Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Do we live in a democracy? In Garland city elections the democratic process is all but eliminated because of the powerful Garland Fire Fighters Association

My membership in the Citizens Fire Academy taught me the rigors Garland firefighters endure to perform their jobs well. Because I care about our firefighters, I believe the Garland Firefighters Association needs a mid-course correction in the way it involves itself during local elections.
Garland citizens need to have an important and necessary conversation about the role, power and influence of the Garland Fire Fighters Association and its political action committee in our city's elections.

Our city's fire department is NOT involved directly in our city's elections. Like all city departments, it is by law supposed to be nonpolitical. However, the independent union-like association that includes many of our firefighters is intricately involved in city politics—and in ways and to the extent that may surprise average voters and citizens of our community. The law requires this to be done out of uniform and totally off hours and away from their places of work.

At the same time, an Open Records request to the city proved what many have long suspected and rumored but, in typical Garland fashion, is not readily in public view: Less than 5% (a total of 6) of our 119 firefighters (people in our fire department who bear that job title) actually live and vote in Garland. The other 95% live as far away as southern Oklahoma, East Texas, the western outskirts of Fort Worth and other places. The firefighters earn between $61,084 and $76,760 a year in Garland and from Garland citizens' pockets yet spend the vast majority of that money in other places, building the economic base of other locations. 

While 95% of our actual firefighters live outside the City of Garland, do not pay taxes here, and do not vote in our city, the firefighters association, which touts loudly and proudly "Garland Firefighters support . . .", exercises perhaps the most powerful influence of any individual or group over our city's municipal government. 

Before I go further in this blog, let me be clear: I love and respect our city's and our nation's first-responders, including the brave men and women who keep us safe when fire turns destructive. I am a proud graduate of the City of Garland's Citizens Fire Academy; I am a member of the Citizens Firefighters Club of Garland. Two of my four nephews are firefighters in Oklahoma. One of Kay's cousins is a firefighter in Dallas; another is retired from the volunteer fire department in a small town in East Texas. We have friends who are parents of firefighters. At our house we love firefighters as individuals and as a department of our city!

I also love Garland and our city's firefighters enough to ask the difficult questions about their political action committee, their union leaders, and their excessive over-involvement in our city's political elections. I want better for them and don't want to see them continuing to go down a troublesome path many in our city are beginning to seriously question and which could majorly damage our fire department's reputation overall.
I cherish my experience as a member of the Garland Citizens Fire Academy, where I and my fellow class members learned a bit of what goes into a firefighter's workday. Regretfully only 6 of Garland's firefighters (less than 5 percent) live in Garland, yet the union of which many are members makes far-reaching decisions that will impact our city's citizens for decades.
I would ask the same questions if another group—for instance, employees of the Garland Environmental Waste Services or the city's Streets Department—has a PAC and conducted themselves in this manner. Regular city employees also are by law under the same restrictions about campaigning and being involved in municipal elections as are the fire and police employees. They may not use their positions to directly influence a campaign or election.

This is also not meant to reflect personally on the candidates that the political action committee endorsed in the most recent city election. Because of the way this firefighters' PAC operates, however, the election was not a fair fight—and local elections down the road can never be a fair fight as long as this organization's practices are not seriously studied or countered.

To counterbalance the excessive power the Garland Fire Fighters Association wields in our city elections, other groups of city employees, disenfranchised residents, or others may be forced to rise up to challenge the GFFA-dominated power structure here. I heard grumblings of this during the recent Mayor of Garland campaign.

The way the Garland Fire Fighters Association's PAC operates creates the type of municipal election here that essentially eliminates the democratic process. Only a candidate endorsed by the PAC has any chance of winning at all, given the deep pockets the firefighters' union has. In this blog I repeatedly have encouraged Garland citizens to run for public office and to throw their hats in the ring in local elections and to exercise their rights as citizens to do so. However, very few people can stand against this kind of onslaught. The average citizen can't expect to take on this challenge unless the person is independently wealthy and can outspend the deep-pocketed Garland Fire Fighters Association union. Even at that, there's no guarantee, because who is going to oppose the "motherhood-and-apple-pie" questionable approach of "Hi, I'm a Garland firefighter" or "Hi, I'm a firefighter" that occurs when GFFA representatives electioneer at polling places and approach voters with their endorsements and materials as they enter to cast their ballots? It represents an extremely unfair advantage. It has earmarks of what one might experience if he or she lived in a country where there is really no choice in an election or where successors are pre-selected.

Let's first define three terms that are crucial to this conversation. The terms sound alike but legally apply to three different entities.

1. The Garland Fire Department. This is the unit of our city assigned to save lives and property by fighting fires and transporting and sick and injured to area medical facilities. It is top quality with an annual operating budget of $32,635,109 for fiscal year 2017-2018. The city employs 119 firefighters and 141 others in that department. Mark Lee is the city's fire chief.

2. The Garland Fire Fighters Association. This AFL-CIO affiliated organization is known as the International Organization of Fire Fighters Local 1293. While a separate entity from the Garland Fire Department, its membership is overlapping and is composed of most of the men and women in the Garland Fire Department, not just "firefighters" per se.

3. The Garland Fire Fighters Community Interest Committee is a political action committee, aka a PAC. It is somewhat similar to those PAC's you read about in national elections, which are funded by extremely rich U.S. citizens who often have right-wing, left-wing, and other political agendas. The local Garland PAC pools money given by firefighters (often deducted directly from their city paychecks) to be used in political activities, such as elections for Garland city council and mayoral races. Many Garland politicos believe it is almost next to impossible for an ordinary citizen in a competitive race against a council or mayoral candidate endorsed by Local 1293 to win. Because the group is so well organized, skilled, monetarily endowed, and powerful, the Firefighter PAC is able to throw as much money and influence as necessary to win an election here.

The Fire Fighters Association even has its own private offices in the basement of the Chase Bank Building near the intersection of Garland Avenue at Main Street.

