Thanks for Throwing McKinney Under the Bus, Shemwell – Now Resign!

Mr. Shemwell has already shown us who he really is. I started off wishing him well. Then he abandoned the stature of his position. Finally, I came to this conclusion.

Here’s the deal. This man has gotten out of his lane this time. He should know that when an elected official goes out of his territory, he or she carries the City of McKinney’s title as Councilman with him. But he certainly doesn’t try to hide it here. Unfortunately, he uses the opportunity to trash the City of McKinney.

As he should know, NOTHING irritates a city more than someone from another city coming in to tell them what they should do. Cardinal Sin, Mr. Shemwell. Think about your own personal reaction if Dallas decided it could run McKinney better than the governing body of which you are currently a part of.

Resign, Shemwell! Please do the City of McKinney a favor and take your words and demeanor to another city as a private citizen. McKinney deserves better, and I feel quite confident there are a dozen qualified individuals who can represent McKinney in general and specifically your district! Responsible citizens who look like you on the outside but have a different compass inside.

If you won’t resign, then you are going to cost the City money to recall you. Perhaps you will consider it a badge of honor to be recalled. As you have displayed your logic in a statement or comment in the past, I’m sure you will find a way to turn a recall into ill treatment or some other self-serving interpretation.

However, the Citizens of McKinney have you sized up now, and you stand revealed and repugnant. Be gone! LFM

McKinney Council Member, a Black Lives Matter Activist, Brings the Fight to Dallas City Hall

The Dallas Observer

Lucas Manfield | October 11, 2019 | 4:00am

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The activist who confronted Chief U. Renee Hall at the heated police oversight board meeting on Tuesday at Dallas City Hall doesn’t live in the city. He’s McKinney City Council member La’Shadion Shemwell, a barber and activist who was voted into office in 2017 following the McKinney pool party incident that exposed racial tensions in the rapidly growing city.

Since then, Shemwell has been working to reform police oversight in Dallas. “I don’t think that my responsibilities are solely in McKinney. I think we’re responsible to bring about change across this country,” Shemwell said.  Activism in the region centers on Dallas, and the impact “trickles down” to its suburbs, he added.

Shemwell said he was “shocked and surprised” there was going to be no period for public comment the night of the board meeting. He had on a blue McKinney shirt at the time, but after being called names by the crowd, he “went into activist mode” and changed into a red T-shirt referencing Amber Guyger’s trial for murdering her black neighbor.

Hall initially tried to kick him and other activists out of the room. Shemwell, meanwhile, attempted to inform her that, thanks to recent Texas legislation, the public had a legal right to a comment period. “I was showing her the actual law on my phone,” he said. “(W)hen your officers have temper tantrums in the street, they usually end in death.” — La’Shadion Shemwell

Hall later apologized, but Shemwell doubts its sincerity and doesn’t think she deserves credit for her handling of the situation, though the meeting shortly resumed and continued without incident.

“It’s convenient that you’re able to apologize after your temper tantrum. However, when your officers have temper tantrums in the street, they usually end in death,” he said.

In 2015, a white McKinney police officer pulled a gun on a group of high schoolers and violently restrained a black 15-year-old girl at a neighborhood pool. A video of the incident posted to YouTube went viral and generated nationwide outrage.

Shemwell was one of the first on the scene, according to a biography posted on the McKinney city website, which describes his path from a childhood in Los Angeles marked by homelessness to community organizer to policymaker.

Since taking office, he’s embraced the dual role of activist and politician. “Sometimes it’s a gift and a curse. A lot of the times I feel like I’m behind enemy lines,” he said.

He’s the only black member of McKinney’s seven-member council. Nearly a third of the city is black or Hispanic.

Because of this, he says he has had to accept small victories. The city recently installed water fountains in parks on the east side of town, where much of the city’s minority community lives. Parks in the richer areas, he noted, already had water bowls for dogs.

He’s also fought for better public transit and services for children and the elderly.

