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Commissioners on F1 Trip: 'No' to How, Not 'No' to Going

Huber, Eckhardt in favor of later Grand Prix trip

By Richard Whittaker, 2:31PM, Thu. Jul. 5, 2012

County commissioners have rejected a trip to the Silverstone F1 race, but could county officials be packing their bags for Belgium instead?
County commissioners have rejected a trip to the Silverstone F1 race, but could county officials be packing their bags for Belgium instead?

With the British Grand Prix this weekend, there's been discussion about why the city is sending staff to research the public safety issues, but the county is not. The two 'no' votes on a county trip were Commissioners Sarah Eckhardt and Karen Huber. However, both say they back the idea of a fact finding mission. They just want one planned and presented better.

The idea of sending Travis County Fire Marshal Hershel Lee and a staffer from the sheriff's department to the UK to liaise with local public safety officials came before the county commissioners in june 26. However, they rejected the proposal from the Circuit of the Americas to cover their costs, splitting 2-2. The problem, according to both Huber and Eckhardt, was that they didn't feel the plan was fully-formed enough to approve it. "There was no back-up associated with the item" said Eckhardt. "While I could see real utility from the trip, there was no information provided."

Huber agreed, calling a fact-finding trip for staff "very advantageous." However, like Eckhardt, she wanted to know for sure that staff would actually be meeting with the right people, and wouldn't just be twiddling their thumbs on race day. "They were due to leave a week from that day," she said. "My concern was what we were approving, that the arrangements were not made on the other end, as far as interfacing, and I didn't see any point in them going if they weren't going to benefit from it."

Neither was sure why the information package was not complete. As Eckhardt noted, the possibility of a Silverstone trip had been floating around for several months, and the city already had a draft schedule for its staff available by June 28.

But no to Silverstone does not mean no to all such trips. While she expects city staff to share the information they gather with the county, Eckhardt said she is still interested in having Lee and Major Phyllis Clair, who will be running the control room on the day, visit a race. So where could they go? There are nine races planned before the United States, starting with Germany on July 22. Eckhardt suggested the Belgian Grand Prix at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Sept. 2 could be a good fill-in for Silverstone.

However, rural Spa is not perfectly analogous to Silverstone, and Silverstone is arguably the closest event in nature and issues faced to Austin. Eckhardt said, "(Staff) may end up going to a race. It's unfortunate that it won't be the most comparable of the races." Her proposal is logical enough: Visit both. Have the staff attend Belgium, which, as she noted, has a large population that is fluent in English (If staff visit, she said, "I'm rather certain their counterparts in Belgium will also be English speakers") then arrange meetings with the Northamptonshire* public safety officials overseeing the British race. "It's just over the Channel," Eckhardt said, adding that she was actively encouraging both the sheriff's office and the fire department "to find out who their counterparts are in Silverstone, and at least talk to them after the race and develop relationships."

* No, Silverstone is not in London. It's about an hour's drive away. And the locals get very upset if you get this confused. It would be like saying ACL is held in Killeen.

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