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'Sit there and be quiet.' Tarrant commissioners argue over county judge's contract employee

Tim O'Hare Tarrant County Commissioner County Judge, speaks during the weekly commissioners meeting in downtown Fort Worth last year.
Emily Nava
Tarrant County Judge Tim O'Hare speaks during a Commissioners Court meeting in downtown Fort Worth last year.

Tarrant County Judge Tim O'Hare told a commissioner to "sit there and be quiet" during an argument over hiring a contractor for his office on Tuesday.

O’Hare, a Republican, sought approval for a five-month, up to $5,000 contract with Noah Betz, the executive director of the Huffines Liberty Foundation and a political strategist, according to his LinkedIn page.

Some public commenters at the commissioners court meeting Tuesday accused O’Hare of using county money to hire a political strategist, which O'Hare called nonsense.

"We have no intent whatsoever to use this for political purposes," O'Hare said.

Betz will replace a departing employee in a non-political role, O'Hare said. He told the public Betz will work on economic development activities, respond to constituent concerns and help with social media.

"Yes, he is a Republican. That shouldn't come as a real shock," O'Hare said.

O’Hare’s Democratic colleagues were skeptical. County Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks said Betz's contract is vague.

"There are no deliverables stated in the contract. There is no way to audit his performance under the contract, because there's no statement of what he's supposed to do," Brooks said.

The contract, which is posted online in agenda documents, says Betz "will provide support services including special projects, special events, research, policy, communications, and other items as determined by the County Judge."

“The whole thing just smells. Don't like it. Won't vote for it. There you go,” Brooks said.

Democratic County Commissioner Alisa Simmons called Betz's hiring "wholly inappropriate." Tarrant County employees are restricted when it comes to political work, so the county shouldn't replace a full-time employee with a contractor who's not subject to those rules, she said.

"I'm glad you brought up that there's rules for employees about what they can or cannot share," O'Hare said to Simmons. "Do you think your Twitter account is free of politics?"

Alisa Simmons, Tarrant County Commissioner Precinct 2, listens to a speaker during a Commissioners Court meeting last year.  Simmons argued with County Judge Tim O'Hare over a contract for an employee.
Emily Nava
Alisa Simmons, Tarrant County Commissioner Precinct 2, listens to a speaker during a Commissioners Court meeting in downtown Fort Worth last year.

Simmons said no, but O'Hare's isn't free of politics, either, she added.

Simmons and O'Hare talked over each other for a moment, until O'Hare said, "I'm the one talking now, so you'll sit there and be quiet and listen."

"You won't tell me when and when not to talk," Simmons said.

O'Hare read Simmons' official bio on X, which says her account is run by her staff. Political content on O'Hare's account comes from him, not his staff, he said.

During public comment, Arlington NAACP President Kennedy Jones called O'Hare's comments "demeaning" and asked the court to maintain decorum.

“Those words harken back to a time when women could not vote, to a time when they were virtually owned by their husband or male companion," Jones said. "Those words come with a sting and a bite that was offensive not just to the commissioner, but to every woman that's sitting in this room, and to every woman that was listening online today.”

Republican Commissioner Manny Ramirez supported the contract for Betz, saying it had been vetted by the District Attorney's office.

"I don't know exactly what the needs of the county judge's office are, but I will defer to the judgment of the county judge knowing that he's in that office every single day," he said.

The contract to hire Betz passed 3-2, along party lines.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.