Friday, December 28, 2007

Growing with Frisco in 2008

The World Trade Center was still standing in 1999. Bill Clinton was in the White House. Osama bin Laden was just another middle-eastern name associated with Afghan rebels. And that year I moved from Salt Lake City to Frisco, Texas. At the time, Stonebriar Mall was just taking shape, you had to drive to Plano to buy beer and Coit Road ended at SH-121.

Fast forward to 2007. Things have changed a bit here and there. We’ve gone from around 30,000 residents to almost 100,000. One high school is now four, and more are on the way. We’ve got a brand-new city hall, central fire station, and police headquarters. This year alone, we’ve seen a few landmark events. The Dallas North Tollway opened, speeding access from North Frisco to the Metroplex. The SH-121 toll road project was finalized. The first city athletic center opened in the fall. Harold Bacchus Community Park was dedicated, adding multiple sports fields to the city’s inventory. It’s been a wild ride and (mostly) fun to be part of.

But I’m not one to look back. Instead, at this time of year, I prefer to cast my vision to the future. As we move from being a small time city into one of the key metropolitan entities in North Texas, we face some big challenges. Can we support this level of growth? What happens when things start to level off? Are we adequately planning for our future? Or are we writing checks now that future generations will have to cash?

The answers to these questions may not be apparent for some time to come. So I’ll crank my vision back to the short term. Here are a few things, in no particular order, that I’d like to see in Frisco in 2008.

A playoff win for FC Dallas. With a healthy Kenny Cooper back in the lineup, can the Hoops finally notch a playoff win, after 3 straight fruitless seasons?

A competitive game for Frisco vs. Centennial. Yes, there are two more high schools in town. But for the time being, this is the rivalry. And with an average victory margin of over 20 points – including a 41 point shelling this year – the Raccoons have owned the Titans.

A good turnout for the mayoral election in May. After the dismal display of apathy in last year’s city council race, I trust that city residents realize that their mayor has a far more immediate impact on their day-to-day lives than any of the officials in the upcoming national election. Don’t sit this one out, folks!

All of Frisco’s soldiers to return home safely. Anti-war. Pro-Bush. Left-wing. Right-wing. It just doesn’t matter. My desire is that all of Frisco’s sons and daughters serving in harm’s way can make it home to Frisco in one piece.

An east/west thoroughfare north of Main Street. Now that the whole 121 toll road controversy has been laid to rest, let’s hope that we can see some progress on expanding at least ONE of the major arteries –whether it’s El Dorado or Panther Creek.

New sections of 121 open. Speaking of the 121, I can’t wait for the new lanes on 121 to open from the DNT to Hillcrest. It’s maddening to see the pristine concrete on that stretch, but not drive on it.

The outdoor portion of the Athletic Center. The new athletic center is a great facility, and memberships have far outstripped expectations. If phase two – the outdoor water park – goes as smoothly, we’ll all enjoy a splashy summer.

A real bagel shop. Sorry, Corner Bakery, but your bagels seem to be a sideline. Whatever happened to the specialty bagel shop – with seventeen different flavored schmeers – on every other corner? Curse you, Dr. Atkins!

Rain spread throughout the year... We had record rainfalls in 2007. Sadly, most of it came in a short period last spring. Since then, in case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve slipped back into a dry pattern. Let’s see the moisture spread out more evenly in 2008.

… but people continue to conserve water anyway. And if the last wish doesn’t come true, let’s hope everyone remembers some of the conservation lessons we learned during the drought.

Tax rates take a dip, instead of just holding steady. We all love the great new facilities in town, and most would agree that we needed them. But perhaps next year we can curb the spending and focus on reducing the property tax rate instead, particularly for those citizens on a fixed income.

Certain land owners stop holding the city hostage and allow them to finish key roads. You know who you are.

If the past years are any indication, we’re in for a lot more twists and turns, ups and downs before this ride slows down. It’s an exciting time to live in Frisco. Here’s wishing you and yours a prosperous 2008 and beyond.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Deck the Halls with Rip-Stop Nylon

Let’s talk about Christmas decorations, shall we?

