Southwest Key & Their Contracts

County votes to continue contract with nonprofit, city to deliberate on Aug. 30

Demonstrators protest outside the Austin home of Southwest Key's CEO back in June of 2018
Demonstrators protest outside the Austin home of Southwest Key's CEO back in June of 2018 (by Jana Birchum)

County commissioners also voted unanimously to renew their contract with Southwest Key for prevention and intervention services for at-risk children on Tuesday. Despite the local nonprofit's involvement in housing migrant children, including those who were recently separated from their families by the federal government, and its record of alleged employee mistreatment, commissioners rejected activists' calls to end all contracts with the group. The contract is one of six SWKey contracts with the county that deals with juvenile justice programs; votes to renew others are likely before the end of the year.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said there is "no doubt" commissioners are concerned about the nonprofit's participation in the former separation policy, as well as its CEO Juan Sanchez's comparably hefty $1.5 million salary, but the program in question is a valuable one that helps a population in need. The juvenile probation and purchasing departments have also given no reason to discontinue the program. "We often talk about that it's not enough to look good, you have to actually do good, too," said Eckhardt. "This may be a circumstance where extending these contracts doesn't look good, but it actually does good. It's an odd set of circumstances we find ourselves in."

Meanwhile, Austin City Council is likely to discuss its relationship with SWKey on Aug. 30. Pio Renteria, with co-sponsors Greg Casar, Delia Garza, and Ann Kitchen, offered a resolution to direct the city manager to develop recommendations to ensure that Austin "does not provide financial support to organizations whose activities result in the separation of children from their parents and/or siblings or that result in the mass incarceration of immigrant children." The resolution includes a review of existing contracts that may be in conflict with that goal. City documents show the Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Resource Advisory Commission and other community groups have already recommended the city "cancel all contracts with organizations involved in the separation of families." While city contracts with SWKey have totaled around a combined $1 million over the years, according to Southwest Key the only current contract with the city is a $15,000 agreement for support for the Latino Arts Preservation Project.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Southwest Key, Sarah Eckhardt, Juan Sanchez, City Council, Pio Renteria

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