By Rockwall County Judge Jerry Hogan. In 2008, after the voters had twice voted not to build a new Courthouse, the Commissioners Court, by a vote of 3-2, elected to fund Tax Notes, which did not require the approval of the voters, to proceed with the design and building of the new $37.2 million Courthouse. The building was to be erected on land already owned by the County adjacent to the new Library and between Yellow Jacket Lane and I-30.
There was a large outcry from the citizens against this action. Sides were quickly drawn among the citizen groups and non-support for the action became the “talk of the town” almost every time two or more citizens gathered together. Political careers ended for members of the Court who voted for the construction.
And then on 11/11/11 the new Courthouse was officially opened and dedicated along with our new Veterans Memorial next to the Courthouse. And while the Commissioners Court of 2008 that made the decision to build the Courthouse without the support of the citizens may have made a big mistake in the way they made their decision to build, they certainly made no mistake in the building they helped design and construct.
Already the building has become the shining example of what a modern, but classical looking, Courthouse should be. Counties from around the State are coming to Rockwall to see how the design was done and what technology is contained in the courtrooms, office facilities, and jury room as well as the security which separates the citizens from the inmates appearing before our judges. TV production companies are coming to Rockwall to film in the Courthouse bringing the exposure of our County to the rest of the State as well as adding the economic benefit of this visibility.
But there continues to be that lingering group of critics that complain about the Courthouse, its expense, the way it was constructed, where it was constructed, how it was funded, and the vote that authorized the building of the facility. Hopefully as time passes these critics will become fewer and fewer and the focus will change to the pride our citizens will have going forward on what this building offers to our community.
But now we have another issue that has the potential of dividing our citizens. This time it is not the Courthouse, but rather the Veterans Memorial.
During the building of the Courthouse, the Commissioners Court made the decision to build a Veterans Memorial adjacent to the Courthouse. Funds had been allocated previously for this project and $500,000 was available for the separate Memorial.
A committee made up of veterans and interested citizens was formed to be in charge of the Memorial. They conducted a design contest and selected one of the ten designs submitted for the actual Memorial. Laborious detail on the part of the Committee was the order of the day on what the Memorial would look like, how it was to be arranged, where each portion of the memorial would be located, the appropriate rules and regulations for this type facility, the composition of the walls, the texture of the materials, etc. Part of their detailed work was the selection and design placement of the flags that would become part of the Memorial.
The design for the flags called for three flags to be placed near the Memorial: the American, State of Texas, and POW flag. The design called for the American flag to be in the center of the three flags and to be five feet higher than the other two flags. Because of the way in which one could observe the flags, either down in the Memorial about seven feet below ground level, or at ground level from the side of the Memorial, the alignment of the flags could be observed differently; from the ground level the design called for the State flag of Texas to be on the right of the American flag, but from down in the Memorial looking up at the flags, the State flag of Texas would be on the left of the American flag. A discussion could be held on which design is correct and which is incorrect, but an argument can be made for either way.
The Memorial was constructed as designed by the winning design architect and the Memorial committee.
After the dedication of the Memorial, Commissioner Jerry Wimpee raised a question with the Court as to the correctness of the design. In his opinion the American flag should not have been constructed higher than the State flag and the alignment of the flags was also incorrect. The Court discussed this for about twenty minutes but without taking any vote or any agreement that Commissioner Wimpee was correct in his interpretation of the design. The issue was then dropped by the Court.
Shortly afterwards, Commissioner Wimpee contracted for a company to come to the Memorial and reduce the height of the American flag so it would be the same as the other two flags. This was done without the knowledge or approval of the Court.
Commissioner Wimpee’s action resulted in an investigation by the Texas Rangers and subsequent action by a Special Prosecutor where he was ordered to pay for the restitution of the flag pole, write a letter of apology to the citizens, and donate money to The Wounded Warrior program.
Citizens are now split on this issue. Many feel the punishment was too light; others feel that Commissioner Wimpee did nothing wrong. It’s the same type division we saw with the decision to build the new Courthouse.
I have sat on the Commissioners Court with Commissioner Wimpee for about two years. We do not vote the same on many issues, but I always listen to what he has to say during the debate on issues. He is a good thinker who has dedicated 20 years to the service of the citizens of our County as a Commissioner. Before that he spent his life in law enforcement. He comes from a family where his father was County Judge of our County for many years. He is a proud man whom I believe has always had the betterment of the County and the State as one of his prime objectives. He is not a bad man; it’s time to end this division just like the division over the Courthouse needs to end.
Whether the punishment is too light or too heavy or whether there even should have been any, is irrelevant; it is done and over with. Whether the design is correct the way it is or should be changed is also irrelevant; it is built the way the memorial committee wanted it to be built. It too is done and over with.
It’s time to move on!
Jerry Hogan is a retired US Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel who is currently County Judge of Rockwall County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 214-394-4033.