Now, before we get into it, a bit of disclosure is in order. I admit to being somewhat of a Grinch. Don’t get me wrong. I love celebrating the Solstice as much as the next pagan. Every year my wife and I host a small gathering to toast the shortest day of the year (next Saturday, by the way). Every day gets a little bit brighter from that point on, which is a major issue when you commute to work and home in the dark each day. I certainly enjoy the looks of joy on the faces of our children when they open their gifts on Christmas day. And the spirit of peace, joy and happiness espoused in countless Christmas cards would lift the hearts of any man, were they ever actually present around this time of year. Instead they’re being drowned out by the hubbub of commercialism and a flurry of end-of-year socializing.

I suppose that goes a long way to explain the problem I have with the direction modern Christmas decorations have been taking. I recall fondly the Yules I spent in Bavaria as a child. Those homes didn’t need strands of multi-colored lights to evoke the season. In fact, my aunt didn’t use electric lights at all. Instead, her Tannenbaum was simply decorated with candles tucked between the ornaments. I can just hear Frisco Fire Chief Mack Borchardt’s stomach churn at that thought.

But I’m more than happy to drag the plastic tree out of the attic each year and help bedeck it with ornaments collected over the years. We’ll leave the fake versus real debate for another day. But every time I catch a glimpse of the price tags on live trees, I feel like our tree is an investment any fiscal Magi would be proud of. (Ours even has the lights pre-strung. Score!)

I do like the look of a home outlined in lights. My taste runs toward the single-color motif, but I’ve seen some multicolor displays that aren’t bad. A few years ago I tried to string lights around my own home. One trip up the 30-foot ladder and a scramble along the steeply-pitched roof convinced me that this was one tradition I didn’t need to establish.

These days, however, the lights are getting out of control. They’re starting to take over the entire yard. What began as simple strings around the eaves has evolved to the point where no tree, shrub or mailbox goes unlit. Don’t have a tree in your yard? No problem. A tall pole and a few strands of lights and you can build your own.

Which brings us to the topic of “lawn art.” I can take a couple of simple lawn ornaments, tastefully lit. But that’s where I draw the line. Too many lawns in my neighborhood have been taken over by a veritable herd of twinkling reindeer, with their heads bobbing up and down all night. I used to think that the large, wooden figures were extreme. But those have been eclipsed by the latest trend: blow up figures. These often colossal figures are flood lit with enough wattage to supply a small third-world village for a week. And the constant drone of the air pumps certainly violates the concept of “Silent Night.”

But the ultimate extreme can be found in those homes that program their own personal light shows, some of which would be the envy of the stage crew at a Pink Floyd concert. One of my co-workers spends hundreds of hours every year choreographing his display, which draws visitors from all around the Metroplex – and even appeared on a Channel 8 news report earlier this year. He uses his display as a fund-raiser for local charities, and to collect support letters for the troops stationed away from home during the holidays. While this gives an admirable purpose to the excess, I still wouldn’t want to live next door to him! (Check out for details and directions, if you’d like to contribute.)

In our high-tech, high-wattage, rip-stop nylon world the concept of decking the halls with boughs of holly seems awfully quaint. Perhaps our Jewish friends have it right, opting for a simple row of candles to celebrate Chanukah. At the end of the day, it’s up to each of us to decide how best to bring a little light to the darkest time of the year. And whether you’re a sour old Grinch like me, or the Cindy Lou Who of North Texas, my fondest wish is that we can get off the high-tech roller coaster and remember why we’re celebrating in the first place. Joyous Solstice, everyone!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Frisco Traffics in Vehicular Addictions

Where do you park you car?

It’s a simple question. But it’s one that evokes a passionate response among many, particularly if your answer is “on the street.”

Frisco is the quintessential suburb. With the lack of any convenient mass transportation, we’re dependant on our vehicles to get to work, shopping and most other aspects of our lives. For many of us, cars are our primary connection to the world. How many cars do we own? The average Frisco household has two to three cars. Families with kids old enough to drive can often have four or more (along with stock in the pharmaceutical company that produces their favorite headache remedy).

Meanwhile, the average Frisco home has an attached two-car garage. Doing the math, you’ll see that these – along with the requisite drive-way – should accommodate most residents. Sadly, it is a rare breed of home-owner that actually uses their garage to store their car. Instead, a surprising number of my friends and neighbors seem to have made peace with the concept of using their garage to store piles of seldom used knick-knacks, seasonal clothes and worn out furniture, while their twenty-three thousand dollar investment sits exposed to the elements.

