Sunday, April 18, 2021

Citizens Should Track Streams of Influence in City Politics, Part 2

To recap from part 1, Tupps opened its doors in 2015. A local PAC in McKinney called McKinney Team also started in 2015. Three members of the McKinney Team PAC are also on the board of Tupps. Tupps has gotten over $15 million in city dollars through the MEDC, MCDC, and the TIRZ#1 fund since 2015.

Who is the McKinney Team? From their website:

"McKinneyTEAM was formed by a group of business and civic leaders who acknowledge the previous success of our city, but have a vision to raise the bar for the future. As a coalition of seasoned executives we will attempt to establish an honest forum for issues to be discussed and strong leadership to advocate for our community’s future. McKinneyTEAM is a nonpartisan, nonprofit political action committee organized and operating under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, reporting to the Texas Ethics Commission as a General Committee.” 

McKinney Team started out in 2015 with five members: Bill Darling, co-founder of Darling Homes and Tupps board member; David Brooks, former city council member, CEO of Independent Bank and Tupps board member; Pete Huff, former city council member and chairman of WattMaster Controls; Ernest Lynch, Medical Center of McKinney CEO; and Jack Radke, Ag Power owner and CEO. Two others were later added: Roger Harris, former city council member and business owner; Bruce Mead, a retired executive and Tupps board member.

In 2017, David Brooks, McKinney Team member, Tupps board member, and CEO of Independent Bank, helped get Independent Bank a relocation (from one part of town to another) and incentive package worth over $6 million from the MEDC and city. In 2019, Independent Bank got its low-income health clinic over $2.5 million in city and MCDC funding even though there were already several needy low-income health clinics in the area. This is all in addition to the over $11 million Tupps deal. This year, the McKinney Team is monetarily backing a city council candidate for District 1 who is an employee of Independent Bank. If this person wins his race, will he be required to recuse himself from any and all Independent Bank dealings that come before city council?

PACs can make direct monetary donations to specific candidates that are easier to track. PACs can also make in-kind donations to candidates in non-monetary forms: campaign strategic services, design services, website services, mailing lists, stickers, email blasts, endorsement brochures, voter lists, press releases, videos, professional pictures, meet & greet organization, catering, venue rentals, billboards, and more. 

The McKinney Team is really the only local PAC in McKinney that provides campaign-changing monetary support, organization help, and the goods necessary to have a hefty advantage over any opponents. PAC filings for McKinney Team can be found here

When the McKinney Team first started, it was not successful with its initial candidate picks for local office in the 2015-2016 period. It has been successful, however, with its support of nearly all city and MISD bond elections. 

Starting in 2017, the McKinney Team helped elect 3 out of their 4 picks: George Fuller for Mayor (won), Charlie Philips for At-Large (won), Dusttin Pearson for District 1 (lost), and Scott Elliot for District 3 (won).

2017 McKinney Team Candidate Direct and Indirect Contributions*:
$,2000 to Fuller in direct contributions & about $6,500 in-kind type support
$1,000 to Philips in direct contributions & about $10,000 in-kind type support
$1,000 to Elliot in direct money & about $9,000 in-kind type support
$1,000 to Pearson in direct money & about $5,000 in-kind type support

In 2019, the McKinney Team backed Rainey Rogers for District 2 (won), Frederick Frazier for At-Large (won), and Richard Franklin for District 4 (won).

2017 McKinney Team Candidate Direct and Indirect Contributions*: 
Rogers -- $500 in direct contributions & about $1,500 in-kind type support (he ran unopposed)
Franklin--$2,500 in direct contributions & about $1,000 in-kind type support
Frazier--$2,500 in direct contributions & about $1,500 in-kind type support

Here are the candidates the McKinney Team is supporting this year: George Fuller for Mayor, Charlie Philips for At-Large, Gere Feltus for District 3, and Jason Beller for District 1. Beller is also an employee of Independent Bank.

2021 McKinney Team Candidate Direct and Indirect Contributions* (indirect contributions will not be reported until at least the end of April):
$2,000 in direct contributions to Fuller (a small part of Fuller's roughly $58,000 in donations so far)
$2,000 in direct contributions to Philips
$2,000 in direct contributions to Feltus
$2,000 in direct contributions to Beller

*Note: If anything, I under-reported the in-kind type donations to each candidate. I did round down often. I did not include anything I suspected as duplicates. I also did not include anything that was vague as to what candidate was getting a specific donation (see example below).