But his city job pays only $200 a month, a situation, he argues, that deters low-income people from seeking office. He still cuts hair out of his McKinney barbershop.

Shemwell’s confrontation with Hall was not his first clash with police. When he first met the McKinney chief of police, he told him he was going to petition online for his removal.

In 2018, he was pulled over for speeding and arrested when he refused to sign the citation, accusing the officer of pulling him over not for speeding but for being black. Shemwell later apologized for the incident. He said he did not believe the officer was racist but was “upholding a racist system.”

Also last year, the McKinney council contemplated easing the path for recalling its members after Shemwell was arrested for the alleged assault of an ex-girlfriend. A grand jury later refused to indict him.

He was also found guilty of assault in 2007 and kidnapping in 2009, again involving violence toward women.

Shemwell said his constituents knew his past when they voted him in. “It makes me somebody that’s imperfect, and that’s OK,” he said, and his experiences in the criminal justice system have informed his activism.

He’s worried by what he saw in the meeting Tuesday, where police officers walked committee members through a PowerPoint presentation outlining their responsibilities. “This is not a police board. This is not a liaison. This is not a partnership. This is an oversight board that should be independent,” he said.

The city needs a board, he said, that represents the people and not the police. “We will continue to show up until we see that happen,” he said.

Lucas Manfield is an editorial fellow at the Observer. He’s a former software developer and a recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School.

The Professional Tea Party Distortionists Keep on Distorting!

Well, only one person took me up on my offer! It was for a school district. I started off thinking there was a discovery to be made that would be at odds with my expectations, but that was not the case.

Meanwhile, the Tea Party churned out a handful of distorted articles this week such as this one about Tarrant County. The headline reads “Tarrant County Proposes 9 Percent Tax Hike” while the sub-header reads “Tarrant County Commissioner’s proposed property tax rate would raise their average property tax bill 35 percent from just five years ago.”

Don’t miss the picture of the fat hog in the story. How elegant. And inflammatory. And intellectually dishonest. I can just hear the Tea Party Faithful slobbering a joyful yelp of approval. We now know where carnival barkers go when they retire.

Then comes their aha moment. The Average Tax Bill has gone from $348.38 to $512.11 as the Average Taxable Single Family Value has grown from $131,962 to $218,850 in 2019. Woo-hoo! Isn’t that criminal?

Wait a minute! Let’s be fair. I don’t work for Tarrant County nor do I know anybody in government there as far as I know. I just want to look at facts and encourage you to do the same. Here’s my take from the table below. Most of the data is from the statistical section of their FY 2018 CAFR.

Population drives everything! I see that Tarrant County’s population has grown from 1,807,750 to 2,057,926 from FY 2009-2018. That’s 250,176 more people to serve. That’s huge by any yardstick you want to use. But instead of showing off with the total 13.84% like the Tea Party is prone to do, the Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 1.45% is a more fair way to provide a perspective.

Personal Income (2018 values weren’t available) shows an increase of 2.98%, over double the population growth. That’s good. Bond rating agencies look for both ability to pay and willingness to pay. Only the Tea Party could take a healthy financial statistic and turn it into a demonic story. And few even know or acknowledge that the voters are very important, but so are the invisible bondholders (you really don’t want them to become visible!) that have invested over $300 million in TC bonds and over $9 billion for all local government entities in TC.

The Tax Base has grown by 3.61% and the Tax Rate has decreased, but the most important number is the combination of the two, the Tax Levy. That metric has grown at 2.56%. Given that the CPI has grown at 1.75%, the 2.56% appears fairly reasonable. More on that later.

TC has grown from 4,209 employees to 4,385 for the period I’m analyzing. Even in total numbers, that seems reasonable, but it will look even better when put in the proper perspective as I will do shortly.

Total spending (“Tax & Spend, Tax & Spend” in Tea Party jargon), rose from $524,959,000.00 to $640,685,000.00 (add the pennies to make it look scarier) boils down to a CAGR of 2.23%. Again, when adjusted for CPI of 1.75%, what is your conclusion? If you want to be fair.

