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Dallas County judge doubles down on plan to use convention center as conflict continues with governor's office

Dallas County judge calls letter from Governor's chief of staff 'disappointing' and asks him to 'utilize the telephone for communication and coordination.'

DALLAS — There are 240 beds are set up right now by the Department of Defense in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center to activate as a pop-up hospital for coronavirus patients if the need arises.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has maintained the plan is to use it as a “step-down” facility for COVID-19 patients who can leave the hospital but may not be able to go home yet.

But the last 24 hours has instead brought confusion between Jenkins and the office of Governor Greg Abbott.

The governor’s chief of staff Luis Saenz sent a letter Sunday warning the federal government would move the hospital out of Dallas if the county doesn’t use it.

RELATED: Political dispute reveals lack of communication between state and local leaders

On Monday, Jenkins responded in a letter, saying the idea Dallas County won’t use the convention center “is completely false.”

“We do not appear to have open lines of communication between the county and the Governor’s office during this critical time,” Jenkins said.

During an update on Texas’ response to the pandemic Monday, Abbott confirmed a lack of direct communication with Jenkins.

“He has attempted to communicate through social media and I communicated through the form of a letter,” Abbott said. “According to my office, we’ve had zero inquiries or phone calls from the Dallas County Judge, ever, with regard to COVID-19.”

Jenkins refuted Abbott's comments Monday saying his team attempted to contact Saenz after his letter had circulated through the media. 

In a Tweet Monday, Jenkins said, "Hopefully they'll call us back." 

Jenkins during a press update on Sunday afternoon said he had not had a one-on-one conversation with Abbott since the pandemic began.

In his letter Monday, Jenkins said Dallas County is, in fact, ready to fund needed support for the Federal Medical Station, one of two set up in Texas, and that county commissioners on Tuesday will vote on a proposal to fund “wrap-around services” like security, lab, and transportation resources.

Jenkins closed his letter telling Saenz that his phone is open to him and Abbott at any time.

“Instead of drafting letters, I ask that you utilize the telephone for communication and coordination,” Jenkins said.

Collin County Judge Chris Hill hopped onto Twitter Monday night to take a jab at Jenkins. 

Jenkins and Hill got into somewhat of a spat in late March after Jenkins indicated that Hill was not on a regional call with other county judges. 

Hill took heat for it at the time as he was letting cities lead the charge and define what essential businesses were in their own stay-at-home orders. 

As media reported on issues between Abbott and Jenkins, Hill tweeted: "Judge Jenkins calls out Governor Abbott for not picking up the phone, yet Uncle Clay ignores my calls and then claims he's all about regional partnership. Got it."

Bud Kennedy, the longtime political expert for the Star-Telegram told WFAA that the tension between Abbott and Jenkins is no surprise. 

"Jenkins seems to be the governor of North Texas at the moment, and Governor Abbott seems to be disappointed in that," Kennedy said. "Jenkins has credibility after leading Dallas through the Ebola crisis. Abbott's visibility and credibility are much different here." 

Kennedy also pointed out how Jenkins has been quick to push the governor to do more and has also been applauded for his reaction to the disease by many. 

In a Texas Monthly article, Jenkins was labeled a face in the fight against COVID-19 while Abbott dragged his feet. 

One is a Democrat, the other is a Republican so Kennedy knows partisan jabs when he sees them. 

But in a health crisis, he questions if they're worth it. 

"If this goes on much longer, it will be detrimental to both men," Kennedy said. 

"They have to start talking." 

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