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Travis Commissioners delay hiring administrator

Monday, April 20, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

The Travis County Commissioners Court put the brakes on hiring a new county executive of administrative operations last week after officials questioned whether the county’s current organizational structure was the most efficient.

“We talked about how important it was to move county government perhaps in a little bit of a different direction as far as management,” said Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty at the court’s regular meeting, referring to a report about structural inefficiencies commissioners received earlier.

The position has been vacant since 2009 and oversees the directors of Facilities Management, Human Resources Management, Information Technology and Records Management. The hire would also interpret policy for elected and appointed officials and others, while coordinating with other county executives. It was recently budgeted at about $189,000, including benefits.

Daugherty suggested that commissioners exhaust the notion of a county administrator before moving forward with hiring a county executive of administrative operations. An administrator would oversee all day-to-day operations within the county, much like a city manager.

Currently, five county executives are in charge of various departments and report directly to the court. Daugherty said most large counties have county administrators.

“What it really boils down to for me is that my philosophy is, if no one person is in charge, no one is in charge,” Daugherty said.

In summer 2014, commissioners received the Milne Report, an independently commissioned review of the county’s organizational structure and processes. The report determined that the county’s internal structure was inefficient.

Before the Milne Report, Commissioner Margaret Gómez said it had been 20 years since Travis County reviewed its organizational structure.

During the conversation, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said that creating an executive position on a split board vote would be inappropriate because it would undermine the new hire’s authority.

Eckhardt suggested that the court could discuss sending out a request for services for a third-party review of the county’s organizational structure at the end of April. A more in-depth report would have recommendations for best practices that could be very useful, she said.

However, Gómez voiced concern, saying the structural inefficiencies were at the top and were something that commissioners needed to address among themselves.

“To me, a county administrator is just another buffer for one more person who can’t get directions from the five of us,” Gómez said.

Eckhardt said the request for services’ objective review would likely involve the University of Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, which would take on an advisory-like role. Ideally, she said, the review would occur every five years, and would take at least four to six months to complete.

Gómez still expressed doubt, wondering if a county administrator would direct staff or influence votes.

“There is not a county administrator that pays no attention to the elected officials,” said Daugherty in response.

Commissioners tabled the discussion about hiring an executive administrative officer. However, the court will simultaneously pursue the administrative operations review while it continues to discuss the possibility of filling the position.

Eckhardt said the court will consider searching for a candidate if it becomes apparent there is a supermajority in support.

Commissioners will discuss the potential review April 28.



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