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What's at stake in Collin County's upcoming local elections?


Early voting for the May 4 election in Collin County is set to start April 22 and last until April 30. Residents throughout the region will decide on city council races, millions of dollars in bond funds and ballot propositions.

McKinney Bond Election

McKinney voters have five bond propositions totaling $485.5 million on the ballot. The bond includes funds for parks, a new municipal court and street improvements.

Proposition A

Proposition A would put $106 million toward enhancing and expanding the city’s parks. The second largest bond amount, proposition A would update infrastructure at Towne Lake Park and improve the Gabe Nesbitt Park ball fields to attract tournaments. It also includes money to add outdoor pickleball courts.

Proposition B

The second proposition includes $36 million for a new municipal court. The court has jurisdiction over fine only misdemeanors, city ordinance violations and some administrative cases.

The 36,000 square-foot facility would include two courtrooms, a multipurpose room, jury meeting rooms, holding areas and offices for court staff.

Proposition C

Proposition C would provide $30 million to improve the Public Works South campus on College Street. The building houses water and wastewater utilities, street maintenance, traffic control and street maintenance, procurement services and parks maintenance.

According to the city, the current facility was built in 1993, when McKinney’s population was around 25,000. McKinney currently has around 211,000 residents. The expansion, which would accommodate 120 more employees and 200 vehicles, would address the McKinney population’s growing need for services.

Proposition D

Proposition D would also expand another facility in McKinney. The $70 million bond fund would go toward renovations at the McKinney Police Department building on Taylor Burk Drive.

The money would also pay for reconstruction and expansion of fire stations, as well as acquisition of land for future stations. The McKinney Fire Department broke ground on a new headquarters last year.

Proposition E

The largest bond amount, Proposition E includes $243.5 million for street improvements. The money would be combined with other funding sources, including federal and state grants, to pay for new roadways, reconstructing aging residential streets and expanding roadway capacity.

Frisco Public Safety Propositions

Signs for and against public safety propositions in front of the Frisco Fire Station #7 on Tuesday, March 26, 2024.
Yfat Yossifor
Signs for and against public safety propositions in front of the Frisco Fire Station #7 on Tuesday, March 26, 2024.

Frisco voters will decide on two public safety propositions that could tip the balance of power between the city and its firefighters.

Proposition A

The first public safety proposition would adopt a civil service system for the Frisco Fire Department. The system is designed to provide government employees more due process and protection from political influence. If voters approve it, the new system will only apply to the Frisco Fire Department. It would take a separate petition and another vote to apply civil service to the Frisco Police Department.

Wes Pierson, the Frisco city manager, said civil service is too bureaucratic and based on an old law.

“We believe our current rules are actually better situated to meet the needs of our workforce in 2024 than the rules outlined in the civil service legislation that was adopted back in 1947,” Pierson said.

But two firefighters told KERA that Frisco’s fire department has a cronyism problem. A firefighter said adopting a civil service system would fix that issue. KERA isn’t naming these firefighters because they’re concerned about the city retaliating against them for criticizing city and fire leadership.

Matt Sapp is the president of the Frisco Firefighters Association, which petitioned to put the public safety propositions on the ballot. He said adopting a civil service system would ensure that promotions are based on merit, not on who the fire chief and city leadership like best. Under civil service, firefighters have to serve at least two years in their current position and score well on a civil service test to get promoted under civil service.

Sapp said using tests for makes the promotional process more transparent and less biased.

“You do good on the assessment and you're number one, then you're going to be at the top of that list,” he said. “The fire chief can't come in and go, well, I'm going to give this guy five points in this interview and this guy two, because I like this guy better.”

But Bill Woodard said a test isn’t enough to determine if an employee is a good fit for a promotion. Woodard is a member of the Safety First Frisco PAC that opposes adopting civil service and collective bargaining. He’s also a Frisco city council member.

“You could have somebody that that scores high on a test but is a poor leader or a lazy worker that would get promoted first,” Woodard said. “That doesn't lead to positive morale in an organization.”

