Not Your Average Joe

The new county treasurer isn't too sure how he got here, but he's happy to help

I said to a knowledgeable judge to whom I was speaking not for attribution so he could be honest with me, "That's because of [state Senator] Royce West and the transition team around Watkins, right? I give Watkins credit if he's smart enough to listen to his team, but they're the ones keeping him on the straight and narrow, I assume."

"Nah, nah, Schutze," he said, "don't give the transition team too much credit. I call Craig all the time, and I talk to Craig. He's been over here in my office, and I've been over there in his. He's making his own decisions. He's a smart guy, and he knows where he wants to go."

I don't know anything specific about the new clerks—County Clerk John F. Warren or District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons—but I hear generally good things about them, and they seem sharp when I see them speak in the commissioners court meetings.

Joe Wells
Joe Wells
So far, the new county judge, Jim Foster, manages to be present at commissioners court meetings without really taking part.
So far, the new county judge, Jim Foster, manages to be present at commissioners court meetings without really taking part.

There is still the matter of Lupe Valdez, the first openly gay Latina Democrat elected sheriff of Dallas in...well, I have to think, in a really, really long time. She has been sheriff now three years. She still blames the criminally bad conditions in her jail on her predecessor, and she still hides from the press like a mouse from a mountain lion.

While I was shadowing Joe, I attended the "intubation" or "inculcation," some kind of weird ceremony, I forget what they called it, at the Dallas Bar Association downtown in which the Bar gave its blessing to all of the 42 newly elected Democratic judges in the county. I'm sitting there wishing I could say to the Bar Association, "Who asked you?"

And who should come in but Sheriff Lupe, all by herself, all strapped up in her tight-fitting blue Kommander Kooky uniform. Sits in the back, all by herself. Nobody comes over to say hello. She has this huge, goofy grin which must be directed at God, because nobody else is looking. And then I feel the thing I hate. I start feeling sorry for her.

Then we have the matter of...

That's as far as I could get when I would try to bring up Jim Foster, the new county judge, with other Democrats. They always cut me off: "Yes."

I say, "Isn't there still some uncertainty about..."

"Yes."

I say, "I wonder if there may not still be a certain question mark over..."

"Yes."

I ask. "Is there any concern about..."

"Yes."

Foster wouldn't talk to me. I couldn't get him to call me back. I promise to keep trying to establish contact in the years ahead.

But I watched him in commissioners court meetings. He is a first-time officeholder, owner of a small security company and a very reluctant chief official of the county. One of my Democratic sources corrected a story he said we had incorrectly reported on our blog. We said on the blog that on filing deadline day, when candidates had to file for office in the recent election, Foster was hanging around the filing window. A reporter thought he overheard Foster telling a fellow Democrat that he was waiting to see for what office no other Democrat filed so that he would know which one to run for himself. This, supposedly, was how he decided to become our new county judge.

"No, no, that was wrong," my source said rather painfully. "Your guy got it a little wrong. Look, this is not for attribution, right?"

"Right."

"We sent Jim down there to file for county judge. He knew that's what he was supposed to file for."

"So what was he doing?" I asked. "Why was he hanging around the window until the last minute?"

"He was...hey, this is not for attribution, right?"

"Right."

"He was hoping somebody else would file for county judge so he wouldn't have to."

Oooooooh! That explains a lot, actually. When I watch Judge Foster in commissioners court meetings, I have this strange sense that he is physically present but not by choice. In fact I get the feeling that if he could get away with it he would keep a paper bag over his head. With very teeny tiny eye holes.

He fiddles with papers. He fusses with a pen. He looks down a lot. He does attempt a remark now and then. He even made a quip at one meeting, not very funny, but all of the other commissioners chuckled dutifully.

Then an expression of concern came over him. "That was a joke," he said. "I was trying to be humorous."

They all nodded and smiled. "Yes," Commissioner John Wiley Price said indulgently. "We know."

Price is the brainiac at these meetings. The others tend to posture, pose and drift a bit on complex issues. Price is the whip. He knows how deep the natural gas wells will be drilled on county property if approved, which drilling technology would be used, who all the candidates are for the contract and what needs to be voted on when.

Once in a while, Price gets impatient. Not mean or bullying, really. Just impatient.

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