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Partisan politics arise at new Commissioners Court

Wednesday, January 7, 2015 by Mark Richardson

Travis County Commissioners met for the first time Tuesday with new County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Pct. 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea on the court. The spirit of cooperation and goodwill present when the new court convened lasted about an hour before partisan politics emerged.

During a discussion of commissioner appointments to various boards and commissions, Shea tried — and failed — to replace Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty on the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board.

Shea is a longtime environmental activist and has expressed opposition to building the State Highway 45 Southwest toll road. Daugherty has championed the project, particularly in the past two years, by working to streamline the environmental study process and persuading the (previous) Commissioners Court to approve $15 million in funding for the project. He has used his position on the CAMPO board to build support for the roadway.

Most recently, the county judge and commissioners from Precincts 2 and 3 have represented Travis County at CAMPO. The discussion began with Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gómez saying she wants the county to have a more diverse representation at CAMPO.

“On this particular appointment, I think that there needs to be a balance to make sure that all of the precincts are involved in the decision-making (at) CAMPO,” Gómez said. “We have one member, Commissioner Daugherty, who represents west of I-35, and the judge has always represented all of the precincts. My issue is that I think there would be more of a balance to not have two commissioners west of I-35, but have a commissioner from east of I-35.”

Gómez put her request in the form of a motion, and immediately thereafter, Shea proposed a substitute motion that she — representing Precinct 2, which is mostly west of I-35 — should be on the CAMPO board along with Gómez, whose Precinct 4 is in the eastern part of the county. Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis seconded the substitute motion, saying that the commissioner from Pct. 2 had served on the CAMPO board for a number of years and that he thought it should stay that way.

“This particular Precinct 2 has been on the CAMPO board since I’ve been here,” Davis said, “first with Commissioner (Karen) Sonleitner and then Commissioner Eckhardt and then Bruce Todd and now Brigid Shea. Just seems like that has been the trend all along.”

Davis said it was important to stay with what the county has done in the past, which apparently triggered a thought in Daugherty’s mind.

“Commissioner Davis, you are aware that the motion that Commissioner Shea has made is taking me off CAMPO?” Daugherty asked. “Is that what you are seconding? You are seconding the motion to be in support of taking me off CAMPO?”

A confused Davis quickly backpedaled, saying he thought the vote was going to add Gómez to the CAMPO delegation but had not understood that it would also remove Daugherty.

“I didn’t understand (the) motion then,” he said. “But I cannot agree with Commissioner Daugherty not being on the CAMPO board.”

Davis rescinded his second, and the commission then voted on Gómez’s original motion that she replace the Precinct 2 appointee (Shea) on the CAMPO board. Eckhardt reminded Gómez and the rest of the court that commissioners do not just represent their precincts at CAMPO.

“Whoever represents Travis County at CAMPO represents all of the interests of Travis County,” Eckhardt said. “They do not go to CAMPO as a representative of their precinct. That has never been the case and it should never be the case.”

After some discussion, Gómez’s original motion failed 2-3, with Eckhardt, Shea and Davis opposed. That means the original lineup — Eckhardt, Daugherty and Shea — will represent Travis County at CAMPO in 2015.



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