So if their garages are full, they must use the driveway, right? Not always. Following a nationwide trend, Frisco has a large number of “rear entry” homes. These layouts provide some advantages in terms of development, but also mean that driveways are often shadowed by tall fences, making them easy targets for thieves and vandals.

That leaves the curb. A quick tour around any Frisco neighborhood tells you that a lot of our residents make that choice. There’s no law against parking your vehicle on a public street. Quite the contrary, the law states that you can park your car on the street, as long as you follow certain guidelines. And that’s where the problem starts.

One of my personal pet peeves is people who park their car too close to a corner, particularly a busy intersection. State law dictates that you leave 20 feet between your car and the corner. Too often, the people living in corner lots will park theirs right up to the edge, causing a hazard for anyone turning onto that street.

And speaking of distance, another regulation stipulates that a vehicle should be no more than 18 inches from the curb. Given the narrow nature of many residential lanes, this one can cause a real problem. If there are cars parked on each side of the street, the narrow gap between them allows only a single car to pass at a time. When this occurs on a busy street (say, on the way from my home to the local elementary school) it leads to some interesting dances between conflicted (and impatient) drivers. But the real hazard comes when parked cars creep away from the curb. In case you haven’t seen one lately, fire trucks and ambulances aren’t small. While you may be able to squeeze your mini-van through the gap, the same may not be true for emergency crews, leading to the loss of valuable time.

Another gripe I hear a lot is people parking in front of other people’s homes. This one people will just have to deal with. Face it, you don’t own the street in front of your home. And the law says anyone can park there. (Don’t confuse this with privately-maintained roads found in some gated communities in town.) Nobody is going to pass a law that says someone can’t park their car in front of your home. If it really bothers you, talk to the vehicle owner and ask them politely to move it. Otherwise, put it on the agenda for your next anger therapy session.

Frisco has several ordinances on the books to help ensure that people don’t leave broken-down heaps propped up on blocks for generations. But beyond that we have to recognize that we live in a community where personal vehicles abound. As with anything of this sort, there’s bound to be some friction. So the next time you have to choose, leave the car in the driveway. Better yet, dust off that “honey-do” list and get the garage cleaned out. You’ll sleep better knowing that your car has replaced that 7-year-old treadmill behind a locked door.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Dog-gone Place to Play

Some ideas refuse to die. They just won’t go away, no matter the obstacles thrown in their path. Some are bad ideas that sound good on the surface. Others are good ideas that just haven’t found the right time to catch on. But both share a common trait: they’re championed by a dedicated group of people that are diligent about resurrecting their concept on a regular basis.

One such idea is a dog park in Frisco. Picture a place where man’s best friend - and their owners - can frolic leash-less through an open meadow. Safely penned in by fencing and natural borders, the animals can chase around without fear of running in front of traffic or getting lost. And just imagine the wide variety of smells available to tempt even the most discerning canine olfactory palate. It’s an idyllic image and one that has clearly captured the imagination of Frisco residents for a number of years.

Before we go any further, it’s important to understand what a dog park is – and what it isn’t. The concept is simple: an enclosed park where owners could bring their dogs and let them run free. But it’s not a free-for-all. There are still rules. Some versions of a dog park include separate areas for small dogs, to keep them from becoming a mid-day snack for one of the larger breeds. And just because they’re off the leash does not eliminate the responsibility of the owner to clean up after their pets. Owners are cautioned not to bring sick dogs to the park, or dogs which might cause a disruption due to their reproductive cycle. And all visitors should be current on their vaccinations.

Dog parks can be an economic boon. Facilities in Ft. Worth and near White Rock Lake in Dallas are destination parks that draw visitors from miles around. Supporters of a Frisco dog park like to think that it, too, can become a draw for visitors. Plus, it could be a venue for a number of canine-oriented events throughout the year. The recent Barktoberfest celebration put on by the Frisco Humane Society might be one example. Either way, it certainly provides a place where dogs normally confined to the small yards most prevalent in Frisco can stretch their legs a bit.

It’s hard to tell when the first request for a dog park was logged with the Frisco parks department. A quick scan of the online city Q&A database shows requests dating back almost to the turn of the century. (The 21st century, that is.) And invariably, the response from Parks Director Rick Wieland has been something similar to: “The potential development of a dog park has been discussed several times over the past couple of years by the Parks and Recreation Board. While there is no current funding allocated for this project, I do believe that the Board is interested in such a project.”

