Monday Night Politics: Political forums kick off with candidates for County Commissioners

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The Dallas Examiner

It was a heated forum as the candidates for Dallas County Commissioners Court District 3 took the stage at Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates presented by The Dallas Examiner. Ed Gray of The Commish Radio Show moderated the forum. Held on Feb. 1 at the African American Museum in Fair Park, it kicked off a series of political forums for the March 2016 Primary Elections on March 1.

The night was scheduled to begin with District 1 of the Dallas County Commissioners Court with Dr. Theresa Daniel informing the audience of her decision to run again. But due to delays, District 3 candidates went on stage first.

District 3 candidates included incumbent John Wiley Price, Dwaine Caraway, Micah B. Phillips and Cedric Davis.

The role of the Commissioners Court includes setting the county tax rate, adopting a budget, appointing boards and commissions, approving grants and personnel actions, and overseeing the administration of county government. The office is also responsible for approving the budget and setting the tax rate for the hospital district.

Price has held the position for over 30 years.

“Dallas County is the second largest county in the state of Texas and the ninth largest county in these United States,” Price said. “As the ranking member of the Dallas County Commissioners Court, there are 15 standing committees and I chair eight of them. When you look and see how the policies of Dallas County are run, you will see that I am a forefront of that, whether you are talking about operating the jail from the compliance standards, operating public health, all those committees are ones that I chair. I believe Dallas County is in the unique position because we have great policies and leadership and I have been the head of that particular leadership.”

Phillips said he was honored and humbled to be able to represent the citizens as a choice in this race.

“This includes a choice to be included or a choice to be excluded,” he said. “A choice to be heard or a choice to be muted. A choice for economic empowerment or a choice for economic injustice. It is time that we have someone in office that is going to buy us in and not buy us out. When I look at our community and look at the higher tax rate to the southern part of Dallas compared to the rest of Dallas, we have a problem and that problem is economic injustice. When we are voted out of the Inland Port, that would of changed our economic status for generations to come. It is time for someone that gets in the commissioners seat that speaks for the people. We have a problem because when you look north, it looks like they are living on high cotton and in the southern part, it looks like we are living in the plantation. We have not been represented properly.”

Phillips is a developer and talked about what he has done to help Dallas.

“I put forth a $2.5 billion plan that I did not get a letter of support from,” Phillips said. “I am the only one on this stage that has presented an economic plan to grow Dallas.”

Davis, a former mayor of Balch Springs, explained why he was the best candidate.

“I was the first African American mayor elected to Balch Springs and when I took over Balch Springs, we had only one bank and when I left office we had three banks with improved ratings,” Davis said. “We have grown and I was the first mayor in Balch Springs to go to Washington and brought back millions of dollars to put back in new street ramps for our highways. What I am looking at to be the role of commissioner is to use those tax dollars and take a look at it and see how it can be equally divided among the 15 districts in the city. Thirty-one years is a long time to be in office and it is time we change that baton for the next generation to take over because no one lives forever so we have to pass that torch because people that are coming up behind us, they need something to look up to and look forward to. We have to build our communities and infrastructure.”

Each candidate also offered their thoughts on how the role of a county commissioner can be used to enhance the public’s interest.

Price discussed how the county works with the state.

“We are limited in our ability to do anything other than set the tax rate and work with the state,” he said. “We leverage those dollars with our cities. It’s interesting because people keep talking about infrastructure, the only infrastructure that the county has the ability to do is in 2009, Sen. Royce West carried a bill whereby I could be creative with major capital improvement dollars to bring water and sewer to these cities that are fiscally challenged. The problem with the Southern Sector is not land, the problem is that there is no infrastructure.”

Phillips criticized Price and his work as current commissioner.

“When Price voted no for the Inland Port, that hurt us,” Phillips said. “I graduated from the University of Southern California and at my dad’s request I came back to Dallas and you would think that someone with dual degrees from USC wouldn’t have a problem getting employed in his own community.

“But when you vote no on jobs that would be created with six figures, you hurt the next generation to come. What about the babies behind me. That is why I am running. You are saying that the infrastructure is not there, well then vote it in. For those 75 people that are in Sandbranch, they can have water then. For 15 to 20 years, that community has been without water because a plan has been put in place to take the land away from them. Also, as far as health, why is our teen pregnancy rate so high. Why are 65 percent of the new AIDS cases out of District 3? Because we have not been taking care of business as commissioners.

“Commissioner Price used to be a voice but not now. I can remember when he went silent and we need a commissioner that is going to use his voice for the people.”

Davis talked about his goals of getting better jobs in the Southern Sector.

“We need jobs that pay $17.50 or more and not $10 jobs,” Davis said. “We need more than that to make a livable wage. That is what I plan to do when I become commissioner. We are going to look at strategy and see how we can direct international businesses to the southern corridor. If you look north, you can’t build north. They are putting all these enterprises in Plano, Fort Worth and Tarrant County. Why not Southern Dallas County? Why do we get the liquor stores and the scrap metal places? We can do better than that. We can educate our kids and work with Dallas ISD so they can improve the quality of education out there. Let’s fix that infrastructure and find out what we have to do to put the money into the ground and get that infrastructure.”

Davis also criticized Caraway for seeking too much attention.

