Cities across Texas have faced a nearly unprecedented number of challenges over the past year, from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic to the deadly winter storm in February.
Outgoing Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price sat down for a virtual conversation Thursday afternoon with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith to discuss her experience leading one of the country’s largest cities. After serving as mayor for 10 years, Price reflected on the city’s response to the pandemic, division within the state and the Republican Party and the 2021 legislative session.
Here are highlights from the conversation:
What has been the biggest success and failure you’ve made in the past 10 years?
Price said she’s grateful for the success of venues like Dickies Arena and Sundance Square, but she said her biggest success has been her engagement with the Fort Worth community. She said she has spent time walking, having coffee and riding her bicycle to connect with other people. “You just don’t govern well behind a desk,” Price said. “You’ve got to get out and figure out what people do.”
Price said she was least proud about the handling of the 2016 arrest of Jacqueline Craig, who was handcuffed and thrown to the ground after she called the police to deal with a situation involving a neighbor. Craig’s family filed a federal lawsuit in 2017 against the city, accusing the police of using excessive force and violating her rights, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Price said she didn’t take it as seriously as she should have in the early hours after Craig was arrested. Charges against Craig were dismissed.
When Atatiana Jefferson was killed in 2019 after a police officer shot into her bedroom, Price said the city’s response was “100 times better.” In a statement after the shooting, Price said an independent panel would review the Fort Worth Police Department’s policies and procedures, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The officer was charged with murder two days after he shot Jefferson, the Star-Telegram reported, but the pandemic has caused delays for court proceedings.
What have you tried to do about the growing change and division in politics as mayor?
Both the Republican and Democratic parties have become more divided, Price said, and people need to get back to where they talk civilly with one another and work together. She said it’s a tremendous loss that the nation, state and city are much more polarized than they were 10 years ago.
Price said the job of the mayor, which is a nonpartisan position, is to serve the entire city and ask council members to think of the community and not just their district. As mayor, she said she worked to pull people together, value what people on all sides say and tried to unite people to come to one consensus.
How has Fort Worth and the state done during the pandemic, winter storm and other crises affecting the state?
Fort Worth has done better than most cities, partly because the city took money from The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and put it into stimulating the community, Price said. The money went to small businesses, improving Wi-Fi and providing resources for the homeless population, she said.
Price said some of the decisions by the state government have been “very good, and others have been questionable.” She said it is hard to be critical of the state government because no one can be privy to all the information they have, but she believes the governor lifted the statewide mask mandate a couple weeks too early.
Has the state gotten into your lane, and the lanes of other Texas mayors, too much in the last few years?
Cities are partners with the state and can provide helpful information, so they really need to be listened to, Price said. While there is a need for state officials to direct policy, she said they have to listen to local officials, and the push to get rid of more local control stems from misunderstandings.
Price said she doesn’t understand what the Legislature is thinking with legislation that would ban cities and counties from using public funds to lobby the Legislature. Lobbying efforts to help represent and advocate for Fort Worth make up .0084% of the city’s budget, she said. If legislators have an issue with one city, she said, they shouldn’t paint everyone with the same brush.
What are your thoughts on some of the actions taken by the Legislature, like efforts on permitless carry and voting regulations?
As a licensed gun owner who carries a pistol, Price believes people who are going to have a handgun should have a license. She said it’s helpful for people to have education about the weapon they are carrying.
Price said ensuring that elections are secure is a vastly important issue, but she hasn’t seen widespread voter fraud. She said she has no problem with requiring people having to have an ID to vote, but she believes that the Legislature shouldn’t get carried away. Texas already has a hard enough time getting people to turn out, and she doesn’t want to discourage people from voting.
This conversation was supported by Texas Municipal League.
Tribune events are also supported through contributions from our founding investors and members. Though donors and corporate sponsors underwrite Texas Tribune events, they play no role in determining the content, panelists or line of questioning.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.