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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Friday, April 10, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano
Eckhardt marks her first 100 days in office
Today marks Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt’s 100th day in office.
Eckhardt got a jump on the celebration Thursday, holding a news conference to commemorate the occasion. She looked back over the past 100 days as well as forward, toward issues that the Travis County Commissioners Court will be taking on in the near future.
After 14 years of working with the county and taking office as a county commissioner in 2006, Eckhardt became the first female county judge last November.
“It’s a very exciting time to be in local government, where things are really happening,” said Eckhardt. “There’s a great deal of pent-up innovation in Travis County, and my job is to unleash it.”
Asked how her tenure would differ from her predecessor’s, Eckhardt praised the work of former County Judge Sam Biscoe and said she was continuing the legacy he built.
“In the years that I spent sitting to Sam Biscoe’s left, I learned a tremendous amount about consensus-building,” said Eckhardt. “We have different styles, because we are different people, but Judge Biscoe pushed the envelope on county government a tremendous amount. He pushed us on areas of social justice and criminal justice. … Some counties do nothing but jails, courts and roads, and that hasn’t been a description of Travis County in decades.
“With our population growth, and with the positioning of our state government, we need to innovate and push the bounds of local government,” Eckhardt continued. “State government isn’t doing a lot of governing these days.”
Eckhardt also outlined some of the initiatives the county has tackled since January.
She spoke of a “robust and long-range planning effort” to identify the county’s needs and how to pay for them in light of an increasing population. She said many county residents are facing a burden from increased taxes. That has led to spearheading master plans for county facilities and projecting how much jail space, rehabilitation services and court space the county will need and where those things should be located.
Other initiatives in progress, Eckhardt said, include plans to redevelop county property as affordable housing paired with county offices on its 9-acre Airport Boulevard tract. She also spoke of the recently approved bond proposal for a new downtown courthouse, inviting everyone “to kick the tires on our proposal to add a new Civil and Family Courthouse,” which she said would help “place justice at the heart of the community.”
In addition, Eckhardt stressed the strides the court has made toward intergovernmental cooperation, saying that sharing costs and reducing duplicated efforts will help tax dollars go as far as they can. On a similar note, she said that she has started meeting regularly with her fellow Texas urban county judges.
“While our colleagues at the (state) Legislature grapple with ideology, we at the local level are finding solutions and effectively governing on matters of health care, transportation, justice — the true building blocks (of) economic prosperity,” said Eckhardt.
In terms of transportation, Eckhardt said she has been pushing to extend more transit into eastern Travis County with the goal of attracting new jobs and helping support affordable, sustainable neighborhoods.
Eckhardt also mentioned additional potential sources of revenue, including a local option vehicle registration fee that the Legislature is considering, a possible “transit set-aside” from toll roads she has been discussing with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, and reallocation of gas tax benefits to population centers and major corridors.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Judge Sarah Eckhardt: Eckhardt was elected Travis County Judge in November 2014, after previously serving as the Precinct 2 County Commissioner.