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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Tuesday, December 29, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano
County Judge Andy Brown: Representing every voice
When asked about his new job, Travis County Judge Andy Brown doesn’t hesitate. “I love it so far,” he says. He summed up his first couple of weeks on the job as very busy and extremely interesting.
So far, the bulk of his time has been spent on the Covid-19 pandemic in one fashion or another. Every day, Brown meets with Mayor Steve Adler and officials at Austin Public Health. Several days a week he meets with heads of hospitals, mayors and City Council members of other jurisdictions within the county, and he has other meetings to talk about things like Covid vaccine distribution.
“A lot of this is kind of emergency medicine … it’s not like county day-to-day business at all. Because you have to make decisions really quickly and you need to be able to rely on people like Dr. (Mark) Escott, who is top-notch,” he said.
Brown is the third county judge to head Travis County this year. Sarah Eckhardt, of course, left her post to win a seat in the state Legislature after serving two terms as county judge. In the interim, longtime Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe emerged from retirement to fill in. Brown has learned from both of his predecessors.
Biscoe stayed on for a couple of weeks after Brown was sworn in to show him how the county was run through their weekly meetings.
“I think his general demeanor is something that I’m hoping to follow,” Brown said. “(To) really develop a good relationship with commissioners and have respect for their agenda as well – that’s the biggest thing that I took away from him … I think he’s a great role model. I think he had a great working relationship with staff and other commissioners.”
Brown has also met with Eckhardt and hopes to work with her on a regular basis moving forward.
In terms of immediate priorities, Brown will be focusing on criminal justice reform. “The jail is the largest line-item expense in the budget, and I think that the county, the Commissioners Court, the sheriff – everybody has done good work over the past several years and tried to reduce the number of people in the county jail,” he said. “And they have reduced it, somewhat.”
As a next step, Brown is looking to switch from a reactive model that connects people to services after they are in the system to a proactive model, which creates a safer community by giving people access to mental and behavioral health resources.
“They, frankly, don’t have to get arrested to access county services,” he said. “People should be getting resources and help that they need in an environment that is not the jail. I think we can do a lot more investing in the community instead of investing in new buildings at the jail.”
The shift seems to have a lot of support across the political spectrum. Brown has talked to everyone from the Chamber of Commerce to the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Grassroots Leadership, and says similar policies are on the horizon from newly elected District Attorney José Garza and new County Attorney Delia Garza.
“So far it’s unanimous,” he said. “People do not think it’s appropriate at this time to invest $100 million in the jail …. They would rather invest in the community.”
Another of Brown’s early goals is to increase transparency and raise the profile of the county’s governing body.
“I don’t think it’s any surprise that most people don’t know what the county judge is or what the Commissioners Court does or what, really, county government does,” Brown said. Already, he’s been doing whatever he can to let the community know there’s a meeting every Tuesday.
This year, Brown plans to advocate for increased health care access at the federal level, in the state Legislature and through Central Health. Among other things, he will push for Medicaid expansion by the state, which could help lower the “unacceptably high” rate of uninsured people in Travis County. And he hopes that the incoming Biden administration in Washington will have opportunities to work on that problem as well.
Like others on the Commissioners Court, he stressed the importance of getting the long-promised Central Health clinic finally built in Del Valle. The new clinic would provide care daily, and “would not shut down if and when we get hit by another pandemic, the way that the temporary trailers shut down this time,” he said. “I’ve talked to Central Health about that. I’ve talked to CommUnityCare, and pretty much anyone that will listen.”
“I hope that we will have significant progress on this by the time Central Health’s budget comes up for Commissioners Court review next fall,” he said.
Helping the recovery of those impacted by the pandemic will continue through the new year. Brown stressed the need to keep in mind those who have been hit the hardest – essential workers and minority communities.
“I want to make sure I’m representing every voice in Travis County, especially those who don’t have easy access, traditionally, to county government,” he said.
This story has been changed since publication to correct a typo. Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, which is the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.
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