Dim and Dimmer

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

Now, I admit this is just my interpretation of her remarks, a mere opinion, but I would say her answers were tantamount to plucking a Magic Marker felt pen out of her purse and writing across her own forehead, "Yup, I done it."

I did, of course, attempt to reach Judge Foster, as I always do and always shall. I submitted my question via e-mail through his assistant. His assistant e-mailed me back, saying, "I passed your memo on to the judge. He asked me to tell you this is untrue and he's not sure where the story is coming from. He prefers not to do an interview."

I e-mailed back to the assistant saying, "OK. But I have other commissioners telling me he is the one who spoke to Dr. Smith."

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.

The assistant e-mailed me back saying, "I don't doubt that, but that's his response."

Do you think maybe the assistant has an eye on Foster's door at all times and one of those traveler's emergency rope ladders in his desk?

I did call Dr. Smith, of course, who happens to be one of the most respected people in his field in the country, and he did decline, understandably, to dive into the middle of this. He referred me very politely to David Biegler, chairman of the Old Red Foundation Board of Directors, former vice chairman of TXU Corp. and a heavyweight in Dallas political and civic circles.

Biegler and I exchanged several e-mails. In one e-mail, Biegler denied there had ever been a Keliher exhibit. "There has never been an exhibit, a card, a display, or identification as first female county judge. Therefore there has never been anything to take down," he said.

In a subsequent e-mail, Biegler told me there has always been a Keliher exhibit and it's still up, referring to an image of Keliher that appears on a "scrim" or window shade without any identifying legend or text, even to say who in the hell she is.

"There is an exhibit commemorating the first female judge, and it is the photograph on the scrim," he said. "It is treated in an identical manner and in the same location as other county firsts, such as Nancy Judy's scrim image as the first female commissioner."

But that is not the case. Former commissioner Judy is commemorated in an exhibit box with a card beneath her photograph identifying her as the county's first female commissioner.

Dr. Smith told me Keliher had to be put on a window shade with no name tag because she was a sitting official and the museum has a policy against exhibits of sitting officials. But that is not the case. Commissioner Price, who sits, is commemorated in an exhibit with a card and text identifying him as the county's first black commissioner.

I asked both Biegler and Smith if Judge Foster had spoken to them at all ever in any way—smoke signals, drum beats, ululation—about how Judge Keliher was being commemorated in the museum. They both declined to answer.

I'm guessing ululation.

I know they're in a tough spot not of their own making. They have a great museum. But I must interpret their responses to my questions as another of those Magic Marker moments.

I asked Smith why there is no exhibit commemorating the county's first female judge as an important achievement in the suffrage of women. He said, "That was a decision we made."

I spoke to former Judge Keliher, who is now off on a career with a big law firm probably making money by the buckets, and she more or less told me she thought the whole thing was just embarrassing and crazy and she didn't want to discuss it. I understand that. She's too smart to play mean girls.

Now the smartest person on the commission—well, let's just go ahead and say it, the only person on the commission now who is smart—is Price. Think about it. He's a Democrat. Judge Foster is a Democrat. Keliher's a Republican. Partisan wisdom would call for Price to look the other way even if Maureen Dickey hypnotized Foster and sent him out to snatch Keliher bald.

Oh, man. I wish I hadn't put that idea in print.

But Price is offended by people thinking they can mess with history. "I was really upset by it, because like I told them, I didn't want anybody tampering with history. She was the first female judge. Her picture was prominently displayed. But Foster went to them and basically told them to take it down."

I asked Price about an even larger issue here. I asked: "Is the county judge...what can you tell me...is he fully functional these days?"

Price said: "No. No. No. No. No."

Yikes. Yikes. Yikes.

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