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Open executive position could lead to reorganization at Travis County

Friday, October 1, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The Travis County Commissioners Court will continue to take their time as they try to fill an open county executive position. The position, executive manager for administrative operations, has been vacant since the controversial departure of Alicia Perez nearly a year ago.


Tuesday’s vote, which found four members of the court affirming the slow track, came over the strong objections of Precinct 1 Commissioner Ron Davis. Davis, who last week told his colleagues that filling the position was a question of diversity, argued against what he perceived as coming changes to the Administrative Operations Department.


The next step in the process will now feature a meeting that will include court members and county officials as well as a facilitator. The ensuing deliberations will likely include discussion about the nature of the head of Administrative Operations’ role and how that best fits with county priorities.


“The work session will give an informal opportunity for the five of us not only to have our say but we’ll have an opportunity to listen to (staff) … and the facilitators,” said County Judge Sam Biscoe. “And I would think anybody that believes that he or she has good ideas that we ought to hear, we ought to set aside … a minute or two.” 


Davis was direct with his opinion. “I’m not in favor of any reorganization at all,” he said. “I think, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it and I think I’ve said this over and over … it ain’t broke so don’t fix it.”


During the hearing, he cited an internal memo circulated by Travis County Purchasing Officer Cyd Grimes. The memo, he said, featured an organizational chart that suggested the possibility that the entire Administrative Operations wing could be folded into the county’s Planning and Budget Office.


Grimes later testified that the memo was a proposed temporary solution, intended to bridge the operations gap that would result from a slower hiring timeline — albeit one that would present some amount of savings for the county. Planning and Budget Executive Manager Rodney Rhoades told the court that he had not been privy to any discussion on the matter.


Even after Grimes and Rhoades spoke, Davis returned to his mantra: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he repeated, adding, “and it works just fine as far as I’m concerned.”


Precinct 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez had argued with Davis when the issue came up on this past week’s court agenda (see In Fact Daily, Sept. 22). This time, she sided with the rest of the court from the get-go.


“I would normally (support Commissioner Davis) … except that I don’t want to forgo all … of us meeting and having a really good, honest discussion about what the future organization is going to look like,” she said.


After the hearing, she told In Fact Daily that, even after the meeting, things could go Davis’ way. “That’s an option that is present,” she said. “I mean, it could mean that we would have all these discussions and nothing is really broken. But what I hear people saying is let’s have the meeting and let’s talk about these things and let’s find out what needs to get done.”


Judge Sam Biscoe, who has pushed for the work session, agreed. “I really don’t know (if it’s broken),” he said, noting that the upcoming discussions would play a key role in that determination.


“There ought to be 10 or 11 people there with different ideas and so, it should be fruitful,” he told In Fact Daily. “I’m optimistic (and) looking forward to a productive session.”


Perez was fired along with former Travis County Human Resources Department head Linda Moore Smith as the culmination of a long-running battle between the two.

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