A Failure of Leadership
Collin County’s government is failing the ultimate test
“One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” — Arnold Glasow
The HBO Series “Band of Brothers,” which followed an Army unit through training and fighting in Europe during WWII, makes a point throughout to show examples of leadership — and the lack of leadership. In one episode, the highly effective leader, Major Dick Winters, has been promoted out of the company commander role, and an ineffective leader has been put in his place. As the unit is preparing to attack a German Army-held town, Major Winters gives the new company commander specific orders about how to lead the assault. But very quickly, the new commander becomes confused, can’t decide what to do, and in his confusion, stops the assault, leaving the troops exposed in a field and being picked off. Winters, seeing the attack begin to fail, quickly decides to relieve the commander and sends in another officer to replace him. Lt. Spears quickly takes charge, receives a situation report, calmly gives orders on what the troops need to do, and the assault is able to resume. Confusion is eliminated, momentum is regained, and the town is captured.
The episode shows very clearly that in war, poor leadership gets soldiers killed unnecessarily. Sadly, that can also be the case with our government leaders, whose actions, or inactions, can result in the death of constituents. The current COVID-19 pandemic is not unlike wartime in that Americans are dying by the hundreds every day — over 900 or more nearly every day in July and August, over 182,000 total confirmed US deaths from COVID as of end of August, and likely many more that are unconfirmed. In Texas, we’ve had over 626,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 13,000 confirmed deaths. The COVID-19 pandemic is not a public health crisis, it’s a public health catastrophe that has resulted not only in thousands of deaths and severe illnesses, but has ravaged our economy and is yet only six months old; even should we have vaccines around the end of the year, the economic and health repercussions are only just started.
In Texas, public health is mostly managed at the county level, with most Texas counties having a public health department. County public health policy is highly dependent on the County Judge and Commissioners; each county in Texas is governed by an elected County Judge and four elected Commissioners. The Commissioners Court, as it is known, has broad powers to set policy and governance in the county, and can overrule policy set by cities in some cases.
In Dallas County, Judge Clay Jenkins was out in front of the public health emergency. On March 22, he was the first leader in Texas to issue a county-wide “stay at home” order, the day after Governor Greg Abbott declined to issue a state-wide order, to help isolate people and control the spread of the virus. The order also closed all business deemed non-essential, and required social distancing when outside of homes for allowed business.
“I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.” — Herbert Swope
On the same day, Collin County Precinct 3 Commissioner Darrell Hale issued his own statement, declaring that “a shelter in place order is too extreme…will destroy lives…it comes down to personal responsibility.” He then comments that shutting down non-essential businesses would result in people losing homes or apartments, but the county also declined to make any exemptions to eviction notices. And he ignores the fact that contracting COVID-19 also destroys lives, in that it can be fatal, and even non-fatal cases can be debilitating for weeks, and can cost tens of thousands of dollars of medical expenses — which Collin County does not help with, since we have no public hospital.
Two days later, on March 24th, after saying he opposed a shelter-in-place order, Hale decided he would in fact support the shelter-in-place order put together by Judge Chris Hill and Collin County city mayors. Hale also refused to specify businesses as non-essential, stating that “We aren’t deciding which businesses are important. We are letting the people decide that,” which equates a florist shop with a grocery store as far as being “essential.”
Hale simply has no understanding of public health and how to behave during a pandemic such as we are in. His prioritizing businesses over public health and safety is typical of his attitude. When Texas Republicans insisted on holding an in-person state convention in Houston, and had it cancelled by the Houston Mayor due to the massive public health risk of having thousands of people visiting downtown Houston, Hale offered up McKinney to host the convention. On June 26th, he posted on Facebook: “I have heard rumors of Democrat elected officials seeking to cancel the Republican State Convention in Houston. Now I am told that there should be no way this could be allowed to happen because of political speech and 1st Amendment Rights.” It’s difficult to comprehend how Hale could put “political speech” ahead of public health; at the time of his post, Texas had exceeded 417,000 cases statewide, with nearly 3,000 Texas deaths. He then urged the Texas Republican Party to relocate the convention to his county Precinct; he was willing to risk a massive outbreak to bring a few days of business to McKinney. Fortunately the TRP spared both Houston and McKinney the risk of COVID-19 outbreak and opted for a virtual convention — no thanks to Hale.
Hale has repeatedly indicated that he believes conventional public health actions for a pandemic — wearing a mask, and contact tracing — to be not just unnecessary but a joke. One constituent indicated in yet another Facebook post that she would consider shooting a contact tracer should one knock on her door, to which Hale posted a joking response, “That would be a negative test wink-face.”
“Be an example to your men, in your duty and in private life.”
― German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
He’s also posed for numerous photos related to campaigning and block-walking without social distancing and without wearing a mask, in close proximity to others. By refusing to wear a mask, practice social distancing, or even pretending in public that the COVID-19 pandemic is a real threat to public health in Texas and Collin County, Hale has completely failed as a leader by refusing to set the example of appropriate behavior. A key responsibility of any government leader is to keep that leader’s constituents safe. Hale has utterly failed at that; over 110 Collin County residents have died from COVID-19, and nearly 11,000 have been sickened. Collin County is fortunate in that we have not had the outbreak that much larger and denser Dallas County has had, but it’s certainly not due to the actions taken by Hale or County Judge Chris Hill.
Collin County’s stay-at-home order leaves decision to close in business owners’ hands, commissioner says, The Dallas Morning News, Mar 24, 2020.