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Escott told commissioners that public health departments in the U.S. were not ready for the pandemic—relying on outdated technology like fax machines—due to decades of underfunding.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 shocking report Friday from Sam Khan Jr. at The Athletic (paywall), based on Freedom of Information Act requests filed with the University of Texas at Austin, documented a $280,000 football recruiting weekend for nine players, including NFL quarterback royal family scion Arch Manning. Of the nine prized potential recruits, five, including Manning, have committed to the Longhorns.
The next weekend, The Athletic reports, UT spent another $350,00 on 14 more recruits, for a total of $630,000.
Here's where the money went for weekend one. This is a partial list of expenses, totaling $221,808. The Athletic reported that the entire weekend cost "nearly $280,000."
- $21,000 airfare, car service, other travel expenses.
- $1,814 candy, cookies, and other snacks for recruits and family members.
- $46,696 34 rooms at the Four Season, for recruits, family members, and selected UT coaches and staff.
- $17,320 Friday lunch buffet.
- $3,359 rented audio system for afternoon Instagram photoshoots.
- $29,129 Friday dinner buffet at DKR club area for 100+ people: recruits/families, coaches/spouses, recruiters.
- $11,880 J.W. Marriott pool bar tab for Friday night parent social, while recruits "hit the town."
- $10,226 Saturday breakfast at the UT Club.
- $9,498 Saturday afternoon parent social while recruits were at Top Golf.
- $36,900 Saturday dinner at III Forks steakhouse
- $2,357 sunset cruise on Lady Bird Lake
- $31,629 Saturday night parent social at the W Austin hotel.
- ? Sunday breakfast at the Sarkisians' Rollingwood home.
The result? After what one recruit parent described as a "five-star visit," Texas sits with the nation's #2 recruiting class, according to 247Sports Composite, with Alabama at #1.
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