Some Frisco firefighters say they’re frustrated with the current system, calling it a “good old boy network.”

One firefighter said the city has changed policies for promotions on a whim to prevent certain people from being promoted. The firefighter said those who do get promoted become a mouthpiece for the city and the fire chief, something the firefighter said leads to distrust amongst firefighters.

“It’s not a brotherhood like you would think of a lot of other departments, just because everybody's watching their back,” he said. “You don't know who to trust.”

The firefighter said there are officers who want to speak up during leadership meetings, but they’re afraid of backlash. He said civil service would protect firefighters who speak up from retaliation. Under a civil service system, employees who are fired or disciplined can appeal to a civil service commission. The members of the commission are civilians that are appointed by the city’s chief executive.

Woodard said a civil service commission leads to less accountability. He said the commission is bound by strict rules that can be used to protect bad actors and poor performers from being fired. Brian Cox, a Dallas paramedic who kicked and punched an unhoused man in 2019, was reinstated after a civil service hearing in September 2023 according to a Dallas Morning News report. Cox was demoted and didn’t receive backpay.

“Those are not the kinds of employees that I want working, as a resident…in my city,” Woodard said.

Sapp said a civil service commission would’ve made a difference for former Assistant Fire Chief Cameron Kraemer. The city fired Kraemer while he was on leave getting treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Kraemer won his workers compensation case that he filed against the city of Frisco with the Texas Department of Insurance in October. The administrative law judge ordered the city of Frisco to pay Kraemer benefits and accrued unpaid income with interest in a lump sum.

Sapp said Kraemer also has a medical disability discrimination case before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He said the cost of the legal disputes could’ve been avoided with a civil service commission.

“It’s going to cost taxpayers money,” Sapp said. “We could have just taken this to a third party, and he’d have been able to get the proper amount of time to recover and come back to work.”

Proposition B

The second public safety proposition would give the Frisco Firefighters Association collective bargaining rights. If passed, a representative from the association would have the power to negotiate with the city of Frisco on salary, working conditions and other labor issues. The law forbids public sector employees from striking.

Sapp said the association decided to pursue collective bargaining rights after it reached an impasse with city leadership over staffing at the fire department. He said the department is understaffed and isn’t meeting a National Fire Protection Agency standard that requires a minimum of four firefighters on a fire engine at a time. The standard, which meets an OSHA regulation, ensures that each firefighter has backup on scene at a structure fire in case the firefighter needs to be rescued or has trouble breathing.

The association’s concerns about staffing have put it at odds with Frisco’s council members and the city manager. While firefighters raise concerns about staffing and safety issues, city officials argue that their complaints are overblown — and that their proposed solutions are too costly.

Woodard said collective bargaining will hurt the city’s relationship with its firefighters.

“It's not collaborative,” Woodard said. “It's adversarial. It's one group of people coming in and making demands.”

Woodard said collective bargaining could lead to expensive legal battles like what happened in Houston. The Houston firefighters recently voted to approve a $650 million settlement after eight years of legal challenges over salary.

The settlement still has to be approved by a judge and the Houston City Council. If approved, the settlement would include a lump sum payment to current and retired firefighters back to 2017, as well as to the families of those firefighters who have died since then. It would also lock in a series of raises of up to 34% through 2029. Houston could have to raise taxes and fees to pay for the firefighter contract.

Houston City Controller Hollins told Houston Public Media the firefighters deserve a new contract. But Hollins said the cost of the settlement will put a strain on the city’s finances.

"We are already in a bit of a fiscal conundrum, and now that’s going to be exacerbated by the fact that we are going to have to pay this bill,” he said.

Pierson said collective bargaining could also cause budget strains in Frisco. He said it would cost $7.2 million to pay for the staffing levels the association is requesting. He also said the fire department meets the National Fire Protection Agency’s standard by sending another engine to an emergency if more personnel is needed.

Sapp said sending another truck doesn’t meet the National Fire Protection Agency’s staffing standard.

