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KETR News Director Mark Haslett’s multimedia blog about Northeast Texas and the world.

Dust settles, uncertainty rises after toll road meeting

Mark Haslett
An anti-toll road yard sign in Lavon.

Who would have guessed that a North Central Texas Council of Governments public meeting about a proposed toll road would provide more drama than the Texas A&M University-Commerce football season opener?

Before the Lions romped past an overmatched East Texas Baptist team at Memorial Stadium, the Council of Governments public forum in Lavon had disbanded early.

The local fire marshal shut the meeting down about 45 minutes into the evening’s proceedings. The crowd of over 300 packed into the NeSmith Elementary School lunchroom constituted a violation of fire code.

The event began with a hint of mayhem, when an overflow of about 200 people were directed into the school’s gymnasium, where they were given the opportunity to watch the meeting on a video stream. But even that re-routing of the crowd didn’t clear enough space in the lunchroom.

When the school’s sound system failed about a half hour into the event, the descent into farce had begun. Council staff announced that, lacking a working microphone, the public forum slated for the end of the presentations would be rescheduled for a future time and place. Then, it turned out, the whole event would have to be rescheduled.

One suspects that the East Texas Baptist Tigers aren’t the only ones who’d like a “do-over” of Thursday night.

Let me be clear about one point: KETR has no editorial stance on the toll road issue. We sound off about sports and cultural topics here, but this station’s news operation does not present editorials or endorsements.

Not, as they say, that there’s anything wrong with that. I think a responsible news organization offering a carefully researched and ethically sound recommendation on public policy is a great service.

The reason KETR doesn’t editorialize on the issues of the day is strictly a resource-related decision. This station has one full-time news editor/host/reporter, me, and I’m far too busy with my core job duties to be an opinion columnist. We're also a bit old-fashioned in that we think journalists who report on topics shouldn't be journalists who editorialize on the same topics. The blur between news and opinion these days is a problem, in our view.

That said, I’d like to point out a couple of things that I’ve learned about this whole toll road situation, as relayed to me by those close to the process.

One thing is that if a private road is built, it would be fully private. No public financing for private gain. If the project falls on its face – as more than a few other private toll roads have – the people on the hook would be the developers and investors, not taxpayers.

Another thing is that there wouldn’t be any kind of “no compete” agreements that would inhibit the development of other transportation facilities in the region. The Collin County Outer Loop is very much on the table for future plans, and I feel sure that no one on the Council wants any unnecessary market dynamics that would make that development or others difficult or impossible.

One thing that KETR can do, despite being a small organization, is to dispel rumors and make sure that our audience has the facts about important local and regional issues available for those who want them. So, there's that. 

Meanwhile, the Council has a black eye after last night’s minor debacle. It’s clear no one thought that over 500 people would attend the event. Previous meetings in Garland and Greenville were moderately attended. It’s safe to assume that the re-introduction of the private developing firm into the process was what motivated last night’s heavy turnout.

One final note – this public process is indeed “the” process. Once the Council of Governments decides on a plan, that’s the plan. Any protest after the fact is likely to have no effect. So if you want to be a part of the decision-making, the time to join in is now.

As the East Texas Baptist Tigers can tell you, once you drop the ball, there's not much you can do besides watch the other guy pick it up and run the other way.

Mark Haslett has served at KETR since 2013. Since then, the station's news operation has enjoyed an increase in listener engagement and audience metrics, as well recognition in the Texas AP Broadcasters awards.
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