Bud Kennedy

Jenkins, Dallas courthouse leaders stepped up after a slow start

Now we know why we need county government.

Under Texas law, county officials take command in a health crisis, but it took days and mistakes for Dallas leaders to act like it.

On Thursday, first-term County Judge Clay Jenkins joined Gov. Rick Perry and other officials saying authorities were handling an Ebola case well, even as TV reporters described nothing but confusion and a lack of cleanup at the Ivy Apartments.

But by Friday night, the first-term Highland Park Democrat was stunning viewers worldwide, first by visiting the quarantined family and then by driving them himself to a gated home elsewhere.

In an effort to win back visitors’ confidence in Dallas — and maybe voters’ confidence weeks before an election — Jenkins asked Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and church leaders to help find a more secure home for the family’s weeks of isolation.

Afterward, Rawlings even said Jenkins’ “leadership in the last 24 hours has been remarkable.”

Until then, county leadership had seemed slow.

In an interview that will air at 9 this morning on WFAA/Channel 8’s Inside Texas Politics, Jenkins even said officials had been doing “everything the [Centers for Disease Control] tells us to do.”

But in Texas, county officials plan and govern emergency response.

As county judge, Jenkins is supposed to take charge alongside a doctor appointed as county health authority, in this case Dr. Christopher Perkins, a graduate of the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth.

In a communicable-disease event, county epidemiologists are supposed to immediately investigate the source, identify those at risk and contact them to begin quarantine and take precautions.

That shouldn’t take the presence of Gov. Rick Perry or orders from the CDC.

Yet by late Thursday, quarantined Louise Troh told CNN that nobody was even bringing the family food and that the only housecleaning amounted to her daughter with some Clorox.

County deputies served the quarantine order, but even the president of the deputies’ labor association said there was no plan.

“We were really looking for the CDC to come in, take control of this situation,” Sgt. Christopher Dyer said in a WFAA interview.

“There should be some kind of protocols as far as what kind of a response we’re going to have and what kind of safety equipment we’re going to have. Those kinds of things didn’t happen.”

By Friday, more was happening.

Jenkins — a personal-injury lawyer from a prominent Waxahachie family and now a worshiper with President George W. Bush and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison at Highland Park United Methodist Church — enlisted Rawlings and religious leaders to help relocate the family.

“Where they were living is a terrible place,” Rawlings said, “and we are more decent that that.”

When the home was ready late Friday, Jenkins himself took on the moving job.

He said Troh’s family, new members of a Southern Baptist church in Dallas, owned little besides a few chairs and a picture of Jesus.

Afterward, Jenkins came to the news conference without changing his shirt, he said.

“If there were any risk, I would not expose myself or my family,” Jenkins said, “but there is zero risk.”

Meanwhile, one Republican blog headlined, “Naive Liberal Texas Judge Enters Ebola Apartment.”

Right or wrong, it was time for county leadership.

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