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Hamilton upset over county’s handling of report

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

Tuesday’s Travis County Commissioners Court voting session turned from sanguine to nearly sour when a stern Sheriff Greg Hamilton showed up to speak on the day’s final item, a report that would steer more money into an ongoing re-examination of the county’s adult correctional system.

The first phase of the two-part analysis cost $461,310 and produced a lengthy report that diagnosed shortcomings in the correctional system and provided recommendations for improvements. County staff was back Tuesday to ask for an additional $288,390 to begin the second phase, which will draw up specific ways to implement those recommendations.

The item originally came up during the March 24 Commissioners Court meeting. However, the court postponed the item when Commissioner Gerald Daugherty insisted on personally hearing the sheriff’s reaction to the initial report. He expressed deep skepticism that Hamilton would be on board with many of its recommendations, including adjustments to overtime and staffing policies. Daugherty even went so far as to predict that the report would make Hamilton and his staff “apoplectic.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Hamilton exhibited signs of frustration but not over the contents of the report. He told the commission that he had sent four staff members to speak on his behalf at the March meeting, but the commissioners never called on them.

“They were sitting here like they were on a field trip, and they wanted an opportunity to get up and say something, but they were not afforded that opportunity,” Hamilton said.

“And we probably wouldn’t have had this discussion today,” he continued. “I think that maybe the vote would have happened on that particular day if (you) would have given my staff an opportunity to come up and tell you that I thought it was a great report, and I think that Travis County Sheriff’s Office is continually looking for better ways to operate and be more efficient.”

After the meeting, Hamilton told the Austin Monitor that he had read the report several times and was amenable to the vast majority of its recommendations.

“I’d say I agree probably with 80 to 85 percent of it,” he said. “And I don’t think there’s gonna be a study where everybody’s going to agree totally on the deal.”

Not long after Hamilton began his remarks to the commissioners, Judge Sarah Eckhardt interjected that she stood by the comments at the March meeting. She said the commissioners did not expect that the deputies at that meeting would “have committed the sheriff’s department or the associations to a particular course of action” on the second phase of the program.

Hamilton conceded that the deputies should have been more assertive when it appeared the commissioners would not call on them to explain the sheriff’s opinion of the report.

Later, Daugherty took time to clear the air, clarifying his position and even offering an apology to the sheriff. He explained that his concern rested on paying another six-figure sum to a consulting company for an analysis whose findings would ultimately not be binding.

Daugherty said, “My whole point was not taking a shot at you,” adding that it was obvious that Hamilton had taken “great offense” to what he said.

“And I apologize for that, because you know me well enough (that) if I’ve got something to say to you, I’ll say it to you,” Daugherty continued. “I’ll say it to your face. I’ll say it to anybody that wants to come and see me. I wouldn’t have said anything in that court that I wouldn’t have said to you personally.”

After Daugherty fleshed out his position a bit more, Hamilton was conciliatory.

“First of all, I would like to say that I agree with you — that I think a person needs to say how they feel whether it’s behind closed doors or out in front,” Hamilton said. “But it’s how you say it and the platform that’s being used to deliver that message. And maybe I took it wrong. So I guess we’re both apologizing, and one of the good things is I learned a new word,” referring to Daugherty’s use of “apoplectic” during the March meeting.

Hamilton went on to say that his office is eager to work with the commission on applying many of the report’s recommendations, a notion echoed by Brett Spicer of the Travis County Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Association, one of the unions representing Sheriff’s Office employees.

After another endorsement for continuing the master plan analysis by a representative of county judges, Daugherty took one more opportunity to warn against letting inertia stall any fruitful progress.

“So I just want it to be recognized that if we’re going to move forward on these kind of things, then let’s all at least be honest that we’ve really got to try to get to the table,” Daugherty said. “And sometimes you do have to spend money at first to perhaps save some money somewhere. I understand that. Because, I mean, I’m probably the hardest to spend dollars with. But … it’s not because I don’t give a flip.”

After concurring remarks from Commissioner Ron Davis, the court unanimously approved the item.


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