Del Valle school board member takes on longtime Travis commissioner

A Del Valle school district board member promising to bring renewed energy will face off against longtime Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gómez in the Democratic primary March 6 to represent southeastern Travis County.

But Susanna Woody faces an uphill battle. Gómez has the name recognition that comes with serving as the Precinct 4 commissioner since 1995. She’s surpassed Woody in fundraising by more than $28,000 and has outspent her by more than $12,000, according to campaign finance filings.

Gómez’s seat is the only contested one among the Commissioners Court positions up for election next year. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Commissioner Brigid Shea did not draw challengers.

With no Republican opponent in November, the winner of the Democratic primary in Precinct 4 will likely take the seat.

Woody said an incumbent’s years of experience are only worth what an officeholder makes of them. She said Gómez has been an ineffective advocate for her constituents and become “complacent.”

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“Precinct 4 has been neglected for a very long time,” Woody said about why she decided to run. “I just felt that we needed active, connected representation to get things done in the area. … She’s had 23 years to get that together.”

Woody, who has been a school board member for about seven years, said she has seen firsthand how issues like lack of access to healthy food affected students but was limited in her role with how she could help.

As a commissioner, Woody said, she could take a more active role in improving life for eastern Travis County residents. Her top concerns, she said, are creating transportation options, increasing health services and eliminating the food desert by bringing more food options to the area.

Woody said she wants to see more and wider roads and better public transit so residents aren’t forced to have to take a toll road or deal with excessive commute times. She said she would work with partners at the city of Austin, Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and other entities to come up with ideas.

Gómez said much of her work is done behind the scenes.

This year, for example, after she and other officials toured Del Valle, she said the county and Central Health, the county’s health care district, came up with an idea to create a Del Valle clinic by lending out the Travis County Employee Healthcare Clinic site on FM 973 for two days a week. The need for health care services in the area has been dire since the abrupt closure of the Del Valle CommUnityCare clinic in May 2016.

“I just don’t think she understands how some of these solutions work,” Gómez said. “They don’t call for press conferences or press releases. They just call for meetings consistently until all the kinks get worked out.”

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She also said the county can’t take the lead on every issue. Health care issues, for example, are primarily the responsibility of Central Health, the county’s health care district. The county oversees that agency’s budget, but aside from that, the commissioners have little say over Central Health’s decision-making.

Gómez cites among her accomplishments the voters’ approval of a $185 million bond package in 2017, with projects primarily benefiting areas east of Interstate 35, as well as funding raised for flood plain improvements using nonvoter- approved certificates of obligation. One of the biggest items in last year’s bond package included $9.5 million to build a four-lane divided road to eventually connect an extended South Pleasant Valley Road from FM 1327 to Bradshaw Road.

Seeing these projects through to completion was a major reason that Gómez decided to run again, she said.

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