The Best Option for Councilman Shemwell

There’s only one person who has done anything wrong in the Shemwell arrest saga, and it is without doubt that it’s a fact rather opinion as I said in my last blog.

Mr. Shemwell has placed the burden of dealing with this ugly episode on the City Council, which is truly a cowardly thing to do. Next Wednesday night, the Council is going to censure him. The resolution on the agenda is quite blunt and clear, as was Shemwell’s actions.

There are two appropriate actions I see the Councilman taking. The first is to resign before a vote is taken. That would be the honorable thing to do.

But I have a better idea, and one that is consistent with the man everyone supported during the elections – well beyond the voting base of his District.

He should seek redemption.

That decision would be consistent with the man I praised a year ago. That shouldn’t be so hard for a man caught in a blatant lie. The action would pave the path for a true reconciliation between Mr. Shemwell and the public, along with the City Council and Police Department.

But it would have to be more than a decision. It would  have to be genuine, and the burden is on Mr. Shemwell to be convincing.

I cannot imagine a single person not responding well to Mr. Shemwell’s redemptive steps. Steps that include an elocution and allocution of the facts. Yes, we know the facts. But we haven’t heard him speak the facts and ask for forgiveness.

Yes, he needs to ask for forgiveness. From the officer involved. And from the City Council to which he has shrugged his shoulders as he tried to shift the focus on everybody but him.

Even if Mr. Shemwell is censured, this story doesn’t end there in a satisfactory way. His credibility will never be restored. He will be powerless. Oh, he could make noise, but that’s a far cry from being a leader anybody wants to follow.

On the other hand, forgiveness is the completeness of redemption. And I know he will have forgiveness. The restoration means we can all move forward. We can heal, and we can build. I dare say that in no time the memories will be of the redemption, not of the act. The prayers will be of gratefulness from all sides.

But only one man committed an offense here. And only one man can write the proper ending to this story. LFM

Will the Real Councilman Shemwell, Please Resign!

There are some fair, balanced news accounts about the fiasco involving McKinney City Councilman La’ Shadion Shemwell. Short version: Councilman speeds and gets a ticket, which he refuses to sign. Then he gets arrested after repeated requests to sign. Councilman cries racial bias.

But there’s a twist to the story. CAMERA!

Knowing there’s a camera and being cautioned by the mayor not to say more until the video is reviewed, Shemwell keeps flapping his lips about being mistreated. Then he sees the video. His story changes or at least he owns up to his behavior, which he had left out of his first version of this story. But apparently not able to put toothpaste back in the tube, he keeps squeezing. Somehow he weaves a justification into this actions saying he won’t stop speaking truth to power.

Huh? What truth?

I would invite the reader to figure out all by yourself where the truth is.

Here’s what we know. Councilman Shemwell’s version of the truth was clear and unwavering, chocked full of defiance, and then only slightly modified in light of a true video.

But the real story of truth is embedded in this question: what if there had not been a video? Even the most shallow imagination can figure out where Shemwell’s truth was heading. The police officer would have been painted as a full-fledged member of the Gestapo. Perhaps a gun would have been shoved into Mr. Shemwell’s throat.

Hey, when it’s a he said-he said, why not get creative?

But then there’s that damn camera!

I believe the true Mr. Shemwell has been revealed. He’s pretty crafty with his words, and apparently he is still trying to turn this story around as recent as last night. He’s a failure as a spinmeister.

I thought I knew the real Shemwell. See my blog where I had nothing but praises for him.

I think we all know the real Mr. Shemwell now. He is an embarrassment for the City of McKinney and has caused unnecessary damage. If he cared for the City, he would resign and let someone else lead in his place. Someone who acts like the camera is always on, even if it is not. LFM

 

 

Go All In … Dwell … Just For One Hour

I invite you to a reflective experience. This is a church service. It is an hour of prayer and praise for you, no matter who you are. If you are part of this busy world, you need this experience. If you are having a difficult time in your life, personal or career-wise, this is for you. If you need to find some hope on which to cling today, right now, and in the future, this is worth your time.

But I suggest some prep work. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it will make a difference. First, tell the world to leave you alone for an hour. That may be impossible, you say, but make it happen. If you have a set of headphones, then use them.