“Do they meet the number of personnel showing up on scene if they're sending half the city over here? Of course,” Sapp said. “But do you want half the city over here when they have other districts to cover because you're not staffed appropriately? That's really the question the citizens need to be worried about.”

Sandy McGhee, the District 11 vice president for the International Association of Firefighters, said understaffing puts firefighters at risk.

“Firefighters are likely to not wait on somebody before they go in to try to make a rescue or do the job that is before them,” he said.

Sapp said the staffing issue impacts response times to 9-1-1calls. The National Fire Protection Agency standard response time is eight minutes. He said some districts in Frisco have response times as high as 11 minutes.

Sapp said the citizens deserve to know the association’s concerns about staffing and response times.

“We have a duty to kind of ring the bell when we have a safety concern,” he said.

Pierson said the Frisco Fire Department meets the National Fire Protection Agency’s response time recommendations. He said the city is adding two more fire stations in the districts that have longer response times. Pierson said the city is prioritizing hiring staff for the new stations, not adding additional personnel to existing stations. Fire Station 10 is set to open in Spring 2025. Fire Station 11 won’t be ready for at least two years.

One of the firefighters who spoke with KERA said the new stations won’t fix the Fire Department’s staffing problems. He said Station 10’s district, which will be located on the Northwest corner of Frisco, already is being served by Prosper’s fire department.

“It's just going to help with providing the actual correct level of services to the citizens of Frisco instead of ... using the town of Prosper,” he said.

Firefighters association officials say collective bargaining would allow the group to have a seat at the negotiating table with the city for more staff.

City officials counter that firefighters already have a seat at many tables. A Frisco city website lists several committees where it says firefighters have a role in shaping policy. According to the city, more than 200 Frisco firefighters sit on 16 committees.

Two firefighters who talked with KERA suggested that having a firefighter on committees is just for show.

“It’s a lot of talking, but not a lot of actual process and decision making,” one said.

Woodard said all city employees — not just firefighters — have an open invitation to meet with city leadership about any concerns they have. But Sapp said the association already tried that route and met resistance.

Sapp said the staffing issue in the fire department is a matter of public safety. He said the fire department needs more people to meet the increase in calls from the city’s growing population.

“We are the stop gap,” Sapp said. “There’s no 9-1-2. 9-1-1 is who you call. We are the problem solvers.”

Frisco City Council Elections

Frisco City Council Place 1

John Keating, the current mayor pro tem, was elected to this seat in 2017. Before that, he held the place 4 seat from 2010 to 2016. His campaign website lists several priorities, including public safety, fiscal responsibility and job creation.

Mark Piland is challenging Keating for his seat. Piland lost his bid for mayor of Frisco last year to incumbent mayor Jeff Cheney, who received about 56% of the vote. The Dallas Morning News reported a month before the election that Piland was forced to resign as Frisco’s fire chief after an outside investigation found he directed changes to a mayday report to make his department look better. The fire department’s executive staff ordered the mayday report after a firefighter was injured.

Keating and Piland both participated in a candidate forum hosted by local chapters of Black sororities and fraternities. The forum focused on how Frisco’s population growth has impacted business and infrastructure in the city.

Keating, who was present at the end of the forum, reflected on his years of service on the city council.

“I promise to lower your taxes,” he said. “I did four times in the last ten years.”

Piland touted his experience as Frisco’s fire chief at the forum. He also said that the city council needs campaign finance reform.

“Your voice can't be heard when candidates can take tens of thousands of dollars from developers and their associates and then turn right around and vote on their projects,” Piland said. “That is not right.”

Keating’s campaign finance reports list multiple donations from real estate developers.

Frisco City Council Place 3

Angelia Pelham won the place 3 seat in 2021. She is the first Black woman elected to Frisco city council. Her opponent, John Redmond, is a local businessman.

City council races are supposed to be nonpartisan. But partisan politics have influenced some of the local races in Collin County.

