Tag Archives: Collin County

A bus ride spurred this call for transparency

I have told you on this blog about how Farmersville, a small city in Collin County, works to avoid the appearance of secret meetings among its City Council. It posts a “notice of potential quorum” when council members plan to gather in the same room … even for a social event!

The notice seeks to forestall any question among residents whether the council is acting in the public interest, or talking about public matters in, um, “secret.”

I happen to think it’s a capital idea that perhaps ought to be written into the Texas Open Meetings Act.

I haven’t told you, until now, how City Attorney Alan Lathrom came up with the idea.

It was in 1995. Lathrom served on the legal staff in Arlington, Texas, in Tarrant County. The Arlington City Council planned to attend the inaugural of newly elected Gov. George W. Bush. So, the council rented a bus, on which all the members would ride from Arlington to Austin to attend Gov. Bush’s inauguration.

Lathrom then had this notion: What if someone questions whether the council is conducting public business on the lengthy bus ride from here to there, and then back again? He told me recently there had been some rumbling and grumbling in Arlington about the council being in the same vehicle for such a lengthy period of time.

He came up with the idea of posting the bus ride as a notice of a “potential quorum” by the City Council. He decided to post it in accordance with the statute that requires a 72-hour notice prior to the “quorum” forming inside the bus.

The trip occurred. The council went to Austin to clap for the new governor. They shook many hands, slapped many backs, had a great time and returned home to Arlington. My guess is that it didn’t pass any ordinances either while traveling to Austin and back.

With that, an idea was born and it lives on today in little ol’ Farmersville, Texas.

Well played, Mr. City Attorney.

Happy Trails, Part 176: Rediscovering anonymity

Ahh, anonymity is grand.

It is one of the joys I have discovered on this retirement journey on which my wife and I have embarked.

We relocated more than a year ago to Collin County, Texas, after spending 23 years in Amarillo and nearly 11 years before that in Beaumont. I don’t want to oversell or overstate anything, so I will take care when I write these next few words.

The craft I pursued in the Golden Triangle and then in the Texas Panhandle — as opinion page editor for two once-fairly significant newspapers — gave me a bit of an elevated profile. I was able to write editorials for both newspapers as well as publish signed columns with my name and mug shot along with the written essays. Readers would see my face on the pages and then would greet me with, “Oh, you’re the guy in the newspaper!” 

I went through that little ritual for more than three decades in vastly different regions of Texas.

We now live far from either place. I do write for a couple of weekly newspapers these days — the Princeton Herald and the Farmersville Times. It’s a freelance gig that I sought out. The publisher of the papers has been kind enough to put me to work — but on my terms!

I now blend into the scenery. No one recognizes me on sight. I’m unsure whether my name will remain anonymous, given the exposure it will get by appearing on top of news features I hope to write for the Herald and the Times.

One more point I want to make. In Beaumont and in Amarillo, I occasionally found myself discussing politics and public policy in the most unusual locations. I would encounter friends and acquaintances who seemed to presume that since I wrote about politics at work, that I live and breathe it when I am off the clock. They are mistaken.

I once vowed that I would not discuss work in some places, such as at church. More than once I have told folks in the pew next to me that “I came here to talk to God, not to talk about politics with you or anyone else.”

So far, so good here in Princeton. Anonymity is a joy I intend to cherish for as long as humanly possible.

Christmas spirit is alive and well in our neighborhood

My wife and I have settled in nicely in our new digs in Collin County.

We have become acquainted with our neighbors on both sides of us, with neighbors in four homes across the street, a couple living on the corner … and apparently some children we see playing and cavorting on occasion.

Our community is becoming comfortable to the both of us daily.

We have received a taste of the Christmas spirit that seems to abound in our Princeton neighborhood.

The doorbell rang and a young man was standing on our porch. He handed my wife a small box. It contained freshly baked cookies prepared in the gentleman’s kitchen.