  

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Citizens Should Track Streams of Influence in City Politics, Part 1

Note: Using influence within the law is not wrong. Using money to affect politics within the law is not wrong. Using our taxpayer dollars to help certain people and businesses without transparent or fair processes is a murky mess that should be avoided at all costs. 

Useful websites, like OpenSecrets.org, track federal-level campaign contributions to federal candidates. Political action committee (PAC) donations, lobbying group donations, and dark money donations meant to influence politicians should be out in the open. Most people want to know who is donating to whom and whether those donations could be leading to any paybacks that include beneficial legislation, government contracts, public/private partnerships, or other tangible rewards. We want to know—and we should want to know—if our federal dollars are benefiting certain people over others. 

Why do we suddenly stop wanting to track streams of influence in our own cities? Or worse, why do some get offended if questions are even asked about who is influencing whom and to what end? Is it less polite to want transparency closer to home because people we know might start to get uncomfortable or offended? 

Below is an illustration of how campaign contributions and connections among various people, politicians, and groups could lead to, at the very least, problematic optics. 

Tupps is a small brewery that has been open for business for five years in McKinney, Texas. At the time of their most recent application to the local community development corporation in July of 2020, Tupps had about 18 full-time employees and 20 part-time employees that were self-reported on their application. So far in our illustration, Tupps looks like any struggling five-year-old small business. 
 
What makes Tupps a perfect case study right now is because of all the questions about the deal and all the defensiveness as to why there would even be questions. It could also be because it is city council election time. These sorts of disagreements generally bubble up at these moments. 

In the span of five short years, Tupps has benefited from multiple city funding opportunities that other small businesses most probably have not gotten: 

  • $27,000 loan and forgiveness if they hire 11 full time workers. This deal was from the McKinney Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) using sales tax dollars. Contract was signed in November of 2014. See here for info 

  • $20,000 loan and forgiveness if they hire 6-8 full time workers. Again, this deal was from the MEDC. Contract was signed July of 2015. See here for info

  • $600,000 loan and forgiveness from the MEDC for equipment in 2020 paired with a larger incentive listed below 

  • $11.3 million lease with option to buy deal with the McKinney Community Development Corporation (MCDC), funded with our sales tax dollars, to relocate and build a very expensive brewery center with no parking lot (see next incentive below) on land the city bought in 2019 (so they could most likely sell it to the MCDC for this deal). Tupps is not required to put any of its own money into this deal. Tupps is only required to create around 5 full time jobs by the end of the forty year lease. Since the land is owned by the MCDC, there will be no property tax revenue. See here for info

  • ~$3.5 million from the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone #1 (TIRZ#1) so the city could use its eminent domain powers to take away affordable housing and pay for the relocation of the low-income occupants. This was done so Tupps could have a parking lot. Look in the plans for Tupps, there is no parking lot on the site plan. See here, here, and here  
How many other incubating businesses have gotten this kind of long-term monetary hand-holding from the city of McKinney? If not, why not? 

Tupps, it turns out, is well-connected. Three of the board members of Tupps are prominent business owners and residents of McKinney. We do not know how long they have been board members or how much of a stake they have in Tupps because the MCDC does not require those sorts of relevant details in their application packets. 

If any city is giving a business large amounts of citizen money and is going into a long-term lease agreement with them, the board members of the business, how long they have been on the board, and what their stake and/or investment is in the business should be a mandatory part of the application process. 

Those three board members are also members of municipal PAC that has been in operation for as long as Tupps has had its doors open—since 2015. Their PAC, the McKinney Team, is focused on endorsing city council candidates and school board elections. 

To be continued in part 2

Friday, January 1, 2021

TIRZ #1 Funds to Pay for TUPPS Parking Lot?

On January 5th, 2021, the city of McKinney, City Council, and the TIRZ #1 board (made up mostly of City Council members) will most likely approve the use of nearly half of TIRZ #1 available funds for the new TUPPS brewery parking lot--$3.5 million dollars of the $6.8 million dollar TIRZ #1 fund balance. 