Garland firefighter David Riggs, president for many years of the association, and Garland firefighter Brandon Day, secretary-treasurer, are key leaders in the organization and the organization's political campaigns. Riggs is a skilled, seasoned politician who is scheduled to retire from the Garland Fire Department in 2019. I will be very surprised if he doesn't opt to run for public office in coming years or create his own consulting business for political candidates. Riggs lists on State of Texas paperwork his address as Sulphur Springs, TX. He is among Garland's most astute political powerhouses right now and one of the most influential people in Garland city elections, even though his address is in Sulphur Springs.
A familiar face in matters pertaining to Garland politics is David Riggs, president of the Garland Fire Fighters Association, and one of the most powerful political figures in Garland.
During the most recent election, Riggs worked tirelessly for his candidates, not only ordering, paying for with PAC funds, and putting up their campaign signs and orchestrating multiple targeted mailings and robo phone calls but even bringing meals to them and delivering and taking other actions at their beck and call.

The Garland Fire Fighters Association's Community Interest Committee is the strongest and most financially able of any PAC in Garland today. It makes the other Garland PAC's associated with such entities as the Republicans and Democrats in our community look weak and anemic.

The only comparable Garland entity to the firefighters is the UA Plumbers and Pipefitter Union Local PAC Fund, which gives mostly to non-local races. It does not seem to want or have an influence in our city's politics. Its focus seems to be on state and national politics.

So the firefighters' PAC stands alone in financial strength and political power in our city. Nothing else in Garland compares to it. No wonder our local politicians appear to live in awe—and at the same time fear—of it!

One has to follow the rabbit-trail through state government maze at the Texas Ethics Commission's website to discern the true wealth and influence of the Garland Fire Fighters Association and its powerful PAC, aka the association's Community Interest Committee.

Fortunately, the State of Texas requires the PAC to file paperwork for its fundraising and expenditures on political campaigns. This is yet another classic example of how the state appropriately has to supervise what goes on in a city.

The role of the Garland Fire Fighters Association's Community Interest Committee is especially significant in a city where voter apathy is extreme and financial means for elections is desperately small. Those unfortunate elements combine to magnify the influence of the firefighters' PAC. (In the last election only about 3% of Garland voters exercised their right to vote.)

The Garland Fire Fighters Community Interest Committee has the financial resources and political clout in the city to elect just about whoever it wants in a city election. And when it deems necessary, the PAC uses those resources to whatever extent necessary, leading to what could make a significant portion of our current Garland City Council beholden to it, living in fear of it, or going begging after its support.

The city has little it can do to cure the union's influence, especially since the majority of the members of the Garland City Council were elected with its help—and three of the others have never stood for election and received even one citizen's actual vote and easily could live wondering what would happen to them if they ever became involved in a REAL contested election and needed the firefighter PAC's assistance to stay in office.

It represents an extremely unfair advantage, especially when those approaching the voter with the appealing introduction, "Hi, I'm a firefighter”, fail to reveal their actual place of residency elsewhere. Members of the Garland Fire Fighters Association say they perform these election-related tasks in their off-duty hours. One told a member of our campaign staff that he was paid by PAC money to be present at the polls. (Initial reports filed in Austin indicate the firefighters who work the poll are paid by the PAC. More on this in another blog later.)

And why not live in Garland? If firefighters and other city employees work here and earn their salaries here, why would they not want to support the hand that feeds them and help bolster the economic base that in turn could help their lot economically? Garland has nice homes, wonderful people, good schools, and a city with an economic base that needs all the help it can muster! If our city council had courage, it would ask important questions like that when the union leaders come calling asking for their pet projects such as setting up a special "retirement stability benefit" for them.

In late 2017, the Garland Fire Fighters Association's Community Interest Committee reported to the State of Texas that it had available assets of more than $120,000 and was still collecting funds to disperse during elections in 2018 and beyond. (In Garland, a contested City Council race can cost upward of $10,000 and a mayoral election more than $50,000.) I personally ran a frugal mayoral campaign that spent more in the realm of what candidates for council normally spend (when a contested race actually occurs!) In its May 3 filing, the Garland firefighters PAC reported that for the year its receipts reached $33,228.00 and its expenditures $34,494.29. Those funds seem to have been disbursed mostly for Texas legislative races. Most of the expenses for its involvement in the Mayor of Garland special election on May 5 are not included in that May 3 report. I will report to my readers on them later when all those reports are filed and publicly available.

A major issue that Garland faces, as one reader pointed out recently in a response to one of my blogs, is that Garland does not have its own independent newspaper or other media such as TV or radio stations to help ferret out the truth for us. That means we have no independent voice in the community to determine and assess the information about city elections, including information about the oversized role of the firefighters association and its PAC.

During the most recent city election, one couldn't readily tell the difference between the city's fire department and the firefighters association and the activities of its PAC. Many citizens were quite confused by the distinction. Representatives of the Association hustled voters at the polling stations and identified themselves as "Hi, I'm a Garland firefighter" or  "Hi, I'm a firefighter", further muddying the waters between politically active city employees under the guise of the firefighters PAC and city practice restricting political activity of its employees.

I have asked the Texas Ethics Commission in Austin, the state's watchdog on elections, for a reading on just how close the association came to stepping over the fine legal line of what is ethically right for it and at the same time harmful to our citizens who want to do right in elections.
Texas law is very specific about what political signs can say and how wording is presented. Our campaign noted several areas needing clarification in the Garland Fire Fighters Association's signs.

Some of the PAC's larger campaign signs during the Mayor of Garland race need clarification about whether they could have violated the law. In my document filed with the Texas Ethics Commission in Austin I cite several potential areas of question with their signs. My campaign workers and I deliberately acted cautiously and opted to wait until after the election was over rather than sending the mayoral campaign into chaos by deliberately and legally raising the issue and demanding during the waning days of the campaign that the Garland Fire Fighters Association's possibly illegal signs be removed.

Now that the campaign is over, I believe the city must face up to and address the matter publicly, so that citizens understand fully how their votes are being influenced by the firefighters' PAC, its money, and what citizens' options are going forward for dealing with it.

Many Garland citizens approached, emailed, and or called me to complain about "the firefighters'" aggressive behavior, including numerous robo phone calls, excessive direct mailings, signs, and electioneering voters at the polls. All this went well beyond the mere act of issuing an endorsement for a candidate. Most citizens didn't seem to know the fine points that distinguish the city fire department, the independent association, and the powerful PAC. They just referred to what was happening in the election and at the polls as "the firefighters".

