., an investment firm.
He is of the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith.
He served on Frisco City Council from May 2000 to June 2007; mayor pro tem from May 2003 to June 2007 (five appointments); deputy mayor pro tem from May 2002 to May 2003; chair of budget & audit sub-committee from May 2003 to June 2007, and Frisco Tax Increment Finance District Zone Board from May 2000 to June 2007.
The Collin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce sent the following message today to County Judge Keith Self and the Commissioners Court:
It has come to our attention that the Collin County Commissioners are in the news, on the wrong side, about the issue of extra pay for bilingual employees.
In all sectors of business employees are hired based on abilities that will fulfill the job requirements. If their work involves customer service, bilingual skills are desirable due to the increase in residents of this county that speak limited English. It is not best practice to draw an employee away from normal duties and order them to spend their job time to translate for clients with no pay incentive, no matter what the language needs are. This is an abuse of the employee when they are expected to fulfill two job roles for the pay of one.
Any employee who presents with language skills that are often required at the customer service level in county offices should be rewarded with extra pay. County employees have an obligation to serve all residents of the county in the most equal and efficient manner they can attain.
As the only Hispanic organization for business in Collin County we recognize the high demand for anyone seeking employment who has bilingual skills, especially Spanish/English, and respectfully advise the commissioners to allow the Collin County Human Resources Department to continue to compete for those employees on a level-playing field with other entities and businesses that offer extra pay for those skills.
Humberto B. Rodriguez
Collin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
555 Republic Drive, Suite 200
Plano, TX 75074
Bill's note: See Collin County Observer article, "When are we going to have to hire A-rabs... and Indians?", July 11, 2008
I would add the alarming increase in suicides at the Collin County jail to Henson's list
Has anybody else noticed the steady stream of ugly law enforcement scandals and allegations of corruption coming out in Plano recently, some of them dating back two decades? Taken together, they paint quite a portrait of the Collin County justice system. Here's my own hastily compiled short list, and I'll bet Bill Baumbach could add to it:
Judge and DA Slept Together? According to an affidavit filed by a former Assistant DA in the Charles Hood capital murder case, from 1987 - 1993 then-Judge Verla Sue Holland carried on an affair with then-District Attorney Tim O'Connell, including in cases where the DA personally acted as an attorney before the judge. (She later went on to serve on the Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas' highest criminal court.) Both Holland and O'Connell have refused to confirm or deny the explosive allegations.
Setting Up Innocent People? Last fall a federal civil rights lawsuit alleged that four Plano officers conspired with a man's wife in a bizarre scheme to set him up on on a DWI charge.
Steroid Use by Police? Steroid dealer David Jacobs alleged steroid use by five Metroplex police departments including Plano PD. Dallas police implemented steroid testing in response but the others did not.
Sweetheart Pharma Contract? A district judge lost his bid for re-election in March after requiring probationers to use an unproven anti-addiction medication but keeping no records about the program.
Pandering to NIMBYism: State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg from Collin County led the charge last year to chase one of the area's few halfway houses out of existence.
Hounding Gay Employee? After Collin County ousted its well-regarded teen court coordinator allegedly because he's a homosexual, the Dallas Morning News asked, "What can be said about an employer who runs off a solid worker because he is gay? Nothing good."
False Conviction Overturned by DNA: The man convicted for a high-profile child rape and murder in Plano from the '90s that spawned Texas' sex offender registration laws turned out to be innocent, and the Collin DA acquiesced in his release from death row after DNA proved someone else committed the crime.
These stories don't tell the whole tale - e.g., I know there are good programs going on at the Collin County probation department and their DWI court - but doesn't that seem like quite a bit of dysfunctionality arising from a single locale?
My post "County Boards should not meet in homes" elicited responses from both Keith Self, the County Judge and from Mabrie Jackson, the President of the CPS Board.
Judge Self's response was to inform me that the dinner meeting was legal (I already knew that). I posted his email to me as a comment to yesterday's posting.
Ms. Jackson's response speaks for itself. My only comment is to note that the members of that board are doing a great and thankless service to our county and our children. I hope that any interest I have stirred up about the CPS Board will translate into a greater community involvement in the good work they are doing.
Hopefully, the next 3 years will bring more than just 2 citizens showing an interest in the work of the CPS Board.
Mabrie Jackson responds to "County Boards should not meet in homes":
In no way, would I have conducted or intended to conduct a meeting that was not open to the public, hence the posting of all our meetings. My intention for the July 21st meeting was to have a nice evening to express my personal appreciation to the CPS directors and to the CPS Board members for their service. This has been the most rewarding act of community service I have been a part of to date. I am not seeking another term on the Board since being elected to City Council.