Ah… funding. The Parks and Recreation Board is constantly balancing the various demands for facilities against their annual budget. Up to this point, the dog park just hasn’t risen to a high enough priority. Estimates for creating the facility vary widely. Mr. Wieland has cited figures over the years ranging from $200,000 up to one million, depending upon whether additional land would need to be purchased. Park supporters put the figure closer to $100,000, and reference a recent development in Denton, as well as the parks in Ft. Worth and Dallas. The Parks board can pick up some of that tab, but Mr. Wieland has mentioned the likelihood of a public-private partnership to cover additional costs.

In September, a group called Citizens for Off Leash Land Animal Recreation (COLLAR) presented their ideas to the Parks board. Then, at the most recent board meeting, Dudley Raymond, the Park’s Department’s Planning Superintendant, offered some concepts that might be included in a Frisco dog park, as well as a couple of possible locations. While nothing was settled – and the funding issue still looms – it certainly seems as though the project may move forward. To learn more about the dog park from its supporters, visit

Frisco provides a wide variety of recreational opportunities, ranging from baseball, soccer and football fields to wide open spaces and tree-lined trails. Perhaps a small facility dedicated to our four-footed friends is an idea whose time has finally come.

Friday, November 2, 2007

A Referendum of the Minority

Americans take their right to vote very seriously. And Texans are more vehement than most about the ideals of “one person, one vote” and “majority rules.” Strange, then, that turnout at national elections remains dismal, and turnout for municipal elections is even worse. During this year’s Frisco City Council race, the number of people who voted was downright pathetic.

Well, to quote the popular Texas vernacular, them chickens have come home to roost.

In August, our City Council took up the contentious issue of late night liquor sales. Current law curtails the serving of alcoholic beverages after midnight. Many local businesses have complained that this puts them at a disadvantage when competing with establishments in neighboring cities, where the cutoff is 2 AM. After much debate, the council members passed an ordinance extending Frisco’s service hours. Six businesses then applied for and received permits to begin late night sales.

Not so fast.

The ink was barely dry on the ordinance before a group of citizens put together a petition to take the matter out of the hands of the council and put it to a public vote. This process is outlined in our city charter to provide citizens with a chance to have their say on any ordinance of significant importance. That’s democracy in action.

But in a city of nearly 100,000 people, how many would have to sign such a petition to second guess our elected officials? Two thirds, maybe? Half? No, the charter requires a valid petition to contain thirty percent – almost one third – of the number of voters in the last municipal election. Clearly the intent is that only those issues of a significant nature would be addressed through this process. Indeed, in over 20 years, it has never been invoked.

Now here’s the sticky part. Since less than 3000 people voted in last May’s election, that means that a mere 168 signatures were required on the petition. That’s one TENTH of one percent of the population of Frisco.

Two things are disturbing about this situation. The first is that such a small number of people can effectively overturn just about any decision of the city council. In this instance, based on an interpretation of the charter, the council suspended the licenses they had already granted and decided not to accept any further applications. Since the next scheduled municipal election isn’t until May, this “super-minority” has effectively nullified the action of the council for at least seven months. Worse, it has adversely affected several of the businesses who had licenses, causing some to lay off employees.

The second issue of concern is the prospect that these kinds of referenda will become the norm in our city government. We’ve seen a similar effect in California, where every other issue is settled by a very expensive election. The reason we elect a city council – or a legislature – is so they can represent us and make decisions on our behalf. To some, it may sound ideal to have every issue decided by a popular vote. But I’m far more comfortable with the representative government our Founding Fathers established that allows for reasoned debate among elected officials.

