Travis County commissioners vote to renew Southwest Key contract

Southwest Key will provide prevention and intervention services for at-risk children in Travis County for another year after commissioners Tuesday unanimously renewed the controversial, Austin-based nonprofit’s contract.

Activists have been calling on the county to cut ties with the nonprofit, which has gained national attention for its work with immigrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border and as a result of reports of allegations of abuse and mistreatment at its shelters. No activists spoke at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting, where more than two dozen Southwest Key employees and clients were present, and half a dozen spoke.

Travis County has six active contracts totaling about $1.5 million with Southwest Key to handle various juvenile programs, including a supervision program for children released from detention pending court hearings; a mentoring program for children on probation; and an alternative education program for children expelled from school. The contracts are renewed annually.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said that while the court is concerned about the family separation program and Southwest Key CEO Juan Sanchez’s widely criticized, large compensation package of $1.5 million, they are not concerned about county programs based on what they’ve heard from judges and the juvenile probation and purchasing departments.

“We often talk about this: that it’s not enough to look good, you have to actually do good, too,” Eckhardt said. “This may be a circumstance where extending these contracts doesn’t look good, but it actually does good.”

The item Tuesday covered just one contract for the county’s prevention and intervention services program. Purchasing agent Bonnie Floyd said the others will come up later this year.

The court’s vote upheld a recommendation approved Thursday by the county’s juvenile board, which is made up of state District Court judges, judges of all juvenile courts and the county judge.

In a letter Monday, board chair and 98th District Judge Rhonda Hurley implored the Commissioners Court to renew all Southwest Key contracts and emphasized that none is for residential services. Some of the programs have been in place since the 1990s, Hurley said, and have had “very few, if any, performance concerns.”

“Failure to renew and fund these programs would be a huge disservice to the children and families of Travis County involved in the juvenile justice system,” Hurley wrote. “Although no concerns currently exist about these contracts, Juvenile Probation will continue to use due diligence to determine whether other service providers exist.”

State grant money from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department covers about $624,000 of the county’s Southwest Key programs and about an additional $835,000 comes from the county.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Community news: Council candidate forums Thursday night

TRAVIS COUNTY EAST AUSTIN Council candidate forums Thursday The city of Austin, in partnership with the city’s Ethics Review Commission and the League of Women Voters - Austin Area, is conducting a series of City Council candidate forums for the November municipal election. The next forums will be Thursday at the South Austin Senior Activity...
Austin man accused of threatening Taylor Swift was Eanes ISD bus driver, district says
Austin man accused of threatening Taylor Swift was Eanes ISD bus driver, district says

An Austin man accused of writing threatening letters to pop star Taylor Swift was working as a bus driver in the Eanes school district as recently as this year and in 2012, district officials said in a letter to parents and staff. Eric Swarbrick, 26, was charged on Sept. 20 with interstate stalking and instate communications with the intent to threaten...
Average Travis County tax bill to go up by $32 under new budget
Average Travis County tax bill to go up by $32 under new budget

The average homeowner will pay about $32 more to Travis County than last year after county commissioners on Tuesday approved a $1.09 billion budget and a tax rate of 35.42 cents per $100 of taxable value. While the county’s tax rate is lower than last year’s rate of 36.90 cents, it’s higher than the 34.12-cent tax rate that the county...
Cody Wilson replaced as director of 3D-printed gun company Defense Distributed 
Cody Wilson replaced as director of 3D-printed gun company Defense Distributed 

11 a.m. update: Cody Wilson has quit as CEO of the 3D-printed gun company Defense Distributed after recent sexual assault charges filed against him. During a news conference on Tuesday, Paloma Heindorff, the company’s vice president of operations, said Wilson tendered his resignation on Friday evening, and that he will have no role in the company...
‘Ben is Back,’ ‘Widows,” ‘Green Book’ to play Austin Film Festival
‘Ben is Back,’ ‘Widows,” ‘Green Book’ to play Austin Film Festival

Julia Roberts! Mahershala Ali! Mickey Rourke! Carey Mulligan! And Willie Nelson! No, it’s not the cast of the New New New Hollywood Squares (“I’ll take the Red Headed Stranger to block”). These are just a few of the stars in movies playing this year’s Austin Film Festival, which announced its full slate Tuesday. Here are...
More Stories