Our firefighters rightfully bemoan the higher cancer risk firefighters face today due to chemicals used in all sorts of manufacturing. And they have asked City Council for a special "retirement stability benefit" to help offset that danger—a perk that even our police who daily face untold dangers said was not a priority for them. Yet the firefighters association spends on city political campaigns vast sums of money that could be used for a more worthwhile cause such as care of firefighters battling cancer or maybe even special cancer insurance for them. An individual fire department employee could funnel his or her funds now going to the PAC and reallocate them into a savings account for his or her retirement, if that is a matter of concern. The association's and PAC's stewardship of these funds seems puzzling at best. For the past decade, they've been growing in their involvement with our city politics. In fact, many sitting city council members (those that were actually elected by citizens in a competitive race, not by council because no one filed against them) are in their debt for the money the organization has fed into their campaigns to get elected.

During the most recent mayoral election, the firefighters association seemed almost in a state of panic to make sure their candidate won. It reminded me of my classes in the Fire Academy in which we were taught to go into a fire using everything we had to put it out and not let it spread. The Garland Fire Fighters Association already had an outstanding track record for steering elections in their preferred direction, so their response in this election was more than noteworthy. 

The issue is NOT our valued firefighters individually nor as a department of the city. It is the element within the firefighters community that tries to exercise unfair political influence far beyond that which most people truly understand or believe is right in our nation.

Whether the group's actions are ethical, moral, or right—and should be allowed to continue unchallenged—is the question that Garland's citizens need to answer for themselves—after getting all the facts out in front of them, something that hasn't been done until now.

Like the proverbial "elephant in the living room", Garland politicos and wannabe politicos have much they need to tell our citizens and the public in general about the influence this group of city employees has over City Council and the city itself. What exactly is the firefighters association and its PAC being promised in exchange for its money and support at the polls? I suggest that every local candidate who has accepted firefighter PAC money publicly disclose the exact amount and how it was used, since the public seldom if ever reads the candidates' city-required campaign financial statements.

One antidote for the issue is to encourage other groups of employees and citizens to do the same as the firefighters association. If the firefighters association is allowed to continue to be so active in city politics, why not encourage every city department (engineering, animal control, library, waste management, et al) to form its own political action committee (PAC), to raise funds through withdrawals from their city paychecks and lobby for whatever monies or issues they desire?

For the sake of future candidates in all Garland elections—and certainly for the well-being of Garland firefighters themselves—this matter needs to be out in the open, freely discussed, and solutions sought. It's not fair to others in the city that one group gets to exercise power so much greater than other groups, especially since members of that power-wielding group are city employees, mostly do not live in our city, do not pay taxes as the rest of us are required to do, and do not vote in our city elections. They take Garland taxpayers' money and spend it in other locales, while wielding major influence that impacts our city for years and years to come.

Free access to our city's political system is part of building a better community for ALL Garland citizens. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

The gift to Garland of an engaged mayor's race was a key takeaway from election just past

Election morning 2018—the key takeaway of the recent city election is the fact that there was a real election with real candidates and real issues discussed.
The recent mayor's race was a gift to Garland citizens: a competitive contest that brought serious issues to the foreground.

While I finished second, I truly emerged a winner because my hometown finally got to have the kind of election I've been advocating.

My campaign pulled together in Team Louis some of the best citizens Garland has to offer—thinking people who love this city, want to see its problems addressed openly in a constructive manner, and are issues-oriented, intelligent, discerning, and focused. I marvel at the key members that formed Team Louis and the volunteers that fanned out from the inner circle.

I have been highly frustrated in recent years as time after time Garland endured sham elections in which:

1. Opponents never materialized, so incumbents or their chosen successors were "elected" by default by a City Council that more and more resembles a self-perpetuating bank board rather than a democracy or republic in action.

2. Real meaty issues that matter most to this community were sidestepped and not discussed publicly. Instead, the council and mayor sometimes asserted that all was well, when it really wasn't.

3. Elections were steered off-course by irrelevant topics or rabbit-chasing after minor distractions.

I threw my hat in the ring for the major purpose of trying to model for the citizens of Garland what an honest-to-goodness, issues-oriented, honorable, transparent campaign looks like. I knew we were fighting an uphill battle against great odds because the city's political landscape is heading in a direction I do not support and can't change without a major miracle. I am totally opposed to secrecy, racial exclusion, self-centered political gatekeepers, vested interests, and behind-the-scenes manipulation—all hallmarks of our city's current political system.

I saw evidence first-hand and often during the campaign of the result of the lack of real elections in Garland. A private corporate board doesn't want and doesn't need input from the citizens it services. Civil government at all levels does!
Addressing the campaign faithful at the close of Election Day. (Photo by AnaMaria de Young)
Without regular, genuine, authentic elections, our City Council has no reason to listen to the citizens. Without real elections in which candidates are forced to spell out their vision for the city, our city government is free to operate more and more where candidates are not held accountable by citizen-voters for their actions and motivations.

Uncontested races and extreme apathy among our citizens and voters are unhealthy signs in our community—and signs of serious disconnect between citizens and community leaders.

In case there is any doubt whatsoever, I support an engaged citizenry. As I said over and over during the campaign, Garland's citizens are its greatest assets—not our city government, not GP&L, not our political leaders; our citizens are at the center of what is important and best about this city.

The contrast at the candidate forums held during the election illustrated the heart of the political problem in our city: Candidates with no one opposing them on the ballot (incumbents) were allowed to get up in public and present an unchallenged, one-sided positive pep talk/spin on issues, while the mayoral candidates engaged in presentations that at least tried to put the issues and their individual perspectives before the public.

I appreciate my two opponents very much for their willingness to engage in fair, honest, and open debate.  
Political signs that cropped up all over town signified the fact that Garland had itself a real election under way in the mayor's race. (Photo by John Combs.)
Nevertheless, throughout the spirited campaign I saw evidence of the rustiness of the political apparatus in our city.

1. It showed up at a so-called candidate forum in which, to the best of my awareness, candidates never received any advance notice, email, or directions about how the event would be organized—how much time I and my opponents would be given to speak, and with no prior information on whether we would be asked to answer specific questions from the audience. Poor readiness at campaign events bespeaks of the city NOT regularly practicing the fine art of holding elections.

2. It lifted its ugly head at another candidate forum at which the organizer/moderator raced over to hug one of my opponents, and in the audience's full view, greeted the candidate with great fanfare while a few minutes later unprofessionally introduced me to the audience by the wrong name. Unprofessional decorum at such an event that should be the epitome of fairness bespeaks of the city's NOT regularly practicing and promoting the fine art of holding elections.

