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What’s at stake in Collin County local elections

Christopher Connelly
/
KERA News
Urban growth, short-term rentals and an amusement park are among the hot issues for voters in Collin County.

May 6 is the last day residents in Collin County’s 15 cities and 17 school districts can cast theirballots in local elections.

The fast-growing county hit a population of over one million in 2021 has been feeling the impact of that rapid growth — particularly in the county’s three largest cities, Plano, Frisco and McKinney. Plano is grappling with how to regulate short-term rentals. Frisco has had controversy over a zoning permit for a theme park and a recent incident at a fair that led to it being canceled. And McKinney could have its own commercial airport if voters approve a bond. [Check out the Collin County Ballot]

Frisco

Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney has two challengers. His main opponent is Frisco’s former fire chief, Mark Piland. Jonathan Spencer is also running. He didn’t participate in the mayoral debate and hasn’t filed any campaign finance reports. Spencer is self-employed and works in software, construction and fracking according to his application for a place on the ballot.

Both Piland and Cheney raised thousands of dollars for their campaigns. Cheney raised a total of $25,225 in contributions from the end of March to the end of April. He had $47,732.89 left over from his last report. Piland raised $28,750 in contributions from late March to late April and had $8,995 leftover.

The two candidates are also spending a lot on their campaigns — Piland had $20,755 in political expenditures on his most recent campaign finance report. He also took out a $10,000 loan. Cheney spent $21, 818.82 and has an outstanding loan total of $99,374.

The Dallas Morning News reported in April that Piland stepped down as fire chief last September because of misconduct allegations. The story alleges that Piland had staff alter a mayday report to make the department look better, according to an external investigation. Piland had ordered the report after a firefighter was injured in an apartment fire.

The city manager also accused Piland of violating a gag order on the investigation in an email. The email alleged that Piland was forbidden from discussing the external investigation but brought it up in a meeting with Cheney in June.

Piland wrote in an email that he was permitted to do so according to the city’s employee code of conduct because he was discussing the city manager and head of human resources’ unethical with their supervisor. He also wrote that the alleged changes made to the report were structural or minor revisions and that the external investigators, who were lawyers, lacked an understanding of how firefighters handle these types of reports.

Cheney received pushback himself over the Universal Studios theme park. He and three city council members approved the park’s zoning permit after delaying the vote twice. Residents spoke out against the park, fearing it would increase crime and traffic. The amusement park is aimed at children under age ten.

There are also two city council races on the ballot in Frisco. Brian Livingston, a senior vice president in commercial banking according to his application for a place on the ballot for Place 6, is running unopposed for re-election. He voted against the theme park’s permit and has endorsed Piland for mayor.

The Place 5 incumbent is Laura Rummel, a vice president of financial products according to her LinkedIn page. Rummel also voted against the park’s permit but said she wanted to table the issue for another meeting. She has one opponent, Anwer Azam. He works as a certified public accountant according to his application for a place on the ballot.

Frisco also has two bond elections on the ballot. Proposition A would issue $1.31 million in tax bonds for public safety facilities and equipment. Proposition B would issue $2.4 million in tax bonds for street and road improvements.

Plano

Plano city council has four races on the ballot. Two of the candidates, Maria Tu and Julie Holmer, are running for reelection unopposed. Tu is an attorney and the current deputy mayor pro tem.

Shelby Williams is running for reelection against Brett Cooper, a pediatrician who teaches at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Williams is a vice president of corporate development according to his LinkedIn.

Williams has been outspoken about his support for banning short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods. He said at a city council meeting in March that the city’s zoning ordinance supports doing so.

What everybody can see was the overwhelming intent in our zoning ordinances is that short term rentals and leases were never meant to be allowed in residential areas,” he said.

That’s a stance with a lot of support – members of the Texas Neighborhood Coalition in Plano have advocated for it at city council meetings for a year. Multiple residents urged the city council to act after a shooting outside a party at a short-term rental in Plano. Police also busted an alleged sex-trafficking operation at a short-term rental in Plano in September.

