In my last Chair’s message I talked about the general importance of voting in the May 6 non-partisan elections. In this message I will tell you why you need to vote for City Council in particular.
Before we look at individual cities, it’s important to understand just what city government does. A lot of people in Texas don’t really know. Cities are generally responsible for:
- Police and fire protection
- Municipal courts (traffic violations and other minor offenses)
- Streets and transportation
- Water, sewer, and waste disposal (for cities in Collin County, these are generally provided by the North Texas Municipal Water District under contract from the city)
- Planning and zoning
- Code enforcement
- Animal services
- Public health
In addition, all of our cities are having to deal with the explosive growth in the county. Recent projections hold that Collin County will grow from just under 1 million now to 3.8 million by 2050. This will place tremendous demands on all city services. Some cities like Plano and Richardson are nearly all built out and market pressures are forcing higher density building. Outer suburbs like Wylie and Melissa aren’t built out yet, but need to plan for the expectation that they will be. Planning for public transportation and higher density now is the only way to avoid unmanageable traffic congestion in the future. And the cores of the older cities are often facing repair and maintenance issues due to age – we have a bad tendency to be in love with building new facilities but hate to spend money to maintain what we already have.
Also, due to the disappearance of good local journalism (if it ever existed), and local media focusing more on the city of Dallas, many citizens don’t know what is really going on at their city halls. The lack of attention, and in many cases the lack of transparency, can at best lead to city governments that are out of touch, and at worst be corrupt with insider dealing. In addition, many city elections are influenced by somewhat shadowy power brokers who send out mailers with recommended slates of candidates.
In addition to these common problems, many cities in the county face unique issues this election. Here’s a rundown of a few of them.
In Plano, the current city government’s vision for Plano’s future, Plano Tomorrow, is being challenged by a group calling itself Plano Future. The Plano Future group’s agenda seems largely to block more apartments and keep “those” people out of Plano. Interestingly, the group’s website is conspicuously silent about who Plano Future actually is. There is also a reactionary push by conservative churches like Prestonwood Baptist to roll back the Plano Equal Rights Ordinance.
In McKinney the main issues being discussed are alleged insider dealing on the City Council and the proposed Highway 380 expansion. Many residents don’t want another major highway cutting the city in half, something that most urban planners now discourage. And there are allegations that the currently serving Mayor Pogue (of the real estate development family) and others may benefit financially from the expansion.
In Frisco one of the council members recently said during a city council meeting that “Frisco was conservative before conservative was cool.” Is this at all appropriate?
In Murphy, similar to many other cities, there has been a tension between maintenance and new development. For years they neglected to run water quality tests, and when they finally ran them they failed for lead and copper. And they are so behind in building repairs that a bond election may be needed to replace heating and air conditioning systems and carpet.
Finally, where I live in Richardson, the city is dealing with the build-out of the last remaining undeveloped parcels of land, as well as older neighborhoods in need of revitalization. It’s the Collin County suburb that is closest to the city of Dallas, and as such is facing increasing property values that can affect seniors and those planning for retirement harder than others. A group calling itself the “Richardson Coalition” has for the past few elections been sending out a voter’s guide that has an outsized influence on the city council elections. They at least have the transparency to list their leadership and some of their supporters, but it’s not at all clear who they represent or who appointed them other than themselves.
As you can see, while many of the cities in the county face some unique issues, the bottom line is that your city government, and in particular your city council, can have a huge impact on your immediate quality of life. I encourage you to educate yourselves further on what’s going on in your city, who the candidates are (watch for our voter’s guide coming soon), and vote.