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Dallas County Commissioners Court sees dueling protests

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Story and Photos by Renee Hartley

John Wiley Price ProtestIt was certainly not business as usual outside Dallas County Commissioners Court. At the Tuesday, February 22, 2011 meeting, protesters faced-off on the most notorious corner in Dallas. The law enforcement presence was best described as “overwhelming”. If you arrived late you were in a line that snaked out the door, down the steps and to the corner of Houston and Elm.

Early last week, a call to action went out across Dallas County in response to a shouting match that occurred at the February 15, 2011 Commissioners Court meeting involving District 3 Commissioner, John Wiley Price and the viewing public.

Some were urged to show up and stand for “election integrity”. Others were asked to “stand with us” and  “not allow John Price to stand alone.” By 9:00 am on Tuesday, law enforcement seemed to outnumber protesters two-to-one, but the few people who showed up were vocal in support of their respective causes.

There was full-throated support on both sides. At times there were shouts of “no jusice. no peace” and “John Wiley Price is a bigot.”   Inside 411 Elm Street the tone was more civil. There were people milling about having small impassioned conversations about racial tension, government transparency and civic participation. I spoke with a number of people on Tuesday though no one wanted to go on record with their name.

One supporter of Commissioner Price told us why he came to Commissioner’s court.  “We need strong people who will stand up for us and get those resources that are needed,” he said. “How did we get to a point where it is OK to stand before the court name-call and basically disrespect the elected officials?”

And he didn’t stop there.  “I’m willing to protest, argue, and fuss to make sure that we enforce the law. We elect folks to represent us in the hopes that it will not come to this, but in the event that it requires action we should stand up,”  he said.

A vocal supporter of Bruce Sherbet gave me an earfull as well, saying “government should be open and transparent and some of the people elected have forgotten that they are servants of the people, not rulers.” When asked what she’d say to people who are not engaged in the political process, she said “if you’re not paying attention then you can’t complain about the way things are run. You must get in there and let your voice be heard.”

Some people were there in a more neutral position. One such spectator told me he has known Commissioner Price for 38 years and does not always agree with his tone or tactics, but has a great deal of respect for him. He feels that this entire “Go To Hell” incident has been a distraction from the real issues facing the county and state. Like the budget shortfall that is going to effect every single man, woman and child in Dallas County.

It was clear that those in attendance today were there to be apart of the local conversation and saw these recent events as a catalyst for political engagement. The meeting itself went as normal meetings do. The court went through it’s agenda and heard from the public. However, there was a noticeable difference in how County Judge Clay Jenkins handled public comments. He was quick to rule people out of order to keep things moving. The viewing public was not pleased. calling his rulings “censorship.”

The disputed removal of a beloved county employee, accusations of wrong-doing and the degradation of debate surrounding government transparency have made the first few weeks of 2011 difficult for the newly elected members of the Commissioners Court.   Dallas South News will keep a watchful eye on how the personality of the court forms in the coming year as the Commissioners cope with the major issues facing Dallas County.

Renee Hartley is a Wife, Mother and political consultant. When she’s not working on local campaigns, she’s most likely watching football.   Renee can be reached at renee.hartley@4MField.com or follow her on twitter @reneehartley.

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