Of course, the whole referendum process would function properly if a reasonable number of people took the time to vote in each election. Then, only those key issues which matter to a large number of voters would get on the docket. Hopefully, in the upcoming mayoral election, more of you will get out to cast a ballot. After all, the concept of one person, one vote only works when you actually DO it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Business of Recreation

We all know there are certain things we SHOULD do, because they’re good for you. Exercising. Flossing. Not running with scissors. (It may be trite, but it’s still good advice.) One of these items is about to get a whole lot easier for the residents of Frisco. Next week, the Frisco Athletic Center is set to open near the corner of Preston and Wade. And in true Frisco fashion, it’s a doozy with 22,000 square feet of exercise space, racquetball courts, basketball and more. There’s a full-blown indoor water park, and another outdoor pool area still to come. In fact, the outdoor space is going to take up just as much area as the first building. There’s even a teen center that’ll provide entertainment and a safe place to hang out for the older kids. Certainly this is a facility of which we can all be proud, and fits the vision voters approved in the 2002 bond election. It stacks up to anything in Plano, McKinney or Allen. But it’s not without controversy. First, there are the membership fees. Some of our neighbors have decided that their facilities would be heavily subsidized by public funds. Thus, their resident user fees are comparably low. Our city council made the call that our center should be a self-sufficient facility, necessitating a much steeper fee structure. There’s also been some debate over the additional fees charged for activities. Originally, these fees were going to be charged for all additional activities, such as yoga classes and child care. After public feedback, the city decided to wrap those fees into the membership. Naturally, this is fine for those families that need day care and choose to use the add-on classes. But many residents wonder why they’re paying for services they’ll never use. Meanwhile, some activities, such as water aerobics, still carry a use fee. I expect that the city will continue to tweak the fee schedules as the facility matures and they get additional feedback from city residents, as is the case with all good businesses. Which brings us to the more significant issue, one which should be on our minds as Frisco continues to grow. What role should our city play in providing services that may be available from the private sector? One can certainly make the case that every city has a vested interest in promoting a healthy populace. And the new Athletic Center will provide some items that you can’t currently find elsewhere in Frisco. While we have a wealth of exercise clubs within the city limits, none of them provide the breadth of aquatic facilities, particularly for kids and teens. However, they do provide exercise equipment, basketball and racquetball courts. Thus, the new center will certainly compete with these private clubs on at least some level. Governments play a key role in ensuring the availability of a variety of services to its citizens, some of which are bound to conflict with private businesses. But where do you draw the line? There are other services that some cities provide that are also offered by private companies. One popular example is a golf course. Several area cities, including Dallas, Richardson, and Carrolton, maintain municipal golf courses. Here in Frisco, you can’t swing a 5-iron without slicing it in the water hazard on any number of public (though privately owned) courses. Do we really need another one? And if we do, should our city government get into the golf course business? At what point does the city decide it should provide a service, instead of leaving it to the private sector? An alternative solution is for cities to partner with private companies to provide benefits. A good example of this can be found in Pizza Hut Park and the surrounding soccer fields. By joining with the Hunt Sports Group and FC Dallas, our government helped create one of the finest soccer facilities in the state of Texas. The MLS team gets a new home, the city gets a new tax base, and residents – kids and adults alike – have the opportunity to play on great fields. I’m not suggesting that the Athletic Center is a bad idea. But I hope our city council and our next mayor will continue to look to the cooperative model that benefits everyone – businesses and residents – rather than taking a competitive stance that often costs more in the long run. And meanwhile, since I’ve already got my Founding Membership, you’ll probably find me sweating away starting next week. I hear it’s good for me.

Friday, October 5, 2007

What’s on Your T-shirt?

