Protests, beefed up security at Dallas Commissioners meeting

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by CRAIG CIVALE & CYNTHIA VEGA

WFAA

Posted on February 22, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 22 at 8:40 PM

DALLAS - One week after Commissioner John Wiley Price lashed out at citizens after being addressed as the "Chief Mullah," fire marshals virtually locked down the Dallas County Commissioner Court meeting after it became packed with people inside and out.

The meeting started with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins saying Tuesday's meeting would not be a repeat of last weeks. Commissioners then voted unanimously on a new code of conduct that would give the county judge and commissioners power to forcibly remove members over bad behavior.

The only commotion came as Jenkins admonished speaker after speaker for inappropriately addressing the court, sending several speakers back to their seats.

Security prepared for Tuesday's meeting with extra officers arriving to the court early in the morning. In addition to the court's private security, Dallas police and sheriffs personnel were also on duty at the meeting. Visitors also had to go through a metal detector brought in especially for today's meeting.

By 6 a.m., 15 people had already signed up to address the court. Officers controlled who came in and out of the court. Price had no comment upon his arrival.

As the crowds grew, the second floor of the Administration Building was shut down to all non-employees. It was also reported that security was not allowing citizens to walk out of the court to use the restroom. The court holds 158 people, which hit its full capacity before 8 a.m.

Protesters stood at Elm and Houston streets. The protesters consisted of Tea Party members directing their criticism at Price, and others showed their continued support of former Dallas County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet, who recently resigned after 24 years. Sherbet said he left after receiving pressure to do so from the newly elected Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Price.

By 9 a.m., there were more Dallas officers outside the Administration Building than protesters. The county did not disclose whether it received a specific threat, or any other reason for such a need of upped security.

Last week, the heated exchange between Price and the citizens, who came to speak in support of Sherbet, happened after one particular speaker addressed Price as the "Chief Mullah of Dallas County." Six people signed up to address the court, but it was Jeff Turner, a GOP Precinct Chair, who sparked Price's outburst.

"We see who places his quest for absolute power in his tribal area above moral and ethical principles," Turner said, as Price interrupted to say "I resent that."

Turner went on to call Price a chief mullah several more times. Merriam-Webster defines "mullah" as "an educated Muslim trained in religious law and doctrine and usually holding an official post."

Turner later said he used the term as an analogy, describing Commissioner Price as a ruler similar to those in tribal lands in places like Afghanistan. However, the commissioner understood the word as "moolah," and said he considered it to be a racial slur.

But if Price thought Turner used race overtly, the commissioner clearly injected race into the situation. As Price and Turner continued talking loudly over one another, Price yelled  "Go to hell!" several times.

After Jenkins adjourned the meeting, Price asked, "Why are all the speakers white?"

Price squabbled with several people, questioning why only whites signed up to speak. At one point, Price called another citizen a "fat boy."

"All of you are white," he said to the citizens. "Go to hell."

Price told Sherbet's supporters to "go to hell" seven times.

As citizens and Price continued to argue, Jenkins asked them to take their conversation outside.

"[Turner] continued to use terms like 'tribal,' and his intent to make race an issue was obvious," Price said in a statement released later in the day. "My history and record will reflect that I am one whose tolerance is limited or non-existent when it comes to racial slurs."

WFAA.com's Marjorie Owens contributed to this report

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