I’m asking you to go All-In. By that I mean, risk taking the opportunity to simply let a worship service unfold without worrying about the clock or anything to distract you. Don’t judge anything you see or hear until the end. It is important that you listen and watch until the very end. If you are nudged out of your comfort zone, then be patient. This service is about opening up communication channels at all levels of your life. It asks nothing of you except to receive in faith that you are loved.

Dwell. Yes, dwell on every word of the praise hymns. Think about the writers of the words and the tunes as they crafted a message for you. There are many visuals. Soak them up. Let your heart be open. Think about the many musicians and singers you can hear but not see. Think about their motivation to share their gifts with us.

The sanctuary is mostly darkened, but watch for slight movements. It is a holy place with a holy message, but let your private dwelling place be as holy for just an hour.

There are a few other things you can’t see. You can’t see the small section in front and to the side where a leader is signing for the deaf. It is a beautiful sight to watch the rhythm of the hands conveying the message that others are hearing. There’s are always a few people sitting among the deaf who can hear but are practicing their skills at sign language. I wish you could see the signing in the context of the music.

Why am I so insistent that you not only spend an hour listening and watching but also assuring your environment is such that you won’t be disturbed? Because I am guessing you have not spent an hour alone like this in a very long time. And I know that you need these moments. We all do.

We need to think and to pray. We need to make decisions of all types. We are spread too thin, and we’ve made the decision to let that happen in many cases. We feel pulled in all directions, in control one moment, and enmeshed in chaos the next. There is an image we try to project and protect, but this hour is about surrendering all that stuff to just dwell in the moment so we can be refueled and rejuvenated. And most of all to be at peace knowing we bear nothing alone.

If you are a community leader, by far the majority of my readers, then be sure you watch until it’s all over. And then just envision what your community can be if we only … well … communed and prayed together. Imagine a community that knew the events of the world won’t define them but rather that they are influenced by a Higher Power they draw upon with fervor and sincerity.

So, please take me up on my invitation. I communicate with a lot of people I’ve never met face to face. However, I feel a kinship and really care about your well-being. And I trust that you care about mine.

Many Thanks!

Lewis

Should McKinney Refund $29,770,931 to Taxpayers from Excessive Taxation? You Make the Call!

McKinneyFB

Municipal budgets are a compilation of tons of numbers. The focus is usually on Revenues & Expenditures. However, not to be overlooked are the resulting Fund Balances, both the incremental addition or drawdown for any particular year as well as  the cumulative Balances.

Fund Balances should be clearly highlighted in a budget. They should also be viewed in light of the overall expenditures in each fund. There are several “funds” such as the General Fund, The McKinney Economic Development Fund, The McKinney Community Development Fund and the Water & Sewer Fund. The largest is the General Fund where most of the property taxes, sales taxes, franchise taxes and building permit revenues can be found. Also, the Police, Fire, Parks & Recreation Departments and most all typical city tax-supported services can be found in the General Fund.

The McKinney General Fund budget indicates a financial policy desired minimum Fund Balance of 90-days of Expenditures or about 25%. That’s pretty healthy. I also wouldn’t consider a 120-day balance or about 33% to be excessive but rather very healthy.

While the Budget documents are of value, I consider them secondary to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which are the audited financial statements for a government entity. You will note from my table above that I have recapped some key number from the last 10 years of CAFRs for McKinney. These CAFRs are available at this link. The pages from the CAFRs I am using to compile my table can be found here.

To summarize my table and the CAFR schedules behind it, the City of McKinney has continually under-budgeted Revenues and over-budgeted Expenditures. Sure, there will be a variation out of a 10-year view, but the story is unmistakable.

The supporting schedules also show the changes between the Original Budget, the Revised Budget and the Actual Results. The Revised Budget figures are often shown late in the year about the time the Budget is presented to the City Council. That would be right about now as the City Council Budget Workshop is scheduled for tomorrow August 4th, when there are less then 60 days remaining in the Fiscal Year (October through September).

I would like to think that such a sophisticated staff as McKinney has, with all kinds of software and computing power to slice and dice the financial data, tailor queries and such, could stand flat-footed in August and get a very close estimate of the year-end actual numbers a few weeks away.