Now let’s hone in on some of these key metrics when placed on a per 1,000 population basis. The Tax Levy has grown at a CAGR of 1.10%. The number of employees have actually dropped from 2.328 to 2.131. Imagine that! The total expenses have only risen by 0.77%, which means it has actually declined when adjusted for CPI.

I don’t see a single mention of any of these facts in the Tea Party story. It’s being portrayed as journalism. Yeah, I know. Just wanted to get a laugh out of you.

TC2

Oh wait, you thought I had forgotten about those outrageous Average Home Values. No way.

That statistic has risen by 54.25% or 4.93% CAGR. Big? Yes. Distorted? Yes, too. Let me explain why.

While CPI averages 1.75%, the more appropriate construction index is significantly higher at 2.41% annually. But that’s only part of the story.

What isn’t shown is the average size of the single family home. I don’t know that square footage number, but I do know that it has grown over the years.

But the bigger untold story is that these numbers tend to grow because new homes are being added to an existing base. I’m pretty sure that the average TC single family home was built somewhere in the 1970s or early 1980s at best. Yes, this makes the existing homes more valuable, but not to the level of new construction.

In other words, the more TC grows, the more the average single family home value is going to grow since each year adds then-current values to an older base. Look far enough into the future, and you will conclude that the average home will be $300,000 before long, and then $400,000.

And with the North Texas Area growing by 1,000,000 people every 7-8 years, the Tea Party, unable to grasp big numbers as anything other than bad, will have a field day. It’s kind of sad when incendiary statements can be fabricated from nothing more than the size of numbers that may be difficult to place into perspective.

Most people would view that increasing value as good. But the Tea Party makes it look as bad as they possibly can, completely ignorant to natural (and desired) growth in value. I don’t hear anybody complaining that they bought a house at $50,000 some time ago, and now it can be sold for $150,000.

Conclusion

The Tea Party is capitalizing on fear and distorted numbers that make them lock into a “gotcha” mode to inflame their followers. They are doing a disservice to society. They take no responsibility for having any other value in life. Cloaked in self-righteous patriotic armor, they are misleading the public as they validate their purpose by misrepresenting the perspective that more responsible government officials know is simply wrong.

I’ll renew my offer to the Tea Party. Let’s sit down and deal with all the facts with the goal of telling the most accurate and complete story possible. You claim to be all about transparency while demonstrating an obvious opaqueness. I’m calling you out and hope others will do the same. LFM

The Tea Party Distortionists & An Invitation to Same

It occurred to me the other day that the Tea Party carries no responsibility for providing services to citizens. The only thing they do is distort and inflame.

City Councils get elected to serve the wishes of citizens. They look around. They listen to citizens on phone calls, at the grocery store and at council meetings.

The Tea Party caters to whiners and moaners – most of which make use of city services but don’t want to pay for the services they use or are provided for their use.

Local governments evaluate needs and wants of the citizens plus they have to prioritize to fit with the means of the budget as resources are never sufficient to do everything. They make decisions based on their best knowledge and skills, always within a sense of fairness across generations, geography and social strata.

The Tea Party could care less about the citizens. They have no interest in listening unless it’s someone wanting to complain about paying for services. They only want to step in to play Whack-a-Mole.

It’s easy to destroy rather than to build. It’s easier to lob a grenade than it is to enter into an honest dialogue.

City Council and staffs make great efforts to tell the municipal story accurately and fairly.

The Tea Party consists of Quintessential Distortionists.

Let me provide an example:

Tea Party: “OMG, look at this wasteful spending. The General Fund has doubled in just the last 10 years!”

Local Government: “Yes, but the population has gone up 78% and Inflation has increased to make up 20% of that change. The 2% difference is mostly due to

  • New or expanded programs requested by the citizens and blessed by the council,
  •  Unfunded mandates.
  •  Big-ticket items such as public safety body cameras and similar things approved by the council.
  • Things that didn’t exist 10 years ago, such as investments in IT security to address ransomware attacks.

