Take a look at the formal agenda for tomorrow's meeting of the Dallas County Commissioners Court. On Page 7 you'll find Court Order 34, which reads, simply:
Approving by a voice vote of the Commissioners Court that Mr. Bruce Sherbet be approved for this agreement and a two (2) year employment agreement, effective February 8, 2011 through February 7, 2013.
That was put on there by Dallas County Commissioner Maurine Dickey, who wants to make public the so-far mostly private debate over the reason Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins called for a first-time-in-more-than-two-decades meeting of the County Election Commission on January 28, which led to the resignation of Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet. Sherbet, of course, has said he felt pushed out by Jenkins and John Wiley Price, who wanted to replace Sherbet with Toni Pippins-Poole, the county's longtime assistant elections administrator who Price "convinced" Sherbet to hire long ago. The commission made Pippins-Poole Sherbet's interim replacement.
Dickey says she doesn't know Pippins-Poole -- "wouldn't recognize her if I saw her." But, Dickey tells Unfair Park: "I do know this much -- she doesn't have the confidence of a lot of people, judging by the deluge of concerns that have come to our office over the last two weeks."
Which is why Dickey will ask the commissioners tomorrow to vote on giving Sherbet a two-yer personal services contract, which would more or less turn the now-former elections administrator into a consultant for the county.
"The court has the ability to appoint a consultant, so why doesn't the court hire a consultant and pay him for two years to consult on the election administration department and look at how to make it more efficient?" she says. "It probably doesn't need to exist as a full-blown department anyway. Elections are only in May and November, unless there's a special election or a run-off, so that may be eight weeks' of work. There's no reasons to pay pensions and benefits.
She continues: "It costs us $5.3 million a year to fund that department. Before 1987, they were run by the Dallas County Tax Assessor's office a county clerk. And in '87 Bruce was hired and started the elections department, but Bruce knows all the efficiencies and inefficiencies and could still oversee the elections. No one has more experience than he does, so hire him on a consulting basis."
Dickey insists the commissioners court doesn't need to abide by the vote of the County Election Commission. She says she spent the better part of the weekend studying the elections code and says the commission doesn't exist to give performance reviews, per Clay Jenkins's explanation, only to provide up-and-down in-or-out votes or replace someone who's resigning.
She also insists: Only the county commissioners can sign off on Pippins-Poole, since, of course, the commissioners are the ones who will ultimately decide whether to approve her and how much to pay her.
"They can name Howdy Doody to be the elections administrator, but unless it's funded by the county commissioners, they can't fund that job," she says. "It always bothers me when I see entities with authority but no accountability."
At last week's meeting, Dickey tried to bring up Sherbet's ouster -- by asking Price if Pippins-Poole was one of his political protégés. Jenkins muzzled that conversation real fast, insisting it wasn't on the agenda.
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Well, it is tomorrow. And it should get interesting.
"I am going to bring up the court order and then ask for a voice vote," she says. "And the commissioners can say what we want to. The commissioners were not involved in this, were not told about it, and yet we're expected to fund it? It's like an unfunded mandate. ... Do the commissioners want Toni Pippens-Poole? They're gonna have a chance tomorrow to give a voice vote on how they feel about it. The question is: Do they want to hire Bruce as a consultant? The crowd will be there, as I understand, for Bruce, and the commissioners will have to answer to them. ...
"There are two things needed in an elections administrator -- someone with the ability and knowledge to do it, and someone who has the public's confidence. Toni's been tied in, right or wrong, with Commissioner Price, and a lot of people don't want Commissioner Price having a hand in their elections.
"Nobody has put Toni on the court agenda. But she will come up March 1, when Bruce is officially out of office. As we know, he's been told not to step on county property. But in order for us to fund Toni, we have to vote to fund her and vote on her salary. And the public needs to be heard from. It's not my intention to make tomorrow's meeting more interesting, but it may be a result."