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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Tuesday, December 29, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano
Ann Howard: Creating a place of answers
Ann Howard is looking forward to using her voice to help others make good things happen.
Howard, who was elected in November to represent Precinct 3 on the Travis County Commissioners Court, will soon start her term, amid a pandemic and after almost two years of campaigning.
“You get elected in November, and you’ve got to be ready to go the first week of January … I’m so excited to get it going,” she told the Austin Monitor.
Howard told the Monitor that her first step was to staff her office, and said she is “over the moon” about the people joining her team.
“It sounds like a strong, smart, stable workforce, and I need that,” she said.
Her other priority has been to get out into the precinct and talk to people. That includes talking to neighborhoods, Zoom meetings, and things like touring Arkansas Bend Park, which has been recently improved with Travis County bond funds.
“Travis County is working really hard to set a high bar for how we use bond funds to improve public facilities,” she said. She notes that not only does Precinct 3 have lots of parks, it has lots of different entities managing them, such as the city, the county and the Lower Colorado River Authority.
Getting to know the various governmental bodies and jurisdictions that operate in her precinct is another thing that Howard has been doing to prepare for her first term in office.
“There’s lots of governmental responsibility. And the county, to me, is the cradle for all of it,” she said. “We can really set a tone and be really good partners.”
She acknowledged frustration from smaller jurisdictions in the county over the process of distributing federal aid this year. In her prior role, founding and running the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, Howard was a contractor with the county. That gives her a unique perspective on her new role.
“I know how committed the staff is and I so appreciate that. But I also have experienced the bureaucracy of county government and now feel responsible for that,” she said, noting that her work has given her a deep familiarity with many of the systems that make the county run, from housing to public safety to health care. “These were my partners … and these will continue to be my partners as we work together and continue to look for solutions.”
“I’m excited to bring that kind of real-world view to leadership,” said Howard, who knows from personal experience how frustrating it is to navigate bureaucracy when looking for help.
“I want our office to be a place of answers,” said Howard.
In January, there are a couple of issues Howard is looking to work on straight away, including wildfire preparedness, starting with a conversation about where things currently stand, what work has been done and what action can be taken now.
“What we talked a lot about during my two years of campaigning was fire readiness,” she said. “I think it’s probably a regional conversation. The fire, it will cross whatever line it wants to,” she said. “I just want us to be ready. I don’t want us to wish we had done something.”
In terms of the ongoing response to and potential recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, Howard says it encompasses “so much of what we as local government try to look out for. Not only the economy, but access to health care. We need this vaccine to be distributed as widely as possible as soon as we can.”
Howard emphasized the need to make sure the systems of government are working as best as possible “so we can handle whatever the next crisis is.” She’s also eager to “dig into the nitty-gritty of how we can support business.”
She stressed the importance of messaging, and convincing residents to listen to science and remain cautious during the pandemic. “It will be a continued message and plea to constituents to wear masks, socially distance and get the vaccine.”
The balancing act between growth and the environment is one she will continue from the dais. “As long as I’m the county commissioner we will continue to be mindful of our responsibility around stewardship,” she said. “Not only around land, but of the environment, of water.”
She notes that the strong economy and continued growth, while positive, “also threatens what we love about living here.”
That said, she is optimistic about the unique growth that the region continues to see, and the benefits it could offer, such as the plans for the new Tesla assembly plant.
“I think about our school kids that can tour the factory making an electric pickup truck,” she said. “I just think it’s going to be so inspiring.”
“We’ve got it going on. And I’m just delighted to let all of these folks doing amazing things have me on their team.”
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