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Travis Court approves one raise but most issues linger

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Travis County Commissioners Court was unable to reach a consensus Tuesday on a series of issues related to the salary disparity between its executive managers and similar positions across Texas. In so doing, court members left that gap and any firm direction on how it should be addressed without a resolution.


The three 2-2 votes came with County Judge Sam Biscoe temporarily off the dais. Precinct 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt and Precinct 3 Commissioner Karen Huber voted for the measures. Precinct 1 Commissioner Ron Davis and Precinct 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez voted against them.


The full court later acted on a separate item that raised the salary of one of the managers in question. Though court members did not reveal that official’s name, indications are that it is Sherri Fleming. Fleming, who is the county’s director of Health and Human Services, makes the lowest salary of her peers.


Huber said Monday that the county was in danger of losing at least one manager if it didn’t act to bring their executives’ salaries in line with those for the rest of Texas.


After the first votes Huber told In Fact Daily that the court’s inability to deal with the overall compensation issues for their executive managers could send a poor message to the rest of the county’s employees. That message?


“That we need to work harder at the court level to get to where we want to be,” she said.


Eckhardt was more blunt. “We have an inability to make a decision,” she said. “I believe – where is this quote from? – if one sounds an uncertain horn, who will follow?”


Lingering resentment about the firing of former Executive Manager for Administrative Operations Alicia Perez played into the court’s discussion. Gomez brought it up in the context of new job descriptions.


“We don’t have a job description for the executive manager for administrative operations, do we?” she asked. “That is the one that I feel very uncomfortable about. I just don’t think it’s fair of us to eliminate a position that rounds out the leadership of executive managers who help the commissioners court in carrying out our duties.”


Gomez and Davis have long been critical of the dismissals of Perez and former county Human Resources head Linda Moore Smith. Perez and Smith were both fired after a long-running feud between them.


Though Davis made no statements about Perez or Smith Tuesday, their votes were identical.


The three deadlocked votes came as the court considered actions that would have added three new upper-level grades to the county’s pay scale, established regular reviews of manager pay that could have continued until the executives were brought up to the level of their peers, and solidified long-outstanding issues surrounding regular performance reviews.


After the last of these votes, Huber turned to Gómez and asked, “I’d just like to ask how we’re going to review our executive managers.”


“I think we’ll get there,” said Gomez.


The full court appears set to take up the slate of executive manager pay issues again on Feb. 22.

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