Dim and Dimmer

How many county commissioners does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Last week, thinking about how great the newly opened Old Red Museum is downtown—and then thinking about the fact that it's under the Dallas County Board of Commissioners—I was reminded of a favorite Bible verse, Matthew 7:6.

"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you."

When the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture opened last May in the restored Old Red Courthouse, it was immediately the best and brightest public attraction downtown since the opening of the Sixth Floor Museum in 1989. A crack professional staff and an enlightened board of directors have created a spot-on venue that strikes just the right balance between truth-telling and entertainment.

Dallas County Judge Jim Foster rarely gives interviews. It's probably just as well.
Dallas County Judge Jim Foster rarely gives interviews. It's probably just as well.

Enter the county commissioners.

At some point in the last month, according to very good sources, Dallas County Judge Jim ("The Accident") Foster went over there and told museum director Dr. Tom Smith to take down or significantly alter part of an exhibit commemorating Margaret Keliher, who was, after all, Dallas county's first female county judge.

Foster denies all of this. But so far I can't find even a single reason to believe one thing he says. Ever. About anything.

Keliher, a Republican, was elected to four years on the court in 2002, making her the first woman to hold the office since the county was organized in 1846. She was defeated for re-election last year by Foster, who floated into office from absolutely nowhere on a countywide Democratic demographic sweep.

His appearance on the political scene has been one of those eerily fascinating natural mysteries, sort of like self-beaching whales. But he's here. And he's the judge.

So why would Foster have gone to the museum and told them to take down the Keliher exhibit? Was it because he was still mad at her from the campaign? Actually, very few people I spoke with about this were willing to give him credit for being that self-directed.

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, a Democrat, told me: "I'm sure he was coerced to do that."

Other sources told me Price is right and that Foster was sent over to the museum by county Commissioner Maureen Dickey, a Republican, who is sometimes described as the commission's second-dimmest bulb, which is unfair. She's the dimmest. Foster doesn't have a bulb.

When Keliher and Dickey served together on the commission, they sometimes clashed, especially on transportation issues, where Dickey foolishly considers herself an expert.

The scheme, then, would be this: Dickey calls Foster into her office. She swings her pearls back and forth once or twice in front of his eyes and tells him to count backward slowly from two. Then she says: "You will go over to the Old Red Museum, where you will tell Dr. Tom Smith to take down that exhibit of that damned bitch, Margaret Keliher, and replace it with a picture of somebody I like, like maybe former Commissioner Nancy Judy or some broad like that."

Which, according to Price, is just what Foster did: "Tom Smith basically told me that he was told that all of the commissioners wanted it down and that in the future if they wanted to get something done they needed to move Keliher's picture."

Price did not tell me Dickey was the one who had hypnotized Foster and sent him off on his mischief. I got that from other sources. But I did call Dickey directly and gave her several chances to tell me it wasn't true.

I said: "People have told me Jim Foster went over and told Tom Smith to take it down, that he didn't like it, didn't think it was appropriate and that Tom needed to change it. I have asked people why Jim Foster would care about it, and the answer I got was that he doesn't. He doesn't really know about it. But people are telling me that you are the person on the court who thought that was an inappropriate exhibit."

She said, "I really don't have a response to that. That's a rumor as far as I know, and I don't have a response to a rumor."

I said, "Well, OK, but I don't hear you telling me it's a false rumor."

She said: "I guess this is the first time I've heard the story, and so I'm just saying I don't have a response. I'm glad to talk to you about news, but as far as a display in the Old Red Museum, it's not really something that I'm concerned with."

I went back to this several times and did try to give her more opportunities to say she didn't do it. But all she would tell me was that she didn't think the matter of the Keliher exhibit was worth discussing.

"You know, I could care less what exhibits they have there," she said. Later in the conversation, when I asked her if she thought an exhibit commemorating Keliher as the county's first female judge was appropriate, she said: "As far as Keliher, well, personally I could care less."

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