Rick Grady also said he’s in favor of a ban. Grady is term limited and can’t run for reelection. Members of the coalition have shown support for Colleen Aguilar Epstein, a retired Spanish teacher, who’s running for his seat. Rick Horne, the vice chair of the city’s planning and zoning commission, is also running.

The coalition argues that the city’s current zoning ordinance supports a ban. The ordinance prohibits hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts in residential neighborhoods. But Paige Mims, the city attorney, has said that argument might not fare well in court if the city was sued.

Holmer and Tsao Tu said they also have concerns about the legal implications of a total ban on short-term rentals. Tsao Tu is an attorney.

“I certainly do not want a heat of passion to result our city spending years of our hard-earned tax dollars in litigations,” Tu said at a March city council meeting.

The council said it wants to create a task force to look at the short-term rental issue. City staff said the recommendations from the task force wouldn’t be available until 2024. The city has a survey out on short-term rentals until May 17. There’s also a town hall scheduled on short-term rentals at the Plano municipal building May 8.

McKinney

There are three city council races on the ballot in McKinney. Rick Franklin is running unopposed for reelection to the District 4 seat. He has been endorsed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton according to his campaign website.

Two candidates are running for the District 2 seat. Patrick Cloutier currently holds the at large District 2 seat. His most recent campaign finance report shows he maintained $22,563 in political contributions and raised $8,200 between late March and early April.

None of the three candidates for the at large District 2 seat are current city council members. Tom Meredith is a local businessman with endorsements from the Collin County Conservative Republicans and Republican U.S. Rep. Keith Self (whose district includes much of McKinney), according to his campaign website. Michael Jones, a commercial banking director, has been endorsed by McKinney Mayor George Fuller and the McKinney Police Association according to his campaign Facebook page.

There’s also a bond proposition on the McKinney ballot. The bond would issue $200 million for commercial service and improvements at the city’s airport. The airport, which currently serves as a general aviation airport, is expected to have 12 commercial flights a day in the first year after expansion if the bond is approved.

Politicized school board races

City council and school board trustee races are supposed to be nonpartisan. But partisan politics have worked their way into some of these races in Collin County, Reed Bond, who’s running against incumbent Dynnette Davis for Frisco’s school board, has been endorsed by multiple Republican elected officials. Texas Sen. Angela Paxton and Collin County Judge Chris Hill have both endorsed Reed according to his campaign website. He also has an endorsement from the Collin County Conservative Republicans and the Denton County Conservative Coalition.

Davis is a former educator and the first Black woman elected to Frisco’s school board according to her campaign website. The only endorsement she has listed on her website is from former Frisco mayor Mike Simpson and his wife, Sandy.

Plano ISD’s school board races have also become more politicized. Supporters of Katherine Chan Goodwin, who’s running for Place 7, have accused candidate Simon Salinas of splitting the liberal vote. Salinas is a recent graduate of Plano ISD and a current college student. Both are running against incumbent Cody Weaver. He’s a local real estate associate broker and has endorsements from Judge Hill and Texas state representative Matt Shaheen.

Chan Goodwin said during a meet and greet with Plano candidates that being a school board trustee requires experience.

“You must be a trusted professional to work with these organizations and additionally have connections in the community,” Chan Goodwin said.

Salinas alluded to the criticisms of his experience in his speech at the meet and greet, referring to it as “bullying, lies and slander.”

“If someone is an experienced candidate, it's not necessary to bring someone down,” he said.

The other two trustee races in Plano ISD also have three candidates running. Tarrah Lantz, who’s running for place four, is the former president of the Plano ISD council of PTAs.

The Plano school board is set to plan the budget for the upcoming fiscal year this summer. The district has run on a deficit for about four years despite being in a property wealthy area. About a quarter of the 2022-2023 fiscal year’s budget went toward recapture. That’s the school finance system where wealthy districts like Plano ISD send excess property taxes back to the state to redistribute amongst poorer districts. But Plano ISD officials say it costs more to meet the districts needs than what the state says it’s entitled to have.

Mihaela Plesa, the Texas House representative whose district includes parts of Plano, has filed five bills she said will reform the recapture system. All but one is still in committee.

Got a tip? Email Caroline Love at clove@kera.org.

Caroline Love is a Report For Americacorps member for KERA News.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.