Most of the candidates running in Frisco have ties to the Republican party. The Collin County GOP recently endorsed Redmond, who touts his fiscal conservatism on his website. The Collin County Republicans also endorsed Piland when he ran for mayor in 2023. Keating ran for Texas House District 33 in 2016 as a Republican. He lost to Justin Holland, who still holds the seat.

Democrats have seen some success in Collin County. Rep. Mihaela Plesa was the first Democrat elected to the statehouse from the region in 30 years when she was elected in 2022. And Democrats also won seats on city councils and school boards last May in Collin County.

The Democrats momentum at the local level came up in a Republican primary debate. Shelby Williams said the Republicans need to get more involved in local elections. He’s a Plano city council member and is running for Collin County Republican Party Chair.

“I was the only GOP endorsed candidate who won, and I was not the only incumbent,” Williams said. “It wasn't just being an incumbent. We got completely skunked.”

Collin County, the third-fastest growing county in the nation according to the U.S. Census, is diversifying as it grows. Cal Jilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said the added diversity favors Democrats.

“As Collin County evolves and continues to become more populous, more suburban, more diverse, more highly educated, Democrats are likely to do better and better,” Jilson said.

But Jilson said it will be decades before any success at the local level for Democrats translates into county-wide or state level office.

Allen City Council Races

Allen City Council Place 1

Mary Vail-Grube was appointed to this seat in November after Daren Meis stepped down to run for the Texas House. Vail-Grube isn’t running in the election to stay on the city council.

Meis, who was endorsed by Attorney General Ken Paxton, lost to the incumbent, Rep. Jeff Leach, during the Republican primary. Meis is not running for his old city council seat. He endorsed Dave Scott, one of the three candidates on the ballot.

Scott, who worked in law enforcement for 30 years, moved to Allen from California in 2020 according to his campaign website. He lists fiscal responsibility and community preservation as priorities. He said on his website he won’t accept donations from individuals or entities with direct interest in Allen’s business to maintain neutrality as a councilmember.

Scott focused on the impact of growth in his responses to the Collin County League of Women Voters’ questionnaire.

“The city is near build-out,” he said in his response to a question about housing affordability.

Scott said the best way to address growth in Allen is to allocate for it in future construction and planning and zoning. He also said the city should hire more public safety personnel to meet the growing population’s needs.

Mike Schaeffer is also running for city council place 1. He was the public safety subcommittee chair for the 2023 Allen Police headquarters bond. He also served as the Allen economic development corporation chair from 2017-2023. His website lists an endorsement from the Collin County Association of Realtors.

Schaeffer praised Allen’s low property tax rate in the Collin County League of Women Voters questionnaire. He said he would follow that example as a council member. But he said at a recent Allen city council candidate forum that the city still needs to adequately fund services and account for future growth.

“We can't stop investing in the best in class city,” Shaeffer said. “And so I think we should continue to lower property taxes but not try to hit an arbitrary number like [no new revenue rate], which is a totally unsustainable for most cities.”

Esrar Razvi is also on the ballot for place 1. His website lists fiscal responsibility and economic growth as priorities. Razvi told the Collin County League of Women Voters that he would support measures to control spending and reduce waste if elected.

“I oppose unnecessary tax increases and believe in empowering individuals and businesses to thrive through free-market principles and limited government intervention,” he said.

Allen City Council Place 3

Dave Cornette, who is running for reelection, was first elected to this seat in 2021. His campaign website lists endorsements from the Collin County GOP and former U.S. Representative and Texas GOP Chair Allen West. He also touts his support for low property taxes and first responders.

Cornette said he would prioritize mental health if elected to a second term, referencing the shooting at the Allen Premium Outlets last year on May 6.

“The horrific and tragic events of May 6th as well as some in my personal life has shown me that mental health should be a priority,” he said. “I am not sure what that will look like in the future, but I am willing to blaze that path for a safer future for us all.”

