With a long-running county judge announcing his last term, and more county officials reportedly joining him, Tarrant County citizens will have opportunities to decide what kind of county government they want after suffering government abuses in 2020.

On June 8, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley (R) announced he would not seek re-election. “I’m proud of all that we have accomplished together to make Tarrant County among the most innovative and collaborative counties in this nation,” he said. Whitley has been in office since 2007.

In 2020, Whitley and commissioners repeatedly went against citizens when addressing the Chinese coronavirus situation.

Sources have described the relationship between Whitley and commissioners as one where he takes all responsibility for controversial decisions, protecting the commissioners and giving the appearance that he is to blame. However, as was seen last year in neighboring Dallas County, the county judge can be restricted by commissioners if a majority makes the effort.

“Your service to Tarrant County has been exemplary and I know the future holds great possibilities to benefit from your leadership,” State Sen. Beverly Powell (D­–Burleson) tweeted to Whitley after his announcement.

Not all agreed with those sentiments.

“This is good news for Tarrant County,” True Texas Project CEO Julie McCarty said of Whitley’s announcement. “Anyone Whitley recommends as a replacement is not a good option. Thankfully Tim O’Hare has already announced, and he has my endorsement.”

O’Hare—former chairman of the Tarrant County GOP and former Mayor of Farmer’s Branch—announced his candidacy on May 20.

“I thank Judge Whitley for his many years of service to Tarrant County and wish him the best in retirement,” O’Hare told Texas Scorecard. “The future of Tarrant County is bright, and I look forward to sharing my conservative vision for our community in the coming months.”

O’Hare has a long list of endorsements from citizen activists and elected officials. Among them are Yvette DeOtte, Stephanie Busby, Congresswoman Beth Van Duyne (R–TX), Sheriff Bill Waybourn (R), Texas GOP Chair Allen West, and State Rep. Jeff Cason (R–Bedford).

It is unlikely O’Hare will be alone in the race for long. Last year, sources told Texas Scorecard Whitley had asked Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price to run for county judge. Price didn’t deny any intention to do so when she announced she wouldn’t run for another term as mayor this year. She is expected to announce her candidacy soon.

Whitley’s announcement isn’t the only change expected in the county. Sources have told Texas Scorecard Commissioners J.D. Johnson (R)—term ending in 2022—and Roy Brooks (D)—term ending in 2024— are likely to not seek re-election. Johnson’s son, Constable Joe Johnson, is expected to run in the Republican primary to replace his father. Fort Worth Police Association President Manny Ramirez is also reportedly considering a run for that seat in the same primary.

Even if Johnson and Brooks opt to run for re-election, Whitley leaving will present citizens with an opportunity to change the dynamic of how the court operates.

Whitley and Commissioners’ Recent History

2020 saw Whitley and commissioners repeatedly go against Tarrant County citizens.

In January, Whitley and Commissioners Brooks (D), Devan Allen (D), Gary Fickes (R), and Johnson (R) voted to continue receiving refugees despite Gov. Greg Abbott moving to stop the program statewide.

Whitley also sided with District Judge David L. Evans and others against citizens in firing the person voters hired to oversee Child Protective Services cases: Judge Alex Kim, the judge who played a key role in saving the life of Tinslee Lewis. Evans said this was “in the best interest of the system” and “the county … wants to do this.”

Then came the mandates and bans put in place by commissioners in response to the Chinese coronavirus. In April, Whitley directly defied Abbott by announcing a ban on in-person worship—only to reverse the order a day later after citizen outrage. The City of Fort Worth, under Price, issued a similar ban. In September, Whitley denied a ban was ever issued.

A countywide mask mandate was also issued, where businesses would be fined $1,000 per violation if they did not start requiring masks. Months later, a citizen who had come to speak against the mandate was cuffed and issued a warning for not wearing a mask inside the commissioners building despite having a doctor’s note.

Whitley and the commissioners continued extending the mask mandate despite commissioners’ own records showing most citizens who had contacted them were against the extension.

In November, Whitley asked Abbott for permission to fine individuals for not wearing masks and to cancel all youth sports. When commissioners extended the mask mandate again that month, Texas GOP Chairman Allen West called for the Texas Legislature to take action and stop “executive overreach.”

Only an executive order from Abbott finally put an end to all county mask mandates.

Citizens became upset when it appeared Whitley wasn’t following his own orders. During the Thanksgiving holiday, Whitley advised citizens against large gatherings, but a photo surfaced of him appearing to do the opposite. Months earlier, he was also photographed not wearing a mask at his daughter’s birthday party.

When it came to schools, Whitley sided against parents when the county banned in-person education for the fall. After immense public pressure, commissioners voted to reverse the ban, even though Whitley earlier claimed they couldn’t.

Whitley’s retirement presents citizens with an opportunity to change the dynamic and direction of the commissioners court, especially if County Administrator G.K. Maenius—employed since 1988—should retire in the coming years.

The Republican primary is expected to take place next summer.

Robert Montoya

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