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Travis County bush

Lingering senior staff vacancy vexes Commissioners Court

Wednesday, April 25, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

Not only can Travis County not find someone to fill its open county executive of operations management position, it can’t even find a recruiting firm to help with the search.

That was how Tracey Calloway, director of the county’s Human Resources Management Department, began a briefing she gave to the Commissioners Court on Tuesday.

Calloway offered a smorgasbord of recommendations for the court to consider as a path forward in the long-delayed quest to hire a single head of the Human Resources Management and Facilities Management departments.

The HRMD began the search in February 2017, looking both internally as well as engaging with search firms that agreed to be paid if their referral was selected. After reviewing 10 potential candidates identified through that process, the court in June voted to solicit an executive search firm to augment the department’s efforts. By October, Calloway said, no companies had responded.

Commissioner Margaret Gómez said she had heard why.

“They said that our packet was too thick, that it was too complicated,” she said.

Calloway explained the recommendations she offered on Tuesday were developed by both the HRMD and the county’s stable of executive leaders. Among the options on the table are the continued search for candidates through a recruiter, and also doing nothing at all for the time being.

Calloway also proposed hiring a consultant who could take a closer look at the county’s current organizational structure and recommend potential realignments.

Surveying the assembled executives who sat in on the briefing – including Sherri Fleming of Health and Human Services, Roger Jefferies of Justice Planning and Chief Information Officer Paul Hopingardner – County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said the county is enjoying a “golden time” of senior staff cooperation. However, she allowed that some of the executives could benefit from an outside consultant.

“There’s some real beautiful loyalty here and relationships that want to be preserved and nurtured,” she said. “And I believe that the county executives feel like having a third party come in to have a conversation about how the alignment could be different so that it’s not about the people who are sitting in these seats today and is more about what’s optimal for the organization going forward.”

Calloway had included in her backup a potential scope of services that would be given to any consultant tapped to consider a possible organizational restructuring. The document, according to Commissioner Jeff Travillion, was conspicuously silent about one particular issue.

“The 800-pound gorilla in the room is we’ve got to do a better job with diversity,” he said. “Because we’ve got some communities that are greatly impacted by the services that we provide, and the staff that we have working internally for us does not reflect that community at all, and I don’t know that we have an effective planned way to address that. Maybe this is the opportunity to start talking about how we do that.”

Both Gómez and Commissioner Brigid Shea voiced support for Travillion’s sentiment.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty suggested that the reason the county was having trouble filling the operations management executive role was the lack of clear leadership at the top of the ladder. He alluded to a 2016 departmental review of the county’s structure conducted by Public Works LLC. That report, he told Eckhardt, charted a clear prescription.

“Every organization in the world has a head of that organization. Every one. We do not have one, judge, and we continue to go through this thing. And I think the Public Works report clearly stated that you needed to move this organization into having a county manager/county administrator. You need a boss of this organization, and you cannot have five people be the boss of this organization,” said Daugherty.

Eckhardt conceded, “This conversation is very useful, but we do have a lot of agenda items we have to get to, and I don’t perceive that we’re going to come to closure today.”

She advised her colleagues on the dais to discuss their concerns with county staff and suggested that she would bring back specific recommendations for discussion and possible action on a later, yet to be determined, date.

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