Early voting has started, and two North Texas county commissioners are on the ballot for re-election this November. Will Commissioners Roy Brooks and Gary Fickes continue to let County Judge Glen Whitley act as their spokesman, or will they make themselves accountable and act for citizens?

2020 has shocked many in Tarrant County when it comes to how Whitley trampled their freedoms. Involved citizens, however, are not surprised.

“I never trusted him,” True Texas Project President Fran Rhodes told Texas Scorecard. “This year’s actions prove I was right to not trust him. I wish the two Republican commissioners would stop giving him cover.”

According to sources familiar with Tarrant County government, the commissioners and Whitley work as one, with Whitley acting as their spokesman and taking the heat for controversial decisions, allowing the commissioners to escape accountability from citizens.

For example, despite telling citizens he wouldn’t, Whitley announced a countywide mask mandate before Abbott issued his own. Tarrant commissioners have since voted to continue the mandate to the end of November.

Last year, Whitley told hurting taxpayers asking for relief that he hoped they’d “go back and watch the budget hearings.” According to Tarrant Appraisal District data, the majority of commissioners voted to hike the county’s average homeowner’s property tax bill over 9 percent from the year before; these bills are now over 45 percent higher from 2013.

Whitley also fought against property tax reform in the 2019 Texas Legislative session, siding with local officials rather than overtaxed citizens.

In January of this year, Whitley and the commissioners voted to take in more refugees, despite Gov. Greg Abbott trying to pull Texas out of the refugee acceptance program.

Then there’s the expensive and broken software Whitley keeps burning taxpayer dollars on with the commissioners’ permission: TechShare.Court and TechShare.Jail, which sources confirm does not work. (Even Democrat-controlled Dallas County has been backing out of the scheme.)

Notably, former Commissioner Andy Nguyen defied Whitley and defended taxpayers from these boondoggles. Nguyen was defeated by Democrat Devan Allen in the 2018 election.

Though one might assume Whitley can do as he pleases, we know from Dallas County’s example that commissioners have the power to check and control the county judge. On more than one occasion, Dallas commissioners made it clear that County Judge Clay Jenkins does not speak for them.

When motivated enough, Tarrant commissioners show they can do the same.

Earlier this year, Whitley announced a countywide ban of in-person worship, which he later denied despite photographic evidence.

Citizens were outraged and successfully pressured Tarrant commissioners to have Whitley back down.

Then Tarrant Public Health Authority banned in-person education for most schools, outraging many parents. They became angrier after learning this decision was discussed and made behind closed doors.

Whitley told parents he had no intention of stopping such meetings and said commissioners didn’t have the power to override the ban. But the commissioners did just that days later.

Whitley did decide to take advantage of Abbott’s recent decision, and bars in Tarrant will reopen at 50 percent capacity this Wednesday. Critics say this was done to protect Fickes and Commissioner J.D. Johnson, with Johnson likely pressuring Whitley because of bar owners in his district.

None of the commissioners replied to Texas Scorecard’s inquiries about their position or what they would do following Abbott’s announcement. Again, they let Whitley speak for them.

Fickes—who is known to be close to Whitley—has yet to be seen leading the charge to defend citizens and reopen Tarrant County. Meanwhile, Brooks has not acted like fellow Democrat Commissioner John Wiley Price in Dallas, who surprised many this year with his defense of individual liberty against Jenkins’ coronavirus mandates.

“The commissioners should remember that they represent us, not Whitley,” True Texas Project CEO Julie McCarty said. “They should make a deliberate effort to find out what we want, not try to convince us that they or Whitley know best.”

Early voting is currently underway for the November 3 election. Brooks is being challenged by Republican nominee Roy Lozano.

Concerned citizens may contact Brooks and Fickes.

Precinct 1 Democrat Commissioner Roy Brooks: 817-370-4500; rcbrooks@tarrantcounty.com
Precinct 3 Republican Commissioner Gary Fickes: 817-248-6295; gfickes@tarrantcounty.com

Robert Montoya

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