3. The rustiness was obvious when one candidate and I saw that a third candidate stated an endorsement by an important local group of professionals. I contacted the group's leader to inquire if the candidates had somehow missed an email inviting us to an interview. I was told that no interview was ever held in which all candidates for mayor were given the opportunity to speak about themselves and vie for the endorsement. The candidate was endorsed, I was told, out of long-standing relationship with the organization. Endorsements of this nature bespeak of the city NOT regularly practicing the fine art of holding elections.

One of my candidate platforms was to overhaul our current political system. More than anything else, the election convinced me that this is absolutely necessary for the health of our community.
Voters exercising their rights as Americans, showing up at the polls and voting, with a choice of three candidates for mayor

The campaign also convinced me this is a long-term, systemic issue that will take time to address, perhaps from a variety of angles.

Garland's system desperately needs a revision, an overhaul, and a rebirth. This issue can be dealt with from both the inside and outside of the mayor's office. It needs to be dealt with one way or the other.
At the campaign's kickoff I stated that part of my goal was to be part of a real mayor's race. I was glad to have two opponents and that we had ample opportunities to present issues to the citizens.

We need contested races in every aspect of our political life here. We must not fear them. We must encourage them. We must look on them as a sign of a healthy community where real issues are discussed, debated, and eventually resolved—and not swept under the rug.

Daily I understand more fully that old cliche, "Iron sharpens iron".  Sharpened citizen iron is one way to build a better community for ALL.

Our city faces serious issues that absolutely must be addressed sooner than later. Our citizens need a sharper focus on what these are and what the options are for resolving them. Our elected officials must be held accountable for how they address these matters. Competitive political races will enable that better than all the PR pizzaz the city can muster.

I love Garland and I continue to want to see it become a better city for ALL citizens.

This spring voters had a chance to wear their "I Voted" stickers because they had filled in the ballot in a live-wire mayor's race with three candidates.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Throughout Garland we need vision and elbow-grease to mobilize our citizens into a force that will transform our beloved city

The experiment worked and can be transported throughout Garland to put the city on the best path forward.


"If Louis Moore can accomplish all this for his neighborhood, just think what he could do for the City of Garland!"

This remark, heard from a home-tour guest as he departed one of the vintage dwellings at last Saturday's historic home tour in Garland's Travis College Hill, put into words a thought that I've hoped to advance during this mayoral campaign.

Although my campaign was officially suspended last Friday afternoon through last Saturday evening with all our campaign signs and materials taken down temporarily as we concentrated fully on this annual event that brings several hundred people to our neighborhood, it would have been tough to miss this keen observation made by a friend as he walked out our front door. He meant that in the past, I had taken charge of a next-to-impossible situation that our neighborhood was encountering, I worked with neighbors, city departments, the police, and the school district to bring about an effective solution. 

With a decaying, blighted, crime-and-drug-infested street once nicknamed "Marijuana Avenue" closed and gone forever, we then began working "to seal the deal forever"—to bring proper recognition to this overlooked part of town. First a state historical marker, then a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Creative thinking and effort led to special bonuses for our neighborhood, once it was cleaned up.

This year, an added recognition was the dedication of an official monarch butterfly waystation on a major entry into the addition. A large, beautiful interpretive artistic sign at the corner of Avenue D and 11th Street is one more touch of class to the neighborhood.

In 5 short years Travis College Hill has gone from "slum", as one former council member called it, to being a bright jewel in Garland's treasure chest. Great acclaim is brought to Garland each time a home tour is conducted. Massive amounts of positive attention, boosting Garland's image considerably, is generated as a result of these annual events. This year's tour brought people from throughout the Metroplex, as well as from other parts of the country—people who left saying things like, "I didn't know Garland had something like this." 

Everything about the home tour is a class act—from the pre-tour concert on Friday evening featuring internationally acclaimed guitarist Trace Bundy, to the masterful, locally created metalwork stand created to hold the new interpretive sign at Avenue D ad 11th, to the espirit de corps of neighbors both in Travis College Hill and Embree who furthered our sense of community and neighborliness here. 
The sign turned into a local art piece, thanks for a locally created metalwork stand made by Garland artisans.

Looking back, it would have been so easy—and less costly to us—five years ago for us to have done exactly what our adult children then wanted: to have sold our home and everything else we own in Garland's downtown area and moved either to Firewheel or Rockwall. In their perspective our neighborhood in downtown Garland at that time was too dangerous and going downhill too rapidly for us to remain.
Instead, Kay and I dug in our heels, stuck to our guns, and set to work to give it one last "college try" to try and save our drowning neighborhood.

We are glad we did! We forever will appreciate all who joined in the effort and movement and supported us.

That doesn't mean the transition in our neighborhood was easy. Change is difficult on many people. It brings out the best as well as the worst in people. It certainly wasn't easy for us either. But it was indeed something borne of necessity—and blessed by God with success.

It was also born of our love for Garland and ALL things Garland.
Even though privately owned once again, Garland citizens enjoy touring this classic symbol of our city.

It is reflective of something that needs to occur throughout much of Garland, particularly central and south Garland: a radical vision for what can occur here—and an even more radical determination for implementing that vision.

Almost every section of Garland has something that needs radical transformation:
1. the site of the former Baylor Scott & White Hospital;
2. the site of the former Eastern Hills Country Club;
3. the rerouting of Texas 78 through central and downtown Garland;
4. Texas 66 from First Street to the Rowlett/Garland boundary;
5. much of South Garland especially along LBJ (I-635);
6. the old Hypermart site;
7. downtown Garland, particularly east of the railroad tracks to First Street, from Avenues B and D;
8. the antiquated and embarrassing animal shelter in the city's work area off Commerce Street (as well as many of the city's rundown looking work sites in that area, too);
9. and the many other places within the city limits that need both a solid vision and serious elbow grease.

I don't pretend to have all the answers for all of these challenging areas,  but I know who does: the citizens of this great city, if only they were empowered with the right tools and leadership. 

May the leaders of Garland never forget that the city exists not for our politicians, nor for our city government, nor for our sacred institutions, but for the citizens themselves who call this place HOME and are our city's most valuable assets.

I will keep my campaign promises to exert the same kind of solutions-minded effort that I employed for our Travis College Hill neighborhood and pull together victories all over Garland so these areas can be crown-jewels of our city as well.

With the right leadership and vision, the path forward for our city can be beautiful!

