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TipSheet: Travis County, 5.17.16

Tuesday, May 17, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday. In the interest of space, we’ve decided not to post the entire agenda here. The County Clerk’s office hosts a copy at its website.

1. Approve resolution encouraging the Texas Indigent Defense Commission to request additional state funding for indigent defense expenses in counties. (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: It may shock you, dear reader, to learn that the Texas Legislature once committed the state to fund a social service program but never actually made sure that the state lived up to the commitment. In this case, the Lege in 2001 created the Fair Defense Act to fund the legal costs of indigent defendants. Since then, the state has largely left the funding to counties, which in 2015 covered $209.4 million worth of the $238 million cost of the program. This resolution is a symbolic step towards a more balanced system.

4. Receive update from the Travis County Sheriff’s Office on the restoration of in-person visitation in the Travis County correctional system (Judge Eckhardt)

26. Approve sole source exemption with and contract award to Securus Technologies, Inc., for Archonix Visitation Scheduling Software Licenses, Maintenance and Support. (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: In a memo to the Commissioners Court included in the backup material for Item 4, Major Wes Priddy of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office writes that more than 470 in-person visitations have been done at county jails since the program was restored in mid-April. He also notes that jail staff could streamline the process by procuring visitation and scheduling software, which will require an up-front cost of $74,000. Fun trivia: The proposed supplier of the software is none other than Securus Technologies, the same company that supplied the equipment for the jail’s previous regime of video visitation. Versatility!

5. Consider and take appropriate action on an appointment to the Boards of the Strategic Housing Finance Corporation and the Housing Authority of Travis County. (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: Last Tuesday, the Intergovernmental Relations Office revealed that it had not yet received a single application to fill the last remaining opening on the identical boards of HATC and SHFC. But IGR’s Julie Wheeler reassured the Court that it’s not uncommon for applications to come in during the final days, as potential candidates are no doubt spending as much time as they can brushing up those resumes, and so forth. Just how many applications IGR received remains a mystery, but it seems clear from the staff recommendations on this item (which call for two specific actions based on whether it received three or less, or four or more) that the office received at least one.

8. Consider and take appropriate action on the following: a. Valuation Analysis of the 300 Guadalupe site prepared by Alvarez & Marsal with AECOM; and b. Ratification of the Non-Disclosure Agreements received from the Citizens Advisory Committee. (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: One of the big steps towards figuring out how to move forward with a new proposal for a civil courthouse (after voters rejected a plan last November) is seating a new committee of local residents to help steer the process. A big step towards doing that is getting each committee member to sign a nondisclosure agreement in order to protect important real estate secrets that could hurt the county’s negotiating position. Also important in the whole scheme of things is getting a clear picture of exactly how much the downtown site the county had been eyeing for a courthouse is worth. That juicy detail could very well remain secret for now, as Judge Sarah Eckhardt could take this item into closed-door executive session.

24. Approve contract award for the October 2015 Flood Event and Mitigation Study, to Halff Associates, Inc. (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: Out of tragedy comes science. The Court is set to award Halff Associates, Inc., a $176,367 contract to “simulate” the deadly Halloween floods of 2015. The project is aimed at finding out exactly how the unexpected deluge happened in order to, y’know, make sure it doesn’t happen again.

25. Approve contract award for construction of the Travis County New Medical Examiner’s Office Building, CSP No. 1601-006-JZ, to the highest ranked firm, Harvey-Cleary Builders. (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: The new Medical Examiner’s Office building has long been in the works, but its relative lack of controversy has kept it mostly off the public radar. Now, at long last, the Court is set to approve the contract for construction, valued at $25,952,821. The new facility will be located in northeast Austin, while the existing building is the frontrunner to be home to the sobriety center currently being cooked up by both the county and the City of Austin.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Travis County Commissioners Court: The legislative body for Travis County. It includes representatives from the four Travis County Precincts, as well as the County Judge. The County Judge serves as the chair of the Court.

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