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Travis County bush

Procedural change sparks disagreement at Commissioners Court

Tuesday, May 24, 2022 by Seth Smalley

Travis County commissioners approved a revision last week to the Commissioners Court agenda setting procedure. Now, any agenda item that will have a budgetary impact must first go through the Planning and Budget Office for analysis before a vote.

While commissioners Brigid Shea, Margaret Gómez and Jeffrey Travillion voted in favor of the resolution, County Judge Andy Brown and Commissioner Ann Howard abstained, at certain points expressing hesitance toward the downstream implications of the provision’s wording.

“I too want to know what things cost before I vote on them,” Howard said. “But what I want to make sure is that we’re not limiting discussion. I can’t support something that says before I could request an agenda item – which is really my only way to get the five of us to discuss something – that it must first be approved, or figured out, by the budget office.”

Howard added that she would like additional information to help her understand the revision. “I don’t want to be unable to do that kind of policy work.”

“What this is doing, I believe, is telling county staff that if they want to bring a proposal, that needs to have a fiscal note on it,” Brown said.

As it was written, any agenda item that involved a budget revision already had to include documentation to reflect “review and comment from the Planning and Budget Office.” The new addition added the language, “or is projected to have a budgetary impact after budget revision.”

“That is just in light of the fact that it would take us time to provide you that budgetary impact or based on that projection,” County Executive Jessica Rio told commissioners.

“One of the reasons I think it’s important to have that review is that there aren’t any surprises later,” Gómez said. “We thought it was going to cost this much, but actually it’s costing this much and we didn’t take the time to look into the details.”

Shea said that the court’s recent adoption of a paid parental leave policy – the financial implications of which hadn’t yet been fully processed by PBO – spurred this agenda item.

“At the time we adopted the paid parental leave policy, where we had to add a kind of caveat that we can come back in 30 days if there’s any problems or issues with this,” Shea said. “That was for me really the context for it, not to obstruct or delay or prevent good policies.”

Gómez made the motion and it was seconded by Shea. The motion carried with three out of a total of five votes possible.

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

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