Nearly a month after voters recalled Councilmember La’Shadion Shemwell, McKinney City Council turned to a local pastor on Tuesday evening to replace him as the District 1 representative.

Following a unanimous vote, councilmembers swore in the newest member of city council, Pastor Chris Thornton.

“I hope in the next five months or whatever I have, I can be in service to my community,” Thornton said, addressing the small, socially distanced crowd. “Don’t expect me to be anyone but who I am. I’m not Shemwell, I’m not whoever people expect me to be. I’m Chris Thornton. I’m a product of McKinney, born and raised on the East side. I’m a Black man, and I’m a fair man.

“First and foremost, I’m a Godly man. … Hopefully in these next five months, I’ll be able to help my community.”

Mayor Fuller said that Thornton continued to come up as a likely and popular option for the District 1 seat on the East side of McKinney. He also pointed out that instead of spending his time as an activist in Dallas like Shemwell, Thornton is more likely to be found in his community.

Shemwell had been a loud, often controversial voice for racial justice in Collin County, but had also been haunted by his double life as an activist and past allegations of domestic abuse.

“If I take a stroll around my district, around this square, you’ll see this segregation still exists,” Shemwell said in a Nov. 4 Facebook Live video. “It’s not happenstance that I’m only the second elected Black official in McKinney. There is a history to this city.”

Former councilman la’shadion shemwell at a may 2020 protest, with throckmorton in the background

After he was sworn in, Thornton faced his first hurdle: McKinney is ramping up its plans to revitalize the East side, but the District that covers much of that community has weathered ongoing turnover in its council representation. Shemwell is out, and Thornton is in. Thornton’s term is up May 2021, which means that in five months, there will be a new election that will possibly replace Thornton.

The problem with this kind of turnover is that each new representative of District 1 has to get caught up on the issues on the council floor. Case in point, about an hour into the meeting, Thornton called for a pause in voting on a matter involving District 1. He admitted that he was not yet up to speed on what each of these decisions meant for his district. He had already voted yes on multiple revitalization resolutions, including a zoning decision that will allow an office space for nonprofits called the Mustard Seed to be built.

“Three hours ago, I didn’t know I’d be a council member,” he said.

Thornton said that he wanted to be cautious while he gets up to speed on the way decisions will affect his district, especially because many District 1 members had been showing up, speaking about their fears that revitalization might, in fact, mean gentrification in their neighborhoods. 

One District 1 resident, emboldened by Thornton, said he also worried that while the new council member adjusted, decisions might be rushed through the council that were not for the betterment of District 1, and without input from the community. 

Fuller seemed to take some offense. “There’s a very deliberate process,” he said. “I can assure everyone listening that we are extremely deliberate and sensitive in what we’re doing … make no mistake, there is tremendous involvement with the community.” He added that the resident speaking may not be involved enough. “I haven’t seen you at any meetings or town halls, so you may not know that.”

“I don’t know about any town halls,” another District 1 resident said. “I think it’s a little unfair for this stuff to be rushed through. Thornton doesn’t know what’s going on. Thank God he has the gumption to say, ‘I don’t know what this is.’”

Another resident said that she was also concerned. “We need to pause. We have the airport happening. We have downtown changing, Highway Five changing, the Mill District changing, all these things taking place and it is moving so quickly.” 

Downtown mckinney in the 1800s / courtesy of the plano public library

The differences between District 1’s old and new representatives were not lost on the residents. While Shemwell’s manner was often outspoken, often arguing with Mayor Fuller, Thornton is measured in his approach and decision making, unafraid to admit what he doesn’t know. After abstaining from multiple votes in a row, Fuller joked, “You’re starting to abuse that vote.”

During public comment, one resident congratulated Thornton for his appointment, calling him a friend. She also reminded the council “not to forget about the [Throckmorton] statue;” Shemwell was easily the loudest voice for those residents who want the statue removed from the city square. 

Another speaker described Thornton as “a uniter.”

Thornton’s term is up in May 2021, at which point, he will have to run, or step down. If he wants to unify his community, Thornton will have to act fast.