McKinney Watchdog Group Wants Big Changes in City Government

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Lately, one might define McKinney resident and business owner Laura Kayata as a well-spoken and thoughtful, but persistent, bulldog. Kayata is taking on the City of McKinney, forming a political action committee called McKinney Watchdog. By her own admission, Kayata said she won’t rest until the current city manager Jason Gray is gone — replaced – and it appears she won’t give up until that mission is accomplished.

She found herself speaking during the public comments portion of the December council meeting and doing so again at Tuesday night’s council meeting. Kayata said that people have come up to her following that initial three-minute speech and have been very supportive.

Laura Kayata

Laura Kayata

“People are saying,’Thank you for doing this’,” Kayata said. “I say ,’We’re not fighting city hall, we’re righting city hall — keeping the heat on to keep people honest.”

Kayata, who has been a McKinney resident since 1997, said, “I don’t want to come off as a lunatic. We are not conspiracy theorists, we are just concerned citizens. We have a short window of opportunity to try to build awareness and educate the citizens.”

The short window of time that Kayata alludes to is the time between now and Gray’s follow-up performance review by members of city council that will occur sometime in February. She feels dissatisfaction and disbelief that the city council hasn’t taken action removing Gray from his position, particularly after reading the results of Gray’s “abysmal” performance review that recently was posted by TSB.  “We (the PAC) are lobbying hard for them (council) to do the right thing,” Kayata said.

Kayata said she was driven to form the PAC due to her own sense of fairness and desire to “do the right thing” and ” because I was employed by the city for a time, I understand the Code of Ethics and how it should work. McKinney deserves better,” she said.

The Code of Ethics Kayata refers to states, among other things, that employee actions should undergo the following assessment:  Is the action in line with the city’s core values? Would I be embarrassed to have the public hear about my actions through news reports? How would the situation look for me and the city? If asked why I acted in a certain way, would I have to pause to think of a justification for my action? How would I feel about myself? Employees should avoid any action, whether or not specifically prohibited, which might result in or create the appearance of a conflict of interest.

She said the purpose of the PAC is not to back a certain candidate but to educate the citizens of McKinney and “to expose and correct what she says are ‘the recently-reported ethics violations’ at City Hall. ”

“When I talk to people in McKinney I find that a lot of people don’t realize that they need to be involved in city politics,” Kayata said.

Once enlightened, people seem to migrate to one of two camps: those who believe that the issues are the usual city politics and those who are shocked to hear about what’s happening and want to get involved, Kayata said. She told TSB that more than 200 citizens are already in support of her efforts with McKinney Watchdog.

“Gray has said that he is not interested in the process, only in results,” Kayata said. But she believes the city manager’s job should also be about the process. She discussed processes such as the city’s policy that city jobs must be posted and interviews completed. But she refers back to Gray’s replacement of former Chief of Police Doug Kowalski with Gray’s own friend, then-Deputy City Manager Joe Williams, without posting the position or having Williams go through the usual interview process. Kayata said the city HR policy is that new hires must be employees with the city for at least six months before qualifying for a raise, yet Williams took over as Chief of Police at a salary of $22,000 more than Kowalski was paid. Kayata believes Gray has blatantly disregarded some of the processes that the city has in place.

Kayata would also like to see more transparency in city government. “After Jason Gray was hired, McKinney was named the least transparent city in the entire state,” she said. This is based on requests to Texas Attorney General’s office to squelch information requested by the public she says. (as reported by publicintegrity.org).

“If we bring enough people out, they (council) will have to do the right thing.  They can’t sweep everything under the rug. It’s just wrong,” Kayata said with passion.

If council doesn’t replace Gray by his next review, which is scheduled for sometime in February, Kayata said that the McKinney Watchdog coalition will remain active. The group will fall back on raising more funds to support the cause and to eventually vote council members out of office.

The McKinneyWatchdog.com site contains a list of ways for concerned citizens to get involved. Kayata said that citizens can write their council representative, sign a petition or  make a donation to support the PAC, as well as anonymously post any documentation that will support the cause.