A student in a Texas school was recently expelled from campus for wearing the wrong message on his t-shirt. Was it some kind of racist comment? No. Gang slogans? Nope. Perhaps a beer ad, showing scantily clad bimbos frolicking with cartoon dogs? Not even. No, this teen had the temerity to sport a top emblazoned with “John Edwards ’08.” Now, granted, those are fightin’ words in some ultra-red parts of our state (and most of Oklahoma), but is it really enough to get kicked out of school? According to the Waxahachie School Board it is. You see, their dress code states that “T-shirts, other than WISD clubs, organizations, sports, or spirit t-shirts, college or university t-shirts or solid-colored t-shirts, are prohibited.” That seems pretty restrictive, but perhaps the wise village elders in that sleepy little hamlet figured that they’d rather be safe than sorry. At least they are very clear about their intent. They state exactly what is allowed. All else is off limits. (One wonders what their reaction would be to some of the Texas / OU “spirit t-shirts” I’ve seen around town this week.) My curiosity aroused, I decided to take a peek at what Frisco ISD has to say on the subject ( Our school board has not taken the route of imposing such a clear restriction. Instead, they rely on a policy that bans: “pictures, emblems, or writings on materials or clothing that are lewd, offensive, vulgar, immodest, or promote or refer to alcoholic beverages, drugs, or any other substance prohibited under policy FNCF (1).” The dress code goes on to prohibit “shirts or other clothing items depicting or promoting acts of violence, guns, weapons, death, dismemberment, disfigurement, gang activity or affiliation or other offensive items.” Other than these items, one might assume that anything else is fair game. Not so fast. To give school administrators that additional silver bullet, this item is included: “The district also prohibits any clothing or grooming that in the principal’s judgment may reasonably be expected to cause disruption of or interference with normal operations.” Any parent of a middle or high-school student can pick out the fly in that ointment: “Reasonable” is not an adjective often applied to kids at that age. And I’m not sure how a simple item of clothing can interfere with normal operations. On top of these broad banishments there are a few other, more specific items. “Shoes must be worn at all times.” Pretty much a no-brainer there. “Sagging pants are not allowed. Jeans, slacks, shorts, and all other pants must be worn at or about the waist at all times.” This is a fashion trend destined to take its place with bell-bottoms and leg warmers in the “what were we thinking” hall-of-fame. Then there’s this tidbit: “Clothing should be worn for the purpose for which it was designed.” Are we having a problem with kids walking around with underwear on their heads? The debate over school dress codes has nagged at school administrators since the Beaver wore an unbuttoned collar to gym class in 1958. The pendulum swings every few years from leniency to calls for standardized uniforms. I’ve even heard a few parents around Frisco extolling the virtues of this concept. A brief chat with someone who grew up in a system with uniforms shows that even they found ways to personalize their attire. The bottom line is that parents have to take responsibility for educating their kids on what is and isn’t appropriate. But beyond that, it’s up to the students themselves to make their own choices. As long as FISD sets out clear guidelines like those above, students have a wide range of latitude to express themselves through clothing. And the fact is, wearing oddball or outlandish styles is probably the least permanent form of expression they have. Outside of a few embarrassing photos in the yearbook, there will be little evidence of their “gangsta” phase after they mature. Now piercings and tattoos, on the other hand… don’t get me started!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Take a Ride on the Frisco Line

A hippopotamus is huge. A full-grown male can reach up to 7,000 pounds or more. Hang that much weight on an eleven-foot-long frame and you’d expect a slow, ponderous beast. Surprisingly, hippos are actually quite fast, reaching speeds that would leave Olympic champions in the dust. Yes, hippos are impressive beasts. But one thing hippos aren’t is native to Texas. Why, then, is there a “Hippo Capital of Texas”? It seems that back in 1915 a circus train passed through the sleepy burg of Hutto, Texas, a few miles east of Austin. A wily hippo was able to slip away from its handlers and set up housekeeping in a local creek. This landmark event lead to the adoption of the hippopotamus as the Hutto High School mascot. 87 years later, the Texas Legislature made it official by designating Hutto as the Hippo Capital of Texas. The fact is, while Austin retains the rights to the designation “State Capital of Texas,” there are over fifty cities across the state that can lay claim to being the “something” Capital of Texas. Some make sense. Fredericksburg, for example, is the Polka Capital; likely based on the German and Eastern European roots of many settlers in that area. Glen Rose, home of some impressive fossil finds, is the Dinosaur Capital. Others are a bit more outlandish. The Ostrich Capital (Midland) joins Hutto in honoring an animal not native to our shores. And its neighbor, Odessa, claims the distinction of being the Jackrabbit-Roping Capital. Clearly, there’s just not enough to do in west Texas. And while each of these capitals is designated by an act of the Texas Legislature, some seem to be in dispute. Three different areas lay claim to the Crape Myrtle: Waxahachie, Paris and the entire Lamar County (and that’s not even counting McKinney’s un-official claims). Wildflowers, meanwhile, are claimed by both the city of Temple and DeWitt County. Which leads to the burning question of the week: What is Frisco the Capital of? I’m sure you’d get a variety of answers from citizens across town. Those living near the intersection of Teal and El Dorado would likely vote us the Traffic Jam Capital. A trip down Preston could lead to the distinction of the Bank Branch Capital. Drop by Pizza Hut Park on any Saturday and you could make a case for Frisco being the Soccer Capital. I think Collin County would certainly be in the running for the Toll Road Capital. And while all of those suggestions have merit, I’d like to put forth another suggestion; one that ties more directly into our City’s heritage. I am hereby starting my own personal campaign to designate Frisco as the Railroad Capital of Texas. The Frisco area was initially settled as a stop on the Shawnee Trail. The settlement grew with the arrival of the St. Louis - San Francisco Railroad, called “The Frisco Line” by people along its route. The first plan was to name our city after local resident Francis Emerson. But in 1904, citizens chose the name Frisco City in honor of the railroad that brought commerce to the area. The Frisco Line ultimately became part of the Burlington Northern Railroad and still plays a part in our daily lives. The sound of a train’s whistle as it rumbles past is certainly part of our daily environment. Recently, the City Council moved to adopt the original Frisco logo as our town’s public image, recalling our railroad heritage. You’ll notice that I’ve taken a tip from history to designate this biweekly column The Frisco Line. This is the first in a series of articles about Frisco, Texas. We’re a rapidly growing city that faces a number of unique challenges. I firmly believe that we can meet those challenges if our citizens are kept involved. And to be involved, you have to be informed. So in the coming months, I’ll be touching on topics like road development, toll collection, tax rates, parks and more. If there’s an issue on your mind that you’d like to see exposed, please drop me a note. And if I write something that touches a nerve, let me know that, too. My e-mail address is posted at the end of each piece. Plus, in an effort to reach the widest audience, the Frisco Enterprise will be publishing this piece as part of an online Blog, where you’ll be able to discuss these and other issues with your fellow citizens. Next spring, all of us are going to be faced with the decision of electing a new mayor, as well as a few new city council members. I hope that between now and then, The Frisco Line can help inform and educate you so you can make the best decision for our future. So consider this an invitation to join me here, every other week, for a look inside the Railroad Capital of Texas.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Forced loyalty indentures patriotism