It has taken nearly ten years for the TIRZ #1 to amass its current balance minus paying administration fees and helping to pay for smaller downtown business repairs, etc.  Is a parking lot for a brewery (please see the trailer park eminent domain action here) worth it? Several other major city-led economic development deals didn't use TIRZ #1 funding that should have, like the downtown parking garage and the apartments/shopping with city garage parking underground. 

Here is the cost breakdown from the legislative text:

FINANCIAL SUMMARY: · The City is requesting up to $3,500,000 in TIRZ funds for the East Louisiana Parking Project. These funds will cover the following costs: 

  • o Property Purchase - Approximately $1,900,000 
  • o Relocation Expenses - Estimated $500,000 
  • o Parking Lot Design - Estimated $115,000 
  • o Parking Lot Construction - Estimated $985,000 

· TIRZ #1 Fund Balance - 

  • o The TIRZ #1 Fund currently has a balance of $6.8 million

Here's the plan for the east side of downtown including the very expensive parking lot:



Misuse of Eminent Domain in McKinney?

It looks like the city of McKinney initiated eminent domain proceedings against a private property owner so a brewery moving to the area could have a parking lot. Yes, the land to be eminent domained is a trailer park that might make the redevelopment of the east side look "incomplete." However, the eminent domain resolution doesn't use blight or redevelopment as reasons for the city's action. 

eminent domain

The resolution claims that the property is subject to eminent domain action to make room for an "East Louisiana Public Parking Lot." This is another example of the city missing the opportunity to look more above board while also risking more city money loss in potential lawsuits (remember the $10 M+ settlement the city had to pay out to JND because the city used eminent domain wrongly to favor one developer over another during the failed gateway debacle?). This looks like another messy rush job. Sure, the property owner will probably sell to the city and we can avoid further court action. But, the landowner would only be selling because of the threat of eminent domain action. Threatening property owners is not a good look for McKinney.

The site plans for the new brewery complex do not include a parking lot. The brewery will be relocated as part of a $11.3 M grant from the McKinney Community Development Corporation (MCDC) that would allow for the renovation of McKinney's historic grain site. The agreement between Tupps and the MCDC includes a long-term lease of the space with an option to own. It also includes a 2% revenue share with the city. The city of McKinney will have to sell the grainery site to the MCDC. See more details in the article herePlease continue reading for the documentation below.

Back on September 1st, 2020, the city council passed this resolution:

WHEREAS, the City Council of the City of McKinney, Texas, has determined that a public need and necessity exists for the East Louisiana Public Parking Project (“Project”), generally located to the East of Highway 5 between East Louisiana Street and Anthony Street. The properties associated with the Project are generally set forth on the map attached hereto as Exhibit A; and 

WHEREAS, the City Council has considered this Project and has determined that a public necessity exists for the acquisition of the properties (in fee simple), as described on Exhibit B, attached hereto and incorporated herein for all purposes (“Property”). 

See above for the picture of the property (trailer park) subject to the eminent domain action with Tupps added for clarity. 

Here's the site plan submitted to the MCDC on June 25th, 2020 with the trailer park/parking lot added.


:
No one is saying the TUPPS deal is not a good idea. But, a city pulling out the eminent domain card (when this is clearly a brewery parking lot pretty far away from the future new city hall) because it does not want to take the time to use other methods (health code violations for the trailer park and taking the time to work with the property owner) is wrong. Or, TUPPS could have simply scaled down their mega complex to add parking spots. 

Here is the Texas Government code on proper uses of eminent domain:


CHAPTER 2206. EMINENT DOMAIN


SUBCHAPTER A. LIMITATIONS ON PURPOSE AND USE OF PROPERTY ACQUIRED THROUGH EMINENT DOMAIN


Sec. 2206.001. LIMITATION ON EMINENT DOMAIN FOR PRIVATE PARTIES OR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PURPOSES. (a) This section applies to the use of eminent domain under the laws of this state, including a local or special law, by any governmental or private entity, including:

(1) a state agency, including an institution of higher education as defined by Section 61.003, Education Code;

(2) a political subdivision of this state; or

(3) a corporation created by a governmental entity to act on behalf of the entity.

