Monday, November 08, 2004

Nuther Item On the Jail from Judge Biscoe

One more housekeeping item regarding officials' desire to expand the Travis County Jail. See Grits initial discussion of this topic, County Judge Sam Biscoe's response, and then my followup column. Toward the end of last week, Judge Biscoe forwarded an additional clarification of his position regarding the citizens advisory committee that will analyze the proposals, and I responded, but forgot to post them. Find both notes below.

From Judge Biscoe:

For the record, Travis County has used citizens advisory committees  in anticipation of seeking voter approval of bond issues.  Citizens have periodically assisted with the selection of roads, parks, buildings and jail construction projects to put on bond issues for at least two dedades.  More than anything, citizens are able to help us pare down and priotize lists of projects.  Typically, the county advises the committee of outstanding debt capacity and possible projects, and  committee members recommend what projects to pursue.  Last time, the Commissioners Court decided to go to voters with an issue about $100 milion smaller than the one recommended by the committee.  Our policy is to complete the approved projects within five years.  Therefore, we have been appointing a new advisory committees every four to five years.

In my view, this is a time-tested way to obtain citizen input up front. The Commissioners Court retains ultimate responsibility for the projects.
To these comments, I replied thusly:


With all due respect, in my experience these panels are 1) handpicked with a purpose, and 2) their outcomes are circumscribed and defined by the issues and proposals given to them at their outset. Such recommendations inevitably take on a life of their own, and later become justification in and of themselves for action -- self fulfilling prophecies like the SH-130 deal. Even your comments argued that a past decision was conservative because you didn't issue as much debt as an advisory committee recommended. That's why I think its existence provides cover and perhaps diminishes accountability.

On the advisory commission, perhaps we can agree to disagree; I know that's a common, traditional method, and not just your doing. On the issue of alternatives to incarceration, though, I know you and I share some of the same goals. I hope the court will try some of the proposals in my blog this morning before pressing for more debt. Or at least do both at once.

Best regards,
Scott Henson

I think it's really cool that Judge Biscoe has discussed this issue openly with the blogosphere, even where he and I may disagree. It shows a certain level of respect for one's constituents, and you've gotta like that. I haven't heard back from any of the other county commissioners, including my own representative Ron Davis, but rest assured Grits will continue to monitor the issue as it progresses toward a possible November 2005 bond election.

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