It was closer to one a.m. than 12 a.m. on the August 12 Plano City Council meeting when the last speaker finally stepped down and Mayor Pro Tem Rick Smith turned to Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Anthony Ricciardelli. “Do you want to say something, Anthony?”
Ricciardelli sat forward. It had been a long slog of a night, and the strain is clear on all of the seated councilmembers' faces. “I appreciate everyone who shared tonight,” he said and jaded chuckles from the audience interrupt him. He stops with a clearly uncomfortable smile. “I appreciate the opportunity to speak tonight. I’d first like to address—some people said that myself and another councilmember were just trying to make this political to score points and that it would backfire. I agree with that wholeheartedly—not that we’re trying to score points, but that it would backfire. I’m sure public opinion is 80/20 against me or more. I would imagine this is very unpopular, and, frankly, not what I want to be known for.”
Ricciardelli had raised the question of whether City of Plano’s funding The Turning Point violated SB22, a Texas bill that prohibits a government agency from funding “an abortion provider” or “an abortion affiliated agency.” Councilmember Shelby Williams agreed with him.
“My conscious will not permit me to support giving funding to any organization that disseminates the Plan B pill,” Ricciardelli has said on August 1, and repeated during the August 12 meeting. He recommended ceasing the funding entirely, because paying for 99 percent of The Turning Point’s “vitally important work,” also implicitly pays for the alleged one percent. Ricciardelli had this exact concern over this city funding for The Turning Point in 2018. But this year, it caught widespread attention. Supporters started a petition that garnered over 1,000 signatures and showed up at Plano City Council wearing purple, signing up to speak.
Since opening clinics in November 2018, The Turning Point reports that they have only given out 33 doses on emergency contraception (EC), most of which was donated by a pharmaceutical vendor. Plano’s funding is also less than four percent of their overall budget.
“I think the question boils down to this: if a woman in Plano is raped, are we as community going to help and support her? Or no?” one resident posted on Facebook.
On August 17, around 8 a.m., people in purple gathered again at the Plano City Council chambers. In the five days since the last meeting, the council was bombarded with emails, phone calls and Facebook messages from supporters of The Turning Point, especially survivors.
The Turning Point’s Executive Director, Wendy Hanna, spoke first, describing the services they offer and walking everyone through the funding, before offering a heartfelt plea on behalf of the survivors they serve.
“We offer them hope when even our legal system and society can’t or won’t,” she said. “... What is critically important to these survivors moving forward in their healing and their counseling is that we and hopefully you provide support. It is what our trained trauma counselors do hour after hour, day after day, hearing their stories of anguish and hopelessness.”
She also expressed how the thought of losing counseling—and turning to someone unqualified—has weighed heavily on the minds of several of the survivors they serve. The waiting list for trauma-informed counseling can be up to eight months long. Losing the City of Plano’s funding, even though it’s only four percent of their total budget, would mean letting one of those few counselors go. Without getting into the specifics of the abortion debate and EC’s place in it, Hanna stuck to assuring everyone that City of Plano’s money didn’t fund it.
“Stand proud of what you have here in Plano, councilors, with both the Turning Point and Courtney’s SAFE Place, by funding our counseling program,” she said in her conclusion.
Ricciardelli spoke next, thanking everyone who had attended. “I have been deeply moved by the horrendous stories that I’ve heard here in this chamber, by email, by phone, from survivors of sexual assault who have had the courage to reach out and share those stories,” he said, before suggesting that The Turning Point bill the city for each counseling session individually.
He wasn’t the only one who came ready with solutions, presumably to avoid the heated debates that characterized the August 12 meeting. On Facebook, Williams had suggested supporters take it upon themselves to donate EC to The Turning Point if they so wished.
“What we won’t do is debate when life begins and ends and the Plan B pill,” LaRosiliere said next, calling for a return to simplicity and reason. “If we want to fund the Turning Point, we provide the $56K, and we do it in a manner that will alleviate any concerns that council members may have with their consciences. My proposal is that we write into the contract that the $56K is for counseling … be very prescriptive on that language.