(b) A governmental or private entity may not take private property through the use of eminent domain if the taking:

(1) confers a private benefit on a particular private party through the use of the property;

(2) is for a public use that is merely a pretext to confer a private benefit on a particular private party;

(3) is for economic development purposes, unless the economic development is a secondary purpose resulting from municipal community development or municipal urban renewal activities to eliminate an existing affirmative harm on society from slum or blighted areas under:

(A) Chapter 373 or 374, Local Government Code, other than an activity described by Section 373.002(b)(5), Local Government Code; or

(B) Section 311.005(a)(1)(I), Tax Code; or

(4) is not for a public use.

(c) This section does not affect the authority of an entity authorized by law to take private property through the use of eminent domain for:

(1) transportation projects, including, but not limited to, railroads, airports, or public roads or highways;

(2) entities authorized under Section 59, Article XVI, Texas Constitution, including:

(A) port authorities;

(B) navigation districts; and

(C) any other conservation or reclamation districts that act as ports;

(3) water supply, wastewater, flood control, and drainage projects;

(4) public buildings, hospitals, and parks;

(5) the provision of utility services;

(6) a sports and community venue project approved by voters at an election held on or before December 1, 2005, under Chapter 334 or 335, Local Government Code;

(7) the operations of:

(A) a common carrier pipeline; or

(B) an energy transporter, as that term is defined by Section 186.051, Utilities Code;

(8) a purpose authorized by Chapter 181, Utilities Code;

(9) underground storage operations subject to Chapter 91, Natural Resources Code;

(10) a waste disposal project; or

(11) a library, museum, or related facility and any infrastructure related to the facility.

(d) This section does not affect the authority of a governmental entity to condemn a leasehold estate on property owned by the governmental entity.

(e) The determination by the governmental or private entity proposing to take the property that the taking does not involve an act or circumstance prohibited by Subsection (b) does not create a presumption with respect to whether the taking involves that act or circumstance.

Added by Acts 2005, 79th Leg., 2nd C.S., Ch. 1 (S.B. 7), Sec. 1, eff. November 18, 2005.

Amended by:

Acts 2011, 82nd Leg., R.S., Ch. 81 (S.B. 18), Sec. 2, eff. September 1, 2011.

Acts 2011, 82nd Leg., R.S., Ch. 693 (H.B. 364), Sec. 1, eff. September 1, 2011.





Wednesday, October 7, 2020

McKinney's Special Election--Recall and Parkland Sale

There are two McKinney-specific propositions on the ballot this November. Here are my suggestions.

Proposition A – FOR

Proposition B – AGAINST

I’ll start with Proposition B. It asks if citizens want to allow the city to sell a specific parcel of parkland. I am against Prop B. The land in question is in back of the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary

    Wilson Creek runs right between the Heard and the parkland in question. If the parkland is sold for an industrial purpose (and it most likely will be), the new industrial business may interfere with the wetlands area.

    Old landfills are made into parks throughout the country. Please see examples here and here.  

    The Heard should be a positive, protected amenity of McKinney.

Proposition A asks if citizens should remove the District 1 representative by recall. I am for Prop A.

I will just hit on the highlights of why Mr. Shemwell should be recalled. Even though Mr. Shemwell was elected to represent District 1, he has spent the majority of his time in office representing and promoting himself at the expense of his district and the entire city.

I’ll focus on 2018 because it was a pivotal year for Mr. Shemwell and for his relationship with the city. In 2018, Mr. Shemwell was arrested twice. In 2018, citizens began to seriously consider using the recall process. In 2018, citizens realized the recall provision in the city’s charter made it nearly impossible to recall anyone. 

It all began on May 9, 2018, less than a year after he was elected. Mr. Shemwell was arrested for refusing to sign a traffic ticket. He wasted no time in calling a press conference in the City Hall chambers to claim he was racially profiled. He demanded the officer be suspended. Read what he said happened here

A week later, the bodycam footage was released, and Mr. Shemwell talked back some of his claims. On the body camera footage, Mr. Shemwell was also seen clearly directing the police officer to call the chief of police more than once. It is against the city charter for councilmembers to direct city employees to do anything. He took some responsibility for his argumentativeness with the officer. You can read about it here and here.

