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Judge Biscoe: No Hurry to Make Changes

County Commissioners hire consultant to review county management structure

By Amy Smith, Fri., Feb. 21, 2014

Travis County Commissioners have hired an independent consultant to review the management structure of the county – and some employees question the timing of such a process, during an election year that will change the makeup of the court.

Last month, commissioners gave their final approval to retain Robert Milne, of Public Sector Performance Consulting, to examine the county's "organizational and management structure, including formal and informal lines of authority," according to a Feb. 13 email sent to county employees from Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty's office. Daugherty and interim Pct. 2 Commissioner Bruce Todd are leading the operation, having convinced a court majority to retain Milne's services without going through a competitive bid process. The contract amount is $50,000.

When commissioners first discussed the contract in December, Ron Davis and Margaret Gómez balked at the rush, with Todd and Daugherty arguing that things needed to move quickly in the event of potential budget implications should the consultant's recommendations lead to changes. When commissioners in January voted to approve the consultant's scope of work, Gómez acquiesced, leaving Davis as the only dissenter.

The county has not had an organizational review since 1994 – now a political talking point on the spring campaign trail. County Judge candidate Andy Brown has advocated giving the county a "fresh look" at how it can run more efficiently. He suggests that challenger Sarah Eckhardt, a former county commissioner, is part of the old-guard structure that has helped maintain the status quo all these years. Eckhardt, for her part, says she too supports an outside assessment about every five years.

Surprisingly, neither Brown nor Eckhardt were particularly disturbed by the county fast-tracking the review process; both expressed confidence in Judge Sam Biscoe's ability to slow down the train and thwart any controversial structural changes before a new court takes office next January. Indeed, Biscoe, who retires at the end of the year, says he has no interest in making any major structural changes before his successor and a Pct. 2 commissioner (filling Todd's interim seat, Eckhardt's old seat) arrive on the court.

Biscoe said it wasn't until Todd and Daugh­erty came forward with the proposal that he decided to proceed. "I don't have any problem with doing [a review], but I don't think there's any problem with the current structure either, except we don't do a good job of implementing it," he said. "I am not opposed to any kind of fundamental change [but] I would not support one to be implemented while I'm here; I think that the new court should do that."

Biscoe said he also went along with Todd and Daugherty's push to move ahead with the review. "We were told, let's try to fast-track it, and the way you do it is not to list the competition," he said. "Those who seem a bit more eager about getting this done wanted to get it done as quickly as possible."

The reason? "Composition of the court, basically. Bruce and I would be moving on," Biscoe said. Three commissioners will remain on the court – Gómez, Davis, and Daugherty – but the trio don't always agree on key votes.

"I can honestly say Commissioner Todd was a lot more enthusiastic than I was," Bis­coe said of the review process. "But if we can get a good report done for the new court to consider, I think they would be thankful."

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