Updated 10:25 p.m. Feb. 15 2011
DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Tuesday’s Dallas County Commissioner’s Court meeting erupted into an argument between Commissioner John Wiley Price and a citizen, ending with Price repeatedly telling several citizens to “go to hell.”
The exchange started during the public speaking portion of the meeting, which happens after the commissioners have gone through their weekly agenda.
Six citizens addressed the court. All of them talked about the recent controversial departure of county Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet. Sherbet, who was the Elections Administrator for 24 years, said he felt Price and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins forced him out.
The last public speaker at Tuesday’s meeting, Jeff Turner, began by stating that he would refer to “a certain member of the court” — Price — as “the Chief Mullah of Dallas County.”
Court rules state that public speakers may not address individual commissioners by name.
As Turner spoke, he continued to call Price “Chief Mullah.” Price interrupted Turner several times, yelling at him, “don’t call me Chief Mullah” and “call me by my name.”
Jeff Turner explains why he called Price “Chief Mullah.”
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “mullah” as “a Muslim learned in Islamic theology and sacred law.”
Turner continued speaking, ignoring Price’s ongoing interruptions.
At that point, Jenkins adjourned the meeting.
As Price stood to leave, he looked at Turner and the five other citizens who addressed the court. Price said to them, “All of you are white. Go to hell!”
Price repeated “go to hell” three more times. An unknown member of the audience said, “You should be ashamed!”
“I’m not ashamed!” Price answered. “I’m not ashamed! Go to hell!”
Jenkins, Price and the other commissioners then left the courtroom to hold individual private meetings with constituents and others, which they traditionally do following the meeting of the entire court.
Cecile Newberry Fernandez talked to 1080 KRLD about her experience of being shouted down by John Wiley Price during public comments.
Turner left the commissioner’s court immediately following the meeting.
At 3:00pm Commissioner Price spoke with 1080 KRLD to explain why he chose to use the words he did.
Warning: Interview Contains Offensive Language
Later in the afternoon, Price released a written statement about the episode in commissioners court. It contains offensive language. Here is Price’s statement, published in its entirety exactly as he sent it to us:
In the absence of a fair and balanced media outlet in Dallas, I wanted to submit a statement that offers my perspective of an “encounter” that took place at Dallas County today. Unfortunately, my comments were broadcasted without the benefit and the full context which they were made.
I have been patient and accommodating in every regard as it pertains to the recent resignation of a Dallas County employee. There are laws and business practices in place that govern the discussion of personnel matters and I will honor and respect them. I even went as far as to grant a candid one-on-one interview with the Dallas Morning News and have done countless interviews with others.
However, in open court today, after every considerate attempt to discuss the matter further, one of the speakers shot off a racial slur. “Chief Moolah” has its roots in a slang that was used against Italian immigrants and was later used by the same to defame or discredit African Americans. The speaker continued to use terms like “tribal” and his intent to make race an issue was obvious. “Nigger” is “Nigger,” spoken overtly or incognito.
My history and record will reflect that I am one whose tolerance is limited or non-existent when it comes to racial slurs. The comments were bad enough, but to have them hurled by a member of the Tea Party, known for their racial insensitivity, was more than I plan to absorb.
This is in no way an attempt to apologize to those with who felt the need to infuse race into an otherwise orderly meeting. But all of my friends, black, white and brown alike, are well aware that I am always willing to debate, but never at the expense of my race and my heritage.
CBS 11 caught up with Price Tuesday night at an event featuring filmmaker Spike Lee. Price continued to say he was frustrated on how the media was covering his statement, but said his statement was not an apology.
Editor’s note: When we first reported this story, we said Price “shouted” at citizens in the meeting. After watching our videotape of the exchange more closely, we changed our description to “Price said.” We feel this better characterizes the exchange. Also, we originally reported that Turner had called Price “chief moolah,” not “Mullah.” Based on Price’s statement, above, it appears that’s also what Price heard. We talked to Jeff Turner later in the day and he said he intended to call Price “Chief Mullah,” but acknowledged that he might have mispronounced it as “moolah.” We have changed the references in our story to “Mullah.”