Monday, April 23, 2018

YOUR VOTE WILL SHAPE GARLAND'S FUTURE: If Garland truly matters to you, you'll go to the ballot box.

During his announcement on Feb. 16, Louis Moore said he would be a mayor for all citizens. (Photo by Deborah Downes of Take to Heart Images)
This special election for the new Mayor of Garland is not about me nor about my two opponents.

This election is about YOU, the citizens of Garland—empowering you to help make the city all it can be.

Your vote will shape Garland's future.

If you don't like the direction Garland is going now (and many of you have told me you don't), this is your chance to start making a difference.

I want to make Garland a better city for ALL of its citizens. I intend to be a Mayor actively involved and engaged with the citizens of the community. I won't be a mayor who hangs out only with members of the city council and other Garland political elite. 

I'm happy when you say you support me. I thank you for installing one of our signs—and for attending some of of meetings where I have spoken. I'm pleased when you hit "Like" on one of my Facebook posts. All those gestures mean much; I appreciate each one, but if you stay home and don't go to the polls and cast your vote for Louis Moore, these gestures go nowhere. The power is in your hands. 

If you truly want to make Garland a better city for ALL, this is the time to change your habits. If you have been apathetic in the past and thought, why bother?, I urge you to now step out and make your way to the ballot box.

I need your help. I can't win this election without YOU.

For too long Garland has been run by a small handful of politicos and gatekeepers who work steadily to make sure that YOU are denied your constitutional right to voice your opinion at the polls. They work steadily behind the scenes to discourage people from running in elections, thus perpetuating scenarios whereby incumbents or their chosen successors face no opponents—and thus are automatically elected or reelected, often without ever receiving one single citizens' vote.
Without actual elections, is it any wonder our political leaders move further and further away from believing they are responsible to—and need to listen to—the citizens of Garland? 

I have stepped forward, and I am ready to serve the citizens of the great city of Garland! I want to mobilize our citizens into a force that will help build a better Garland. I can do that only if I am elected.

Voter turnout in Garland elections is abominable and has been for many years. It is what has led to this deplorable situation now where politicos and gatekeepers run our city. Less than 4% (or 4,400 living in 3,150 households) of our city's registered voters turned out a year ago to vote in that mayoral election. Our current mayor was elected with about two-thirds of that tiny vote. He then resigned less than a year later after an embarrassing public conflict involving several city council members. That situation shook the city and tarnished its reputation.

Voting for City Council seats produces far worse turnout than voting for mayor. Depending on the district and whether there is even an election, the turnout can be as low as 2% to 3% of registered voters in a district, with the victor in a contested race usually elected only by a handful of voters. 

The problem is systemic, not an isolated situation. Low voter turnout grants those who want to manipulate our political system and our city the cover they need to continue their un-American ways.

This needs to change.

The U.S. constitution and the Texas constitution guarantees YOU—every one of YOU over the age of 18—the right to vote.

The success of this election depends on YOU, the good citizens of Garland, exercising that right.

Early election begins today, Monday, April 23, and continues through Tuesday, May 1. The special election for a new mayor to finish the final year in resigned Mayor Douglas Athas' two-year term is officially Saturday, May 5.

The success of this election depends on YOU, the good citizens of Garland, exercising your voting rights.(Photo by Deborah Downes of Take to Heart Images)

We are expecting a tight race, because change is difficult for many people. As I've said many times, I want to take the city in a new and different direction—one in which ALL citizens count—and with a new style of leadership to make Garland a better city for ALL.

I've pledged that as soon as elected, I will appoint at least eight mayoral citizen task forces to work with me to find workable solutions and strategies for such issues as:
1. The loss of our city's only hospital,
2. Speeding up the repair and replacement of our city's miserable streets, sidewalks, and alleys,
3. Improving the deteriorating city parks, especially in central and southern Garland.
4. Our long-delayed new animal shelter and a faster route to a "no-kill" policy.
5. The slow economic redevelopment particularly in central and southern portions of the city,
6. Political reform in our city,
7. How to bring ALL of our citizens, particularly our Hispanic, black, and Asian populations, into the mainstream of life in Garland.
8. Lack of a comprehensive plan for our growing homeless population.

Please join me in this effort to MAKE GARLAND A BETTER CITY FOR ALL. Exercise your right and VOTE! 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Dallas Morning News Voter's Guide is excellent but difficult for some citizens to access, so here is section on Candidate Louis Moore

For the people who don't have a subscription to the Dallas Morning News and are having difficulty getting to the online version of the DMN Voters Guide for the Mayor of Garland race, here is what was published on Mayoral Candidate Louis Moore:

Age and contact information
Age: 71
Address: 313 S. 11th St., Garland , TX
Campaign or Work Phone Number: (214) 886-1009
Email address:
Web site: Answer not available
Occupation/main source of income:
retired/investor/community activist
Education (include all degrees):
Bachelor of Arts in journalism, Baylor University 1968
Master of Divinity in theology, Southern Seminary, 1972
Highlights of current civic involvement/accomplishment:
Since moving to Garland in 2000, I have immersed myself in the life of the city. To run in this election for Mayor of Garland, I stepped down after 10 years on the city's Plan Commission. I am a former vice president and a current board member of the Garland Downtown Business Association and am a founding board member and president of Friends of Garland's Historic Magic 11th Street. I am a former chair and board member of the Garland Salvation Army, was a founding board member of Hope Clinic, and have been involved in many other organizations in Garland. In 2017 I graduated from the Garland Citizens Fire Academy. During that same year my wife, Kay Wheeler Moore, and I received the prestigious "Who's Who in Garland Neighborhoods" award, administered by the City of Garland's Office of Neighborhood Vitality. Friends and relatives often refer to us as "Mr. and Mrs. Garland" because of our love and work on behalf of the city. A citizen and elder in the Chickasaw Nation, in 2016 and 2017 I was selected as a "Diversity Scholar" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation based in Washington, D.C. I am involved with the organization's effort to see that the "complete story of America" is told through national and local recognitions and citations. As an indication of our commitment to make Garland a place where ALL CITIZENS COUNT, Kay and I are members of Garland's NAACP and GAFHA Hispanic-heritage group.
Highlights of past civic involvement/accomplishment:
I first became acquainted with Garland when I married Garland native Kay Wheeler in 1969. After living in several cities (Louisville, Houston, Plano, Nashville, and Richmond), we moved to Garland in the year 2000. Helping Garland reach its full potential has become a passion of our lives. We have worked tirelessly to help restore Garland's inner city as well as other parts of the city. We live on the street where Kay grew up. That area today lies in the Travis College Hill Historic District in downtown Garland. Only 12 houses remain of the Travis College Hill Addition where the Wheelers once lived and the Moores live today. Garland's City Council on May 20, 2014, declared the Addition the city's first Historic District. The next year the State of Texas awarded the neighborhood a Texas Historical Marker, the first for a residential area in Garland. Then two years later in 2017, the U.S. Department of the Interior bestowed on the neighborhood official recognition on the National Register of Historic Places—the first time ever that any site in Garland received that distinction. Travis College Hill is one of the oldest extant subdivisions in Garland. It was platted in 1913 as part of an effort to "grow Garland" with a new electric rail car line, the Interurban, that was to run between Dallas and Greenville. The Interurban line never materialized, but the remaining remnants of the Interurban Land Company's Travis College Hill Addition are a testimony of that bygone era. Of those 12 houses in Travis College Hill today, Kay and I own five and formerly owned or were involved in the restoration of three others. Now retirement age, we are deeply involved in seeing that the once-blighted Downtown Garland area experiences a renaissance and becomes a model city for healthy people, long-living seniors, and ordinary families looking to recapture a bygone era when community pride, friendliness, and neighborliness—all of which were once hallmarks of Garland—honestly described the area.
I have traveled to 49 of the 50 U.S. states and in 45 different countries on five continents.
Previous public offices sought or held:
I have been appointed by Garland City Council to the Garland Plan Commission, District 2, for a total of 10 of the last 12 years
I've held no elected public office. I have served as chair, president, vice chair, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and committee chair on more than two dozen local, state, national, and international boards, including Garland's Hope Clinic, Salvation Army, and the Garland Downtown Business Association. I was chair of Mayor Douglas Athas' Task Force on Historic Preservation, which he initiated shortly after taking office in May 2013.
How much funding have you raised for your campaign?
Less than $5,000. I have promised the citizens of Garland that I will run as frugal a campaign for Mayor as possible. I am very concerned that city politicos told me before entering the race that I should expect to spend at least $50,000 of my own money on the campaign. I have no intention of doing that.
Who are your top three contributors?
Louis Moore (myself)
Matthew J. Moore (son)
Kay Wheeler Moore (wife)
Have you ever been arrested on any misdemeanor or felony charge or otherwise involved in any criminal proceedings? If so, please explain and include the outcome of the case:
Have you ever been involved in any civil lawsuits or declared personal or professional bankruptcy? If so, please explain and include the outcome of the lawsuit or bankruptcy filing.
What is an example of how you led a team or group toward achieving an important goal?
Without any city funding, my wife and I worked with our neighbors, the Texas Historical Commission, and the U..S. Department of the Interior to place our neighborhood, the Travis College Hill Historic District in Garland, on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places. Travis College Hill was the first site ever in the history of Garland to achieve this accomplishment. The project involved extensive research into our neighborhood's history, the architecture of the houses, and the current ownership of the homes. For our work, my wife and I were nominated and awarded Garland's Who's Who in Garland Neighborhoods Award for 2017.
Why are you running for this office, and why should voters choose you over your opponent(s)?
I listen carefully to those around me. I look for common themes in what people say. I am a problem solver and a consensus builder. I am a trained communicator who understands complicated issues and can explain them clearly to the average citizen. I am a proven, trained, and skilled leader with significant experience in management and executive leadership. Garland faces enormous challenges that require someone of my skill set and temperament to lead our city at this crucial point in our history. Instead of going backward or marching in place to the status quo, I want the opportunity to lead our city forward beyond the impasse of recent years of political conflict and into a brighter future for ALL of our citizens. During my work career I managed multi-million-dollar budgets. As a trustee for the International Mission Board, I worked with complex budgets of nearly $300 million that are comparable to the City of Garland's budgets. I understand all the various functions of the City of Garland and am ready to go to work for the citizens of Garland as soon as I take the oath of office as mayor. My goal is to make order out of the city's current political chaos and to work with City Council to make Garland all that it should and can be.
Length of residency in your city or town and, if applicable, in your council district:
18 years. My wife of 49 years is a Garland native. I first came to Garland in 1968 when we were courting. Her parents were active in the political, social, and and business life of the city—and wonderful role models of citizen involvement. When we returned to Garland in August 2000 to care for Kay's aging mother and other aging relatives, Kay and I both had a deep desire to make Garland a better community for all.
What current or former city or town council member do you most admire and why?
Former Rowlett Mayor Todd Gottel, who displayed excellent leadership skills, vision, and clarity of purpose while in office. He accomplished much for Rowlett during his tenure as that city's mayor. I admire him for being a forward-thinking problem-solver who knew how to work with people and policies simultaneously. Closer to home, I admire former Garland Mayor Ron Jones, who is a "people person" who knows how to lead and how to work with different types of personalities.
What are the three most important actions you would take, if elected, and how would you advance them and pay for them?
1. As soon as I am sworn in as Mayor of Garland, I will engage the Board and top leadership of Baylor Scott & White in a needed conversation about the pain that wealthy corporation created for our community when it opted to close our city's only hospital and what the leadership of that influential entity sees as its possible options for the huge facility that now remains mostly vacant and unused near the center of our city. As a former trustee and committee chair of another large and wealthy international Baptist Board similar to Baylor Scott and White, I want to sit down eyeball-to-eyeball with that huge corporation's top leaders and hear their plans for the future for smaller, specialized facilities and hear how their plans will help or hinder our city further as well as other nearby cities where they are mulling plans to close other hospitals. Because of my extensive experience with the trustee board of the International Mission Board as well as other national and international boards of trustees, I believe I am uniquely qualified to lead this discussion with Baylor Scott & White. I will then appoint a citizens task force to work with me to lead City Council to help our city overcome this great loss to our community.