As you can see, the Actual results show the General Fund Balances to be well in excess of 120 days or 33% year after year for a decade. As of the end of September 30, 2016, the Fund Balance in the audited financial statements totals $65,606,029. When compared to Expenditures of $108,998,422, the metrics are 220 days or 60.19%.

If you compared to 120-days, the excess would be $29,770,931!

So, what could be done or should be done with that excessive amount? First, you would have to convince the City Manager that it is excessive, because he argues just the opposite. Actually, all you have to do is convince the City Council, the policy makers who adopted at the staff’s recommendation for a General Fund Balance level of 25% at a minimum.

Ah, nobody said anything about a maximum!

Would the City be in dire straits if the Property Tax Revenues had been $29 million less in recent years? Hardly. But you make the call. I want to see somebody stand up and tell me that $25-35 million at 120-days is too skinny.

Could the $29 million have been spent to buy 2-3 downtown garages out of cash and the City still be in sound financial condition? Yes. Or the same spent on a new city hall or on any kind of infrastructure needs? Yes.

Could or should the $29 million be returned to the Taxpayer since the rates could have much much lower in recent years and the City still be fiscal responsible? I think so, but you make the call. The $29 million excess got there because of unneeded taxation, pure and simple.

Has a refund like this ever been done before in the region? Yes, Farmers Branch did so many years back. They called it a dividend to the taxpayers.

Does the City have excessive reserves in other Funds? Yes, download the most recent CAFR and take a look. You will be blown away.

Did the City Council sitting in early 2017 when the FY 2016 CAFR was presented to them and accepted by the Council understand the General Fund had a $65 million balance? Dunno. Ask the three still on board or call up the four still active in the community. What about the current Council members? Dunno either. Ask them.

What is the staff projecting for the contribution to the General Fund Balance (or drawdown) going to be as of the end of the fiscal year in 60 days? I’m told a decrease of $381,105. And for FY 2018? I’m told it will be zero, that Revenues and Expenditures will be exactly the same.

We shall see.

Will Fund Balances even be discussed at tomorrow’s Budget Workshop?

Tune in.

LFM

 

 

A Few Governance Wishes on July 4th

It was only a couple of months ago that I had high hopes of there being a big turn in political leadership in McKinney. Then it happened in grand style. A corner was turned and now the road ahead looks promising. I’m not expecting 7-0 votes on every issue by any means. But I see possibilities for new unities that serve the good of McKinney. That wish of mine is happening – yet to fully unfold, but the formation is visible and tangible. And it is beautiful!

I only wish that the Citizens of McKinney would wake up and get active to assure a more balanced, reasonable and business-like approach to politics and governance for the long-term. For political extremists like the Tea-Party to control or unduly influence city politics is flat wrong. Unlike County, State and Federal government, most of the municipal services are here because the Citizens asked for them. We want safe neighborhoods, recreation, parks, libraries and senior programs. We are here for a Quality of Life to meet our needs in the Maslow sense.

A reasonable person knows those things we want and asked for do not come free. We have a right to ask for these services, and the municipal government has a duty to provide them as efficiently as possible – and to require a reasonable payment for those services. That’s why we became a Home-Rule City about 155,000 citizens ago.

It is easy to count off the obvious services that are mostly paid for by property and sales taxes: Fire, Police, EMS, Parks, Recreation, Libraries, Streets & Lighting, Median Maintenance and Property Code Enforcement. There are many, many more services that you would notice only if they stopped being provided.

Based on an average house value in McKinney of $319,000, before exemptions, and current tax rate of $0.573, the tax bill would be $1,827.87. That equates to $5.01 per day per household. Yes, I know all about how to make things look small by dividing by the greatest denominator or look really huge by multiply the tax bill by 10 or 20 years.

But look, this is reasonable arithmetic. We are getting all of these services and paying property taxes equal to a venti Frappachino at Starbucks! Dear Citizen, you have been sucked into the vortex of Tea-Party hate-mongering by unthinking reaction to taxes. They are the cost of providing largely 24×7 protection of life and property in McKinney.