Ken Cook, who’s also running for city council place 3, has been on Allen’s planning and zoning commission for three years. He’s also a former Collin County GOP precinct chair. Cook said on his website that he resigned as precinct chair because he is committed to running a nonpartisan race for city council.

Cook participated in a recent city council candidate forum at the Allen Public Library. When asked what he would prioritize during the upcoming legislative session, he emphasized the importance of local control for cities.

“Austin is Austin and Allen is Allen, and I would like to see Allen take care of its own business,” Cook said.

Saad Hamid, another candidate on the ballot for city council place 3, also said that cities should have autonomy over certain decisions.

Hamid, an IT professional, said he would prioritize improving public safety with technological advancements if elected.

“We are already good at this, but there is a lot of room to improve that by having technology and cooperation,” Hamid said.

He also said he would focus on redeveloping aging infrastructure, especially on the East Side of Allen.

Allen City Council Place 5

Dave Shafer was elected to this seat in 2021. His website lists endorsements from Collin County Texas State Senator Angela Paxton and from place 1 candidate Dave Scott.

Shafer emphasized his efforts to keep taxes low during his term on the city council at the recent candidate forum.

“We instituted the city's first ever general homestead exemption at the city level, all while avoiding any risk to the city of Allen's infrastructure and providing police and fire the utmost level of support,” he said.

Shafer said he’d continue to follow that path if he’s reelected. He also said he would vote against any new apartment developments.

Zeeshan Naseh said at the forum that Allen needs to ensure that its service and healthcare workers can afford to live in the city. Naseh is also on the ballot for place 5.

“People are asking me about affordable living because people who are working in our restaurants and in hospitals require that, right?” Naseh said. “So, we have to continue to take a look at that and see if there's a need, because the city's growing.”

Carl Clemencich, another place 5 candidate, said achieving housing affordability is a hard balance to strike. He said providing a variety of housing options helps achieve that balance.

Clemencich served as an Allen ISD school board trustee for five years and an Allen city council member from 2017-2023. He said at the forum he decided to run for city council because Allen needed more experienced representatives.

“I’ve been attending a lot of the city council meetings, and I was concerned with the lack of tenure and experience of the current council,” Clemencich said.

Walter Merrill is also running for place 5. Merrill wasn’t present at the candidate forum. He told the Collin County League of Women Voters that the council needs to increase its diversity. He also said he’s concerned about people being harassed for their political beliefs.

“We also need to be a city where any citizen can walk on a public sidewalk wearing a political shirt of their choice without being harassed and issued Criminal Trespass Notices by Allen police,” Merrill said.

The one-year anniversary of the Allen shooting is two days after the local election day. The city is hosting a memorial. The shooting wasn’t directly mentioned during the candidate forum, except for Cornette’s comment about the need to support first responders, especially after the shooting. Instead, candidates focused on their commitment to redeveloping Allen’s East Sid and keeping property taxes low.

The Texas Observer reported that after the shooting at the Allen Premium Outlets, Shafer posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he was uncertain that the shooter held Nazi views. KERA reported that the gunman, Mauricio Garcia, included a Nazi symbol in his signature when he applied for a security guard license with the Texas Department of Public Safety in 2015. Authorities also said that Garcia had a swastika and SS tattoo.

“I definitely condemn the shooter, and any belief he had,” Shafer said in the social media post. “However, based on his other supposed tattoos and information reported in the press, I cannot say for certain he held Nazi views. I of course condemn any race-based ideology, including Nazism.”

He also posted multiple tweets days after the shooting speaking out against gun control, including one tweet where he condemned the bill that proposed raising the age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. A University of Texas at Austin poll that was released days before the Allen mall shooting found that 76% of Texans supported raising the age to purchase any firearm from 18 to 21.

“Raising the age would’ve had zero effect on Saturday’s tragedy,” Shafer said. “The psychopath responsible was in his 30s. And no, AR-15s are not weapons of war.”

The bill, which was supported by families of the Uvalde shooting victims, failed to pass after missing a key deadline to move forward during the last legislative session.

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.

Copyright 2024 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Caroline Love