Ellis constable office issue resolved
County judge offers Polk new space after controversy flares over segregationist sign in courthouse basement
After what started out as a simple move of offices two weeks ago within county governmental buildings became an issue touching on race and politics, Ellis County Judge Todd Little and Precinct 3 Constable Curtis Polk Jr. have resolved a disagreement over Polk’s relocation to a basement office in the Ellis County Historical Courthouse.
Little and Polk met in private on Wednesday and later appeared together on Facebook Live to clear the air. Polk will now move into one of Little’s offices in the courthouse on the second floor, not far from the Commissioners’ Courtroom, which will allow Polk the security and storage space that his office requires.
“I was thankful that we were able to reach a decision quick,” Polk said. “Once the judge and I sat down and had a heart-to-heart talk, he saw fit to give me this office. He was willing to make things right and to help me out to have my office where I will be equal to every other elected official here in the county.”
Polk also thanked supporters who reached out to him and his family during the short-lived controversy.
The Facebook Live video began in the basement in front of a hand-lettered historical sign painted on the wall over a doorway that reads “Negroes” but had been recently papered over, and ended in what will be Polk’s new office on the second floor. The sign is in a stairwell and is in a location that is not frequented by the public.
“Our goal in these office relocations was never to offend Curtis or his people,” Little said. “I don’t think we actually thought all the way through the details when we moved Curtis down into the basement where his office was before. It’s one of those things that when you feel people hurting, eventually it makes you hurt.”
The Ellis County Commissioners’ Court approved the relocation of a number of county offices on Nov. 3, including the move of Polk’s constable office to the basement, where the office had been housed at one time in the past. The vote was 3-1, with Precinct 1 Commissioner Randy Stinson voting against.
Polk, who is Black and the only elected Democrat in Ellis County, initially didn’t object to his office’s relocation to the basement. Polk’s only concern at that meeting was that his new office be secure because of law enforcement computer equipment.
However, a controversy blew up literally overnight nearly two weeks later to accusations of unfair treatment.
A message by Polk late Monday was posted on social media by Smash Da Topic, a North Texas community journalism site, and immediately received dozens of responses. In the post, Polk said he no longer had a private office and now has to store county documents in three separate, insecure areas.
“I am standing up for myself and the Constable Precinct 3 office because the Commissioners’ Court does not seem to think that the Constable Offices are a priority in Ellis County,” Polk wrote. “All I’m asking is to be treated fairly, and to bring this issue to the people of Ellis County that elected me into this office.”
Compounding the issue was the historical sign in the basement near Polk’s office. The sign, dating back to segregation days, was in an area that decades ago contained a water fountain and was uncovered when the courthouse was renovated in 2001.
At the time, the decision was made to keep the sign as a historical lesson. A plaque installed beneath the sign is entitled “Have We Learned from History?” and notes that the sign was uncovered during the restoration project. “It is preserved here in the hopes that we will learn from history,” the plaque states.
Little said during the Facebook Live event that a group decision will have to be made on the fate of the sign.
Following Tuesday’s Ellis County Commissioners’ Court meeting, Little issued a statement on the issue, pushing back against any suggestion that Polk’s move was racially and politically motivated.
“I am saddened Constable Polk has been hurt by the office relocation process,” Little said. “I would like to make it clear the Commissioners’ Court decision was based on logic and the availability of space, not on malice or any other subjective information … I still consider Constable Polk to be a friend and colleague, and I truly hope that he feels the same way.”
Little added that the county’s goal in the immediate future is to discuss the acquisition of additional office space, which will allow the county to re-assess and re-align numerous office spaces and locations currently servicing various county departments.
“I have been and am still ready to work closely with Constable Polk, and many others, to unite our elected officials and staff no matter what political affiliation or race, to ensure we continue to do better, and be better by and for each other,“ Little added.
Now that his office space has been settled for the foreseeable future, Polk hopes that other disagreements like his own can be resolved amicably as well.
“If we can set our political beliefs down, I feel we can get back to loving each other the way we used to,” Polk said. “Right now, it’s a time of turmoil. I you don’t agree with someone on their side of the fence, let’s treat everybody like an individual and work together. We want the best for our people.”