Travis County hired consultants to study a possible public-private partnership to build the planned civil and family courthouse.

At its Jan. 3 meeting, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted 3–2 to contract with Ernst & Young LLP for consulting services at a cost of $425,000. Commissioners Karen Huber and Margaret Gomez opposed.

Ernst & Young will act as the county's advisory team for analyzing what is feasible when building the new courthouse, measuring more than 500,000 square feet in size, to be located at 308 Guadalupe St.

According to the Jan. 3 meeting's backup documents, the firm will analyze 21 request for information responses the county received in June and develop concepts and objectives for a public-private partnership, also called a P3.

"The intent of the P3 contracting approach would be to significantly reduce Travis County's cost and to deliver the project more quickly and with quality long-term design, construction, maintenance and/or operations of the new facility," the documents state.

The documents go on to say that a committee of county officials chose Ernst & Young after evaluating 10 firms that responded to a request for services. The committee interviewed the top four contenders and negotiated with the top two, Ernst & Young and KPMG Corporate Finance LLC.

The committee chose Ernst & Young by a 4–2 vote, the backup documents state.

On Jan. 4, Gomez said that while she supports the new courthouse and studying public-private partnerships, she felt she has not received enough information.

"We can have two [court members] go to Brooklyn or California to see how P3 works, but then when they get back, they can't tell a third or fourth person. That's our interpretation of the Open Meetings Act," she said, referring to what constitutes a quorum of commissioners needed to hold a meeting. "That leaves me in a weird predicament. I can't have access to what they've seen or heard."

She said that the court has held a work session on the topic, but that it was insufficient to get the flavor of what a public-private partnership would mean in Austin. She said she has been reading about the topic.

Gomez said an Austin-based or Texas-based company may start with a better understanding of state law and real estate issues; Ernst & Young is incorporated and based out of state.

The commissioner said the county could build the courthouse by itself.

"I think that we have such a good AAA [bond] rating that we could really take care of this issue ourselves," she said. "It's going to be a huge project. With that AAA rating, we can borrow money cheaper than anyone else."

During the same Jan. 3 meeting, Travis County Commissioners Court voted 3–2 to contract with Hawkins, Delafield & Wood LLP for legal services related to the P3 feasibility analysis for $65,000. Huber and Gomez opposed.