Sent August 20, 2015
Updated March 8, 2016
Dear City Council Members:
I think you made a terrific move Tuesday night (August 18) by changing the McKinney Economic Development Corporation and McKinney Community Development Corporation (MEDC/MCDC) by-laws to place more oversight and control under the City Manager. You are heading in the right direction, and I am very appreciative of this action.
There are some other moves that I request the council to consider in view of your stated commitment to open government and transparency.
The first is to require all MEDC and MCDC meetings to be held in council chambers. The creation and design of the council chambers to convey openness is not by accident. It would convey a willingness for citizens to better understand and question where $20 million is spent each and every year. Even for people not attending the MEDC/MCDC meetings, a trip to pay their utility bill would allow them to see the business of McKinney being conducted and easily step in to listen to the content. It is no secret that being in a separate building, a bank/business building, is less inviting than being inside the seat of government owned by the citizens of McKinney. Please consider moving the MEDC/MCDC meetings to council chambers as soon as possible. Surely you appreciate the distinction of being in city hall versus a bank building several miles away. Or is the location away from city hall by design?
Related, I would ask that have the MEDC/MCDC meetings held in council chambers to be video and audio recorded. The cost should be minimal since the camera and recording system is in place. And anybody giving away $20 million annually can surely afford the incremental cost. This would allow everybody, including the council members themselves, to review a recording of a meeting they could not attend. I place the recording of the MEDC/MCDC meetings on the same level of importance as moving those meetings to the council chambers. Put bluntly, the standards of recording and proper minutes set for the City Council and P&Z Commission are not applied to these two Money Boards.
Again, related, all council meetings, MEDC meetings and MCDC meetings (as well as P&Z and others) are required by the Open Meetings Act to publicly announce a final action, decision, or vote on a matter deliberated in a closed meeting. I’m not an attorney but part of the TML workshop on this subject covers the requirement to explain how councils and boards arrived at a decision – irrespective of a topic in open session or closed session.
An Example: Servergy – The Company Connected to Ken Paxton Investigation
But let’s talk about practical steps that coincide with your pledges to open government and transparency.
I often find it very difficult to understand how the council and boards arrive at their decisions. The original Servergy contract might have been properly done in a closed session when the project was being considered. However, once decided, what was the rationale for the award? That should be a public explanation. Further, are the progress reports on approved projects done in public session or closed session? What would be the justification for a closed session unless you were considering a lawsuit? When Servergy applied for a second $50,000 extension, the decision was made in executive session. Why? When the votes were taken, there is no record of the rationale. In fact, there is no record of any discussion that I can find.
When the council is presented a zoning case by the staff with a staff recommendation, a motion to go with the staff recommendation may not need any additional discussion. The capable staff has provided the background and reasoning. However, if there is no discussion, a motion is made and the vote is 5-2 or 2-5 (for instance), there is an implied obligation (forget the legal obligation) to explain to the public how the body deliberated (a critical missing element) and arrived at the decision. To do otherwise would suggest the body read each others’ minds or met secretly (including a walking quorum) to be in a position to properly vote.
You, Council, Need to Set the Standard
Therefore, I would request that the council do a good job and set the standard for all boards to document their decisions and votes. A good deliberation (facts, findings, conclusions) recorded with votes is the quintessence of open government.
I would like to point out one other sign of a lack of transparency. There is an agenda item on the special meeting called for next Monday night (August 24) when you are to consider appointments to boards and commissions. But as I understand it, the names can come in as late as Monday at noon. And the meeting does not provide for comments on the candidates. Nor is there sufficient time anyway. Why would you claim transparency and then have it so nobody even sees the candidates nor can they make comments before the decision has been made? That’s flat weird!
It is my request that you publicly make available all of the names being considered by the time of the meeting, take any other suggestions for candidates at the meeting the council may suggest, and then close the opportunity for any names to be suggested. THEN do not make a decision until your next meeting so the public can see the list and make comments to you. How could you possibly argue with taking this public disclosure step before appointing even these two boards controlling $20 million per year?
My last request is that you require all candidates for boards and commissions, as well as the sitting boards and commissions, file Financial Disclosure Reports. Surely I don’t have to explain the reason for my request.
Thank you for considering these items.
Lewis F. McLain, Jr.
BTW, It’s March 8, 2016, and I cannot find where you have considered my request to live out your campaign pledges. MEDC/MCDC will be the topic of several of my blogs since I don’t see sufficient scrutiny of $20 million per year you apply to other parts of the budget.