He voted to censure himself trying to direct the policeman during the stop, a violation of the city charter.  Before that, there was about an hour of public comments devoted to the situation he created. Read about it here

Throughout this time and into July, the city was dealing with an ongoing environmental problem with concrete batch plants located in District 1—Mr. Shemwell's district. The residents of the trailer park and the housing development nearby were forced to seek help from other city council members due to Mr. Shemwell’s inaction when it was repeatedly brought to his attention by several of his constituents. Read about it here.

Another issue playing out at that time was the forced annexation of the ETJ area in the northwest side of the city— Mr. Shemwell’s district was very close to it. In fact, some parts of the ETJ could have been incorporated into his district depending on whether the ETJ area was forcibly annexed or not.

By October, Mr. Shemwell had enough of the constant public comments at meetings regarding the forced annexation plans for the ETJ. He said he was tired of meetings being ‘hijacked’ by people at meetings. He also proposed moving public comments to the end of meetings. He suggested if people were forced to sit through meetings, it would help them get educated on how government works. He also brought up limiting handouts and presentations during comment periods. Unfortunately, other council members agreed. Read about it here.

December 6, 2018 – Mr. Shemwell was arrested on continuous violence against family charges, a 3rd degree felony. Here are the details of the charges from the article:

"LaShadion got on top of (victim) as she laid on her back, and straddled her torso area and struck her in the mouth one time and continued to put his hands over her mouth so she couldn't scream," one document reads.
Another incident also details a fight that happened after a birthday party. The woman claims she and Shemwell had physically assaulted each other beginning in the car and later in the home. A member with the housing authority came to the residence because of a complaint of a disturbance.

The alleged assault resulted in injuries to both people.

And in a recent November incident, documents reveal the couple got into a physical altercation in which Shemwell wrestled away car keys from the woman. During that altercation, the woman broke three fingernails and injured her middle finger on her right hand.”


This arrest and details of the charges mirrored some of Mr. Shemwell’s past criminal legal problems related to his treatment of women. It was also his second arrest in one year.


Here is Mr. Shemwell's statement to WFAA from the above article:

Shemwell released a statement on Friday to NBC 5 saying "This is yet another example of why I wholeheartedly advocate for criminal justice reform and bail reform. In a country where one should have the presumption of innocence UNLESS proven guilty, it’s clear that this is merely theoretical and not practical, especially for people of color and impoverished communities alike; dealing with a money hungry and racially biased criminal justice system. As far as people being concerned about my smiling in the mugshot picture, would you rather I cower like a hurt dog? Knowing that these are premeditated unmerited attacks from my adversaries, I prefer to hold my head high through all trials and tribulations. I refuse to be yet another broken body, created in a broken criminal justice system. For no weapon formed against me shall prosper. With every arrow shot in my direction I will smile and smile much bigger. In the words of 45, “This is fake news.” Prayers for my children who are old enough to hear and read the rumors and whispers about their father."

It was after this arrest (and Mr. Shemwell's response to the arrest) that people in the city began to seriously consider their options for his removal from office. Many investigated the prospect of a recall.  All found that requirements for signatures to get a recall on the ballot were so high as to prevent the recall of any city council member under nearly any circumstance, now and in the future.

December 18, 2018 – Changing the recall provisions in the city charter were discussed at a city council meeting due to community outrage over his arrest. Read about it here

Here’s the video of the exchange during the discussions at that meeting. Starting at minute 39 to 48:49. These kind of exchanges became more common and more destructive to city council meetings as time went on. 

The revised recall requirements were placed on the ballot in May of 2019. They all passed.

A month later, the charges against Mr. Shemwell were dropped, possibly because the woman did not want to testify against him in a trial. Read about it here and here.

October 15, 2019 – Mr. Shemwell came out with his emergency declaration. Here are the objectionable statements from it:

"WHEREAS, the State of Texas and its local governments have declared war on black and brown citizens by conspiring to kill, injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate, and to willfully deprive citizens of their constitutional rights while acting under the color of law;

WHEREAS, the State of Texas and its local governments harass and prosecute its minority citizens both in daily interactions and as punishment for speaking out against said institutions;"


That city council meeting degenerated into yelling, interrupting, and name calling. A citizen filed an ethics complaint against Mr. Shemwell due to his behavior at the meeting that came to nothing. The mayor was forced to call a recess. Mr. Shemwell continued yelling during the recess. 