This is an unusual Board that requires a lot of hard work to raise money, and the last meeting was emotionally taxing for everyone dealing with the funeral arrangements for the 2 children who died in the awful wreck at Custer/Legacy. It is difficult to appoint people to the CPS Board who are willing to put in the hours required to meet the needs of our children. In addition to our County function, we are a 501c3 organization that raises money to help the foster children and their families who are wards of the State. We pay for medicines, care and adolescent needs not covered by the County or the State (a lot of it)--PCs for kids graduating out of the system who are going on to college, after school tutoring, sports participation, graduation and prom expenses, summer camps, etc. We deal with complex interstate Medicaid regulations, legal issues and abuse issues that keep us awake at night.
In my 3 years on the CPS Board, and last 2 1/2 as President, we have had 2 people from the public attend our meetings. I welcome anyone to attend our upcoming meeting, and if I know who may be coming, I will plan for them to stay for dinner. We will most likely have dinner upon adjournment so anyone who wishes to attend the meeting may leave afterward if they wish.
If you are interested in writing about the good things being done in our county, we would love to share with you the accomplishments of our Board, the finest work from our CPS staff and the great stories from our law enforcement who are able to bring justice to real "bad guys".
Collin County CPS Board
Victor Manuel is the Democratic Party's nominee for Collin County Commissioner, Pct. 3, which is the post presently held by Commissioner Joe Jaynes.
I offered Mr. Manuel an opportunity to respond to Jaynes' column "Providing for rail".
The Collin County Observer published both Commissioner Jaynes' and Mr. Manuel's articles complete and unedited.
Response to "Providing for rail"
I stand amazed that our elected officials continue to be short-sighted and hands-off when it comes to long term planning in Collin County.
We are faced with a light rail mass transit system from DART that will cost hundreds of millions to extend from Plano into Frisco, McKinney, and beyond. The estimates are that it would take roughly $20 million to build 1 mile of rail line. This would place the dream of DART Rail expansion from Plano to McKinney? at over $200 million if we started now. Even Frisco would cost almost half of that amount. A rail line that services even half of the county could run into the billion dollar range.
The need is here today because gas is at $4 a gallon, but we need to plan for tomorrow, even if gas goes down in price. It takes more than knee-jerk reactions to the morning newspaper to build a better future for the county. We need a vision for all of our cities that will serve as a guideline for the future.
The benefits to rail expansion are very real. We are faced with the prospect of doubling the citizenship of Collin County by the year 2030, yet we have NO county-wide mass-transit system. In Dallas, the value of office properties that reside near DART Rail increased 53% more than comparative locations without rail service. Residential neighborhoods serviced by rail increased 39% in value more than other locations.
The University of North Texas Center for Economic Development and Research estimated more than $8.1 billion in economic activity stemmed from the North Texas region’s investment of $4.86 billion to build the current and planned rail systems. When we consider the growth potential of our future, it’s vital to consider how much the entire county will benefit from this planned expansion.
This is project that benefits the entire county, so we need to treat it as such. Can we afford it? Yes. Collin County’s Transportation Budget for 2008 is less than one fifteenth of the $255 million annual budget. This year’s budget increased only 1.84% over 2007, while the county’s revenue increased 11%. Even if we doubled that amount to support a bus and rail system, we would be well within our fiscal guidelines for the county.
The solution is simple. In order to kick off mass transit for Collin County, we need to concentrate on a bus system first, that allows all citizens to enjoy the benefits of mass transit while preparing for the rail system. And our County Commissioners need to step up to the plate and be prepared to use some of the windfall in our County budget to kick-start the rail system.
Opinion published in the Dallas Morning News
Sunday, June 15, 2008
As gasoline prices surpass $4 a gallon, it is becoming crucial to expand both light and commuter rail throughout Collin County.
As Collin County's representative to the Regional Transportation Council, I also sit on the Regional Rail Committee. However, I have a growing concern about the committee's discussions on how to finance rail expansion. At every meeting I have attended, the philosophy has been to raise this tax or increase this fee. Many of these increases have to deal with gas taxes, motor vehicle registration fees, increased sales taxes and even a new transportation tax.
In my view, especially with today's economy, these approaches are wholly unrealistic. Imagine asking voters to approve an increase in the gas tax in the hopes that in 10 or 20 years we can get rail expanded throughout the county. That is not something I can support.
There are better solutions.
