Rumors, Facts & Standard Setters

Introduction

I get a lot of people telling me things here in McKinney. A few would not earn a high credibility award. But most would. However, even the most credible tip has to be treated as a rumor until I can get the facts. Most facts should be discoverable if accurate and complete minutes are taken in meetings of the City Council, Planning & Zoning and the two primary Money Boards – McKinney Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and McKinney Community Development Corporation (MCDC).

If the meetings are videotaped, those recordings help considerably. Even a complete transcript of a meeting is missing something if you can’t see the body language and hear the tone of voice. I once wrote my city council that a particular item they were discussing the night before was revealing. The words coming out of their mouths did not match the expressions on their faces. They were tiptoeing around a subject matter and were trying too hard to say one thing without meaning another. Plus, they were being recorded, which has its good and bad aspects.

Once in an email I called out a particular council member known for his support of a particular developer. He was lazily sitting there assuming a vote for the developer was going his way. Then there were some deep questions and some tones that indicated uncertainty of the merit of the rezoning request by one, then two, then three council members. All of a sudden he sat up straight, scooted closer to the microphone and tried to formulate his thoughts to steer the discussion back for the developer. An exact transcript would have missed the comical body language.

The Weight Given To Rumors

There are times when different weights should be given to rumors. I often hear a “rumor” (my initial classification) from two or more credible sources, often over a period of a few months. Their comments seem independent, and I don’t suspect they are repeating each other’s or a third party’s rumor. I am likely to give a lot of weight to this kind of information even though I need more verification before calling it a fact.

An example is a “rumor” I heard from at least three credible people that the City’s responses to Open Records Requests (ORR) were being filtered by someone. That’s pretty serious and even gets into the realm of tampering with official government documents to my way of thinking. The weight I was giving to that “rumor” jumped 10x when I made one ORR asking for a document I heard existed. It was about an inappropriate urging from an MEDC Board Member to consider selling a piece of property to one of his bank clients. My ORR included a date range. I received about 300 pages of email copies, but the ORR response did not have what I was looking to find. So I asked again if the City was sure about their search. Then I got another 90 pages of emails. Still not there. Finally, I asked my source for the specific date and subject line and amended my ORR. Surprise! I got it. So then I asked the City for the query code for all three searches. I could not see where the first search query did not find the document.

To this day, I want to think the City was honest in its efforts even though they fell on their sword saying they could not explain the missed search. But do you see how one can start giving weight to “rumors” from multiple, credible people when you place a rumor in the context of an actual personal experience?

Perception.

I will be talking a lot about the importance of perception in my blogs. In many professions, we learn as students and then into practice that perception is given the same weight as fact. In public service, perception may even be greater than reality. I will be so bold as to say it doesn’t matter if you are fair and independent if you are not perceived as being so. What do we do about this dilemma? Mainly, we go out of your way to be both fair and independent AND to be perceived as fair and independent.

I mention this now even though my topic is about rumors and facts. These topics are intertwined with related subjects such as perception, ethics, transparency, intellectual honesty and a host of other words that define us as individual and organizations.

Tolerance & Passive Approval

You might be asking yourself why I haven’t taken my concerns to city officials. I have. I have met with the Mayor and Interim City Manager on numerous occasions to discuss many of these topics about which I am writing. I did not like the responses. Many of the responses were excuses for the bad behavior of others. Some were that procedures are now in place to prevent something from happening again. Those are appreciated. Some responses were agreements that things need changed or that they were being addressed privately. I hope so.

But I wonder. The McKinney culture is to be tolerant. At least until faced with a complaint. Some tolerance is expected and necessary. Yet tolerance often ends up setting a low standard. It is always easy to reach a low bar. Tolerance and even non-confrontational demeanor often translate into passive approval. Over time, nobody even knows they are doing something questionable.

The Need for Standard Setters

We are a few short months away from getting a new city manager in McKinney. We are about a year away from getting a new mayor and more new council members. We need some new standard setters. We need leaders who will call out bad behavior and communicate a lack of tolerance for anything less than the highest ethical standards. If leaders lead and set standards, then a code of conduct or a code of ethics in written form is unnecessary. It should exude from the leaders. It should be in their DNA.

It starts with the Mayor. We need a mayor who will not place being friends with everybody ahead of being a leader. I have told both the Mayor and Interim City Manager that I am offended that I’ve got to be the one to spend my time digging into rumors to prove they are facts already known – or should already be known by them. We have some smart people here in McKinney, citizens and those on the Council, Boards and Commissions. I simply don’t understand why they aren’t motivated to change the culture, to raise the standards AND to confront the issues that allow true transparency to thrive? LFM

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