Bud Kennedy

Time goes by, but not much gets fixed for Tarrant commissioners

The sleeping panther in front of the Tarrant County Adminstration Building is not supposed to be a metaphor.
The sleeping panther in front of the Tarrant County Adminstration Building is not supposed to be a metaphor. Panther City, Our Heritage, Our Home

The Tarrant County commissioners’ average age is 65.

The five men on commissioners court average 16 years’ service each. That’s 750 meetings.

Every week, they sit numbly as county officials parade by to explain where the money went, or why nothing got done, or how it was the software’s fault.

Tuesday’s meeting was a quadruple whammy of bad news. Even some commissioners finally had heard enough.

Commissioner Roy C. Brooks pounded the court table with every word: “What — are — we — doing?” The Fort Worth Democrat was asking about the county’s perpetually awful maternal and infant death rates.

Then suburban Republicans chimed in.

The infant death rate in east Arlington was among the worst six years ago, Grand Prairie Republican Andy Nguyen said: “It still is. Something is not right.”

Yes. Glad they noticed.

Saying county government is slow as molasses is an insult to molasses.

This time, fumble after fumble finally piled up high enough to stir commissioners’ anger. Then, they were socked with one last gut punch from Austin.

First, they had to deal with $7 million in botched property tax overcollections owed taxpayers as refunds, most to be repaid later by cities or school districts.

The Tarrant Appraisal District, a separate agency, blames us. The chief says we filed too many taxpayer protests.

County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright, an Arlington Republican up for re-election Nov. 8, blames the appraisal district along with its failed software upgrade.

Both Wright and commissioners griped about TV headlines such as “Tarrant County Owes $9 Million” that reported a “Cash-Flow Problem.”

But Wright had used those exact words in an interview.

Brooks told him to always ask commissioners first about a budget matter: “If someone had come to us and asked … before going to the press we could have avoided all of the misrepresentations. The court should be the one to decide.”

For his part, Wright said the news reports had “thrown a spotlight on this problem at the appraisal district, and that’s where the problem is.”

Then the director of the Tarrant County 911 board, also a separate agency, said the county is only “getting closer” to taking text messages for 911, which women particularly need in family violence situations.

But director Greg Petrey said the same thing two years ago. We’re still not close.

Finally, commissioners learned that Gov. Greg Abbott’s petty political fight with the federal government over refugees and asylum seekers will cost Tarrant County $6 million.

Not later — soon. A core $2 million federal grant for refugees’ health checkups, immunizations and tuberculosis screenings will be cut off Sept. 30, all because the state is trying to refuse extra refugees.

(The cutoff date was extended Wednesday to Jan. 31.)

County health director Vinny Taneja ditched any sense of formality: “The impact of the loss of this grant will be humongous,” he said.

This is one fix that can’t wait.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.