By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
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Radack makes that hypothesis seem likely. "I personally think he's managed to make some of them madder at him than I am," says the commissioner with an impish grin. "Some of those people weren't in this perceived rift of the Court. They were trying to minimize the effect of that by trying to work with both of us to try to settle our differences. And all of a sudden, you start swinging at the guys who are trying to help."
He doesn't seem at all unhappy that things worked out that way.
Robert Eckels insists he didn't screw up. He simply embarked on a new strategy.ooooooooooooooooooooo "I feel better today than I have in several months," he says, settling into a chair in his downtown office. Although several commissioners seem in a mood to disown him over the tax-increase verbiage, Eckels seems positively ebullient. He pulls out that draft list of his accomplishments and begins thumbing through them, starting with his efforts to save the county millions by reorganizing departmental purchasing procedures.
His new strategy, he says, is to turn on public pressure when he lacks the support of the old-order commissioners. He's quite willing to go back to the media when necessary -- or to decide issues in referendums.
"If I have to, we will take it directly to the voters," he says. "'Cause that's the only power I have."
That strategy worked for him in the last election, when voters narrowly approved building a downtown baseball stadium -- a cause that Eckels supported and Radack opposed. Now, Radack seems determined to play a role as the vaguely worded proposal is hammered into concrete legislation. So far, Eckels is steering clear of a head-on collision, diplomatically describing Radack's proposal for a joint Commissioners Court/City Council public forum on the stadium as "an excellent idea" -- even though other supporters of the stadium think it could hurt their cause.
Though Eckels says he doesn't intend to back down, he is looking for ways to mend fences at the courthouse. "I played golf with Jerry the other day and shot 121, the worst golf game I've ever played in my life," says Eckels. "Drives him nuts, 'cause he's a pretty good golfer."
Radack, though, is a harder nut to crack. "Steve does not enjoy playing golf. If we're going to spend any time we have to find other things we can do -- maybe just riding around, looking at his precinct. I really enjoy doing that. I'd enjoy getting in a truck at night and driving out."
He downplays the feud with Radack. "I don't consider Steve to be an enemy on Commissioners Court," says Eckels. "And that may frustrate him as well, because when we fight, maybe I fight differently than anybody he's ever fought before."
Radack, on the other hand, seems prepared to let the feud bleed on indefinitely -- and is not at all frustrated by the fight. "I'm not the one that keeps going to the media claiming, 'Steve and I are getting along better,' " laughs Radack, whining a derogatory imitation of Eckels. Radack recounts the time he buttonholed Eckels after one too many constituents had repeated Eckels's comments on the tax increase. "I said, 'Eckels, I'm going to just tell you what I tell them. I tell 'em that Robert Eckels is a liar. That does you no good. It doesn't do me a lot of good. But the fact of the matter is, you're a liar."
He continues, "I think the best thing Robert could do as county judge is get that ol' ring out of the bathtub and put in some fresh water and try to dissolve some of the problems we have .... Understand that when it comes to hand-to-hand combat, he's probably going to lose.
"At least," says Radack, "that's been his history so far.