Tuesday, Dallas County voters protested the county’s shelter-in-place order as commissioners voted 3-2 to extend it to May 15. However, a question from one of the commissioners revealed this extension conflicts with Gov. Greg Abbott’s order and “would not be allowed,” while a controversial hiring decision worth over $228,000 has been postponed.

Since mid-March, Dallas County has been under a shelter-in-place order, shuttering most businesses and restricting people’s activities.

On April 7, after Jenkins proposed extending his order to May 20, commissioners passed an amendment—put forward by Commissioner J.J. Koch—requiring commissioners’ approval before extending it beyond April 30.

At Tuesday’s meeting, as commissioners voted on whether or not to extend Jenkins’ order to May 30, Dallas County grassroots activists gathered outside the county administration building to protest the shelter-in-place policy.

“Shut down the shutdown,” they chanted.

“I am here because enough is enough,” protester Jenny told Texas Scorecard. “The original models were flawed, and the rules were made on flawed models, and it’s time to get back to work.”

“The vote [by the commissioners today] should be a vote that protects our liberty, that allows us to use common sense, to social distance, to wash our hands, and to go back to work,” Pastor Stephen Broden told Texas Scorecard.

“For so many years, you’ve heard this phrase, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’” Lisa Luby Ryan told the crowd on Tuesday. “Well, I don’t know about you, but every time Clay Jenkins comes out with another mandate, my heart sinks.”

“When you trade liberty for security, in the end, you will have neither,” Ryan said. “Where is Clay Jenkins getting his data? Is he getting it from Dr. Huang [Dallas County’s director of Health and Human Services], and that’s it?”

Texas Scorecard has previously reported on the flaws and questions surrounding the data Dallas County is using for its policies in response to the coronavirus.

When asked what message she would like to give to all the commissioners that day, Ryan responded, “Stop thinking about your own personal goals and agendas. [Commissioner] John Wiley Price has done an amazing job. John Wiley Price and I aren’t always on the same side, but he is voicing for his people to get them back to work.”

“Hopefully, J.J. Koch is over there doing the same thing,” she said.

During the commissioners court meeting, Koch joined with Price in trying to defeat, or at least delay, the extension. “I would suggest that we bring this back up in an emergency meeting on the 29th, and at that time [Jenkins will] present what stages will be opened, the economic impact, and lined up with what metrics we need to see,” Koch said.

“I still find it abhorrent that we have no plan [to reopen],” Price said. “And here we are, a week out from our April 30 deadline. Now we’re saying we’re going to take it two more weeks.”

Commissioner Theresa Daniel amended the motion to extend the order only to May 15, and it passed with votes from Jenkins, Daniel, and Commissioner Elba Garcia. Price and Koch voted against.

Price then questioned the legality of the court’s decision.

“Tell me how you extend the stay-at-home order beyond the governor’s order,” he said. “The last time we did that … [Jenkins] had to come back and backtrack.”

“I’m trying to figure out how to respond to that,” Jenkins stuttered. Price then turned to the county’s legal department. “Is the court on sound footing going against the governor’s order?” Price asked.

“The governor specifically provided in the order that his executive order shall supersede any conflicting order issued by local officials,” Russ Roden, chief of civil division, replied.

“This order of the judge would be placing restrictions on essential businesses beyond the time period which the governor’s order authorizes.”

“[Abbott’s order] has limited those activities or is allowing those activities through April 30,” Roden added.

After April 30, the amended Dallas County order would be unenforceable unless Abbott updates his order extending statewide shelter in place.

The commissioners also decided to delay a controversial decision to pay three people over $76,000 each for work on the county’s Homeland Security & Emergency Management policy team. One of the individuals in question, Philip Haigh, worked as Jenkins’ 2018 campaign manager.

The other two are Dallas ISD Board Member Miguel Solis and Patricia Nava, a former intern for President Obama who worked on Obamacare.

Koch read from an article in the Dallas Observer about Solis’ nonprofit work and how he has worked out an arrangement where his nonprofit pay will be lowered to the extent he is paid by the county. “All this tells me is that this has long been in the works,” Koch said. “Mr. Solis has already worked this out with outside parties, and this is the first that we’re hearing of it.”

Price also expressed misgivings because of questions about what expertise the three individuals would bring to the position.

District 1 Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel: Theresa.daniel@dallascounty.org, 214-653-7473
District 2 Commissioner J.J. Koch: jj.koch@dallascounty.org, 214-653-6100
District 3 Commissioner John Wiley Price: John.Price@dallascounty.org214-653-6671
District 4 Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia: Elba.GarciaDDS@dallascounty.org. 214-653-6670

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.