Business and government leaders in Collin County huddled on Friday for the Collin County Business Alliance’s virtual conference to reflect on their response to COVID-19 and local government’s role in overcoming historic political division.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headlined CCBA’s virtual conference and discussed how her upbringing in Birmingham in the 1960s shaped her worldview and propelled her through a career as a diplomat and leader.

Cleo Greene, an anchor for WFAA, moderated a panel discussion with the mayors of Frisco, Plano, Richardson, and McKinney.

Below you’ll find the key points made during the discussion:

Food-insecurity on the rise in Collin County

Since April, the North Texas Food Bank doubled its regional food distribution, and CEO Trisha Cunningham said about 40% of the people the food bank is serving this year did not need food assistance last year.

“Hunger isn’t hidden anymore,” Cunningham said.

She noted Collin County has the second-highest amount of food-insecure people in North Texas, right behind Dallas County.

How Plano fought misinformation amid COVID-19

It was not the virus alone that bogged down the nation’s healthcare infrastructure. Mixed messages from government leaders on the local level up to the White House threatened the safety of the general public.

Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said one of the biggest tasks for his community was fighting misinformation. “There was a lot of confusion,” he said.

So Plano leaders turned to the experts: librarians.

LaRosiliere said the city’s libraries served as resource centers for people with pandemic questions. People could call in with questions, and librarians made calls to the city’s seniors to ensure some of the most vulnerable stayed informed.

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Can local elections unify a divided public?

The 2020 general election raked in thousands of new registered voters. McKinney Mayor George Fuller said Friday he thinks the reason for that record turnout was the intense division spurred by the presidential election.

The good news? With so many new voters, local leaders have a chance to engage these new voters and encourage them to participate in local elections. Fuller said races for city council, school board, and county commissioner offer citizens the chance to weigh in on less-divisive issues that are closer to home.

“Unification is so desperately needed,” he said. “I think we can play a significant role in seeing that change happen.”

The other three mayors seemed to agree. Richardson Mayor Paul Voelker said translating the enthusiasm for the presidential election into votes on the city level is a priority.

“We’ll be working hard on that,” he said.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks at the University of Michigan as the Goff Smith lecturer March 30, 2011 in Ann Arbor, MI | Susan Montgomery / Shutterstock.com

Rice: from Jim Crow Alabama to world stage

Condoleezza Rice’s family knew all four of the girls who were killed in 1963 when white supremacist terrorists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Growing up Black in the South with officials like Eugene “Bull” Connor in charge, she said readied her to take on deep-seated cultural challenges across the world.

Rice became the first Black woman to serve as United States’ national security adviser to the president, and thereafter the nation’s first Black woman to serve as secretary of state.

Rice’s complete statements on the issues she discussed before the CCBA virtual audience on Zoom cannot be published here due to Rice’s contract with CCBA.

The Collin County Business Alliance is made up of local business leaders who aim to solve problems in transportation, education and water supply, among other issues. Founded in 2011, the group has held roundtables and events focused on inclusively and social justice issues in the region.

Update: story has been updated to reflect Rice’s contract with CCBA.

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney is a freelance journalist based in the Dallas area. His work has appeared in the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Observer, Denton Record-Chronicle, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and the Las Vegas...