Travis County commissioners, staff discuss hiring County Judge Sarah Eckhardt as deputy emergency coordinator when she departs current role

A screen shot of Sarah Eckhardt at a Travis County Commissioners Court Meeting
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt will officially hand the reins to interim replacement Sam Biscoe May 13. (Courtesy Travis County)

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt will officially hand the reins to interim replacement Sam Biscoe May 13. (Courtesy Travis County)

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt is slated to officially step down May 13, handing the reins to her interim replacement, former Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe. However, a proposed plan is in place to rehire Eckhardt in an advisory role on matters related to the coronavirus. If approved by commissioners at a May 12 meeting, Eckhardt will be hired as a deputy emergency management coordinator, reporting to Travis County Executive Charles Brotherton and directly assisting Biscoe on matters related to COVID-19.

Eckhardt, who announced her pending resignation March 10 with plans to run for the seat of state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, was initially expected to step down as county judge March 23, but developments with the coronavirus and a delay of the special election for Watson’s seat caused Biscoe and Eckhardt to agree on an altered timeline. May 13 was chosen as day of transition because it is the last day for Eckhardt to formally file for state Senate candidacy.

“I, for one, am glad that we’ve had this longer period to hand off the baton,” Commissioner Brigid Shea said at the court’s May 5 meeting. “It’s like a relay race, and you want to have a good run-up to let the next runner get up to speed.”

According to multiple commissioners, Eckhardt expressed willingness to return in a volunteer capacity to help advise Biscoe in coronavirus matters. However, Brotherton said he preferred Eckhardt be formally employed by the county.

“I see that there’s value in actually hiring her and establishing an employee-employer relationship for all of the things that such an arrangement brings: legal obligations, duties, confidentialities, immunities and so forth. I think that doing this ‘on the books,’ so to speak, even at a nominal sum—for a dollar a year, or nothing except for the health benefits that might be associated with the full-time position—I think that there’s value in doing that,” Brotherton said.

Brotherton said Eckhardt would start the new position May 13, the same day Biscoe is scheduled to be sworn in as her replacement on the court. She would continue as deputy emergency management coordinator until Travis County rescinds its standing emergency order related to the coronavirus.

Because Travis County instituted a hiring freeze April 15, Eckhardt’s hire would likely be considered a special circumstance as an essential position to manage coronavirus response. She would not be the first exception to the county’s hiring freeze; commissioners voted May 5 to approve a limited round of hires.
By Olivia Aldridge

Multi-Platform Journalist

Olivia hosts and produces Community Impact Newspaper's podcasts, The Austin Breakdown, The Houston Breakdown and The DFW Breakdown. She launched the podcasts after nearly three years as a reporter for the newspaper, covering public health, business, development and Travis County government for the Central Austin edition. Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas.