Keep up the Fight

Hello Collin County,

This week’s column discusses news from city councils in Celina, Murphy, Sachse, Princeton, Richardson, Plano, and Wylie. Look for a legislative update and call to action on bills concerning school finance and the LGBTQIA+ community at the end. I appreciate you reading this column to stay informed on what is happening. I encourage you all to use that concern and turn it into informed action. There isn’t a single city council, school board, or advisory board meeting that doesn’t provide us with an opportunity to keep up the fight. When I highlight new apartment developments passed by city councils, it’s for a reason. I want you to encourage these developments to prioritize amenities for families with children. We must be doing everything we can each week to help combat declining enrollment in our school districts. We must keep them funded. When I highlight inefficiencies or distractions from certain city councils, I want you to get involved. It is up to us to tell our city councils and school boards what needs prioritizing. I want you to see how local government operates without our input. It should concern you. Your involvement, or lack thereof, determines what future generations are left with. Keep yourselves healthy and motivated. Every week, your future is a discussion and action item. We must keep up the fight.

Celina City Council

At their April 11th meeting, attendance was high. The city introduced several new employees including a GIS analyst and a management assistant. Talent Map, a consulting firm hired by the city, also presented the results of the employee engagement survey. They received more participation in the survey compared to previous years, but the results are much the same. At least 75% of employees have a positive experience working for the city. The city also discussed plans for Celina’s first hotel and conference center. A Courtyard Marriott hotel with a conference center is planned for the corner of Dallas Pkwy and W. Frontier Pkwy. The conference center will have seating for up to 500. The plans were discussed, but no action was taken. Look for a vote at a future city council meeting. The last item discussed before closed session was brought up during the public comments section. A representative from the Old Celina Cemetery revealed that housing developers removed the wrought iron fence that borders the cemetery without permission. The developer claimed that the city council said they could. Amidst the confusion, the cemetery filed a police report. The city council has stated they will get to the bottom of it and get the fence back in place.

At the end of March, the city held a town hall on street repair projects. This was the highest priority indicated by residents who participated in a community survey. Approximately one third of the city’s general fund comes from permit revenue, which is even more than the city collects in property taxes. With this increase, the city has purchased additional equipment and tripled Streets Department staff. Residents are asked to submit street repair requests through the city’s Life Connected app. Residents should expect a roughly two-week turnaround time for potholes. In order to help track street conditions, the city is also conducting a project to digitally record the condition of every street within city limits.

Murphy City Council

Their April 4th meeting was mostly uneventful, but there were some community notices and events discussed that residents might want to consider. The Murphy Chamber of Commerce Scholarship Foundation has increased their scholarship amount to $1,700 this year. Eight of these scholarships will be awarded to graduating students. The city’s annual craft beer festival, Tunes, Tails & Ales, will take place on May 20th this year. Live music, crawfish, and plenty of craft beer will be available. The city also reminded residents to sign up for weather alerts on the city’s RAVE app. The city council then convened into closed session to discuss a proposed wastewater treatment plant.

Sachse City Council

At their April 3rd meeting, residents complained about a drainage issue on Vicksburg Dr. that they claim has gone unresolved for nine years. Concerns about mosquitos, flooding, and loss of access to property were all raised. The city had proposed a regrade of the easement to help the water runoff naturally, but residents say that is not a permanent fix. In response to residents asking for underground drainage infrastructure, the city states that a nearby bridle path (horse trail) makes such a project unfeasible. Phase 1 of the J.K. Sachse Park project is nearing completion. Once completed, this will be Sachse’s first city park on the Collin County side. The grand opening is scheduled for May 13th, but the city is only just now completing the first of six phases. Weather, supply-chain issues, and unexpected increases in cost have all contributed to some of the delays. The city council also voted to change Sachse’s mission statement. The original statement read as follows, “Sachse is a tranquil community welcoming the future while offering a safe and enjoyable quality of life to all those who call Sachse home.”  The newly adopted mission statement will be, “Sachse is a vibrant community that offers exceptional opportunities for all to live, work, and play.” Two other options that the city council voted against added the words “diverse” and “welcoming”.

