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City Manager Garza shakes up top management with reassignments

Wednesday, February 9, 2000 by

New deputy city manager's slot with be rotated annually among assistants

City Manager Jesus Garza is playing musical chairs with his top executives, a move that at least two City Council members believe is well founded. In a Feb. 4 memo to mayor and council members, Garza outlined the new organizational structure that includes a new deputy city manager's position to be rotated annually among assistant city managers, reassignment of responsibilities among assistant city managers, and creation of a vacant assistant city manager's slot that Council Member Gus Garcia says the manager may try to fill with an Asian American. The changes will take effect Feb. 28. Garza's memo says an executive search firm will be hired to find the assistant city manager and will consider the city's affirmative action representation goals.

Garza will directly oversee Strategic Services, consisting of Austin Energy General Manager Chuck Manning and Financial Services Director Emeritus Betty Dunkerley. Comptroller John Stephens becomes the new financial services director. Garza will also directly oversee Support Services, consisting of Law, Financial Services, Public Information and Human Resources.

Chief of Staff Joe Canales will oversee Small and Minority Business Resources, Intergovernmental Relations and Information Systems.

Assistant City Manager Toby Futrell will be the first deputy city manager and oversee Operational Services functions with the help of four assistant city managers, as follows:

• CIP Management Services– Marcia Conner will oversee Public Works, Information Support Services, Water and Wastewater, Watershed Protection, Development Review and Inspection, and Solid Waste Services.

• Protective Services–The vacant assistant city manager's position will oversee the Office of Emergency Management, Police, Fire, EMS, and Community Court.

• Community Services–Betty Dunkerley as interim assistant city manager will oversee Health and Human Services, Parks and Recreation, Neighborhood Services, Library, and Neighborhood Housing.

• Economic Development– Jim Smith will oversee the Convention Center; Aviation; Planning, Conservation and Environmental Services; Redevelopment Services; and the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Another key change is to reassign the Records Management staff from the Library to the City Clerk Shirley Brown's office. This move is in keeping with a recently completed management study of the City Clerk's office conducted by Austin-based MGT of America Inc.

While some environmentalists and neighborhood leaders were fearful that the management shakeup might derail major initiatives such as Smart Growth, the Bradley Settlement and work to find a place for Intel Corp. within the Desired Development Zone, Council Members Garcia and Daryl Slusher both were generally in favor of the initiative. Garza avoided the mistake he made in 1998 when he unilaterally took over Austin Energy without first notifying council members; while that was his prerogative under the City Charter, he ruffled the council's feelings and then requested an executive session so he could explain himself. (See In Fact No. 162 of September 1998 and In Fact No. 164 of October 1998.) This time Garza individually briefed council members and then sent them a memo more than three weeks before the changes were to take effect. Garcia and Slusher said they were briefed about two weeks ago.

"Obviously it's within the manager's purview so I'll support him in it," Slusher told In Fact Daily. "But we've made a lot of progress in the departments Toby (Futrell) oversees and I don't want to see any backsliding…We will continue to expect high performance."

Garcia said the changes in staff were consistent with requests made by the council during the city manager's evaluation. "The city manager's been a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of guy," Garcia said. "I've told him he needs to get out into the community more and see the big, big picture in a big, big city." Garcia said it was important that Garza get out and look at the big picture and then give management the direction it needs.

Asked if the rotation of top managers would hurt ongoing efforts such as Smart Growth, which Futrell has overseen, Garcia was adamant it would not. "There's a lot of others in the department who do a lot of work," he said. "She'll be the deputy city manager so it will give her a better position to look at those things."

Garcia himself has made a point of including Asian Americans by taking the lead in appointing the first one to the Planning Commission, even at the expense of causing a breach with Mexican Americans, who were temporarily excluded until Mayor Kirk Watson repaired the situation. Garcia's in favor of selecting an Asian American to fill the vacant assistant city manager's slot created by the reorganization. "If we're committed to a diverse workforce, the Asians are here," Garcia said. "He has one empty slot so he has a chance to do that, although he may not find one."

Noting the recent finding by Syracuse University that Austin was the second-best-managed city in the country, Slusher said, "We want to be the No. 1 managed city."

Planning Commission okays money for East Austin warehouse but not city use

Decision on zoning and conditional use permit postponed till Feb. 29

So contentious are the neighborhood concerns over the city's purchase and use of the property and warehouse at 411 Chicon St. that the Planning Commission first spent 45 minutes last night debating whether it should postpone the matter, and later took up at 11 p.m. the matter of funding and debated that for another 35 minutes. The property, owned by Brown Distributing Co., is the site of a warehouse. As reported by In Fact Daily Feb. 2, the city intends to purchase the property and use it to house the Building Services Division, as a base of operations for work on facilities all over town.

