Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Not a Good Day for Dallas

Monday was not a good day in Dallas.

It should have been. A new mayor and three new council members were sworn in. Although the city has significant budget challenges, Mayor Mike Rawlings, and newly elected council members Scott Griggs, Sandy Greyson and Monica Alonzo take office with most of the city looking on with hope and some optimism.

Yet, Monday was not a good day in Dallas.

Overshadowing the inauguration of new municipal political leadership, was the early morning news that County Commissioner John Wiley Price was the subject of an FBI investigation. As a matter of fact, as the news broke, agents were at his downtown office in the commissioners court, his district office and his home collecting evidence. Not only were they at his offices and home, but at the office of long-time political consultant and operative Kathy Nealy and Price's executive assistant Dapheny Fain.

Price has said he has no idea of what they may be looking for. Nealy and Fain have no comment and Maureen Dickey, with whom Price has recently had a very public run in was disturbingly and, in my opinion, unprofessionally gleeful.

I have a very good friend who has told me that, when it comes to my relationships with politicians I have to learn to be very careful. That's generally been my posture. But I do tend to be more supportive than has probably been warranted lately. More and more, scandals such as the one involving Don Hill, his wife Sheila, or more recently Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson involve people that I know and have known for a long time. Price is among them.

I have known John Wiley, for the full 26 years he's been county commissioner. When I was a young pastor and he was first elected to the office, I invited the new commissioner to speak at our church's anniversary banquet. Price is the first (and the only) African-American county commissioner. He has been an incredibly effective politician and he has been a lightening rod for controversy.

Price has been flamboyant, boisterous and revolutionary. His demonstrations for minority hiring, against billboards promoting alcohol and tobacco in low income communities, against unfair depictions of minority in local newscasts and his inflammatory outbursts against racism have won him supporters and enemies.


It's pretty interesting, however, to see John in his element. Most politicians, black, white and Hispanic, have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He has, on more than a few occasions supported white candidates in races against black opponents. He has been shockingly fiscally conservative. And he is one, of, if not the, hardest working office holders I have ever seen.

Personally he has been a friend and supporter. We have lost two sons. Each time John Wiley has personally offered condolences and support. Rarely have I needed his support or advice that I've not received it and never, not in an election or in on an issue has he asked for anything in return and this has been true, when he has known that I've worked with or given leadership to groups that could have been useful to him.

We've not always been on the same sides of an issue and he's not failed to let me know it. But I believe that what we've had is a mutual respect and a friendly relationship that hasn't required lock-step agreement.

So after nearly 30 years of interaction, I do not regard Monday as a good day...

We still await to hear the scope of the charges against him. And while speculation abounds and while FBI investigations are not charges of guilt, most of us know that the type of raids which took place on Monday don't happen on a whim. Someone has said that these investigations take years. What we saw with the Don Hill scandal is that by the time they come to confiscate evidence, the investigation has already been going on for years. And in this case, when you are talking about the arguably the most powerful politician in Dallas, black or white, the FBI knows why they are there and what they're looking for.

It's also not a good day because John Wiley Price is not the only principal involved that I know. I know Kathy Nealy and I know Daphney Fain. I'm praying for them all.


The impact of this as seen in the black community in Dallas is pretty palpable. After the Hill investigation, trials and conviction, everyone is waiting to see what the evidence is before there is full-throated unequivocal community defense. Make no mistake about it John Wiley is hated, feared and loved by many. But just as is true with Al Lipscomb, whether you agreed with him or not, shook your head at his protests, or not, thought that he went too far, or not,  Dallas County owes John Wiley in many of the same ways it owes Al Lipscomb the FBI investigations are just another excuse not to admit it.

So, we all wait to see what evidence emerges. If there is indeed substance to the charges, it will be an even worse day for Dallas. But, really, if there is no substance, it will be an even worse day still. Scandal is never good and guilt or innocence is ultimately never the issue. It's the distraction from what should be hopeful days and good work that should be recognized. We are a city...really we're a country, in need of both.

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