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Divisions remain on Commissioners Court after redistricting process

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Divisions recently exposed during the Travis County Commissioners’ Court’s redistricting process appear to be lingering.


As part of a budget item on the court’s Tuesday agenda, Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber proposed the addition of a staff member for her office. She cited the relative large expanse of her jurisdiction and the number of meetings that her staff had to be a part of in what she saw as an unfair burden for her constituents.


“I’m very concerned for Precinct 3 and the ability to have the staff to appropriately cover it,” she said.


Her motion failed to earn a second. County Judge Sam Biscoe didn’t see Huber’s logic. “If we use the rationale that I have heard today, instead of having one more person than the rest of the commissioners, the County Judge would have four or five more,” he said. “I don’t think it’s good that our staff has been the same for the 21 years that I’ve been on the Commissioners’ Court, but it’s a fact that there is.”


For much of the summer, county staff, consultants, and the commissioners haggled over where to draw new precinct lines for the four geographically elected court members (Biscoe represents the entire county). Before the process began, Huber’s Precinct 3 was both the largest district and the most politically divided. She set out to both shrink the geographic area of her jurisdiction and render it just a bit more Democratic.


Instead, she gained more area and did little to dilute its “purple” (red and blue) tone. On Tuesday, she used the size of her district to try and squeeze an administrative staffer out of a tight budget.


Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis joined Biscoe in disagreeing. “I…know that there has been a significant increase in workload for all of us, and that’s because of the fact of growth,” he said.


Davis and Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez brokered a key deal during the redistricting debate that more or less calcified the precinct border that Gomez and Huber share in the southern portion of the county. Huber maintains that she was left out of that conversation.


Huber’s working relationship with Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt seemed to suffer less negative impact. And Eckhardt expressed some measure of sympathy for Huber’s situation. “I think that it would do us some good to take a look at our relative staffing levels,” she said. “I am sympathetic to Commissioner Huber’s concerns…Certainly there’s reason to believe that there was a great deal more traffic (in her office).”


Eckhardt also suggested that the court could take a look at a position in Gomez’ office that had been left vacant for some time. Gomez countered that she used that slot to bring in interns from her portion of the county, and noted that she didn’t want to be punished for saving the county money.


Still, Eckhardt didn’t offer the second that Huber needed for her proposal to merit a vote. From the dais, Huber noted that the move wasn’t solely about earning her office a new employee. “I am going to make this motion almost symbolically because I am sure that it is going to fail for lack of a second,” she said. “But I just want my constituents in Precinct 3 to recognize that I am doing my best in this court to try to get the resources I need to serve you well.”

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