Villarreal may be off to a shaky start as she gets ready to step into the most embattled constable’s office
There’s something about the Dallas County Precinct 5 constable’s office that breeds drama, keeping the city’s reporters on alert for signs of more trouble.
Why wouldn’t they? The history of the office is long and sordid. Some observers go so far as to say it seems like the office is cursed, given the failure rate of its occupants.
Three failures stand out, leading to half-joking suggestions by even courthouse incumbents that maybe it should just be abolished altogether.
Indeed, more than a decade of official hysteria brings us to this point. After former Constable Aurelio Castillo was run out of office at the turn of the century for alleged criminal misconduct, his successor, gay Constable Michael Dupree, resigned in disgrace in 2007.
A dogfight between Dupree’s successor Jaime Cortes, the brother-in-law of Castillo, and the Dallas County Commissioners Court has followed over yet more allegations of misconduct.
At this point, you would think the worst of the media drama is over, but should we be that hopeful?
To be sure, the media is going to be closely watching recently elected Constable Beth Villarreal — whose personal financial management abilities came into question during the bitter primary campaign.
That is why it was so perplexing to read on The Dallas Morning News crime blog recently that she had reportedly snubbed both the daily newspaper and its sister television station WFAA. The constable-to-be called a press conference after her win and invited every other major television station, according to the blog’s writer.
What’s more, Villarreal didn’t invite the Dallas Voice to the press conference either, an odd oversight for an elected official who depends upon the LGBT vote for political survival. I don’t know this for sure, but my bet is that the Dallas Observer also didn’t get an invite.
Residents of any city can only stand so much alleged hanky-panky and the resulting media frenzy before they begin to wonder if anyone in local government is actually minding the store. That’s probably why the voters in Precinct 5 — an area covering much of the large gay communities of Oak Lawn and Oak Cliff — ignored the endorsement of Cortes by Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.
They likely voted in favor of the primary winner Beth Villarreal, a member of PFLAG, out of sheer exasperation and desperation.
The continuing allegations of official misconduct in the Precinct 5 constable’s office no doubt overshadowed anything local LGBT Democratic Party activists had to say in support of Cortes. That coupled with the troubling claims by Dupree that his longtime political foe Cortes had engaged in gay-baiting tactics during previous political campaigns presented a little more than anyone was probably willing to swallow this time around.
Villarreal will become constable in January because there is no Republican Party contender in the race. She inherits an office that seems to have left the orbit of other county offices, spiraling out of control and beyond the management of the incumbents.
After Dupree assumed office in 2001, three deputy constables sued him and Dallas County, claiming the gay constable refused to keep them on board because they supported his political opponent, who was Cortes. Dallas County appealed the case all the way to the Texas Supreme Court before it was finally settled in the deputies’ favor in 2007.
The lawsuit reportedly cost the county big bucks in legal fees, not to mention the $550,000 settlement that included an official apology to the deputies.
The settlement came on the heels of Dupree pleading guilty to one count of abuse of authority, giving up his peace officer’s license to end a 27-year law enforcement career and agreeing never to run for political office again. Dupree’s plea and resignation followed months of lurid revelations about allegations of official misconduct in the form of employee sexual harassment.
As if that wasn’t enough to seal his fate, county officials claimed he had failed to act on property seizures authorized by judges that cost Dallas County another $700,000-plus.
Dupree’s resignation followed official inquiries by an outside investigator and the state attorney general after the Dallas district attorney cited a conflict of interest in the case. At that point, Dupree reportedly was fighting for his life to stay out of jail, even though months later he continued to claim that he had been framed and was innocent.
Now, it doesn’t sound like Villarreal is getting off to such a great start from a public relations perspective when it comes to dealing with the media. That’s a curious beginning and likely a serious misstep for someone who is assuming what must be the most battle-scarred office in Dallas County.
David Webb is a former staff writer for the Dallas Voice who lives on Cedar Creek Lake now. He is the author of the blog TheRareReporter.blogspot.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 23, 2010.