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Justices of the peace clash over truancy position

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Debate at the Travis County Commissioners Court turned heated yesterday, with one justice of the peace suggesting that another had acted improperly. As part of her testimony before the court, Pct. 3 Justice of the Peace Susan Steeg suggested that her Pct. 1 colleague, Yvonne Williams, was attempting to fill a truancy planner position with her campaign manager, Eleanor Thompson.


Steeg’s accusation came as the court and all five Travis County justices of the peace discussed the potential use of a reserve fund to make up the salary difference between an already approved lower-level truancy official and a more senior staff member Williams wanted to hire. “Judge Williams can hire a senior planner and pay that person $48,000 a year,” Steeg said.


“However, Judge Williams, I think, has pre-selected a person for that position who apparently doesn’t want to work for $48,000 a year,” she continued. “So she wants you to use money from the Juvenile Case Manager fund – yes it has a nice reserve – to make up this difference. This person is, I believe, her former campaign manager.”


Williams wanted to pay the new truancy aide $58,000 said Steeg.


County Judge Sam Biscoe later allowed Williams to respond to Steeg’s accusations. “I have the ability to hire as I please,” she said. “I am going to do so according to the law. I am going to hire people that are well qualified to do what needs to be done. I had three or four people in mind when I thought about this position.”


Williams refused to name the other candidates.


After the hearing, Williams told In Fact Daily that Steeg’s testimony is “just not true.” “I really don’t understand where she gets off going there,” she said.


Williams then explained her motivations. “I created this position at the level that I created it so that I would have personnel directly responsible to me, so that they would serve at my behest,” she said. “In that sense, I have in mind people who are qualified, who (have) dealt with child care experience, who have run nurseries in the past – so I’m looking at that kind of person. In addition, I needed someone who has passion and who knows the community.”


Williams won election to the Pct. 1 justice of the peace seat for the first time in 2010. She has also served as an associate municipal court judge.


Tuesday’s debate marked the second court discussion about the truancy planner position. Two weeks ago in a more muted – but still somewhat contentious – debate, the court approved the use of some funds for truancy support.


None of Williams colleagues supported her request. “There was no discussion with the other (justice of the peace) courts about the need for this position,” Steeg said. “In fact, Judge Williams may be reinventing the wheel with some of the things she has this position doing. She has personally refused all of my invitations to come to my court to visit with me.”


Williams also denied this.


Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace Herb Evans continued with Steeg’s theme. “If Judge Williams had consulted with us – and there was no consultation at all, none — I would have reminded her of the pilot project that we had and suggested to her that the case workers were going to help her the most,” Evans said. “I would have said that, rather than hiring a planner, that she should hire a couple of case workers.”


In the end, Williams was able to earn the support of only Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis and County Judge Sam Biscoe. Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber, and Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez rejected the idea.


After the hearing, Williams emailed the court a copy of a letter that she said was sent to her colleagues informing them about the new position. She also forwarded a short discussion about the idea between herself Steeg, and Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Glenn Bass.


Williams insisted that the fracas wouldn’t affect her working relationship with her colleagues. “I think that we can rise above this,” she said.

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