An Open Invitation to Tea Party Distortionists

Let’s make a deal. How about you and I sit down and analyze a city of your choice. I hope it is one I know little or nothing about so we will be on level ground or maybe I will be disadvantaged.

We will be civil and look only at the facts. You will allow me to analyze historical data through the adopted FY 2020 year budget. We will use audited financial data from FY 2018 backward.

We will both discover, at the same time, the number of employees, the property tax revenues and the total General Fund expenditures that have been when adjusted for population and inflation.

If we cannot tell from public documents, we will then ask city management about any anomalies or jumps or drops to explain what may appear to be deviations from trends. For instance, if there has been the opening of a fire station or recreation center during the study period, we will have an answer to better understand the data.

In addition, and in the same spirit, we will ask the city officials to tell us how growth over a decade came about? How did programs get added or expanded? Who asked for them to be included in the budget, and why did the elected official say yes?

Were any of the budget additions in the past decade due to unfunded mandates? Do you know what those are and how they were imposed on local governments?

Then I will ask you to tell me what part of the budget growth you find wasteful or not of your liking. What part of the city services would you cut? It is unfair for you to blob me or the city with no more than a judgment on the dollar increase over a period of time. We can’t easily respond to blobs. Help us by specifically pointing to the underlying element(s) of your complaint.

Do you attend council meetings, and especially workshops, to learn about the evolution of city services? Tell me how you gain insights that enable you to make statements or draw conclusions about budget growth. That sounds like a critical statement, and I don’t mean for it to be so. I’m simply wanting to understand how you evaluate what a city needs or wants and how you arrive at findings and conclusions.

That is, if you will agree to enter into a dialogue with me so that we can arrive at a reasonable position.

BTW, do you even live in the city for which you are criticizing or making a judgement?

LFM

 

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This

The Governor, Lt Governor and House Speaker have had a change of heart. They met for a long prayer meeting. It was unclear who initiated the meeting. They came away feeling remorseful about the limitations they imposed on local governments.

In a sense of fairness, they announced their main legislative priorities for the next session:

  • They will cap the basis upon which state severance taxes on oil are computed. They will “rollback” with a cap of only $30 per barrel.
  • They will eliminate the state’s sales taxes on boats and motor vehicles.
  • They will cap their own salaries to 2010 levels with increases capped at 1/10 of the CPI.
  • They will forbid the use of state airplanes with travel limited to commercial coach only.
  • The Governor will only have one security guard, saying public safety is no longer a priority for him.
  • The Governor’s mansion will be sold; however, a small stipend for an apartment will be allowed.
  • The Trio will apologize to the City of Austin for everything bad ever said about the City. Unprecedented cooperation will be the order of the day.
  • The Trio pledges to cover previously unfunded mandates going back for at least 10 years, and will forbid same in the future.
  • All future state congressional hearings will be conducted by a panel of fair judges who will be required by law to listen to the testimony of local officials, professionally evaluated and presented to the Legislature.
  • State incentive money for companies already coming to Texas will be removed from the state budget and given to existing companies that have been productive and faithful contributors in the past.

The announcement of these new sentiments will be at a meeting hosted by the Trio in conjunction with a goodwill gesture embracing the Texas Municipal League and singing kumbaya. The theme will be “Local Government Appreciation Day – We Want To Be Responsible Like You.” LFM

The Whack-a-Mole Citizen

Imagine a Whack-a-Mole game with the sides removed so you can see the innards. Oh, I know the connotation of a mole, but hang with me for a minute, please.

This is the image I get when I read or see yet another story of the right and self-righteous folks appearing before the City Councils with only one mission in life: to not pay.

The Whackers don’t really have any interest in looking at the workings of government. It would be completely against their nature to listen to citizen requests for services. They don’t have the guts to be there to shout down an elderly citizen asking for their sidewalks to be fixed. They could care less about the wishes of the youth sports representatives wanting more ballfields and for them to be maintained properly.

