Monday Night Politics: Candidates for tax assessor collector, constable Precinct 1

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The Dallas Examiner

Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates headed into its second forum as candidates for Dallas County constable in Precinct 1 and Dallas County tax assessor collector took the stage on Feb. 8 at the African American Museum.

Moderated by Matt Houston, the night started out with the candidates for constable, Mae Jackson, Curtis E. Traylor, Hector Wilson and Tracey Gulley, discussing their qualifications.

The race is open since the seat was held by Cleo Steele who passed away last year. Currently, Interim Constable John Garrett holds this seat but has decided not to run again.

Gulley has worked in the Precinct 1 constable’s office for over 18 years and currently serves as the chief deputy.

“I started there in 1997 as a reserve deputy and worked my way up through ranking,” Gulley said. “I was quickly promoted to the sergeant in warrants, lieutenant and currently serving as chief deputy. I definitely feel as though I am the most qualified candidate for this position not because I have been there the longest but because of my experience. We have the largest precinct in Dallas County and so I have some huge shoes to fill. Since this is an open seat, I don’t feel like you should just throw your name into the hat or you just come up and run for this. It calls for someone to be experienced in this position, not because you have law enforcement experience but I have been there and run the day to day operations for the past 18 years and managing the $2.5 million dollar budget and so I know what it takes to be a constable.”

Traylor started his career at 18 years old working in Corrections with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice at a maximum security prison. From there he went on to work as a deputy jailer in the Sheriff’s Department and currently works as a juvenile corrections officer.

“I decided to throw my hat in the ring because of the way our constable’s office has been run for the past 15 years,” Traylor said. “And that is poorly. And that is under the current administration that is in office now. We have been embarrassed time and time again by the people that are there in office. It is about time that we bring some fresh air and perspective to our constable’s office.”

Traylor said his goals as constable are to reach out to the community and to the youth.

“Working as a juvenile corrections officer, I understand how important it is to get to our youth before they end up on the wrong track and I have to see that at an institutionalized facility and then I am coaching them there to get back into society to become productive members of society. Another reason I decided to run is because when I read the papers, all you see were officer indictments from top commandment. The constable being indicted, the chief deputy being indicted, a lieutenant being charged on organized crime. That’s not what we represent in the community. We represent integrity. African Americans can do better than what we have been doing at that constable’s office. Thirdly, we have to bring back professionalism back to our constable’s office.”

Wilson said he is also running to bring professionalism, integrity and accountability to the office.

“The office has been run a little poorly,” Wilson said. “I’m a deputy constable there right now and I have been there 13 years. We need some accountability there. There are things in the constable’s office that we need that we don’t have. We need to be able to have tasers, body cameras and everything to ensure the safety of our community. I have been in law enforcement for 15 years and have been a resident of Dallas County for over 50 years.”

Jackson started out her law enforcement career as a dispatcher and then went to a police academy in Crocker Hill. She then moved on to work in the Sheriff’s Department in Dallas County.

“During my time at the Sheriff’s Department, I worked in Detention,” Jackson said. “I worked as a bailer, as an intaker lease officer, and as a training officer. I was also recruited to the Dallas County District Attorney’s office to work undercover because they needed a Black female. So, to me, I was the best thing going at that time. When I got to the D.A.’s office, I worked all kinds of cases, anything from rape, robberies, murders, aggravated assaults and death penalty cases. When Mr. Watkins came into office, I was promoted up to the chief deputy. During my chief deputy experience, I supervised 75 investigators, 30 support staff and supervised divisions in child abuse, domestic violence, organized crime, specialized crime, public integrity, gang unit and also supervised task forces such as DEA and IRS.”

Jackson also said she had administrative skills where she hired and fired employees and did plan of action, and worked with a $2 million dollar budget.

“I also worked on extraditing people from all 50 states and internationally,” Jackson said. “The reason why I want to be constable in Precinct 1 is because they need competent and positive leadership at that department.”

The first question asked to the candidates was what the constable’s office does in the whole spectrum of law enforcement.

Jackson said the office provides guidance to its deputies.

“Deputies are also peace officers and this is what gives them the authority to do the civil law,” Jackson said.

Traylor said his perspective is the constable’s office includes civil process as their main duty.

“Being in the community and reaching out to the community is the main thing,” Traylor said. “Our constable is an elected official from our community so they should be out in the community doing things that benefit our youth and educating them on when to cooperate with the police and when to stop cooperating with police. They also provide leadership for our deputies.”

Gulley also agreed on the role of the constable to oversee the deputy’s office.

“Constables are what you call a licensed peace officer,” Gulley said. “They serve court orders under the Justice of the Peace. They are peace officer’s so they can make an arrest.”

Wilson also said that constables are peace officers.

“We do have power to arrest and have same duties as municipal police, sheriffs, but we also have the responsibility of serving the civil process in the J.P. courts,” Wilson said. “The constable is over all the deputies and has the same arrest power.”

Each candidate was then asked how they would make Precinct 1 a top notch precinct.

Traylor said he would start by replacing the command staff that they have now.

“I would put in place competent and ethical leadership,” Traylor said. “We would also start a program for our youth in the community which is lacking in our constable’s office. I would like to create a comprehensive mentorship program for our high school youth and that would offer them a chance to learn about law enforcement and then take courses on how to become a peace officer and later find jobs. Also, we need to update things such as the tools they have in that office.”

Wilson said he would also change command staff as well in order to improve Precinct 1.

“In the constable’s office, you are customer service and you have to provide service for the community, and have to be a people person and have compassion on people,” Wilson said. “You can’t just go in there with blunt force all the time. Another thing I would fight for is getting equipment we need to fight for the community.”