First of all, rail – whether commuter or light – is expensive. I believe that local governments should make the necessary cuts to begin to provide for rail funding. For instance, if cities set aside a portion of their economic and community development sales taxes, it would be both a good start and set an excellent example of governmental entities working together to bring about much needed mass transit. Besides, without mass transit, in the long run, we run the risk of reduced economic and community development.
Local governments should also become active in buying real estate along rail corridors and using the development rights to attract private investors. Solutions like these should be thoroughly explored and then, if there are any shortfalls, voters should be approached to address those shortfalls.
In today's economic times, governmental entities are going to need to think outside the box and take steps to cover the costs of expensive but worthwhile projects such as rail. The current attitude of placing the costs squarely on the backs of taxpayers is a recipe for disaster that should be avoided at all costs.
Recently, I have recently met with representatives of the cities along the DART-owned line that runs from Plano through Anna. We will be sending out a request for a proposal to bring a consultant on board to develop a business plan and discuss methods and financing to expedite rail to this area. Collin County and its cities have to take a proactive approach. Just sitting and waiting on DART will not get the job done.
My goal is to see the day when the trains running north in the mornings are just as full of employees as the trains running south are today.
Republican Joe Jaynes, the only county commissioner facing an re-election opponent in November, is the county's representative to the RTC (Regional Transportation Council).
Jaynes makes several good points about the need for a rail mass transit system. However his financing plans, like most we've seen are way too vague and seem to me to be an attempt to shift the political and financial responsibility to someone else. Saying that "that local governments should make the necessary cuts to begin to provide for rail funding" is a cop out.
Rail will cost hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars. What is Collin County willing to do? What cuts are Collin County willing to make? Is the county prepared to go to the legislature with a concrete plan for using existing tax revenue to finance commuter rail? Is the county willing to use their spending discretions to force the local EDC's to give up revenue?
For some reason, I doubt it. For example, County Judge, Keith Self has made it clear that he will oppose any transit tax, and during his campaign, he stated he was opposed to subsidized commuter rail.
It's too easy to jump on a grandstand and preach that somebody else needs to cut services or expenses. Let's see the Collin County Commissioners Court come together and show some real leadership in hammering out a plan, selling it to themselves, to the cities, to the taxpayers and to the legislature.
The kind of changes in our local paradigms needed to solve our transportation issues will require courageous leadership. For a long time now, courageous leadership has been in short supply in Collin County government.
I note that in the article, the Dallas Morning News cites Joe's campaign website, but his taxpayer paid county email address. The use of the county email system for non-county business was an issue in Jaynes' primary race. I wish I could tell if this opinion piece was campaign rhetoric or the business of the commissioner.
David Hall, who lost the Plano ISD, Place 5 race, asked me to post the following:
Based on my review, I believe that the Plano ISD is better than any other Independent School District in Texas, and that is the key to taking care of next year's $14 million shortfall. First, although I think that 2.5% of students not graduating is unacceptable, I think that a 3% revenue shortfall is almost nothing (every person is INFINITELY valuable whereas money is only a medium of exchange that represents people's HARD work). In case anyone is wondering if I know anything about finances large organizations, I worked for Price Waterhouse for many years advising Fortune 50 clients, had my own business for many more years, and have worked in places like Russia and South America for American and foreign companies so I KNOW business and only started working as a Math Teacher 4 years ago and an Administrator 3 years ago because I want my Grandchildren to live in the BEST society possible of well educated people of good character.
The proposed plan to take care to the shortfall has three steps as follows:
1. Allow ALL Plano ISD parents to enroll their students in any school they wish at no cost as long as they are willing to take care of the transportation, there is room available, and after the assigned students have been enrolled.
2. Publicize that Plano ISD is willing to allow students from other school districts to enroll as long as their is room at a facility, they will handle transportation, the student would not be allowed to play varsity sports the first FULL school year, AND the parents and student sign an agreement covering things like attendance / work ethic / behavior.
3. For the students that wish to enroll that cannot be accommodated in the current facilities, begin adding temporary buildings / renting open retail space (there is too much around Plano) / find other ways to accommodate the demand, begin a hiring program for the teachers needed, and begin more non-traditional approaches to education.
Simultaneously, we should begin lobbying the Legislature, State Board of Education, and TEA to help us get back more of the money they are taking from us. One approach would be for them to pay us a premium on the students that enroll from other school districts. Last but not least I am willing to volunteer to help make all of this happen using capabilities, approaches, and templates that Responsive Education Solutions has been developing over the last 10 years (we get far less money per student than the ISD's but we are in very sound financial position which the TEA will confirm).
David Lee Hall