Dallas County Commissioners vote to limit emergency powers of Judge Clay Jenkins during pandemic

Dallas County Commissioners on Tuesday made an extraordinary move to limit the emergency powers of the County Judge Clay Jenkins when it comes to the county's stay at home order.

Commissioners voted unanimously that Jenkins will not be able to make additions or extend the order without notifying county commissioners. 

“We are a part of this county, we are a part of these decisions and we have not been kept in the loop, have not been consulted and from this it would allow those additional resources we bring to the table to be included,” said Commissioner Theresa Daniel.

Jenkins has faced pushback from at least one commissioner, John Wiley Price, over the effects of the county order on small businesses.

“I’m getting my butt kicked on decisions you make on the fly. I don't get any input. I get no input at all. I hear about it from other individuals that you made a decision,” Price said. “How do you not confer and collaborate?”

“To say that the decision must entirely rest with you is very paternalistic,” said Commissioner JJ Koch. “Extremely paternalistic and offensive.”

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Commissioners agreed to not extend the county's stay-at-home order past April 30 without a majority vote, unless it's pre-empted by state or federal orders.

Commissioners also wanted to require a vote before putting any more restrictions on essential businesses under the order. But Jenkins said that could hinder their ability to make changes quickly as needed and they would likely have to have an emergency meeting nearly every day to vote on each change.

Jenkins eventually agreed to give other commissioners prior notice of any changes to essential businesses under the county orders. He is also now required to give commissioners a two-hour notice and a chance to meet before adding new restrictions on essential businesses.

“At the onset of this, the judge had to move quickly and decisively to get the pieces in place to keep the public safe,” Koch said. “But we’re in a different phase now. Essentially, we can be more collaborative. We can work together. It’s better to have five minds looking at something instead of one.”

Speaking of collaboration, the judge now says he has an open line of communication with Governor Greg Abbott’s office.

“I had a nice call with his chief of staff today,” Jenkins said. “They have my cell phone. They understand they can call me 24/7.”

Their public miscommunication started last month when the judge said the National Guard would deploy to Dallas and, among other things, go into neighborhoods doing so-called disease detective work. That was never the case.

The governor corrected Jenkins after during a FOX 4 interview.

“Understand this: anything you're saying that he said has not been communicated to our office,” Abbott said. “And understand this also: the person in charge of the National Guard is our office, and the National Guard will follow the duties I assign to them.”

The National Guard is now in Dallas. At the word of the governor, they are supporting the overflow hospital set up at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, the one the judge has reassured Abbott that Dallas County does need.

“I don’t think that will happen again,” Jenkins said. “I think people will pick up the phone the next time.”

The county is working with the firm AECOM to plan the overflow beds at the convention center, which will have a capacity for 250 beds and can be expanded to 1,400 hundred beds if needed.

A 225-member crew from the U.S. Navy will provide clinical staff for the facility and portable shower trailers will be brought in along with other supplies.

“We’re estimating mobilizing within two days after that if we can get all of the contractors in place, keeping in mind we also want to be thinking about what’s the patient load,” said Dev Rastogi, AECOM.  “We don’t want to, we don’t necessarily have to start day one prepared for 250 patients, I don’t think that’s necessary, we do have to have all the contractors and suppliers ready to deliver.”

The cost to operate the facility at the convention center is estimated to be around $5 million to keep it running for three months. Commissioners were also notified the county will likely be fully reimbursed for the cost by the federal government under the Stafford Act.

Commissioners expect to get more detailed cost estimates within the next day before they sign off on the plan, which could happen by the end of the week.


Dallas County coronavirus stay-at-home order extended until April 30, emergency declaration until May 20

Shelter-at-home order issued for Dallas County's residents and workers

Track Texas coronavirus cases by county with this interactive map