Nope! Not in their DNA. What they want to do is stand above the responsibilities of governance and simply take the mallet to crack the noggins of the elected body and staff wanting to deal with the most basic of questions. How are we going to pay for all the things our citizens want?

Do you think these things come free? Answer: Whack!

Are you listening to what I am asking? Whack!

Do you have any sense of fairness about you? Whack! Whack!

Would you consider sitting on this side of our jobs and … Whack! Whack!

Are you a robot? Whack!

Have you ever been responsible for running any kind of business? Whack!

Is it your plan to do anything other than wield a mallet? Whack!

Have you ever asked the city to fix a problem?

Have you ever needed the police, fire or EMS?

Do you children participate in any of our recreation programs?

You’re being awfully silent. Are you reconsidering your position? Whack! Whack!

I see.

LFM

 

Putting Opioids in Perspective

It is imperative that you read the recent story published by the Washington Post. Actually, it is just one of a dozen stories I’ve read in a period of a few weeks. Therefore, I know that opioid abuse is rapidly moving to the forefront as it should. But I’m really burdened by this story. Why? Because of a number. The metric is 5,432,109,644.

What’s that mean? In our society, we see big numbers all the time. In fact, I’m convinced that we don’t grasp the magnitude of the difference between millions and billions any longer. And in many cases we have become numb to what trillions translate to.

There were 5,432,109,644 opioid pills sold between 2006 and 2012. Wow! That’s a big number for the U.S., right? No, no, no! That’s in Texas alone!

It is interesting that the Washington Post had to sue the Drug & Enforcement Agency (DEA) to get the data. And there is still another lawsuit to get more recent data. That’s simply amazing.

Tell Me More

These ugly Texas numbers totaled 602,064,872 for 2006. They climbed to 870,722,919 in 2012 for a compounded annual rate of 6.34%, about 3x the population growth.

Whenever you want numbers to look big, you add up several years. When you want them to look small, you divide by a big denominator. Okay, let’s do that. This billion-pill number equals about 53.75 pills per year for every Texan 18 years and older. Let that sink in for a minute. Do you consider that small?

Gee, Lewis, I’m sure glad you aren’t going to put the spotlight on individual cities!

Oh, but I am. It’s in the database. By city and even right down to the pharmacy or doc buying them from the suppliers.

I lied. I’m not going to show you. Why? Because you will look to see if you are better than average and gleam to know other cities are worse. Or else you will try to make up excuses or even find flaws in the data interpretation. I’ve already done that. Many cities don’t have pharmacies in their towns, making them go to an adjacent city. Interestingly, many of the pills go to veterinarians.

As you can guess, the total number of pills by city is somewhat correlated to the population. But the pills per capita for those over 18 does vary significantly. You will be gravely alarmed by some of the high numbers.

You are welcome to download the database. It’s got 12,108,468 records just for Texas. It won’t fit into Excel. Your IT folks can help you get it downloaded and summarized.

Example: My City

I live in McKinney. The total opioid pills purchased from 2006-2012 were 28,711,325! I almost choked when I saw that number. We are below average on a per capita basis, but that’s nothing we can really brag about. I don’t see a city in Texas that has any boasting rights. Rather, we have everything to fear about the threatening stories embedded in these numbers. We could talk to our school officials, hospitals, social services, police and EMS departments to discover exactly how 28.7 million opioid pills in McKinney translated into headaches, heartaches and costs.

What Are Today’s Counts?

Now, you’re getting my concern. If Texas accounts for 5.4 billion opioid pills in 2006-2012, what do those numbers look like for 2013-now? I have a guess based on the past trends plus population growth, but enough with the numbers. If 5.4 billion won’t get your attention, then you will also be numb when (not if) we go beyond double-digit billions.

Hmmm! Is that why the DEA doesn’t want to release more recent data?