Gulley said she has been working hard to keep the constable’s office number one.

“We need to be accountable but you have to be accountable for yourself first,” Gulley said. “The things that I would like to do to improve the office I have already been doing. I have been working with our young people to help them.”

Jackson said she has 35 years of law enforcement experience.

“With all the special skills and resources that I have to bring to Precinct 1 would enhance that office and the community a great deal,” Jackson said. “I’m the type of leader that thinks outside the box. If Commissioner’s Court can’t give you something, law enforcement have grants you can get in order to receive tasers, body cameras or whatever you need.”

Also, when asked what each candidate would do in their first 90 days in office to make it more efficient, each person gave their own ideas.

Gulley said she had some ideas with the supervisors.

“There is a lot of improvement that needs to happen,” Gulley said. “Do we need to reach out to the community more? Yes, and that is what I have been doing. We need to educate people on what the constables do and what our role is. It won’t happen overnight. You can’t just say I want this or that because you have to go through Commissioner’s Court.”

Jackson said in her first 90 days she would get her command staff together.

“Then, I would put a website up for the community where with each law enforcement agency would be tied into that website,” Jackson said. “So the community can go to that website and look at it and see what type of crime is going on in their community.”

Wilson said in his first 90 days he would change command staff.

“I would put in staff that I trust and then go out into the community and speak to the local law enforcement agency, the churches, community leaders and see what we can do to improve and enhance the community and ask what it is that they need and see if we can help them that way,” Wilson said.

Traylor said in his first 90 days he would also replace the command staff.

“I would then work with the Commissioner’s Court in order to get vehicles that are fitted for our law enforcement so our deputies can do their job more efficiently,” Traylor said. “I would also work with HOA services and see what we can do for them as far as patrol services. I would also reach out to high school and middle school students to see who is interested in law enforcement.”

The next round at the forum included the office of the tax assessor and collector.

Candidates for this position include incumbent John R. Ames, Bennie Brown, Norma Scarso and Kristen Smith.

Ames and Brown were the only ones on the panel.

Ames began the forum by stating that he is the current tax assessor and collector.

“Anybody enjoy paying your taxes,” he asked the crowd. “It is important that we have someone in office that knows how to run this department efficiently and effectively. We need someone that understands the laws, the rules and regulations when it comes to taxes. Because the tax assessor and collector is not just collecting property taxes but we are also an agent for the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Making sure we serve the public correctly and efficiently is the best thing we can do. When I took office seven years ago, I inherited an office that was behind on everything. It was behind on technology, behind on customer service, and behind on efficiency. We’ve brought that out of the 18th century and into the 21st century. We have new hardware and software and shorter wait times and better customer service.”

Ames said the first thing he did when he took office was send back $45 million dollars to the citizens of Dallas County.

“I also implemented an e-commerce solution to pay your taxes,” he said. “When I took office, you could only pay your taxes with cash or check. We started allowing credit and debit card usage and we have some of the lowest fees. We have the highest collection rate at 99.3 percent. What does it mean when I collect more money from taxes; it means we have more money for health care and education and that we don’t have to raise taxes next year to make up the difference.”

Brown said she has 25 years of executive leadership experience with the Army & Exchange service.

“I took an early retirement in 2010 and my last position was associate director of IT services,” she said. “I have a lot of experience in innovation for a position like this. I also run a nonprofit organization and have a tax business that I have run for 14 years in which I have never had a bad audit. I am running for this seat because I think it’s important that we are able to provide constituents information because during this campaign trail I have discovered that there are a lot of people 65 plus that do not know that they can take advantage of that homestead exemption.”

Each candidate was asked how they would do a better job of allocating the tax revenue to all of Dallas County and not just the north side.

Brown said the perception is that most of those dollars are going north.

“One of the things that we have to do is make sure that we have the best schools in the Southern Sector just like the north because anytime you have development, it is usually around great elementary schools,” she said.

Ames stressed the functions of the tax assessor and collector are limited.

“Our defined functions are that we are allowed to take the appraisals that are set by the Dallas Central Appraisal District and we are allowed to take the tax rates that are coming from the governing bodies and combine those two and send you a tax bill. We have no influence on how that money is spent. That is up to the City Council, school boards and Commissioner’s Court. Our job is to make sure that we have every dollar that we can get to have those services.”

Ames said his office has done a great job informing people about all the changes and information they need to pay their taxes.

Brown said the office needs to do a better job of educating people and engaging the community on tax laws.

“It is not fair when the housing market crashed that the tax assessor and collector still collected taxes on houses that had no value,” Brown said. “A lot of people lost their homes and during that time and had they known that they had options to be able to do that, I think the housing market would of looked a little different. “

One audience member questioned the efficiency rate of the office and wanted to know why the Southern Sector is paying the biggest tax bills and why Black people are losing their homes at a higher rate and being affected by the foreclosures the most.

Ames said his office does not discriminate.

“I treat every person that pays taxes in Dallas County equally,” he said. “If you have a tax liability, we make sure you pay that tax liability. If you have difficulty paying your tax liability, we give you options such as payment plans. We have to collect taxes because if we don’t then our schools and cities would not run efficiently.”

Toni Rose and Sandra Crenshaw, candidates for Texas state representative District 110 were invited but were not in attendance.

This week’s Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates was held Feb. 15 and featured the candidates for U.S. House Representative District 30 and District 33.

The next forum will be held on Feb. 22 and will feature the candidates for judge 254th Judicial District and judge Criminal Court No. 2.


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