It’s an image that invokes the very essence of American culture. A classroom full of kids standing at attention, hands over their hearts, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. If Norman Rockwell never painted such a scene, he should have. And if you grew up in the United States in the last 100 years, chances are you’ve participated in this ritual. Originally written in 1892 as an advertisement to sell flags for Columbus Day, the Pledge was adopted by Congress in 1942. But kids here in Texas get a double-dose of pledges. Not only are they avowing their commitment to our nation, but there’s a separate affirmation of devotion to the Great State of Texas. When I first heard of this tradition, I assumed this to be a holdover from our brief stint as a sovereign nation. Not so. In 1933, the Texas Legislature seemingly identified a hot-bed of disloyalists (perhaps a cabal of Okies encroaching south of the Red River) and decided that we needed everyone to express their devotion to the Lone Star State, along with our nation. In their original incarnations, neither the national pledge, nor Texas’ version found the need to invoke a deity to express one’s devotion. It wasn’t until 1954 that the phrase “under God” was added to, as President Eisenhower put it, “reaffirm the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future.” Now, fifty-odd years later, our Texas lawmakers have inserted a remarkably similar – and somewhat repetitive - phrase in the Texas pledge. "Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible." Plenty has been written about this latest modification. Many of the religious among us herald the inclusion as a return to the core values of our founding fathers. More liberal (albeit no less spiritual) elements point out that our founding fathers recognized the slippery slope of such inclusions and established rules against the government foisting any one religion – or any religion at all - on the public. Interestingly, it was a religious group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses - that first challenged the pledge on the grounds that it violated the Bible’s admonishment against idolatry. The most recent challenge to the state’s changes were brought by a pair of atheists. Strange bedfellows, indeed. But rather than going too far down that path, let’s consider why we have a Texas pledge at all, and why is it recited to the Flag? Only a handful of states have any kind of pledge. Georgia and Kentucky both have a pledge similar to ours, while Alaska has a whole song: Alaska’s Flag. When I was going to school in Oklahoma, the only pledge we had to learn were the words to Boomer Sooner (and it took some of us till the sixth grade to get those right). Perhaps Texas schoolchildren should count themselves lucky that all they have to recite is a couple of lines. But what is it about Texas that requires an affirmation of allegiance? Certainly our history is a bit more colorful than most, being the only state added to the Union by treaty. But do we really need to pledge our loyalty to the State? And what does that really mean? If I buy my wine from California, am I being disloyal to Texas? When I put on the crimson and cream at the Cotton Bowl every October, am I violating my pledge? An odd thing, these loyalty pledges. Where does one’s loyalty to one entity stop and another begin? It’s notable that in the enacting statute (Title 11, Subtitle A, Chapter 3100, Subchapter C, in case you’re interested), a distinction is made for men and women in military uniforms. They are directed to face the flag and salute like the rest of us, but are to remain silent. Presumably, this is to preclude any conflict due to their military Oath of Office. Compulsory loyalty oaths have been used throughout history, for both good and ill. Fortunately, there’s nothing in our state or national laws that compels anybody to recite either pledge. Sadly, our school board thinks otherwise, requiring a written request from a parent before excusing a student from making the two pledges. Lively is the debate over the inclusion of God in our two pledges. But we should give equal consideration to the meaning of all the words whenever we recite them. The next time you stand and face the flag, LISTEN to the words you’re reciting. Understand the commitment you’re making, or asking your children to make. Nobody can compel loyalty to any institution. At the end of the day, it’s a personal choice. And actions will speak far louder than any recitation of words.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Let’s break up our summer vacation into pieces

