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Commissioners delay Central Health appointments

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Travis County Commissioners, after finding out there were almost 40 applicants to choose among, decided Tuesday to bring the two new members of the court into the process to help fill two vacancies on the Central Health board of managers.

Based on the initial schedule proposed by staff, the current commissioners would only have about two weeks to review and vet all the applications, cut the applicant pool down to five or six finalists and conduct interviews before making a final decision. Commissioners said involving the new members in the process would allow a slate of finalists to be ready for the new court in January.

Staff suggested that a work group subcommittee including one commissioner and two staff members go through the applications. There were no immediate volunteers from the commissioners.

“I don’t know how this can be done,” said Commissioner Gerald Daugherty. “I mean, this is like a big list. Thirty-nine people. And there won’t be much Thanksgiving. Whoever signs up for this deal, forget it. There’s no holiday for you.”

Central Health is the Travis County Health Care District, which manages a $192 million budget to provide indigent health care to county residents. Central Health recently completed a long-term agreement with the new Dell Medical School’s  Center’s teaching hospital.

Commissioners must fill two positions on the board that will be vacated at the end of the year. The new appointees will replace board Chair Brenda Coleman-Beattie, whose term is not being renewed, and Treasurer Rebecca Lightsey, who is resigning.

A call for applicants generated 39 candidates by the Nov. 21 deadline. The suggested timeline had the work group complete its review of the applicants by Dec. 9, at which time commissioners would choose a group of five or six finalists to be interviewed Dec. 11. The court members would then make their choice at the Dec. 16 meeting, likely their last of the year.

County Judge Sam Biscoe, whose term ends Dec. 31, said he thought incoming County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Pct. 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea should be brought into the process, even if it is before they are officially sworn in.

“When we moved on this, at that time, our conclusion was that fast action is better than slow action. At the same time, we want to do it right,” Biscoe said. “So if we want to go ahead and make these appointments this year, we have to move quickly. If the preference is for us not to make them, but to wait, I don’t know that we need to do a whole lot of work immediately.”

Several commissioners commented that the list of applicants contained a number of impressive names, which they said would make the choice that much harder.

Biscoe said that if the appointments were not made before the first of the year, he assumed that the departing board members would hold over until appointments were made. That, however, is not assured: Coleman-Beattie’s term was not renewed because of an employment conflict of interest, and Lightsey is resigning with plans to move from the area. Without them, the board would be at only seven or eight members at a time when it is making crucial decisions regarding its future relationship with the Dell Medical School.

Commissioners agreed to consult with Eckhardt and Shea for their preferences and will take up the issue again at their Dec. 2 meeting.

(This story has been corrected to properly identify the Dell Medical School. It was misidentified as the Dell Medical Center.)

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