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Commissioners Somehow Manage to Turn Boring Debate on Abstractors Into Racially Charged Shouting Match

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On Friday, when the county posted the agenda for today's commissioners court meeting, I took note of Item 11, which concerned a request by Dallas County Clerk John Warren to kick out all occupants of Room 333. This sounded like it could be interesting, if, say, Maurine Dickey's furs had crawled to the third floor and taken up residence, but it wasn't.

"The room is currently being occupied by independent abstractors (non-county employees) to do title searches on property records," county spokeswoman Maria Arita told me in an email. "This was a pretechnology era practice, very archaic -- so we are freeing up the space so that the county clerk can house a complete set of microfilm copies of his land records in the event his recording system becomes inoperable."

In other words, total snooze-fest.

What I was forgetting was that this is Dallas County, where even a discussion about abstractors can erupt into a racially charged conflagration.

The Morning News' has a lengthy blow-by-blow on its City Hall blog. Warren told commissioners that abstractors leave the room they use in disarray and that they don't need it, because 166 years of records are available online. They're simply squatters, he said.

A title company representative objected that plat maps aren't available online; Warren said they were. Dickey asked which was true. The Morning News describes what happened next.

"I don't think anybody would know more than I would about how my office operates," Warren said.

"But you're a black man, you don't know," Commissioner John Wiley Price sarcastically interjected.

Price and Warren are both black. Dickey is white.

"It's a new day and there's a new sheriff," Warren said.

At one point, Dickey asked Warren to bring a tablet computer to the dais and show her that the plat maps are online.

Warren, who is elected to office like commissioners, said he didn't work for Dickey.

"You can go to the website and check that," he told her.

Dickey said Warren shouldn't be afraid to pull the maps up.

"I'm not going to sit here and take direction from you," Warren said, interrupting her.

Dickey then commented on Warren's attitude as Price talked over her.

"Good for you," Price said to Warren.

Warren briefly turned to other county officials in the audience.

"I don't give a damn," he said.

When someone from the audience handed Warren a tablet computer, he approached the dais and handed it to Jenkins.

"If you want to pass this down to (Dickey), you can," Warren said.

County Judge Clay Jenkins eventually calmed things down through the judicious use of his gavel and a decision to punt a decision on Warren's request to next meeting. Another fine example of your county government at work.

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