Today, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson announced that she will not seek reelection in 2022. The unexpected news from the six-year incumbent comes after a huge setback at the polls and the suggestion of politically partisan backdoor dealings that are not illegal but potentially unethical.
It’s one thing for school board members and parents to play politics, but it’s a whole other something entirely when someone entrusted to be nonpartisan becomes involved, and that’s exactly what Wilson did when she secured unprecedented indictments against two Southlake school board members. Todd Carlton and Michelle Moore had been long targeted by right-wing donors to Wilson’s past campaign and to conservative local judges (“ Rising Partisanship,” Oct 13).
Multiple Southlake parents told us that the indictments for alleged violations of the Texas Opens Meetings Act (a Class B misdemeanor) amount to blackmail. A close friend of Moore’s told us that the DA was pressuring Moore to step down from the school board. Fueling the political infighting in Southlake is paranoia over Critical Race Theory (CRT), a lens through which history is taught in universities and graduate schools but that is not taught in any elementary school or high school in the nation, including in Southlake’s largely white, mostly affluent Carroll school district. Republican politicians across the country have turned CRT into a cultural boogeyman to scare white parents. According to the GOP, white students may feel bad and even sad learning about slavery and other racial injustices like the kind that are still inflicted by white people on people of color today. Fabricating cultural problems is the Republicans’ winning strategy to distract potential voters from the party’s one and only mission: slashing taxes on the uber-wealthy.
Moore and Carlton were not buying into any right-wing conspiracy theories, and the criminal charges served the interest of wealthy donors and racist parents who wanted to discredit the school board for simply trying to address Southlake’s racist recent past. Try as they might, these rich whites cannot erase from the internet the videos of white Southlake high school students chanting the n-word in public.
“When I first ran for the position, I pledged to serve you by being transparent, accessible, and ethical while following and upholding the letter of the law,” Wilson said in a public statement. “I committed to modernizing the office by reorganizing its resources and creating new specialized units to meet the changes in our society. Today, I feel confident that our mission has been achieved.”
If Wilson hoped that the indictments would gain her political favors in Southlake, the subsequent fallout has only served to embarrass her administration. A podcast by NBC News brought national attention to the overtly racist culture that persists in Southlake, and a series of investigative stories by our news magazine connected campaign contributions with possible political favors by two Tarrant County judges and the district attorney’s office.
Leading up to Nov. 2’s county bond election, the local DA once again tried to use a politically motivated indictment for nefarious reasons. This time, Wilson sought a grand jury investigation into dealings by the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) (“ Red Flags,” Oct 20). The water district that manages flood control and drinking water was an easy target. Like other Tarrant old boy clubs that include our DA, TRWD had a history of rampant nepotism and cronyism. That move yet again backfired as voters recently snubbed a $160 million bond proposal that Wilson had put forward for a new building, new equipment, and upgrades to existing facilities.
Numerous former employees and prosecutors told us that the workplace environment under Wilson’s tenure has become toxic. Employees are expected to step in line or be summarily fired. Wilson took decisive steps to protect the elderly from fraud and to prosecute domestic abuse charges during her time in office, but the Carroll school board indictments and TRWD investigations have all but eliminated any appearance of impartiality on the part of the DA’s office. Possibly Wilson’s greatest contribution to her department will be her decision to not seek reelection, which may allow Tarrant County to have the type of reform-minded DA that other large Texas counties enjoy.
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.