At the weekly meeting of a North Texas commissioners court, a county judge denied a citizen’s assertion that he placed a ban on in-person worship, conflicting with a video statement he released in April asserting the opposite. This is the latest issue where this elected official has stated something that contradicted actions involving him.
At Tuesday morning’s meeting of the Tarrant County Commissioners Court, citizen Devin Pipes—True Texas Project’s liaison to the county court—confronted commissioners over the county’s proposed budget that would give them a pay hike—something they voted down that same day.
“There’s a couple of things recently that I really didn’t agree with,” Pipes told commissioners about their actions this year. “Especially the threatening of church leaders if they didn’t close their churches with fines and jail time.”
“I think that was inexcusable, and I think for that reason, additionally, I don’t think you deserve a pay raise,” he said.
“I do want you to understand that we never did what you just suggested,” County Judge Glen Whitley countered.
“Well, there’s video,” Pipes argued.
“No, there’s not video,” Whitley shot back. “The reason why I say that is because we were told from the get-go—nor would we have done that—that we could have any impact upon church services.”
“So, that never happened,” Whitley added.
Whitley’s statement Tuesday conflicts with a video he released April 1 that announced in-person worship was “prohibited” throughout the county—with the word literally posted in capital letters while Whitley spoke. At the time, the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department told Texas Scorecard they hadn’t “received any orders or directives regarding church services.”
Whitley’s video also conflicted with commissioners court orders in place at the time, which prohibited in-person worship unless churches could not conduct worship at home or through online services—as long as social distancing and Center for Disease Control guidelines were followed. It also went against Gov. Greg Abbott’s declaration that churches are “essential services.”
Texas Scorecard then asked Tarrant commissioners about Whitley’s statement. Commissioner J.D. Johnson said we should ask Whitley, while Commissioner Gary Fickes claimed he had not spoken with Whitley about it, adding, “It appears he is expressing his opinion and making a suggestion.”
Shortly after the video went live, grassroots successfully pressured commissioners to force Whitley to delete the video. An edited version of the first video was released that “encourages” no in-person worship: the phrase “prohibited” was removed.
“The first version was very strongly worded. [In-person worship] was prohibited, then it was edited to be just a suggestion,” Pipes told Texas Scorecard.
“As somebody who’s had family involved in Baptist churches for 200 years, I think what [Whitley] did was unforgivable, to threaten churches and now lie about it and to keep this attitude that if it weren’t for COVID, he should get a big raise,” he added.
This is not the first discrepancy between Whitley’s words and reality. On July 27, before parents frustrated with the Tarrant Public Health Department’s ban of in-person education, Whitley claimed commissioners could take no action to reverse it.
“It is not something that even pertains to the commissioners,” Whitley said. “The commissioners court has no jurisdiction over that.” On August 4, after immense public pressure, the commissioners voted to reverse the ban.
Pipes relayed a conversation he had with Fickes about the in-person education ban. “Fickes told me that the only option that they had was to fire the public health official that made the decision to close the schools,” he added. “They don’t know what’s going on.”
When asked what advice he had for citizens, Pipes was to the point. “Get out and vote, probably not for anyone running for re-election on the commissioners court.” He also added that he communicated with Fickes about how sitting commissioners could earn his vote back if they admitted the in-person worship ban was wrong and made it where such a ban couldn’t happen again.
He also added he’d like commissioners to either restore the confederate monument they voted to remove in June or replace it with another for all of the wars Texans have fought in.
Fickes faces re-election this year. Voters may also contact their Tarrant County commissioners.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Roy Brooks: 817-370-4500; firstname.lastname@example.org
Precinct 2 Commissioner Devan Allen: 817-248-6099; DJAllen2@tarrantcounty.com; email@example.com
Precinct 3 Commissioner Gary Fickes: 817-248-6295 ; firstname.lastname@example.org
Precinct 4 Commissioner JD Johnson: 817-238-4400; email@example.com
This article has been updated since publication.