Do I think the taxes are too high? While reasonable, I am 100% positive they could be lowered and should be for the next fiscal year beginning October 2017 and ending September 2018. However, the full answer is too elaborate for this blog. I will be blogging more on this after July 25 when the property values are certified by the appraisal district followed by the obligatory publishing of the Truth-In-Taxation rates two weeks later.

I can talk about lowering taxes and even raising taxes when necessary without my blood pressure going up or down. So long as we are able to keep a perspective!

Since this is My Wish List blog, my point here is that I simply wish elected officials and citizens would do a little homework and keep things in perspective rather than being blindly persuaded to buy into the Tea-Party rhetoric. You are being deceived in the worst way.

For those of you elected largely because you had to subscribe to the Tea-Party propaganda to get elected, I wish you would simply think for yourselves. It is obvious when you are being sent text messages on the questions to ask. Or when your vote doesn’t match the expression on your face.

Collin County

I believe the same hysteria applies to Collin County politics. You can be conservative and still be responsible. County government is a little different. They deal mostly with the ugly services. That is the phrase I have used since the 1970s when I worked for county government for a couple of years. I actually love county government. They deal with the criminal justice system, mental health and other services that fulfill the State’s obligation. They are the chief administrative arm of the State. Who steps up to bury or cremate the dead pauper nobody will claim? That would be Collin County.

With the average Collin County home value being $339,000 and a tax rate of $0.208395, the annual tax bill (before exemptions) would be $706.46 or $1.94 per household per day. So, it is appalling to me when Collin County won’t pay their bills instead of protecting the Tea-Party Darling, AG Ken Paxton. C’mon, County Judge Keith Obvious and Commissioner Chris Oblivious. Get real. Actually, Get out! A robot can be programmed to say NO!

I wish for a Commissioners’ Court that would simply be realistic and honest rather than being puppets for the Tea-Party. I wish for a Court that would be more of a regional participant. I wish for low taxes but not at the expense of deferral in needed spending or to siphon off of Dallas County for indigent health care while recklessly blaming them for stepping up to the responsibilities Collin County shuns.

I wish for Commissioner Court leadership that engenders a more collaborative relationship with Collin County cities. Collin County is not an island within the region and the Commissioners’ Court is not an island within the county itself.

Our future is too important for Tea-Party control to annihilate basic good business decisions that affect everyone over the next several decades. I believe the Tea-Party to be the essence of evil motives without regard to reality.

Please, Dear Citizens. Get educated. Get involved. Help Collin County find a balance that is fair and reasonable. Put the people in front of and above politics. We have a chance to make this great county become even greater. Elect collaborators and communicators who can think for themselves and make informed decisions on their own. LFM

 

The Next Improvement Step in McKinney Governance

I have high expectations for McKinney with the new City Council members now seated. However, the improvement steps won’t be nearly complete until there are a few new faces on some of the Boards & Commissions. And a few recommitments. I trust that some changes are about to be made.

This is not a new gripe for me. I have blogged about some members of the McKinney Economic Development Board and the Board of Adjustment in the past. What we don’t need is anybody on McKinney Boards & Commissions that melt into sheep-boards like they have at McKinney ISD. We don’t need people looking after their friends or are self-serving.

My suggestions to consider before appointing/re-appointing the current slate of Boards & Commissions:

  • Are you truly independent and willing to serve the entirety of McKinney with considerations for the citizens today and in the future?
  • Can you commit to doing your homework before meetings AND faithfully attending meetings?
  • Are you wanting to serve on this board solely as a stepping stone to run for City Council in the future?
  • Is there anybody in McKinney for whom you fear consequences if they don’t like your comments, recommendations or vote?
  • Do you have the ability to say NO when your conscious tells you the deal in front of you is not wise or in the best interest for McKinney?
  • Do you understand the Council-Manager form of government?
  • Do you understand the Open Meetings & Open Records Laws and are willing to abide AND to call out your colleagues when you know a violation is taking place?
  • Do you have a strong personal code of conduct irrespective of any written Code that might include many or all of the items many Codes as in this example?
  • Related, is your nature to raise the bar or let others around you to set your standards?
  • Do you have the ability to ask good questions that are necessary to evaluate an issue and be equipped to make an informed decision?

