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Travis Commissioners debate how to fill open manager position

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The conflict that brought an end to the tenure of two high-ranking Travis County officials continues to overshadow the effort to fill one of their still vacant positions. With roughly a year having lapsed since Alicia Perez was fired from her job as the county’s Executive Manager for Administrative Operations, the court seems a hair closer to finding her successor.


Debate on the matter remains fractious, however. The latest chapter came as the commissioners tried to settle on a path to posting the position. As Pct. 4 commissioner Margaret Gomez was joined by Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis in a push to expedite the process, County Judge Sam Biscoe and Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt tried to slow the effort so that they could better assess the future of the position.


In the end, they took no action. Instead, Diane Blankenship–who only recently became Human Resources Director—was left to come up with the best job description she could find without any real input from the court.


For Gomez and Davis, the issue was rooted in diversity. “I think the community has noticed that this position has not been filled, and the question is, why not, why not fill this position?” Gomez asked her colleagues. “Because if we don’t, then we are going to have a team of executive managers that does not reflect the makeup of this community. One of the first issues I faced when I got here in 1995 was that there was not a team nominated that represented the makeup of this community.”


Davis agreed. After comparing the situation to a set of legs without a head, he said that he wanted to make sure that this vacancy was handled in a similar fashion as the one recently opened by the pending departure of Transportation and Natural Resources Executive Manger Joe Gieselman. “Diversity is very key in this particular issue,” he said.


Biscoe, on the other hand, remained concerned over lingering questions about the unwieldiness of the department at issue. He told the court that he felt that they would have to vote on “two to four major decisions” before being able to settle on an adequate job description for their next Executive Manager for administrative operations.


Some of these may be over the future of portions of the department, including the IT, HR, and facilities divisions. Biscoe disagreed with Davis over his Gieselman comparison. “Unlike Joe’s position, Joe is still here and we would be hiring the director of TNR, which is pretty much what Joe has been,” he said, “so his situation…did not have any of the thorny issues that, I think, administrative operations will have.”


He further cited the fact that the court had its eye on an October work session to get through all of the issues involved with the department. He signaled his preference to stick to that schedule. “I thought there would be something just inherently valuable in us sitting down in a county work session setting and spending two or three hours to think through this, talk through it, and then make a decision,” he said.


For her part, Eckhardt sided with the judge. “Transportation and Natural Resources is not in managerial disarray, whereas administrative operations has been in disarray since before July 2009,” she said. “That’s why there’s a vacancy.”


Gomez seemed open to a longer process. With Eckhardt and Biscoe already down for a careful approach, it seems that it will go that way when the issue comes back next week.


After the hearing, Gomez repeated her concerns to In Fact Daily. “We’ve always valued diversity in Travis County,” she said. “Since (Perez) has been gone it hasn’t been filed for a year and so, it’s like, what’s up? Why are we taking so long?”


Though she acknowledged that the county couldn’t simply hire a minority person to fill the job, she said that “we can weigh things to see what we are missing here, what is lacking on our team?”


Travis County Executive Manager of Budget and Finance, Rodney Rhoades told In Fact Daily that he couldn’t answer a question about why diversity kept coming up in the hearing. Rhoades also serves on the committee charged with finding Perez’s replacement.

Perez and Moore Smith were put on administrative leave without pay in July of 2009. They were terminated shortly thereafter. There had reportedly been problems between the two, which may have subsequently affected their abilities to run their respective departments.

Davis brought up the delay in filling her former position at last week’s session. It came up as the commissioners moved to fill Gieselman’s soon-to-be empty position. Gieselman, who is the last of the five original executive managers appointed by the court in 1995, is set to retire in January.

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