Three months is a long time to sleep late. We’re talking about ninety-four days without leaving bed before ten o’clock. I couldn’t do it, though my son is giving it his best shot. It’s been roughly two thousand, two hundred and some odd hours since the end of the FISD school year and another 72 till the start of the new semester next Monday. And I know I speak for hundreds (thousands?) of my fellow Texas parents when I say that it’s coming not a moment too soon.

Now I could spend the bulk of this piece reminiscing about the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Vacations. Trips to the lake. Camping under the stars. Sleeping in till noon and staying up till midnight. Ah, the memories of my youth. Certainly they’re fond memories, and I could recount numerous tales of heat-fueled shenanigans from my own summer vacations. But instead, I’m going to risk the wrath of the entire teen population of north Texas (and parts of Oklahoma) by speaking out AGAINST this annual tradition.

The idea of a “summer vacation” from school harkens back to the agrarian days of yesteryear. Back then, farms and ranches counted on family members as a source of labor. Kids had to take off to help bring in the crops. Chances were, even if school were held, the kids wouldn’t show up. This anachronistic practice endured even as we made the switch away from our farming roots to more urban communities. And this year, with a Potter-esque stroke of his pen, Governor Rick Perry conjured up the longest summer vacation in recent memory.

There are plenty of reasons to question the concept of a three month school break – particularly here in Texas. Instead, why not break up the vacation time into smaller chunks scattered throughout the year. A little more time around Christmas sure would be nice. While we’re at it, let’s extend spring break by another week and throw in a fall break to boot. All told, students would get the same amount of time away from the classroom. But spreading it out would solve a number of problems.

Let’s start with the kids. Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you the negative impact that summer vacation has on student retention. Most classes spend the first few weeks of every year just refreshing kids on what they learned last year. Tack on the extra time we’re seeing this year, and teachers may not get to new material till October! (Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture.) Shorten up the summer break and you can reclaim several valuable teaching days every year.

Another benefit would be the ability to actually spend time outside during vacations. Face it… August in Texas is not the best time to enjoy the great outdoors. Instead of enduring 100+ degree days (and 90 degree nights), wouldn’t you rather take in one of our glorious state parks on a weekend where it would actually be nice to gather around a campfire? Or head to one of the theme parks on a day when you’re not stuck with a few hundred of your closest friends waiting and hour and a half for one of the water-rides, just to cool off.

Finally, consider the plight of the dual-earner families. How difficult is it to find child care for three months every year. With a divided school schedule, parents could actually space out their vacation time and spend more of it with their kids. After several years with the same company, I get three weeks of vacation. But there’s no way I can logistically take more than a week or so at a time. I’d much rather spend one week, three times a year than always playing catchup from missing a long stretch in the summer.

The idea of a summer vacation is certainly ingrained in our popular culture. But as my high school coach was fond of saying, just ‘cause you’ve always done it that way don’t make it right. (He was a coach, not a grammar teacher.) It’s time to take a hard look at the school year and how it impacts everything we do. And I bet that the kids would even climb on board, once they realize that sleeping late in January feels just as good as August.