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Commissioners Court annual retreat expands to include community expertise

Thursday, January 10, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

On a to-be-determined Friday in February or March, the Travis County Commissioners Court will convene to consider its vision and purpose on a larger scale than is appropriate during its weekly Tuesday morning voting sessions. Near the beginning of each calendar year, the court holds a retreat in an effort to consider the myriad pieces of county government as a cohesive whole. This year’s retreat stands to be more ambitious in scope than any before.

As it does annually, the court will use the opportunity to review the language of its mission statement and make any desired modifications. For the first time ever, the court will be able to refer to a roughly 230-page draft Travis County work plan (“this War and Peace document,” in the words of Commissioner Gerald Daugherty) that was distributed to each of the commissioners before the holidays. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, optimistic about the work plan’s potential to unite county government with common goals, said the court will have a chance during the retreat to make its own suggestions for the plan.

“(The plan) is sort of a call and response on our vision, mission and goals,” said Eckhardt. “It’s the beginning, I believe, of a wonderful tradition.”

Daugherty’s lighthearted comparison to Tolstoy’s famously enormous volume aside, the commissioners welcomed the addition of a countywide work plan. With reference to the growing complexities of economic, technological and political issues, the commissioners used the discussion of the plan to address the larger issue of how the court can safely and adeptly lead Travis County into the future.

The impact of technological innovation on government operations was at the top of Commissioner Brigid Shea’s mind during the discussion. She said the court should be bringing in experts on future technologies as consultants to help the county prepare for technological solutions on the horizon.

As part of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board, Shea has unsuccessfully urged the organization to address the future of autonomous vehicles for years. Shea said that governing entities like CAMPO and the court should be imitating the business practice of seeking out expertise on technologies and their ripple effects that are likely to change the economic and political landscape. At Eckhardt’s suggestion, Shea agreed to inquire into technology consultants who could be invited to the retreat to provide such insights.

“We’ve got Capital Factory two blocks away, this sort of enormous entrepreneurial hive mind that’s looking at all kinds of new developments in technology fields,” said Shea. “I’m also happy to ask any of my colleagues if you have suggestions.”

Building on that momentum, Commissioner Jeff Travillion expressed the wish to include discussion of process and implementation, two of his primary foci, to the retreat’s agenda. With that deemed acceptable, Commissioner Margaret Gómez suggested including economic experts at the retreat to prepare the court for any anticipated economic fluctuations.

The court will take up the retreat agenda again next week to refine new discussion items, discuss a budget for consultants and attempt to set a date.

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