November 16, 2019 – The recall petition was submitted to the city secretary. A total of 3083 valid signatures were turned in. District 1 turned in 598 signatures, District 2 turned in 669 signatures, District 3 turned in 909, and District 4 turned in 907 signatures.

COVID postponed the May recall to this election cycle. He has continued to disrupt meetings since then. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Redrawing McKinney's Districts

 

Redrawing our city district boundaries goes hand-in-hand with the 2020 census. The process will begin in the next few months. 

According to Mr. Grimes, the city has hired an outside firm, Bickerstaff-Heath, to work with Mr. Houser (City Attorney) and Ms. Drane (City Secretary). They will be presenting a timetable to city council eventually. Mr. Grimes also said there would be a citizen committee and citizen oversight throughout the process. 


McKinney has four districts with a city council representative for each. There are also two at large council positions and the city mayor position that are responsible for representing all residents.

Here is the map of districts and the demographics of each district in 2010 vs 2020.


Saturday, May 16, 2020

McKinney's Pandemic Budget Planning

We're approaching the city budget season in McKinney for the new fiscal year starting in September. There are more unknows going in this new budget season than we've ever experienced. At this Tuesday's (5/19/20) city council meeting, the citizens are being asked to give some input into the fiscal year 20/21 budget that starts in September (item #20-0415). This, other than the online survey that will open soon, is evidently our only chance for public input before the city puts their vision together for new budget. 

What are citizens supposed to say when we have no idea what the city plans on doing and when we have no idea what additional damage the pandemic will bring?

The city let us know at the last city council meeting that the normal city revenues, like sales tax, fees, and property taxes will be severely impacted. City budgets, much like our own family and business budgets, are about how much money we're projecting to get and what we are going to earmark it for throughout the year (the following slides are from the budget presentation on this week's agenda):




Here are the sales tax projections for the rest of the summer. We have no idea what reactions to the pandemic will do to sales tax projections for the rest of 2020 or first half of 2021:



















Here are the preliminary property tax revenue projections for the new year:


We will be getting some state and federal relief. Most of that will be going directly to residents and businesses impacted by the lockdowns. During the lockdowns, the city furloughed the many city employees who worked at the Apex, the community centers, and some from the parks department. What should this next year look like for hiring or furloughing city employees? Are pay cuts out of the question in some departments?

Should the city and city council put grand plans on hold, like the new city hall project, like the dream of a park bridge/highway 5 tunnel to connect west downtown to east downtown, airport expansion plans, etc? What if the city asked for a property tax increase to offset the lost revenue so they could continue those plans? What would you be in support of?

Here are a few things to think about for your email or phone comments for the budget public hearing at the meeting on Tuesday:



  • Budget cuts do not have to mean any reductions to police and fire. Some cities have been known to threaten that budget cuts mean police and fire cuts. Don't fall for it.
  • In 2010, our city decided to create two tax reinvestment zones (TIRZ). The general fund gets a small set amount of money every year from the downtown area in TIRZ#1 and the rest is kept in a special fund to be spent on projects the TIRZ#1 board (made up of City Council and a few others) decides on. There is currently about $9M sitting in the downtown TIRZ#1. It is well within the rules of a TIRZ to dissolve completely or to change the project plans. This might be the right time to rethink the utility of reinvestment zones.
  • Is it time to consider zero based budgeting? Here's some information on it:

https://www.anaplan.com/blog/zbb-zero-based-budgeting-guide/

Can't think of what to email? Think about what you'll be saying to yourself, your employees, and/or your family the rest of this year. How can that be applied to your comments about the city budget?


Here's the info from the agenda about emails on this agenda item #20-0415, citizen input on FY 20/21 budget:

Public Comments regarding agenda items, including Public Hearings, may be submitted by
email to City Council at contact-citycouncil@mckinneytexas.org. To be included in the
meeting record, emails regarding agenda items must be received between the time of this

posting and 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

Here's the link to the agenda 


There will also be a work session and a TIRZ #1 meeting set for Tuesday. Be sure to look on legistar for details.