Bud Kennedy

A standoff at Tarrant County Commissioners’ Court, but why?

Sharp words between Tarrant DA, commissioners

DA Sharen Wilson is turned away when she tries to make a presentation to the Tarrant County Commissioners Court.
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DA Sharen Wilson is turned away when she tries to make a presentation to the Tarrant County Commissioners Court.

Two of Tarrant County’s most powerful public officials butted heads a few weeks ago, and I’m still not sure why.

District Attorney Sharen Wilson and County Judge Glen Whitley exchanged glares across the commissioners’ court chamber after commissioners told her no, she couldn’t present a simple 5-minute report and slide show.

Understand, this was not you or me showing up with a rinky-dink homemade PowerPoint.

This was the criminal district attorney being told to take her “annual report” and go.

“May I be heard?” she finally asked commissioners in exasperation Jan. 29 as Whitley explained at length how she hadn’t met a deadline to submit presentations.

Whitley had cut her off: “Now, Sharen — “

At one point, Wilson said she might have to sign up and speak when commissioners take comments from the public.

It was an unusual moment of tension between officials at the drowsy weekly meetings.

Wilson has declined comment since the exchange. Her office posted an edited version of the report on a personal Facebook page at facebook.com/tarrantcountyda.

Whitley said later than Wilson turned the report in days late, and also that it included a sensitive diagram for a proposed new building, raising “security issues.”

County Judge Glen Whitley, left, and District Attorney Sharen Wilson Handout photos

(This is where I need to explain the separation of powers: Wilson is responsible for managing the people, setting policy and carrying out the duties of the district attorney’s office. Commissioners, on the other hand, are responsible for county property, budget and buildings.)

The version of Wilson’s report posted on Facebook covers how much work her staff is doing: nearly 50,000 cases a year, up 8,000 in two years.

But Whitley said the original report also included too much about the new building. County Administrator G.K. Maenius’ staff saw it and raised security questions.

“We’re open to letting anyone put anything on the agenda,” Whitley said — “We just ask to turn it in ahead of time so we can send it out to everybody.”

Wilson told commissioners she still should have been allowed to show the rest of the presentation.

“We weren’t given the option to remove two or three slides,” she said.

Commissioner Roy C. Brooks of Fort Worth chimed in, saying the obvious: Commissioners generally should hear people who come to speak.

Wilson was perturbed. But with reason.

She has not asked again to give the report, Whitley said.

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Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.