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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Sunday, December 28, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano
Eckhardt embraces new role as County Judge
Sarah Eckhardt is looking forward to her new role as Travis County Judge.
When Eckhardt spoke to the Monitor recently, she seemed eager to get back to work. Though she served on the Commissioners Court starting in 2006 and has spent 14 years working with the county, as Travis County Judge she knows her role will be a bit different.
“When you are a commissioner, you can kind of play the role of a spoiler. You can hold your cards close to your chest; you can horse-trade. But the judge really needs to be the honest broker,” said Eckhardt. “The judge needs to set an agenda without it being too colored by the agenda of her own and give a fair hearing to all ideas.”
“In that regard, the role will be much different from the role I played as commissioner,” said Eckhardt.
Additionally, Eckhardt predicts that she will be returning to a different Commissioners Court than the one she left to run for judge. She pointed out that a change of one person on the five-person court can change its flavor. She said she thinks that adding two new members, including county judge, is likely to create “a significant change and feel.”
“I think it would be fair to anticipate that this will be a more activist court,” said Eckhardt.
“My hope is that you will see a court that is much more proactive, a court that plans and has a lot more discipline to stay with a plan, and a court that’s less reactive,” said Eckhardt, who explained that, while it was appropriate for counties to take a reactive stance in the past, that was no longer the case.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to work with some really innovative people at the county to do some really wonderful things on water and transportation and civil and criminal justice, and planning for prosperity into the future,” said Eckhardt.
Her highest priority is providing civil and criminal courts and justice to the residents of Travis County.
“That’s the biggest thing we do, and we must do it by Texas Constitution. It’s not a discretionary item. It is a big reason why people want to live in Travis County. It’s a safe community, it’s a fair community, and whether you are a business or an individual, it is a nice level playing field because we have a good justice system here,” said Eckhardt. “And it needs a little attention.”
“That’s another area where we need to be more proactive and plan for the needs of our community,” said Eckhardt, who sounded energized by the possibilities that programs and restructuring can have on the system.
As an example, she offered that although jails in the county were once overcrowded, jail diversion programs have leveled the incarcerated population, despite increases in the general population.
“It will probably be pretty flat for 15 years,” said Eckhardt. “That’s really awesome. … If we can keep a jail population flat for 15 years, that’s a story.”
Eckhardt is also looking forward toward addressing transportation infrastructure needs — specifically, getting more public transit to the east, and to the preferred growth corridor. She hopes to increase economic development and prosperity in Precincts 1 and 4. She knows the county needs to look at the region’s water supply to ensure that it is sustainable over time, and that the ever-growing county develops in ways that are compatible with its water supply.
Eckhardt will be sworn into office Jan. 2, and she is looking forward to both getting back to a familiar place and trying new things.
“We have a whole lot of talent here, and I think there is a lot of desire to try some stuff,” said Eckhardt. “I think we’re going to have a really good time.”
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Travis County Commissioners Court: The legislative body for Travis County. It includes representatives from the four Travis County Precincts, as well as the County Judge. The County Judge serves as the chair of the Court.