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City, county extend Dr. Mark Escott's appointment as interim health authority, an unpaid position
(Travis County)

Dr. Mark Escott has served an interim health authority for the city of Austin and Travis County since last October; count commissioners voted to extend his appointment through March on Tuesday.

Travis County commissioners voted unanimously to extend the appointment of Dr. Mark Escott as the local interim health authority, an unpaid position, through March. Austin City Council voted to approve the extension as part of their consent agenda last week.


Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring, Escott said his commitment as interim health authority runs 60 to 80 hours a week, time for which he is not compensated.

"I don't receive any pay for my duties as health authority," he told commissioners.

Escott has been serving in the role since last October while Austin Public Health continues its third search for a permanent appointee. He told commissioners that APH has contracted with a national search firm to find his replacement and that the next round of interviews is scheduled for October.

Commissioner Brigid Shea was surprised to learn that the local health authority position is unpaid.

"That's not acceptable to me," she said, suggesting that the city consider allocating federal coronavirus relief funding to compensate Escott.

When asked what factors may be hampering the search, Escott pointed to the limited number of individuals who have both executive and public health experience, the ongoing pandemic and the limited salary available for the position.

"This is a challenge for recruiting all public health positions," Escott said. "Public health is underfunded, and if we want to hire the best and the brightest we're going to have to have discussions about how to recruit them and how to fund them."

At the same meeting, Escott told commissioners that public health departments in the U.S. were not ready for the pandemic—relying on outdated technology like fax machines—due to decades of underfunding.

"I think we have to learn a lesson," he said. "We have learned that we have to invest in public health, we have to invest in infrastructure, we have to invest in data systems so that we can handle these kinds of events. We were certainly unprepared."

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A big announcement from Austonia

Howdy, and happy holidays.

I have some big news for you.

Austonia is now part of 6AM City, a fast-growing network of hyper-local newsletters across the country.

I’m proud to be telling you this, because 6AM City’s mission is very much like Austonia’s — a daily morning update on events, things-to-do and news, with an underlying mission of community building in the cities they serve.

If you’re not already subscribed, 6AM City’s Austin newsletter is called ATXtoday. One of its city editors is Laura Figi, who you’ll remember for her previous great work on Austonia’s newsletter.

I’ve been reading ATXtoday every day since it launched last year.

Starting this week, you’ll receive ATXtoday every morning and I’m confident it will become part of your daily wake up routine. Be sure to add hello@theatxtoday.com to your contact list (how to do that here).

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Tito's releases (not so?) ugly sweater line for the holidays, profits to charity

Tito's Handmade Vodka

Show your love for Tito's and for the community this year with a wide selection of not that ugly, uglyish, ugly, uglier, and ugliest holiday sweaters.

There's lots choose from, and plenty of accessories like scarves and socks, plus gear for your dog, too.

All of the items can be purchased online or at the Love, Tito’s Retail Store in Austin, TX. 100% of all net proceeds from online or in-store purchases go to one of the nonprofits we’ve teamed up with.

Click here to see the entire collection in the Tito's store.