On Tuesday, voters sent two strong messages to Tarrant County leadership. One vote was in favor of a $400 million bond program that will update and expand Tarrant County’s roads. A large portion of those funds (roughly $200 million) is earmarked for projects in Fort Worth. City leadership plans to build on that nest egg by raising funds through a May 2022 city bond election that could see $500 million going toward revamping old roads and building new ones next year. As the county’s population soars past 2 million, traffic problems, especially in North Tarrant County, have become a top complaint fielded by county officials.
In what amounts to a political defeat for Sharen Wilson, Tarrant County’s Republican district attorney, voters snubbed Proposition B, which would have allocated $160 million for new “construction, improvement, and equipment” for the district attorney’s office. In other words, no shiny new buildings are coming to the DA’s future anytime soon. Just under 55% of Tarrant’s roughly 100,000 voters said no to the proposal.
For a county that, politically speaking, sticks to conservative notions that anyone in jail is a dangerous thug and deserving of being treated like an animal, the vote against Prop B probably came as a shock to our commissioners, well, three of the five, Sheriff Bill Waybourn, and DA Wilson, who has pegged her political future on growing and expanding the county’s prosecutorial office. Politically, growth is equated with success, and new DA facilities would have energized Wilson’s political base leading to next November’s county elections.
Breaking ground on a new criminal justice headquarters would have also marked a historic accomplishment for the DA who was first elected in 2014, but there will be no new buildings and no expanded budget for what probably are much-needed upgrades in a rapidly growing county.
The electoral shellacking could be blowback for partisan decisions her office recently made.
Just a few weeks ago, the DA opened a grand jury investigation into dealings at the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) (“Red Flags,” Oct 20). The suspicious timing of the high-profile investigation, just weeks ahead of Prop B, wasn’t lost on us or anyone who follows Tarrant’s good-ol’-boy club. TRWD’s new board recently snubbed an outgoing general manager by yanking a golden parachute from him, and the DA is likely looking into whether the prospective lavish retirement payout, which was later pared down, broke any laws. We get it — TRWD has a long history of unethical dealings — but politically motivated investigations are an arguably worse offense, the kind that undermines the credibility of a DA’s office.
The ongoing TRWD investigation probably would not have been so alarming if Tarrant’s DA hadn’t committed an even more egregious act by meddling in Southlake’s school board election as a favor to county judge Republican candidate Tim O’Hare. Along with his small but loud army of wealthy white parents, O’Hare has had no problem using campaign donations to bring the full weight of Tarrant County’s criminal and civil justice systems on anyone who dares speak in favor of social justice and against backwater conspiracy theories that only serve the interests of white supremacy.
In April, Carroll school district, which serves Southlake, was weeks from a school board election, and on the ballot were two candidates who were and remain aligned with O’Hare. Cam Bryant and Hannah Smith were put there by Southlake’s wealthy white parents who were pushing back against the school district’s honest, necessary efforts to confront years of ugly, racist, bigoted behavior on the part of white Carroll high school students.
In the weeks leading up to the Carroll school board vote, DA Wilson clamored for the indictment of board members Todd Carlton and Michelle Moore, who had long been targeted by O’Hare and his cronies for daring to support equality and tolerance. The subsequent criminal charges propelled Smith and Bryant into office, and Southlake has since become the national posterchild for contemporary racism in the United States, a system that hides behind lies about Critical Race Theory (CRT) and accuses anyone who questions the alt-right as somehow being the true racists.
And that doesn’t even touch on the county system of oppression that, locally, disproportionately incarcerates largely young Black and brown men for nonviolent offenses like trespassing and possession of marijuana. Although the DA does not manage the county’s jail, they bear responsibility for the high rates of custodial deaths there — 16 last year and approaching that number yet again this year. In recent years, lawsuits found that jailing practices in Dallas and Harris counties targeted the poor. It is only a matter of time before a similar case is made against Tarrant County. The same horrible things happen here.
It’s hard to know exactly why Tarrant’s voters decided to keep $160 million from DA Wilson. The county is more conservative than Fort Worth, so progressive reforms may have been only one of several factors weighing on voters’ minds when they checked the “No” box on Prop B.
Like Fort Worth, Tarrant County is becoming more diverse and increasingly influenced by younger voters who are not enamored by announcements of indictments that are tainted with political opportunism. With new county leadership, Tarrant County voters may have the opportunity to revisit a $160 million bond program, and any future Prop B should be for a down payment on a public defender’s office. This would give victims of over-policing the resources to defend themselves against a local law enforcement system that is having a harder and harder time convincing the public that our broken criminal justice apparatus deserves more tax money.
This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not necessarily the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. Submissions will be edited for factuality and clarity.