Princeton City Council

At their April 10th meeting, residents lined up to preach, and I mean that literally, against Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. The meeting began with a bible lesson from a preacher during his public comments. Some of the comments from residents included statements that “being white and heterosexual means you aren’t treated equally.” Other residents added onto the heated arguments against DEI, adding that “BLM is Marxist” and asking the city council to instead fund homeschooling for residents. The comment I found most ironic was one that highlighted the city’s need for a wider range of retail and businesses. It seems to me that DEI efforts could directly improve the city’s portfolio of businesses while working with the Chamber of Commerce. I don’t know which church is responsible, but someone is obviously trying to sow distrust between the people and local government. Mayor Chacón clarified that school funding is not within the purview of the city council. She also clarified that the city council is only looking at establishing a DEI advisory board. She expressed confusion over some resident’s concerns about the “company they are using for DEI”. She further clarifies that they aren’t paying any money to any company for DEI efforts. This advisory board will be a benefit to the city. Inclusion is not derogatory. The very next item, which I hope caused residents to reflect on their ignorant statements, was recognition and appreciation of the coordinator of a recent sensory-sensitive Easter egg hunt. Mayor Chacón emphasizes that this is the type of inclusive effort that benefits all residents. The last item before closed session was a presentation by representatives from Kimley-Horn, a consulting firm hired by cities throughout the metroplex, on the Parks bond program. Kimley-Horn will be conducting public outreach sessions to gather the public’s input on how they want to see these funds spent. Now would be the time for Democrats to reach out and let Princeton know that we want a future that includes all. I also encourage residents to advocate for inclusive features in this bond program.

Richardson City Council

At their April 10th meeting, the Richardson city council recognized the winners of the annual MLK Jr. Essay and Black History Month Art contests. Two zoning requests were also approved. One for a dog daycare that won’t be staffed overnight so the dogs can sleep undisturbed. The other for a massage establishment. This one got a bit interesting. It was revealed that the new massage establishment, China Spa, is taking over a space where another massage establishment was involved in illicit activity. You can imagine what type of activity that might be. The Chief of Police assured the city council that they are coordinating with code compliance to take care of the issue of illicit activities at several massage establishments. He also guaranteed that there is no connection between the current and former business owners of China Spa. Councilman Corcoran suggests that they look more closely at redeveloping the area in order to improve the situation. Since Richardson is currently conducting an update to the Comprehensive Plan, that suggestion is very timely.

Plano City Council

At their April 10th meeting, the Plano city council approved the development of an apartment complex in the Downtown area bordering Pres. George Bush Turnpike. This will replace an existing lumber and HVAC supply facility in hopes of improving the area. Councilman Ricciardelli was the dissenting voice, claiming that the project would deviate too much from the Comprehensive Plan. Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Tu stated the project has a lot of potential and asked the developer to consider the visibility from the tollway in the design. Councilman Smith stated that the project would remove the blight of the industrial businesses. He and others also suggested that this should be considered a transit-oriented development since multiple DART stations are within a 10-minute walk. Speaking of DART, the city’s interlocal agreement with them also came up. The city manager has suggested expediting construction projects so they can exit the agreement as soon as possible. He also suggested not budgeting the $28 million received from DART so they are not tied to the conditions of the agreement. He instead suggested that any funds reimbursed through the agreement be considered extra money.

