The Dallas County Commissioners Court unanimously approved a new code of conduct for commissioners this morning in response to Commissioner John Wiley Price last week telling several audience members to "go to hell" after pointing out that they were all white. None of the commissioners voiced their opinions in open court about the new rules, which replicate the long-standing policy that applies to citizen speakers.
Price told reporters after today's meeting that the new guidelines are likely to stifle his voice, but he voted for them because citizens demanded a code of conduct that applies to the commissioners.
"Y'all wanted a code of conduct, you got a code of conduct. You can't have it both ways," he said. "You're either gonna let us say what we want to say and they say what they want to say or not. When you restrain it, you restrain it all the way around."
Dallas County Fire Marshal Robert De Los Santos, Sheriff Lupe Valdez and dozens of fire marshals and sheriff's deputies were on hand to control the crowd. Approximately 25 folks with signs reading "The Price is Not Right" (written in the same font as the TV show The Price is Right), "Honk if it's time for John Wiley Price to go" and "Replace Price with integrity" protested across the street from the courthouse, and countless others stood outside in the hallway because the courtroom had reached capacity long before the meeting began at 9 a.m.
Sixteen citizens spoke before the meeting adjourned, with eight voicing support for Sherbet, four addressing the need for the new rules, three supporting Price and one alleging discrimination at Presbyterian Hospital. Judge Clay Jenkins asked three of the speakers to return to their seats before their time expired after warning them about his plans to strictly enforce the policy in place for public speakers, and he had a woman removed from the room because she clapped.
Jenkins told us that court actions can be criticized, but he won't allow speakers to make "personal, impertinent, slanderous, boisterous or profane statements."
Pastor Stephen Broden, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the U.S. House seat occupied by Eddie Bernice Johnson, told commissioners that the Sherbet issue called the court's integrity into question.
"Confidence in this court has been shaken by the appearance of impropriety," he said.
Broden was warned by Jenkins about personal attacks after he quoted Proverbs 29:2: "When a wicked man rules, the people groan."
While speaking to the media, Price refused to express regret for his comments last week.
"Unless you are under the GEICO rock, I am not apologizing," he said. "End of sentence."
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Price also admitted the new policy restricts free speech.
"I think everything hurts free speech, but you know what happens with so-called free speech. Are you allowed to go into the theater and yell fire?" he said. "Somebody felt like I yelled fire last week. I don't think so. I was just talking about the alarm."
Jenkins stresses he inherited the current policy and aims to enforce it until it's changed. And as long as the citizens are expected to follow the rules, he says the five members of the court should too.
"I want the members of the public to know what's good for the goose is good for the gander -- that we are going to have a level of decorum, civility and respect for one another and a level of decorum, civility and respect for them," he told Unfair Park.