He handed my wife the box. We opened it. The cookies beckoned. We ate them. They were delicious.

Why mention this? I guess it’s because we have just experienced a neighborly gesture one doesn’t see all that often.

I thought momentarily of when we moved into our brand new home in southwest Amarillo in December 1996. We had just had the house built. We pulled out belongings out of storage, where they sat for nearly two years.

One day, just before Christmas, a neighbor walked across the street carrying a large plate of brownies. She wanted to welcome us to the neighborhood.

In all our years of marriage, in all the places we had lived that was the first time a neighbor had done something so kind. It made us feel as if we were part of the community.

It was the only time someone had extended a bit of holiday cheer to us … until tonight. 

The Christmas spirit is alive and well. We can testify gleefully to its good health.

Still wondering: Do we really need constables?

I want to soften my criticism of Texas constables, but only just a little.

You see, I have made the acquaintance of one of Collin County’s four constables. His name is Shane Thomas, who serves as Precinct 1 constable. He is based in McKinney, the Collin County seat.

I have railed, ranted and vented my anger at constables since, oh, just about the time I arrived in Texas more than 35 years ago. I’ve seen the office at its worst, first in Jefferson County way down yonder in Beaumont, and then in the Texas Panhandle.

Then we moved to Collin County, which has functioning constables who actually do work for the county.

Thomas has five deputy constables who report to him. He was asked recently at a Rotary Club meeting, “Who is your boss?” His answer: “You are. I answer to you. The voter.”

So I am not going to bash Constable Thomas the way I have bashed the office while working as a journalist in the Golden Triangle and the Panhandle.

I still wonder, though: Why do we need to have another layer of law enforcement when we have sheriff’s departments that are capable of doing the work that constables do? We elect sheriffs, who then hire deputies. They have budgets that are set by commissioners courts, which also must budget money for constables. I cannot stop thinking that the serving of civil papers, warrants and providing justice of the peace court security could be done by sheriff’s deputies, who also serve as patrol officers in the unincorporated regions of Texas’ 254 counties.

The existence of constables offices seems to my mind to be superfluous and, well, wasteful. It’s like an add-on police force.

I get that the JPs and the constables have powerful lobbies in Austin that are able to persuade legislators to keep their hands off the office.

If all the constables in Texas are as productive as Collin County’s Precinct 1 constable, then I won’t raise too much of a ruckus to get rid of them.

Needing some answers about all this highway work

Photo by Michael O’Keefe/First Response Photography.

My wife and I moved to Collin County a year ago, then relocated within the county from Fairview to Princeton.

We’ve learned a good bit about Princeton since we planted our roots deeply into a subdivision under construction just south of U.S. 380. One of the things we learned is that the community is in a major growth mode.

How do we know? The highway is under reconstruction and I am getting the word from some of my snitches that it ain’t going to stop any time soon.

They built a median along the highway to curb the number of crashes that were occurring, or so I have been told. The raised concrete median aims to keep people in their own lane.

I am now in search of some answers about the highway makeover and what it means to residents who live here. I am hearing some grumbling about folks who are upset about all the construction; they are frustrated by the constant heavy east-west traffic along U.S. 380; I am hearing about residents griping about the inability to enter the highway from side streets … meaning they want more stop lights.

I have developed a couple of sources at the Texas Department of Transportation, the state agency that is rebuilding the highway. The Princeton city manager has told me that as soon as the median is finished through the length of the city that TxDOT will commence work adding a lane on each side of the highway; they will turn it from a four-lane to a six-lane thoroughfare.

My wife and I figure we bought our house at just the right time. The city is small at the moment; it won’t stay that way for very long. We are reckoning that our real estate investment will pay off handsomely … whenever we no longer are living in the house.

However, the traffic does present some immediate concern. The snoopy part of my emotional makeup compels me to ask around.

I need to know what in the world is going to happen with this highway work. When will it end? And to what end is this work going to finish?

