McKinney voters moved closer to removing a city council member they say is hurting the city with divisive rhetoric and unethical behavior, but the councilman is promising he’ll take the matter to court.
Following two hours of contentious public comments at Tuesday night’s McKinney City Council meeting, City Secretary Empress Drane certified a recall petition submitted by voters late last month that initiates a public vote to remove District 1 Council Member La’Shadion Shemwell.
Drane reported to council that 3,062 recall petition signatures were verified, which is more than enough to meet the legal requirement of 2,127 signatures of voters from across the city (30 percent of the number of voters who participated in the last city election).
Now, if Shemwell doesn’t resign within five days, the city charter requires council to schedule a citywide recall election to decide whether he stays or goes.
Shemwell said he will not step down and is planning legal action.
“Black State of Emergency”
Recall organizers say the Black Lives Matter activist is using his city council position to advance a national agenda based on false claims of institutional racism within McKinney that is damaging to the entire city.
“Your cause is noble,” said Al Perry, who supported Shemwell in 2017 but now backs the recall, “but not so noble we will advance it with a lie.”
Shemwell brought negative attention to the city in 2018 when he blamed McKinney police for his arrest following a traffic stop, claiming their actions were racially motivated. Police body camera video released days later contradicted Shemwell’s version of events.
He again drew national attention with his inflammatory “Black State of Emergency” declaration during a council meeting in October, proclaiming:
Texas and its local governments have declared war on black and brown citizens by conspiring to kill, injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate, and to willfully deprive citizens of their constitutional rights while acting under the color of law … McKinney is not exempt from these atrocities.
That statement was the last straw for many McKinney residents, sparking a citizen ethics complaint and prompting what organizers say is a nonpartisan grassroots recall effort.
Yet Shemwell and his supporters say racism is prevalent and their feelings of fear are legitimate.
“To be black in America is to be in combat every day of your life,” Shemwell said Tuesday, echoing public comments of many supporters at the meeting.
They also believe only District 1 voters should decide who represents them on council.
“I’ll See You in Court”
Shemwell claimed two charter amendments approved by voters last May relating to the city’s recall rules were passed with the intent to effect his removal from office.
Proposition F changed the number of signatures required on recall petitions from 15 percent of registered voters citywide (currently 103,000) to 30 percent of votes cast in the last regular city election (7,087 last May) and extended the time to collect signatures from 30 to 45 days. Proposition G clarified that all recall elections are citywide. The amendments were approved by 60 and 79 percent of the vote, respectively, though just 6 percent of city voters weighed in on the measures.
Shemwell said the recall process, a form of direct democracy common to almost all home rule city charters, “gives power to the few to overturn the will of the many.”
About 8 percent of District 1 voters participated in the 2017 city election that put Shemwell on council. In a June runoff, he received 661 votes, 57 percent of the total turnout.
“Your voting rights are at stake,” Shemwell said, signaling the type of legal action he is contemplating. “This is voter suppression.”
“In order to protect your vote and your will, I’ve had to retain counsel to go to court in order to defend against such unconstitutional conduct,” he told the overflow crowd in the council chamber Tuesday, which included organized supporters from McKinney and elsewhere holding up pre-printed “This is voter suppression” signs.
Next Steps in the Recall Process
Council is expected to order the recall election at its next meeting on January 21.
Barring any court intervention, the citywide recall election will take place on the next regular election date, May 2.
If McKinney residents vote to recall Shemwell, the seat will be vacant until District 1 voters elect a new council member—which could be Shemwell, if he maintains the support of voters within his district—or council opts to appoint a replacement. If the recall fails, Shemwell will continue his term through May 2021.
Whatever the outcome of the recall effort, it doesn’t appear it will mend the division within McKinney that Shemwell’s accusations have stoked.