After 27 years in office, John Wiley Price is Dallas County’s best-known and most controversial County Commissioner. He’s also under federal investigation.
Despite the probe, Price remains popular, even as he faces three challengers in the May 29 primary.
They call the District 3 Commissioner arrogant, rude and racist. Like Price, all three are African American. They cite this incident in Commissioner’s Court more than a year ago:
John Wiley Price, over chatter in court: All of you are white. Go to hell. Go to hell. Go to hell.
Price defended his outburst, saying an audience member called him a racial slur. But Price’s words led Betty Culbreath to run against him. The former Director of Dallas County’s Health and Human Services Department, Culbreath also sat on DFW’s Airport Board. What’s more, she used to work for and support Commissioner Price.
"The fact that he stood down in the tax-paid building, and he’s a tax-paid servant, and he said ‘Ya’ll are white, go to hell,'" Culbreath said. "Man, that was the worst thing I ever heard in my life. How ridiculous is that?"
Culbreath says she’s the best choice to be Commissioner because she knows county government inside and out and could bring needed changes to District 3.
Another opponent, Bennie Brown, says she would usher in economic development. Brown runs a non-profit to help hungry children. She’s also a retired manager with the Army & Air Force Exchange. She said that job taught her how to bring different people together to better the economy.
"Look around in District 3," Brown said. "There’s not a lot of economic development. Perfect example - I live in Desoto. But look at the growth you see in Cedar Hill. It has taken off leaps and bounds. Sitting right next door, Lancaster, Hutchins. All those areas, there is no growth."
The third candidate, Micah Phillips, used to be a Dallas fireman. He talks to voters about economic development at an outdoor café.
"Mr. Price has not done a great job. We lost the inland port, we lost several key other projects," Phillips said. "My question of Mr. Price: 'What have you done for us lately? Bring the jobs to the community.' When I research his track record, it’s ridiculous."
Phillips said Price is out of touch with constituents, which the Commissioner finds surprising.
"Who doesn’t know who I am?" Price said.
John Wiley Price sits at his Commissioner’s desk, surrounded by African sculptures and colorful, framed art. He says his challengers don’t know what they’re talking about.
"I mean how do you argue with being one of the most successful counties, with one of the lowest tax rates that has policies Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s say are just premiere," Price said. "What is it I haven’t done? You tell me, cause I really want to know."
Economic development? Price says just look at the new Kohl’s Department store, Whirlpool, and the Home Depot expansion. Jobs? Price says cities, not the county, usually create jobs.
"We don’t have infrastructure, so how do you become a job generator when you don’t have basic infrastructure? Such as water, sewer, in certain areas?" Price said.
Price says only under his leadership and the recent Democratic majority, are Commissioners now serious about multi-million dollar infrastructure projects they used to reject. Still, that’s not enough to sway voter Elizabeth George, who said Price plays the race card.
"He throws up smoke-screens and turns it into more of a race issue. It turns people like me off to hearing his message, even though his message really is about racism and smokescreens and not about anything relevant," George said.
Price has plenty of supporters though, including Betty Frank. She defended the Commissioner’s outbursts and says Price has been good for the district.
"You know what? That’s the way he is, and at least he’s up front and honest about what he says. What John Wiley says is what John Wiley is," Frank said. "If he apologizes, fine, if he doesn't, that’s up to him. But he’s up front with people, you don’t have to worry about him."
Price says voters like Frank explain why he is not concerned about his opponents. He’s saying nothing about the ongoing federal investigation. Commissioner Price has neither been indicted nor charged with anything.
The lone Republican candidate is Charles "Lingy" Lingerfelt.