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Eckhardt plans volunteer job at county

Thursday, May 7, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Despite any confusion caused by the Travis County commissioners’ discussion Tuesday about the position Sarah Eckhardt might take with the county once she resigns next week, Eckhardt made clear Wednesday that she will be doing the job as a volunteer and will not receive a salary. As she told the Austin Monitor via text: “I’m not taking any pay or benefits – zero, nada.” Eckhardt told commissioners in an email Saturday that Chuck Brotherton, the county executive for emergency services, had offered her a position in the Emergency Services Department, “so that we can keep our existing Covid-19 response team together a little while longer. Our team is tremendous and I’d be honored to continue as part of it under Chuck’s leadership. Honestly, I will do this work for the county with or without the position. I’ve discussed it with Judge (Sam) Biscoe and as long as it is his wish and the wish of the Commissioners Court, I will accept the position as a volunteer. If it’s easier for budget and accounting purposes to issue a paycheck, I will donate it back to the general fund, or to a Covid-19 charity of the court’s choosing such as Stand With Austin, All Together ATX or the Capital Area Food Bank.” Things got a little more complicated, however, once Todd Osburn, the county’s compensation manager, got involved. He offered four scenarios, starting with strictly volunteer work with no wages or health insurance. The other three options included payment that would be donated to charity, but were more complicated. Eckhardt again expressed her preference for the volunteer with no pay option. But Brotherton told commissioners he would prefer to hire Eckhardt “into a full-time position that I currently have vacant in emergency services.” That opened a new controversy because of the current hiring freeze. If she is a volunteer, the county can avoid that controversy. Eckhardt is expected to officially step down from her position as county judge on May 12 and file to run for the state Senate seat being vacated by Kirk Watson on May 13. While it’s not exactly clear what her new title at the county might be, it is clear that she will not be getting a salary. Commissioners went into executive session to discuss the matter.

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