Dallas County Shouting Match Over Budget Cuts

Commissioners agree to cuts to district attorney's office, constables, despite bitter opposition

Heated words between Dallas County officials were not enough to stop cuts to the district attorney and constable offices.

County commissioners decided to stick with the 1.5-cent property tax rate increase they approved two weeks ago. It left too little money to restore reductions in the district attorney’s office and for constable traffic enforcement.

District Attorney Craig Watkins threw a tantrum over the issue when it was his turn to speak.

"I get to tell you of the failure of some of you on this court to do your job to represent the citizens of Dallas County," Watkins said.

Among other things, Watkins complained about county spending on a civil investigation of alleged constable misconduct.

Commissioners and Watkins shouted over each other during the exchange.

"You abuse your position by harassing public officials," Commissioner Maurine Dickey said.

"You're about the sorriest public official that I've been associated with," Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield told Watkins. "You have no morals."

In the end, commissioners cut two attorneys and a legal assistant from Watkins' budget. However, it was far fewer than the 25 positions Watkins was slated to loose in earlier budget plans.

Watkins said he would find other money to keep the three people on the payroll until January, when he hopes new commissioners may change the decision.

Mayfield faces a re-election opponent, and County Judge Jim Foster was defeated in the Democratic primary.

Commissioners also declined to reverse an earlier decision to eliminate 117 deputy constable positions.

Deputy Constable Andrew Harris was one of several people who spoke in favor of keeping the constable traffic enforcement program. He gave testimony in the investigation of his boss.

"I came forward because I was doing a public service," Deputy Constable Andrew Harris said. "I ask you to protect me and my family."

Mayfield suggested that Harris and other whistleblowers had been intentionally transferred into positions that were to be eliminated as retribution.

Other commissioners insisted that it was strictly a budget decision.

"Do we keep 117 positions and a program that we can't afford to keep in order to protect 20 positions? I wanted to be sure this is not about retaliation," Dickey said.

Local city police and county sheriff’s deputies must take over the traffic enforcement duties the constables had provided.

A decline in property and sale tax revenue is the main cause of budget trouble for both Dallas County and the city of Dallas.

The Dallas City Council approved a 6.5 percent property tax rate hike Monday to help balance its budget.

Both governments made other budget cuts over the past few months.

The final vote on a new Dallas County budget is scheduled next week, but Commissioner John Wiley Price said Tuesday’s decisions leave no room for changes after months of bitter fighting over the new spending plan, which takes effect Oct. 1.

"That's it," he said. "It's over."

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