By John Wright | News Editor

Critics call Foster’s recent LGBT appointments too little, too late

Chris Luna

Openly gay Dallas County Judge Jim Foster has nominated two members of the LGBT community to serve on county boards.

But Foster’s political opponents suggested that if he’s trying to bolster his record on gay issues in advance of next year’s election, the appointments are too little, too late.

Nominated by Foster, former Dallas City Councilman Chris Luna was unanimously appointed to the Parkland Health & Hospital System’s Board of Managers by the Commissioners Court on Tuesday, Dec. 8.

Luna, who attended his first Board of Managers meeting this week, will serve out the remaining 18 months of Wendy Lopez’s term.

Lopez, also originally nominated by Foster, recently sold her architectural firm and will be unable to make the time commitment the Board of Managers requires, according to a press release from Foster’s office. Lopez couldn’t be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, James Nowlin, a gay business owner and Democratic activist, has been nominated by Foster to serve on the 25-member board of Workforce Solutions

Greater Dallas. Foster said Nowlin’s appointment still must be approved by the Texas Workforce Commission.

"Not only are they members of the LGBT community, but they are also both extremely qualified," Foster said this week of Luna and Nowlin. "With their knowledge and ability, they will both be an asset to those two commissions."

Luna, a Latino attorney who served on the Dallas City Council from 1991-97, once considered running against Foster for county judge in 2010.

Luna said he’s grateful to Foster for the opportunity to get back into public service.
"I’m absolutely stoked," Luna said. "I’ve had some time off to recharge my batteries. … Both from a gay and lesbian standpoint and from an at-large standpoint, the Parkland board and what Parkland does is very important."

The seven-member Board of Managers, appointed by the Commissioners Court, oversees the county-owned Parkland Health & Hospital System, which has 8,000 employees and an annual budget of about $1 billion. Luna said among other things, he’ll push for Parkland to begin offering domestic partner benefits to employees.

Two years ago, the Board of Managers was set to vote on offering DP benefits, but the item was abruptly pulled from an agenda in response to opposition from commissioners and board members.

James Nowlin

Luna said he’s confident he can revive the proposal. "I think the current board will be more open to it than perhaps people have given them credit for," he said. "My guess is in the next six or nine months, it will be teed up for a vote."

Luna, who’s served as a board member for AIDS Arms Inc. and as a volunteer for Resource Center Dallas, also noted that Parkland is heavily involved in HIV/AIDS treatment and services, operating the Amelia Court Clinic and working closely with other service providers. "That’s another area where I’ve got a personal interest and want to make sure there are no barriers, there are no speed-bumps, that there’s partnering among Parkland and the other nonprofits," Luna said.

Luna added that he thinks the county needs to do a better job of educating the public about the Parkland system. He said he’s looking forward to construction of Parkland’s new $1.2 billion public hospital, which was approved by 82 percent of county voters last November. "That impacts all communities, al colors, all genders, all orientations," Luna said. "I just feel very strongly that we need to honor our commitment to the voters and to our patients and get that hospital built."

Nowlin, 28, an African-American attorney who owns a legal search consulting firm, is currently a member of the city of Dallas’ Police Review Board. A former board member for Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, Nowlin has also been an active campaign volunteer for Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas. He’s considered a rising political star in the LGBT community.

"We can’t simply have friends that serve on boards or friends who serve in elected capacities," Nowlin said. "We must occupy places at the table. … Judge Foster’s choice to appoint diverse leaders to these boards is a reflection of his commitment to diversity."

But others said that despite the appointments of Luna and Nowlin, they don’t believe Foster has done enough to support the LGBT community during his three years in office. Foster, elected as part of the Democratic sweep of 2006, filed last week to run for re-election in 2010.

"It is telling that such appointments, along with attendance at Democratic organizations, didn’t start until the homestretch of the primary election campaign," said Larry Duncan, one of two fellow Democrats who’s challenging Foster in the March primary. 

Openly gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, who supports attorney Clay Jenkins in the primary against Foster, said the county judge hasn’t been an effective leader on LGBT issues or in general. "These are two great appointments.

Has he suddenly become the leader that Dallas County needs? No," Fitzsimmons said. "You have to look at the big picture. It’s not just these two appointments. There’s been no movement on anything else the GLBT community might be concerned about."   

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2009.
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