A list of the current Boards & Commissions can be found here.

If you are teachable and diligent as a student of government, and are of good character and can give an affirmative response to the questions above, please apply. You are greatly needed, and you can be an integral part of improving McKinney to be the most balanced community that can be found. I’m just a citizen blogger with 44 years of experience in municipal government. But I will do anything within my power to make you successful. LFM

I Got My Answer On The McKinney MUDs

The question was posed in a previous blog.  Who is monitoring McKinney Utility Districts? Exactly one year later I got my answer. I knew the City Council and Staff weren’t asking the right questions when they entered into a consent agreement in 2012. That decison set a bond issuance cap of well over $200 million on a relatively small parcel of land in Trinity Falls that put them into the big-league of indebtness. Last Monday night Trinity Falls came back to the Council asking for the debt ceiling to be raised to $318 million!

Bad decision. Bad timing. Bad presentation.

Four new Council members are now asking questions. Good questions. The right questions. Common sense questions. If you have $262 million authorized and you’ve only issued $38 million, what’s the rush? And, by the way, let’s better understand who allowed this beast and why?

If you want to see my nominiation for the Presentations Gone Bad Award, see the video of last Monday night’s meeting at http://mckinney.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=5&clip_id=3930 at the 1:39:13 mark. First, note the rate of speed in which the speaker is talking. It’s close to those disclosures at the end of ads on TV or radio.

It might also be a tip-off to the validity of this request.

Note first that he says the MUD is not in the City limits of McKinney. That’s a true statement, but stick it in your back pocket for a minute. We will come back to this little jewel.

Note that there is mention of 5,000 rooftops, but the speaker can’t answer a basic question about the amount of expected commerical property. And the 4-5 suits sitting behind me failed to come to his rescue. But I can attest they were squirming.

Then wait for the slow-motion train wreck when the Mayor starts reading an excerpt from a letter written by a homeowner inside the MUD.

Oh, it gets worse. The Council starts playing tag team with simple questions. Questions like where does the MUD board post notices of their meetings? Well, they are posted at the Collin County Courthouse. Yep, you heard correctly. In case you don’t know, you don’t go by the Courthouse on your way to get a loaf of bread. It’s a destination trip, but not in the vacation sense.

Where are the meeting held? At the MUD engineers’ offices in Frisco. FRISCO??? Strangely, there is no place to have a meeting in Trinity Falls. They don’t have a community center, and they don’t have the money to build one. Wrong answer to a Council being asked to bump a debt ceiling from a gigantic $262 million to an interglactical $318 million.

Then comes the biggest goof of the night. The Trinity Falls representative was asked about why notices were not posted online? The response was that the MUD did not have a Web site. And then he turned into a lawyer and started giving reasons why a Web site invoked all kinds of burdens. However, assurances were given that a Web site would be available sometime in the future.

May we take a break here and ask that you go to http://www.trinityfalls.com? Dang if there isn’t a Web site! It appears to be fairly mature. None of those “under construction” icons.

Whoa! Look at this on the front page: “Trinity Falls is a 1,700-acre master planned community in McKinney, Texas.

Now reach back in your hip pocket where you saved that earlier comment from the speaker, the correct one.

Trinity Falls is not in the City limits, but it is being marketed as if it is. No wonder people living there are confused.

As a side note, look at their monthly newsletters. I checked a few, and I don’t see any notices about Board meetings, agendas or minutes. I did find a huge splash encouraging residents to check out the shopping in Plano. How interesting. Could you please come begging to catapult a debt ceiling from the McKinney City Council and then promote shopping in another City!

Do you see anything wrong with this picture?

What I do see is that the New Council is not going to be the Rubber Stampers of old. Trinity Falls was told the item would be continued at the regular Council meeting on Tuesday, the next night. I watched that meeting and the item was pulled from the agenda by Trinity Falls. “Indefinitely.”

As is Wooden-Stake Indefinitely? We shall see.

And I am guessing that whether Trinity Falls comes back or not has no bearing on this Council’s desire to dig deeply into MUDs. The inquiry isn’t over. It’s just getting started.

What is of great importance is that Trinity Falls residents don’t have a vote in McKinney. But they do have a voice now. LFM