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Council approves one pick for Central Health board, delays another

The Austin City Council has filled one of two vacant seats on the Central Health Board of Managers, while the other appointment remains in limbo due to some council members’ concerns about a potential conflict of interest.

The seats became open when Central Health board member Rosie Mendoza’s term ended in December 2016 and board member Richard Yuen resigned this month.

Council voted unanimously and without discussion Thursday to appoint Maram Museitif, a health care and public health consultant.

Museitif, who is also chair of legislative policy and advocacy for the Texas Public Health Association and president of the Health Champions program at Central Health, later thanked the council.

“Austin is dear to my heart, and I will work tirelessly to improve the health and well-being of our community and reach out to the underserved,” Museitif said. She later added in an interview that she was also excited about the opportunity as someone of the Muslim faith to bring greater representation to the board.

The discussion and public comment on Thursday centered on nominee Julie Oliver, division controller at St. David’s HealthCare. After some debate, a decision on her was postponed until June 15.

Council members and others in the community have raised concerns that Oliver’s position might pose a conflict of interest, as St. David’s is a competitor of Seton Healthcare Family, which partners with Central Health.

In a work session Tuesday, Council Member Ann Kitchen said she was “perfectly comfortable” so long as Oliver recused herself from votes that pertained to the area of conflict.

But Council Member Leslie Pool said she was concerned about how frequently Oliver might have to recuse herself.

Oliver, who has an accounting and law degree, made the case before the council Thursday that transparency and accountability were high priorities for her.

“Of course, I would recuse myself from any discussions, any votes that would have any potential implications for St. David’s HealthCare Partnership,” Oliver said.

Oliver added that she would not do things to purposefully to harm Seton’s financial interests.

“There are times where you do the right thing because you have a bigger picture of something,” Oliver said, “and that, for me, is the community of Austin.”

Five people spoke at the meeting against Oliver’s appointment, mainly advocating for a more diverse candidate.

About 58 percent of Travis County’s uninsured population is Hispanic or Latino, according to census data. Frank Ortega, member of the local League of United Latin American Citizen’s Council #650, noted just two Central Health board members are Hispanic.

“City appointees to the Board of Managers should be reflective of the population that it serves,” Ortega said.

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