“This whole debate was self-inflicted,” he continued. “We could’ve figured out a way to do this in a much more simplistic manner and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
“We have a moral imperative to [survivors] as a community, especially at their moment of greatest need,” Williams said, adding that with the proposal, all his concerns about the fungibility of the money and forcing taxpayers to inadvertently fund Plan B “evaporate.”
And that, it seems, is that. The council is united behind the solution LaRosiliere and Ricciardelli proposed, directly funding counseling and explicitly nothing else. The Turning Point Rape Crisis Center’s funding is secure. All concerns have evaporated.
Mayor Pro Tem Rick Smith, who had the unenviable task of mediating the August 12 meeting, made one short statement, taken straight from a budget analysis of funds in the third quarter report, sent to them all by the city manager.
“The spreadsheet clearly shows there is no [city] funding that was used for any form of pharmaceutical-related purpose. It was purely going to counseling services,” Smith said.
Furthermore, Courtney Underwood, the namesake of Courtney’s SAFE Place clinic, delivered a powerful statement. A survivor of sexual assault and one of the most well-known advocates for survivors in North Texas, Underwood showed up with her service dog tucked under her arm on behalf of the clinic where sexual assault survivors are treated and where EC may sometimes be administrated. She revealed that she alone had provided all of the private funding that went toward Courtney’s SAFE Place, meaning that she has covered all of the medication their clients may need, including any EC.
“So this has never been an issue,” she concluded. “When [EC] isn’t donated, my money pays for it.”
In the end, the media attention and civic activism will only benefit The Turning Point’s mission. But it's worth noting that the inciting incident apparently never existed at all; we never needed to take up city council time debating the dangers and merits of Plan B and other EC. Survivors never had to lay bare their trauma or face the prospect of diminishing care. We never had to worry about whether taxpayers were inadvertently funding EC, or discuss the murky moral and scientific merits of it. But at the very least, the crisis got survivors and The Turning Point more press, more eyes, more attention—and more praise—than ever.
Other Highlights from 8/17
- Wendy Hanna’s statement earned a standing ovation.
- Ricciardelli shared that through the police department, the City of Plano pays for forensic examinations. In addition, funds provided by the State of Texas through Crime Victims Compensation Fund follow each individual survivor for the rest of their life.
- After proposing his idea to change the wording of the grant to specifically exclude Plan B, Mayor LaRosiliere attempted to close the discussion— “There’s a saying in sales: don’t talk past the sale”—but just about every councilmember made a statement in support of The Turning Point's mission and sympathy with survivors.
- Lily Bao had several funding questions for Wendy Hanna, that, while off topic, provided some illuminating information.
- Government funding accounts for roughly 85 percent of The Turning Point’s total funding.
- While McKinney offers funding, the City of Allen does not have the grant system necessary to do so. The City of Frisco has in the past, but is not this year.
- Bao also wondered how many of The Turning Point’s clients were from Plano (about 13-15 percent.)
- Maria Tu spoke in support of the Turning Point: “I want to assure everyone that The Turning Point will continue to prosper and with the funding it has, I believe it will be the example that City of Plano sets for all other cities, for recognizing the detrimental and horrific things that women have to go through in order to even get counseling and funding for this type of tragedy.”
- Two people spoke against the use of Plan B, but only after the question of the city’s funding had already been closed.
I’ll close with a comment given by Councilmember Rick Grady.
“A young lady in my life was brutally attacked and didn’t have the counseling,” he said. “She still suffers from it 50 years later. Today she still doesn’t reach out into the community. Today she doesn’t like to be in a crowded room. Today, she doesn’t like to be around strangers. Today her face is still distorted from the beating. Today she lives in an assistance center.
“... So today we have taken a stand in this city to say we will support these survivors,” he concluded. “I would prefer that this sale close and be in perpetuity so that we never, ever, have to come back to this discussion again.”
He just might get his wish.
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