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Two Candidates Vye for Dallas County Judge


By Bill Zeeble, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Leading candidates for Dallas County Judge say ending the shouting matches on Commissioner's Court is a top priority. KERA's Bill Zeeble reports on the different approaches by Republican Wade Emmert and Democrat Clay Jenkins to get there.

Outbursts seem typical these days at Dallas County Commissioner's Court. This meeting, in September, involved County Judge Jim Foster, several Commissioners, and District Attorney Craig Watkins.

Commissioners have bellowed over busted budgets, Constable investigations, and other court concerns. At a recent East Dallas Chamber of Commerce lunch, Republican County Judge candidate Wade Emmert said he would end the bickering.

Emmert: I want to make Dallas County work, because frankly, right now it doesn't. It does a disservice to you, everyone in this room, from the way commissioners conduct business to the way the county departments fight among themselves.

Emmert backs a proposed code of conduct. It could remove a rambunctious Commissioner who fails to behave. But Democratic County Judge candidate Clay Jenkins worries about the approach.

Clay Jenkins: If there's a way for the majority to throw someone out and therefore abridge their constituents of their voice to be heard on something, that would concern me greatly.

Of great concern to both is this year's budget deficit. The County faced a $60 million shortfall for 2011. Commissioners slashed 203 positions, and laid nearly 150. Then they approved a 6.6 percent tax hike, something Jenkins would've voted against.

Jenkins: There's money there in discretionary funds of the commissioners, it's unallocated for anything, that we could use to balance our budget. If and only if they're unwilling to use that part of the program to balance the budget, we could look at bond markets to borrow money at historically low rates rather than raising taxes this year.

Opponent Emmert would also have rejected a tax hike. He says the Jenkins solution is wrong.

Emmert: The money's there, it's just that we need to use it for capital projects rather than siphoning that money off to try to balance the budget. You balance the budget by whatever you can to do to balance the budget.

Jenkins: My opponent says he's for lower taxes, but he won't tell you what spending he would cut or where he would come up with the revenue.

Emmert says his solution involves a complete budget overhaul. He would start budget planning at least 6 months in advance, and review every department expense.

Emmert: You look at results, the deliverables the county is supposed to deliver and services they're supposed to provide. You create metrics, how you measure the efficiency, and then you allocate those dollars where they can be used most efficiently.

And he says, you cut the rest. The County judge takes on a lot of responsibility, and earns $154 thousand a year. The Judge sets the agenda for Commissioners, who oversee Parkland Hospital, the jails, roads bridges and more with a budget that exceeds $430 million. Outgoing Judge Jim Foster, defeated in the primary, predicts the next Judge will need a large dose of patience to pull the job off.

Foster: Little did I ever imagine that I would need to be as forgiving and understanding as I've been.

Foster has high hopes for the return to civility on Commissioner's Court. But says in reality, he has serious, serious doubts.

Foster: Well hope and reality are two different things. I would hope we would see improvement, but in reality, I think history speaks for itself.

Email Bill Zeeble