Wylie City Council

At their April 11th meeting, confusion ensued. I personally watched this meeting until I could bear it no more. First, three items were pulled from the consent agenda. All three of these items proceeded to be approved without discussion. The entire point of a consent agenda is to approve items not needing discussion. All this did was prolong the meeting unnecessarily. The following item was just about the only thing that went smooth at this meeting. Wylie is getting a Bojangles chicken restaurant! The city council approved the request for a drive thru Bojangles restaurant 6-1, with Councilman Mize being the dissenting vote. The next public hearing was for a proposed gas station. Of all the wise concerns that could be raised, this city council spent nearly an hour deciding whether they should have a traffic impact analysis, only to find out that TxDOT is already requiring one after finally asking the applicant. The other concern was from Councilman Mize, who thought the vacuum cleaner station might be too loud at 7 AM for neighboring residents. Councilman Mize thought they should delay their opening hours to 8 am instead of 7 am, something the national franchise is not willing to do. The city manager finally got a word in to clarify that the vacuums do not even neighbor residential lots, and that the vacuums are well within the noise ordinance guidelines. The next public hearing was on a mixed-use retail/office development. The city council took even longer on this one just trying to make the motion to approve the development. The budget, which has a $6.5 million impact on the fund balance, was approved without any discussion. The final straw for me was the discussion on updates to the Economic Development Corporation bylaws. The mayor and city council argued with the city manager and city staff for what seemed like an eternity. The argument revolved around who has the power to hire and fire the EDC Director. The discussion finally resulted in an agreement that this could be settled by asking the city attorney’s opinion. The city attorney, however, was not present at this meeting for some reason. Unbelievably, more arguments ensue just trying to figure out what question to ask the city manager. The motion to adopt the bylaws was finally tabled until a legal opinion was given. With that, I could watch no longer. The amount of inefficiency in this meeting was appalling. If this is representative of how meetings typically go, the citizens of Wylie have my sympathies. Your city council desperately needs to hear from you.

Legislative Update

The legislative update this week focuses on the attacks on the LGBTQIA+ community and school finance.

SB 1072 is potentially Texas’ own “Don’t say Gay” bill. This bill puts a teacher’s ability to even discuss “matters regarding human sexuality” entirely in the hands of the district’s School Health Advisory Council. That’s the SHAC committee I’ve been reminding our team leads about. SHACs are required to record their quarterly meetings. We need to be watching our SHACs just as much as school board meetings. We also need Democrats to step up and serve on these committees. Otherwise, conservative parents and pastors may end up deciding that your district isn’t allowed to discuss the LGBTQIA+ community’s existence at all. This bill has received public testimony on controversially short notice. It is currently still pending in the Senate Education committee. Contact your state Senator and make sure they know we want this bill voted down. Then, submit your application to serve on your district’s School Health Advisory Council.

HB 1686 and SB 14 are a pair of companion bills that seek to ban gender-affirming care for Trans youth. Both are expected to pass out of the House Public Health committee after receiving favorable votes. Add both to your list of bills to vote down when you contact your Representatives.

SB 13 would create an advisory council very similar to the SHAC I mentioned above. This committee would be called the School Library Advisory Council. The SLAC would be made up entirely of parents of students in the district. They would also have the same requirements to record their semi-annual meetings. The duties of the SLAC would be to make recommendations on materials to remove or add to the school’s libraries based on vague definitions of “harmful material” and “indecent content”. In other words, this bill could codify book-banning efforts statewide. This bill has been passed out of the Senate and is awaiting a committee assignment in the House. Please ask your Representatives to vote this bill down. And, if passed, please be prepared to serve on your district’s School Library Advisory Council. We must fight for the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community to simply be heard.

The final legislative topic for this week is school finance. HB 100 is a complex school finance bill that attaches some of the per-student allotments to enrollment instead of the current average daily attendance numbers. It also includes minimum increases to the per-student allotment and minimum increases to teachers’ salaries. HB 100 has received a favorable committee vote and awaits a vote on the House floor. While increases are a good thing, the increases in HB 100 aren’t good enough. HB 1548 and HB 4586 include significant increases to both the per-student allotment and teachers’ and support staff’s salaries. Both HB 1548 and HB 4586 are still waiting on a public hearing in the House Public Education committee. Please contact the committee and ask them to pass HB 1548 and HB 4586 out of committee. Then, ask your Representatives to support HB 1548 and HB 4586 instead of HB 100.

Ready to take action? Click here to find out how to contact your representative and make your voices heard! 

I hope something you’ve read in this column inspires you to act. I hope that this information helps you understand the types of decisions we should be involved in. And I hope that, if you don’t see your city or school district listed above, you will be inspired to join a team to monitor your local government. As you can see, keeping up the fight is a weekly effort. If we are not making the decisions, someone else is. Please reach out if you would like to get involved in the work that the Liberal Women’s Action Network does to monitor city councils and school boards across Collin County. I hope you’re ready for the first week of early voting. I hope you’re ready to keep up the fight.

Until next time.

Yours Truly,

Justin Wray Neth 682-225-4495