- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A move to allow a retired district judge to continue to work for Travis County after a bond election defeated a proposed new courthouse that he advocated for has drawn criticism.

The Austin American-Statesman (https://atxne.ws/1LOUEM5 ) reports that county commissioners approved a no-bid contract with recently retired District Judge John Dietz, who retired in 2014, to help guide a proposed civil courthouse’s design.

Two weeks after the election, administrative Judge Lora Livingston sent a memo to county purchasing agent Cyd Grimes requesting a new task be added to Dietz’s contract to help the courts with business practices.

Dietz says his he will be helping the courts reorganize their business processes to “cope with reality” at the current facility, the overcrowded Heman Sweatt Travis County Courthouse, and helping the county find a new strategy for building a new facility.

Bill Worsham, director of the Travis County Taxpayers Union, said keeping the former judge on the payroll symbolizes why he thinks the proposed courthouse failed in the first place. Worsham said county insiders, not taxpayers were in charge of the process.

Commissioner Margaret Gomez, who voted against the original contract, said the county should apply its “key persons” list, which prevents people who help the county develop a proposal from winning the contract for that project, to all courthouse-related items, not just the main construction contract.

“Normally you have a revolving door policy on expenditures, and key persons would not get contracts and would not play a role,” she said.

Dietz said he does not know how much he will work, but does not expect to max out his contract.

“It was my expectation that I was going to be working on helping with the design and the construction of the courthouse. The fact that it failed presented a new set of circumstances,” he said.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said he is uncomfortable with the county spending money on Dietz’s contract, or any item related to the courthouse, until the commissioners set a clear path for the project.

Dietz said his contract doesn’t cost the taxpayers extra because his rate of $84 per hour is what it would cost the courts to hire a visiting judge if one of them took time off from the bench to work on the courthouse.


Information from: Austin American-Statesman, https://www.statesman.com

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