2. I will continue to work for political reform of our city—widening the tent of citizen involvement to include ALL of our citizens and not just the tiny handful of mostly white citizens who for decades have held the reigns of power in our city tightly in their grip. Garland, the second largest city in Dallas County, has a population of nearly 240,000 people who reflect the wide cultural and ethnic diversity of the DFW Metroplex. ALL deserve a seat at the table of decision-making and power in our city. Like too many Metroplex cities, municipal elections in Garland are decided by a handful of voters who represent only 2% to 4% of the potential voters. Even in this election all of the four city council seats up for election are uncontested—a not untypical pattern of apathy in Garland. Immediately after being sworn into office, I will appoint a citizens task force to study and bring forth recommendations for ways to expand voter interest and participation and bring into the seats of power ALL of our citizens, especially our burgeoning Hispanic population (now 39% of our population) which remains unfairly on the outskirts of citizen involvement and respect. As Garland's first Native American mayor, I will be uniquely positioned to lead this forward-facing movement.
3. To further involve ALL citizens, I immediately will appoint up to nine additional citizen task forces to study and make recommendations on the key issues that hold our city back from being the truly great city Garland can be. These citizen task forces will be empowered to focus on 1) what can be done to speed up the process to rebuild/restore our miserable streets, particularly the residential ones in older neighborhoods; 2) how to resolve the Eastern Hills Country Club redevelopment stalemate; 3) our long-delayed new animal shelter; 4) the slow citywide economic development, especially in our central and southern sectors; 5) our city's lack of a comprehensive plan for our growing homeless population; and 6) find a feasible and safe solution to the slow-grinding efforts to adequately fund our firefighters and police retirement accounts.
Where does the development or redevelopment emphasis need to be in your community – residential or commercial – and how has your municipal government performed in this area?
As an inner-ring suburban city facing "build-out", Garland confronts a multitude of challenges in both residential and commercial development and redevelopment. This is not a case of "either/or" but of "both/and". We must develop and redevelop our commercial as well as our residential areas. Our city is doing a good job—but not as fabulous a job as some of our neighbors—of developing its northern sector along the President George Bush Freeway. We are struggling in the central and southern sectors of the city. We lack the internal financial resources necessary to compete with nearby neighbors such as Plano, Richardson, Frisco, Rowlett, and Rockwall. Consequently, we must look beyond our borders to mobilize the assistance we need. We can do this in a variety of ways: 1) aggressively step up our efforts to find federal and state monies available to our community; 2) launch a strong initiative to find and secure private grant monies available to our city; 3) encourage our city and school employees and city leaders to live in our city and fully invest in our community—not draw salaries and produce incomes here that are invested elsewhere; 4) explore tax incentives and other means to encourage our businesses and citizens to rebuild their older properties; 5) look beyond our country's borders for more international investment, including actively recruiting investment from Mexico and Central and South America to undergird our less-affluent, large Latino population.
What challenging demographic changes have been taking place in your community? What would your response be, if elected?
As I have already mentioned, Garland is a multi-cultural community that needs desperately to engage and encourage ALL our citizens, particularly our burgeoning Latino and Asian populations. The faces of our city's political leadership are mostly white; the influence and power of that community is disproportionate to the city itself. We must work to see that ALL citizens feel they are welcome and have equal access to the centers of political influence and power in our city. Without using quotas, I would like to see the political face of Garland change and reflect the whole city. As Garland's first mayor of Native American ancestry, I intend to use the power of symbolism and action to encourage ALL of our citizens to embrace their city. I intend to invite the top leadership of the Chickasaw Nation, of which I am a citizen and elder, to participate in my swearing-in ceremony. I will invite the Dallas-based consuls of Mexico, El Salvador, China, India, and other countries worldwide to visit Garland and see firsthand the great resources we offer. Kay Wheeler Moore, my wife and Garland's future First Lady, and I love to entertain in our home in historic Garland. As we have in the past, we will continue to formally entertain people of all cultures, races and religions in our home—as symbolic role-modeling of the relationships that need to develop all across our community. We need symbolically and in reality to tear down the walls that divide us and open up avenues to unite our city racially and culturally. I personally am deeply committed to racial reconciliation within our city.
Please assess your community’s crime picture and what, if anything, you would try to improve or change.
As a city we take great pride that the first terrorist assault on American soil since 9/11 was quickly put down by our fast-thinking and acting police force. At the same time, while the city maintains crime in Garland remains low, recent murders in or near several of our parks has some of our citizens on edge. As Garland's mayor, I fully realize I must work between those two extremes of pride and fear. We must neither sweep the issues of crime under the rug and pretend they don't exist nor overreact to a few specific events and believe the sky is falling on our heads. I strongly support our Garland Police. I have many friends within the police department and have great confidence in our police force. However, if mistakes are made, I will call them out immediately on it. With the threats to police nationwide, I will fully support whatever means are necessary to continue to recruit the finest men and women available for service to our community. I also realize the city must continue to fund our police department at the levels that keep our citizens as safe as possible. Criminal activity in our city's parks, particularly those in the central and southern sectors, is a matter of concern to many of our citizens. I will lead our city to explore what is necessary to immediately alleviate this concern and how to address this matter long term. This may be a separate parks police department, a division within our existing police department, or a specialized "Citizens on Patrol" arrangement whereby certified citizens monitor and protect our parks.
Does your city or town deliver services in the most cost-effective manner? Please be specific about improvements you would advocate.
I am the only candidate for mayor with extensive management and executive training and experience. In fact, I have managed at one time 96 employees, which is more people than all the current city council members and candidates combined have done. I will utilize the skills I learned in management and leadership training to assist wherever feasible and possible to help the City Manager operate in the most cost-effective way possible. Cost efficiency is a major issue for businesses and needs to be a great concern to our city staff.
As anyone with business experience knows, delivering city services in the most cost-effective manner possible can be an elusive target. Technology is changing our world rapidly. Yesterday's cost-effectiveness can be today's wastefulness. Garland must continually reexamine everything it does, to ask whether each service can be done better and more cost-efficiently in a different way. I want our city to strive for excellence in all things. The truth is, we are not doing that now in all areas. Despite having more than doubled our streets budget in recent years and created a somewhat successful communications network between citizens and the streets department, our citizens remain almost universally convinced that the vast majority of our streets are in sad shape. And promises that everything can be fixed just within 10 to 20 years do not satisfy our people. As many senior citizens say about that situation, "I'll be dead by then." We must find a better way to approach street repair and replacement—and quickly. I will work with Council to find that solution. All options must be on the table! Among my planned new citizen task forces will be one to address the deplorable condition of our streets. Unlike what happened with the last citizens task force on streets, if the recommendations are reasonable (which I expect them to be) I will support the recommendations this group makes.