Awaiting holiday season in new surroundings

It’s one thing to move to a new community, a new home and becoming acquainted with new surroundings during most of the year.

It’s another thing altogether when you welcome the Christmas holiday amid all that newness. Why, even Toby the puppy — as you can see in the photo — is wearing some new Christmas threads.

So a new holiday awaits my wife and me — along with the Puppy — in our new digs in Collin County. We spent 23 or so Christmas seasons ensconced in our home in southwest Amarillo. We grew comfortable in that home, which we had built in the fall and early winter of 1996.

Indeed, our first Christmas in that home was one for the ages. We closed on the house on Dec. 22, 1996, took possession of the place, then had most of our worldly possessions hauled out of storage where it had laid dormant for nearly two years.

We spent Christmas opening up boxes and getting reacquainted with pictures, furniture, doo-dads, knickknacks and assorted gadgets and gizmos we had locked away.

Our Christmas tree that year was a potted Norfolk pine we brought with us from Beaumont. We strung a few lights around it, tossed a little tinsel on it and surrounded it with gift packages.

We moved from Randall County to Collin County in the spring of 2018. Then earlier this year we decided to look for a house to purchase. We found one in Princeton, closed the deal and moved in. That all took place in late February.

Now our first Christmas in our latest new home is coming up fast. It won’t have quite the same element of rediscovery as the holiday I described earlier. However, it will be memorable nonetheless. Of that I am certain.

My biggest challenge now rests with trying to decide how to string lights around our new house. Wish me luck.

Nature’s awesome power on display … even after it passes

TOPEKA, Kan. — We got here — finally!

As we proceed southward toward The House in Collin County, we have seen evidence of the awesome power that Mother Nature can deliver to we mere human beings.

The Missouri River runs adjacent to Interstate 29 through Iowa and into Nebraska. We saw a flashing electronic sign that told us that I-29 would be closed; a detour awaited.

So, we exited the freeway and proceeded east along Interstate 680. We had to drive about 16 miles out of our way toward our next stop here in Topeka. We turned south and then west along Interstate 80.

This leg of the journey was extended about 40 minutes.

What caused it? The Missouri River flooded. We didn’t see what it had done to the right-of-way. All we know river caused the state highway department to shut down the major thoroughfare.

But we damn sure did see the river. It is quite high at this moment. In places it is just a foot or two from spilling over its bank and onto the highway. We saw street signs below the Interstate that poked only a foot or two above the water. We noticed buildings half-submerged under the Missouri’s tides.

Yep, it’s an awesome sight.

Grand Forks, N.D., had just gone through what apparently occurred downstream. We watched crews seek to siphon water from ditches into retention ponds.

There’s water. Then there’s too much water. We saw evidence of what happens when you have too much of it.

Yes, our friends along the Gulf Coast are experiencing this very thing at this moment. Our hearts go out them. They are in our prayers.

Now that we’ve seen how far widespread nature’s wrath has become, we send our prayers to those we saw from a distance as we zipped along to our next destination.

DMV: Legislature’s next big project?

Texas state Rep. Scott Sanford came to our Rotary Club in McKinney the other morning to provide an update on the accomplishments of the 2019 Legislature.

Then he took a question from the audience about an issue that has been in the news of late in North Texas: insufferably long lines at Department of Motor Vehicles offices.

What is the Legislature going to do about that? How do Texans avoid having to wait in line for hours on end to get a new driver’s license or to do any kind of business at DMV?

Sanford, a McKinney Republican, didn’t have a quick-and-easy answer. He is acutely aware of the problems that have plagued Collin County DMV offices.

News reports in recent days, noting the 100-degree temperatures logged all across the state this summer, told of people waiting six or seven hours. Some of them waited until the DMV office closed, denying them the chance to get finish their business at the state office.

I’ll mention Collin County because it’s where I live. It’s also a rapidly growing part of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. The county’s population sits at right at 1 million residents. DMV needs to do a much better job of responding to residents’ needs; that’s what I have heard in our brief time living there.

