Clay Jenkins believes in the golden rule. During his first term as Dallas County Judge, he saw both good and bad inside the county’s boundaries — with some challenges reaching far beyond them. With a second term secured, he knows there’s more to do.
Elected in 2010, he first faced a crisis with the impending closure of Parkland Memorial Hospital. Add in his decision to use aerial spraying to deter West Nile virus two years later, and Jenkins found himself in the middle of the spotlight.
“You’re trying to treat other people the way you want to be treated, but you’re put into situations that are different than you see in normal life,” he said. “You attack everything in a calm way. That sounds contradictory, because you do attack a problem and go as hard as you possibly can, but you do it in a calm and quiet way.”
A Park Cities resident and Armstrong Elementary School parent, Jenkins learned to translate family-life practices into his day job.
“It works in family and it works in real life if you’re transparent with people about risk,” said Jenkins, a Democrat. “What people can’t handle is when you won’t tell them what’s going on.”
The Waxahachie native and Baylor graduate used that practice, but more trials were on the horizon.
There are many ways to label what Jenkins faced next: undocumented children, refugees — but he prefers “unaccompanied minors.”
I kept hearing people talking about hordes of illegal invaders, and I’m looking at pictures on my television of terrified 8-year-old children. We don’t have to wait to fix immigration to deal with overcrowded jail cells of children who are crying for their mothers.
His proposal to shelter those children in Dallas County led protestors to his doorstep. But he stirred feathers again when the Ebola virus hit Dallas and caused worldwide headlines in 2014.
Jenkins faced criticism for driving with Louise Troh, fiancée of Ebola victim Eric Duncan, without protective gear. A CPS complaint was filed against Jenkins for endangering his child, though he had consulted with top doctors prior.
“Some of the moms rallied around my wife,” he said. “Then we had a few people that were afraid of something unknown, uninviting kids from birthday parties, which is extremely painful if you’re a third-grader.”
Dealing with Ebola in Dallas led Jenkins to work closely with Mayor Mike Rawlings and council member Jennifer Gates, who represents Vickery Meadow.
“I was there when he went in with the family,” Gates said. “He kind of wears his heart on his sleeve.”
The year also brought a reelection campaign against Republican and former Dallas city councilman Ron Natinsky.
Jenkins, however, didn’t have much time to focus on the campaign due to the demands of the Ebola crisis.
“I think I shook a few hands and maybe walked a few blocks of houses,” he said. “A lot of community members and friends campaigned for me, so that was helpful.”
Still, he won 54 percent of the vote countywide. With his second term secured, he now hopes to focus on more jobs for those in Dallas County, better opportunities for the region’s children, and improved transportation.
“In Dallas County, our child-poverty rate is way too high. And then we’ve got to find ways to create more good jobs that pay a living wage,” he said. “People need to be able to pass optimism to their children.”