Another troubling area for our city is the parks department. Some of our older parks in central and south Garland are in deplorable condition. Some verge on crisis condition. I will work with City Council and our Parks Department to find ways to improve and upgrade our overall parks system. Garland often operates in the "silo mentality" whereby each city department and city entity operates mostly autonomously from one another. This sometimes creates duplication of services. Some cities in the Western states have adopted an integrated plan whereby, for instance, police and fire stations are situated in parks or other city venues as a deterrent to crime and creating a more secure feeling for their citizens. I will work with the City manager to eliminate these overlaps and help refashion a system of teamwork and sharing of information, technology, and services, rather than in individual "silos".
Please assess the property taxes levied by your city or town and whether it has the right balance between residential and commercial base. Would you take any initiatives in this area?
Garland has a strong manufacturing base. We also have a strong business base though many of our shopping centers and areas are dated and need development or redevelopment. Like most communities today, we are uncertain where our retail base will be in 10 years. Amazon, Walmart, and the Internet are reshaping our universe for us in this regard. We also have a lot of empty buildings particularly in south Garland along the First Street/Broadway corridor. Except for Firewheel Mall, our retail often lacks the pizazz and attractiveness of other nearby cities. This can be addressed somewhat by implementing a facade program whereby the city works with building owners to provide incentives and other ways to beautify and modernize storefronts.
Our housing stock presents its own unique challenge. Except for the larger historic homes in the downtown area, Garland has an overabundance of small homes on decently-sized lots that are growing old and need massive help comparable to a facade program for retail businesses.
How would you improve the quality of life in your city or town and, if appropriate, pay for any added programs?
Overall Garland at this point in time has a low self-image brought about by the recent loss of its only hospital, its high poverty rate, economic/geographic/racial polarization, benign neglect of too many important issues such as the condition of its parks and failure to develop a plan for a new animal shelter, way too much internal political squabbling and lack of clear focus in our city government, the poor condition of our main arteries as well as our residential streets (especially the dreadfully slow progress in addressing our residential streets). Because Garland is not a wealthy city, our community desperately needs to look beyond its borders for federal, state and private financial sources to rebuild our infrastructure, create institutions that inspire our people, and give the city hope for the future. Since we have no one person or office specifically set up to target available federal, state, county, and private grant money, I will work with the city manager to set up such an office. It must produce more funds for Garland than it costs the city. Our city's quality of life can only be improved by addressing directly the issues that hold us back. Pollyanna talk—without addressing the heart of each issue and finding solutions for each of them—is no way for the 87th-largest city in the U.S. and the 12th-largest city in Texas to actually improve the quality of life for ALL of our citizens.
Please rate the transparency of decision-making in your city or town hall.
While the Garland City Manager's office frequently receives accolades from various professional organizations for transparency in finances and bookkeeping, the city's overall political process involving decision-making in our city remains too veiled. The positive side of the recent series of embarrassing public spats on Garland City Council has actually brought some issues from darkness to light. It is unfortunate that it has taken much contentiousness to do this. Our city government including our current mayor and our current city council members desperately need to be more transparent with citizens about all that is occurring. Too much emphasis is placed on "positive spin" rather than "facing reality." Far too much goes on "behind the scenes" instead of out in the open of bright sunlight. Our key un-elected city power brokers tend toward darkness instead of light. One of my gravest concerns is the political process which discourages elections, is tilted toward keeping incumbents in office and values silence rather than healthy public discussion. Issues need to be discussed in front of and with citizens—not obliquely behind closed doors. I am very grateful that I have two peers who are running against me in this mayor's election. Open discussion, transparent politics, and honest review will benefit our city far more than will behind-the-scenes political manipulation which works to keep more than one person on the ballot for each city race. I deeply regret that for whatever reason all four of our city council seats up for election have only one candidate for each race and city council has already declared three to be the winners even before the official election date. That's no way to run a democracy or a city. As someone once said, "Democracy is a messy system, but it is the best system we have." At the very least, city council needs to immediately cease its hypocritical process whereby citizens are encouraged through whatever means necessary not to challenge incumbents, elections are canceled, and council members are declared victors without an actual physical election with their names showing up on ballots for citizens to mark. Even in county, state, and national elections, citizens have the opportunity to decide whether to vote for a candidate who has no opponent. Only in city elections does this NOT occur. The pretext that this policy saves money is a sham and needs to be called out for what it is.
What is an uncomfortable truth about your city or town that voters must confront?
This city of nearly 240,000 multicultural (39% Latino; 33% Anglo/white; 13.5% African-American, 10.5% Asian-American) people is controlled by a a small group of mostly white citizens who deliberately work to keep city elections few and far between. This year all four of our council seats are uncontested and City Council has already voted to declare three white individuals who filed unopposed as the winners. For a few brief weeks, the fourth council seat up for election was contested, but on March 23, one of the two contestants ceased campaigning. The winner is a white female. Most likely our next city council will include one Latino, no African-Americans, no Asian Americans, and at least seven whites. Only the mayor's race this year is contested. If I am elected mayor, that means council will include one person of Native American heritage; If I am not elected, the number of whites on council will likely grow to eight.
Sadly, our Garland ISD school board is no different from the city. It includes no Latinos and no Asian-Americans, but two African-American—and the rest white. The two school-board seats up for election this year are also uncontested.
Sadly, some try to spin the lack of contested races as somehow indicative of public support for the council and its actions. That's not what I am hearing from citizens across the city. Our citizens are embarrassed and frustrated with our city government and want a change that addresses honestly the issues and works to find the right solutions.
Most of the city's boards and commissions are the same way, with the exception of its Multicultural Commission, which showcases the city's diversity.
The turnout for city elections is pitiful. Anywhere from 2 to 4 percent of the population actually votes in municipal elections. Elections are determined by a tiny handful of citizens—often less than 50 or fewer votes. In the last mayoral election a year ago only 4,400 people out of more than 120,000 registered voters cast ballots in that election.
Myths abound that the minority groups do not vote. That's not true; they do. The problem is in a shortage of qualified candidates with sufficient experience to make good council members and mayors. The uncomfortable truth is that every one of us in this mayor's race and every one on council, and everyone involved in city government in any way needs to take this issue seriously and work diligently and strategically to overcome these two very dangerous realities for our democratic government.
We need a higher voter turnout for elections. We need the face of our government to reflect the diversity of our community. Neither is happening right now. We as a community need to work together to change these realities.