It’s the kind of question that confronted Rep. Sanford. He couldn’t provide much assurance that relief is on the way.

My hope is that he takes those concerns with him to the 2021 Legislature, presuming of course that he gets re-elected next year. My sense is that DMV should be high on lawmakers’ to-do list when they return to work.

Hoping to get the call for jury duty

I am not a weirdo. Really. I’m not. I do, though, want to fulfill a civic duty that always seems to escape me.

I want to serve on a trial jury.

My wife and I moved from Randall County to Collin County in Texas a little more than a year ago. We registered to vote almost immediately. We have renewed our motor vehicle tags in Collin County. The folks at the county clerk’s office know we’re residents of this county; so do those at the district clerk’s office as well as the tax collector-assessor’s office.

It’s just that whenever I have gotten the call during all those years — 23 of them, in fact — that we lived in Randall County, I always was told “don’t bother to report.” I’d get my summons. I would call the preceding day after 5 p.m., per the instruction on the summons. Then I would get told that the cases all had settled and that “all jurors” were excused.

Damn, man!

I once served on a grand jury in Randall County. The district attorney, James Farren, told us that service on the grand jury likely would disqualify us from any trial jury, given that grand juries serve under the direction of the state. The grand jury receives criminal complaints from the DA’s office and then decides whether to indict someone for the crime listed on the complaint. That was a marvelous experience.

Still, now that I’ve moved away I am hopeful that the court system in Collin County — whether it’s a district court, a county court at law or a justice of the peace — would see fit to summon me to report for jury duty.

I’ve always wanted to sit on a trial jury. Does my grand jury experience taint me forever as a “pro-cop” kinda guy? No. It does not.

Hey, I’m retired now. I’ve got nothing but time on my hands. I don’t work for a living, although we have plenty to do around our house. It can wait, though, while I would serve on a trial jury.

Too many people look for ways to evade/avoid/skip jury duty. Not me. I want to serve. Come and get me. I’m all yours.

Biting my tongue regarding constables

I made the acquaintance today of a young man whose job causes the hair on the back of my neck to bristle … and I mean no disrespect to the individual himself, as he is a nice, earnest and dedicated public servant.

Or so I will presume for the moment.

He serves as a constable in Collin County. I won’t identify him just yet; that might come later if I choose to write any more about this matter.

You see, I have long had bur under my saddle about constables. I dislike the office. I have lived in communities as disparate as Beaumont and Amarillo that have had regrettable experiences with constables.

To be candid, I believe the elected office is superfluous. State law empowers constables to issue civil papers; that’s their primary task. They issue papers, such as eviction notices or court summonses. They also provide courtroom security for justices of the peace. And, yes, they have the authority to make traffic stops or assist police when the need arises.

However, as I have noted before, these duties can be done by sheriff’s deputies. Or by municipal police officers.

When I was working in journalism for many years I had the chance to comment on constable goings-on. In Jefferson County, for instance, voters elected a constable who wasn’t certified by the appropriate Texas law enforcement authorities. He vowed to obtain his certification — eventually! He failed to meet the deadline and was removed from office.

Potter County had a constable who didn’t do any work. It had another constable who enjoyed acting the part of dedicate law enforcement official, but fell far short of actually doing the duty.

In Randall County, there was a constable who pledged to surrender his office because there wasn’t enough work, only to think twice about it. He stayed on the job and battled county commissioners over his salary. Then Randall County voters elected a constable who campaigned on the pledge to not to do any work, enabling the county over time to disband the office. He then was gerrymandered out of office after the 2010 census was completed.

I still dislike the constable’s office. It is unnecessary. It also has a powerful lobby in Austin that fights for constables and justices of the peace.

I wish my new acquaintance well as he performs his constable duties. However, I would cheer loudly if the Texas Legislature ever finds the guts to get rid of the elected public office.