“Everywhere he goes, he has to have a camera and television crew with him,” Davis said. “He took a group of high school students on a bus and went through Dallas and talked about the Black people he served. That’s one of the main reasons that spurred me to run because it pissed me off the simple fact that getting those kids off that bus and going to that gentleman and saying can I help you sir, how did you get here sir, and saying don’t be like that bum. Well, you don’t know that man’s story and everybody has a story. We don’t need politicians like him because they are career politicians and they just want to get a paycheck. He even told The Dallas Morning News that it was about getting a paycheck. That is not right. It is country and community before it’s about yourself and I live by that.”

Each candidate also discussed what they can do about the recidivism rate.

Price said this is an issue that is not legislative at the County Commissioners Court.

“The judges, probation officers have the opportunity to divert and to take those individuals and try to manage it. In the juvenile department which is the second largest in this state, we have the lowest recidivism rate according to the state of Texas report. We divert more young people and have more young people that are not being detained in those facilities.”

Phillips said Price has not taken advantage of bringing more economics to the area.

“He has the power to bring economic development to the area which is a direct correlation to recidivism,” Phillips said. “Sixty-five percent of the inmates that go back to prison is due to lack of jobs and lack of education. As a commissioner it would be important that jobs would be at its premium for District 3. When you look at District 3, recidivism is a problem.”

Phillips said the indictment of Price on federal bribery and tax evasion charges has hurt the community.

“No one wants to invest their money in District 3 but I guarantee you as of day one I will have a plan to contextualize that and would invite people to come to not take over but to get first position on a development so you can have capacity abilities,” Phillips said.

Davis said that he has been in law enforcement for 25-plus years and that he teaches criminal law so he knows the best solution is education.

“We have to teach those coming out of prison and educate their minds and teach them how to be entrepreneurs,” he said.

Caraway joined the other candidates on stage after arriving late.

Caraway has lived and worked in Dallas the majority of his life serving as former mayor of Dallas, mayor pro-tem and a City Council member as well.

“I came back home to make a difference,” Caraway said. “I am from here and I know what Dallas was like. I helped John Wiley Price back in 1985 and contributed $17,000 to his campaign. I have been there but once you’ve been there and you have begun to see the things that we have missed, the missed opportunities, the folks with no jobs, the people sleeping under the bridge, the people that are suffering from mental health, the development that is not there and Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard still looking like it was years ago, that means it is time for change. A county commissioner does everything.”

Caraway showed the audience four pages of accomplishments he has done as a member of the City Council.

“I ask you to ask yourself let’s name three things that Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price has done,” Caraway said. “And that is why I am campaigning on eight vs. 30 – my eight years as councilman versus his 30 years as commissioner. Also, what is the difference between me versus the gentlemen on this stage with the exception of Davis, is that I have never hit a woman or never have put my hands on a woman.”

He then noted that Price is the most knowledgeable person in county government.

“He knows it and has 30 years to learn it,” he said. “But you have to ask yourself what did he do with it. You look at Sandbranch and it’s been 30 years and those people still don’t have water.”

Though no one addressed a controversial incident that involved Caraway in 2011, Phillips did take aim at Caraway on a personal note. He also defended himself concerning his arrest record.

“The problem we have is that Black men go to jail,” Phillips said. “I have never hit a woman in my life but have been arrested three times for it. I have also been found not guilty.”

Phillips also criticized Caraway for his handling of the South Dallas Trust Fund as a councilman and also for introducing the fee for using plastic bags – an added cost at the cash register that citizens say has been a bit of a hardship for those on a fixed income.

Caraway replied that 60 business grants were given during the South Dallas Trust Fund and the goal was to help other people.

Price was also heavily criticized about the lack of water the Sandbranch community has had to deal with and why he hasn’t really done anything about it.

Price stood composed and did not address the mudslinging. Instead, he addressed the citizens’ concerns regarding the Sandbranch community. He informed the audience that FEMA concluded that it was not the best option to build an infrastructure to have water in that area due to the high flood risks and that the cost was too high. He also defended his record stating that he has accomplished a lot to bring businesses and economics to the area during his term.

“Just look at the facts because there is a lot of misinformation out there,” Price said.

Davis talked about the importance of teamwork.

“That’s what I keep hearing up here, ‘I, I and I,’” Davis said. “I didn’t do things by myself. We hired great people when I was mayor at Balch Springs. We worked together on our council. I’m not going to sit here and lie and say we didn’t beat up on each other sometimes behind closed doors, because we did. But the final product benefitted the whole, and that’s what I’m about, being a bridge-builder.”

During the second portion of the forum, Daniel was the only candidate to arrive from District 1. The other candidates Regoberto Cortez and Ryan Minyard were not present.

“District 1 is on the eastern part of the county and starts off in Richardson, two-thirds of Garland and half of Mesquite, East Dallas and all of Pleasant Grove,” she said. “This area is large but is very important to each one of us. I am here speaking to you because it is about all of us working together. It is the five people on that Commissioners Court – each one with one vote that will make a difference. I have been a Dallas county commissioner for the past three years and have served as a public servant for 38 years. We have accomplished clean air, improving our mental health and our jails, and have worked with our communities.”

The series of forums are scheduled for each Monday in February through Feb 22.

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