Recommendation

There seems to be plenty of talk, talk, talk. And fortunately, the situation is so deeply into the critical stage that “epidemic” won’t capture the scale. It’s a pandemic. I’m guessing opioids have touched everybody reading this blog. They scare me to death.

How many of your employees are struggling with opioid addiction? Find out! Offer an employee assistance program.

Are there other implications? A prominent Texas City Manager got involved in taking a $25,000 land advisory fee years ago that ended his municipal career. Why did he do this? The answer was he needed to help his brother who had gotten addicted to opioids.

For every story I might have, I bet you have 5-10 or more. Strained relationships. Loss of productivity. Life-threatening situations. They are all around us. Let’s act now. LFM

 

 

Why Should I Apologize for Serving the Citizens’ Needs & Desires?

Every citizen is going to have to put themselves in the shoes of their LOCAL elected governing bodies. Here’s the deal as I slip into those combat boots:

“Dear Citizen:

I was elected to listen to your needs and to your wants. You come before this governing body asking for things at every council meeting. We evaluate those requests. We know about most of them because we walk and drive the community. We attend luncheons and all kinds of meetings. We talk to you on the phone. We ask you for advice, such as priorities and urgency. We can’t do everything you ask, but we would if we could. We try our best.

We know that you are intelligent and don’t truly think for a minute that there is a free lunch. We’d give services and utilities away for free if that were possible, but no responsible person would ever entertain that foolish notion. None of us are fools. And name one service we provide that was dreamed up only by local elected officials. Just about everything we do is because 1) you asked for it; or 2) because the state or federal government imposed it on us.

Now comes state government that thinks they know you better than we do. But wait. I’m not going down that road. To bash the Lege and the Gov is not constructive. You know what? Let’s just deal with what we are handed. You, the citizens, and we, the council. Don’t make any mistake about it. We’ve been handcuffed by the state without regard to our pledge to serve you.

And here’s a glimpse of the future. It is highly likely that we may have to hold an election every year for you to approve to pay what you have asked for us to provide. Representative government has been partially tossed out the window. That’s okay. We will put your wants and needs into the budget, but you will likely have to give direct approval as a separate step.

That’s the deal now. Let’s be honest. Holding an election each year is not all that expensive in the grand scheme of things. It’s simply a nuisance and will cause fatigue. Gird up! We didn’t ask for this, but it’s the law of the land. And we will follow the law.

We hope that part of the election routine will be coupled so that capital project approval will be married to the cost of operations. That has actually always been implied. You don’t expect us or anyone else to build a fire station, recreation center, ball fields or swimming pools and then expect the staffing, equipment and programming that goes inside to not cost something, right?

Did you know that the Operating & Mainteance costs, at least over time, are about 2-pennies for every 1-penny of the O&M tax rate? If permitted, we will start including this dual-approval on the ballots: “Approval for $____________ in Project X along with the companion O&M Costs that will mostly be paid for out of Ad Valorem Taxes.”

We may even have to go back and re-vote for some past project approvals or at least to explicitly approve the O&M that you implicitly approved into past bond elections.

The weird part of this onerous requirement on us and you is that we may be asking you to vote annually just because your values went up. We fully understand that our property tax revenues are the results of both taxable values and tax rates. Thanks to the new legal constraints, we may be asking for voter approval only because inflation has outpaced our property tax values. It’s complicated. We’re all for disclosure and being fair, but our Truth-In-Taxation laws are gravitating toward IRS-like hoops when all we are trying to do is to pay for the services you requested.

What we do know is that we won’t stop listening to your needs and wants. If you are willing to pay for these things, we will service your requests. It just might have to be in two steps.

We ask for your patience. We wouldn’t wish this imposition on anyone in the business of helping citizens. However, we are confident that you can wear our shoes at two critical times in our future: 1) when you ask for new services or for us to continue existing services that meet the needs of our community; and 2) be there for the companion decision to pay for those services.

No matter who is wearing the shoes, you can’t have one without the other.

Thank you!

Your Local Elected Official”