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Travis JP budget squabble hits court

Friday, October 14, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Travis County Commissioners Court continued to indulge budgetary squabbles between the county’s Justices of the Peace at its weekly meeting on Tuesday. There, over the objections of County Judge Sam Biscoe and Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis, the court granted Pct. 3 Justice of the Peace Susan Steeg the funds for a $7,300 salary increase for the Juvenile Case Manager in her office.


In March, the court failed to offer the same courtesy to Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace Yvonne Williams. But that time, Biscoe and Davis alone favored the idea. At that time, Steeg, and Pct. 5 Justice of the Peace Herb Evans opposed the increased funds for Williams’ employee (See In Fact Daily, March 23, 2011).


Biscoe referred back to that debate. “The last time the issue came before us…I was left with the impression that a majority of the court wanted the JPs to get together…and that we expected JP personnel to make roughly the same salaries,” he said. “This would go counter to that.”


Steeg noted that when she and Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace Raul Gonzalez established the anti-truancy program two years ago, they were “strongly encouraged…to keep the salary low” for their juvenile case managers.  


Steeg implied that if the court didn’t raise her case manager’s salary, she risked losing him. In a letter to county officials, she added that she requested the salary bump “because of the employee’s education, experience, and outstanding performance since the hire date.”


As for Biscoe’s read of the matter, Steeg did her best to parse the situation. “Let me refresh your memory, sir. The drag out that we had before was not over a juvenile case manager, it was over a senior planner position,” she said. “My only concern was not that Judge Williams could hire a senior planner in her office, but to use the juvenile fund for something that was not a juvenile case manager.”


For her part, Williams showed up to support Steeg’s request. “I think that we should get back to doing this independently; let each official run their office within the means that we have,” she said.


Williams added that she supported meeting with her colleagues to hash out some of the issues referenced by Biscoe. Still, she added, “it’s not the same thing as coming up with a plan.”


Biscoe again noted the March vote. “I argued for that independence myself because I believe that it promotes creativity,” he said. “I was outvoted on that, 3-2—which is why we’re having this discussion today.”


Though Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt argued that the March discussion and Tuesday’s debate were “materially different,” Biscoe disagreed.


“I think that, as a matter of policy, we need to address (this) and try to come to terms on it,” he said. “I prefer that we let the JPs get together…or that we tell elected officials that ‘we want you to use your creativity as best that you can, and when you come with a budget request, we would look at them on a case-by-case basis and…vote them up or down. We seem to be doing both of them right now; I’m suggesting that we do one or the other.”

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