The three items on the Planning Commission agenda concerning the property were: approval of a conditional use permit, a zoning change from LI (limited industrial services) to P (public), and an amendment to the capital budget of the Public Works and Transportation Department to transfer and appropriate $1.515 million from the CIP Contingency Project to the Building Maintenance Facility project account. Neighborhood representatives had requested that all three items be postponed, as multiple city meetings were being held last night that involved the neighborhood.

Commissioner Susana Almanza, executive director of PODER ( People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources), argued that the commission's policy is to automatically grant the first postponement requested by either the applicant or neighborhood, and it would treating East Austin differently than other neighborhoods if the request were not granted. Commissioner Gwen Webb supported postponement. She said the City of Austin had no less than five meetings going on last night of interest to the neighborhood. "It's unreasonable for this one group of people to be pressed so thin in participating in the process," she said.

Commissioner Jean Mather was concerned that delay would cost the city more money. Commissioner Betty Baker argued the purchase of the property should not be held up, because the city had paid $100,000 in nonrefundable earnest money and was paying $25,000 a month to lease the property.

City Finance Director John Stephens said the property purchase was scheduled to close by April 30. He said the purchase contract was not contingent upon approval of the conditional use permit.

After 45 minutes of wrangling, with several motions flying and failing to pass, the commission voted 6-2-1 with Chair Art Navarro and Almanza voting no and Baker off the dais to postpone consideration of the conditional use permit and zoning until Feb. 29, and take up the matter of funding later in the meeting.

When the funding issue was taken up at 11 p.m., Stephens said the change in property use by the Building Services Division would be significant. Brown Distributing had 310 employees in a facility that operated 24 hours a day, while Building Services would have 110 employees, no more than half in the facility at any one time, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. About 27 Building Services employees live in the immediate neighborhood, he said. Vehicle trips would be about 400 a day, a third of Brown Distributing's, with no heavy trucks. He said the immediate benefit of city ownership would be to eliminate limited industrial zoning, provide more accountability to the neighborhood, and prevent any lease to a high-impact user. Stephens said the city had agreed to eliminate the razor wire, prohibit employee parking on 4th Street, dictate routes for employees to use, install landscaping, install sidewalks on 4th Street, and significantly reduce hours of operation. The city would participate in neighborhood planning and agree that any change in use would trigger a conditional-use process.

Betty Dunkerley, finance director emeritus, said if the council desired it could purchase the property for another purpose and instruct city staff to identify other sources of funding besides the bond money reserved for the Building Services Division. Junie Plummer of the Real Estate Services Division tells In Fact Daily the total purchase price for the property is $2.6 million. Earnest money of $100,000 has been paid and it's nonrefundable. The city has $985,000 in bond money designated for the Building Services Division's new home and proposes to pay the remaining $1.515 million from the 1999-2000 capital improvement project contingency account.

Ray Ramirez spoke highly of Brown Distributing and advocated appropriating money for the purchase. Gavino Fernandez Jr. of El Concilio, who lives across the street from the property, argued for postponement so neighbors could be informed and participate in the decision. He said Capital Metro's facility next to a neighborhood is "not Smart Growth, and the city is doing it over and over again." Will Bozeman, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, supported the request for postponement.

Almanza's motion to postpone failed for lack of a second. Commissioner Ray Vrudhula's motion to appropriate $1.515 million but delete the language that tied funding to the property's use by the Building Services Division passed on a vote of 6-1 with Almanza opposed and Commissioners Webb and Ben Heimsath absent.

Alvarez kicks off campaign with announcement at Plaza Saltillo

Some 50 cheering supporters urge candidate's victory

The place that Council Member Gus Garcia did so much to get built was the spot Raul Alvarez chose to announce his bid to fill the council seat Garcia is leaving after nine years. The weather was picture perfect and the crowd of some 50 supporters was loud and enthusiastic as they gathered around the candidate at Plaza Saltillo at East 5th and Comal Streets. Alvarez played up the Plaza's symbolism. "This place is located at the crossroads of Austin's past and Austin's future," he said. Referring to the 5th Street railroad tracks that once carried freight and are now slated to carry light rail cars, Alvarez portrayed the Plaza as a place where "transportation of the past meets the transportation of the future." A place where "ad hoc planning would be replaced by neighborhood planning, to meet the needs of a growing population that's suffering."

The candidate noted that Plaza Saltillo was built to be an intermodal transit station and was on the route of the Crosstown Bikeway (which recently gained approval for $1.97 million in federal funding). "I'm very excited about making transportation alternatives more viable," said Alvarez, who noted his background in transportation planning for People Organized in Defense of the Earth and her Resources, as a member of the Mayor's Task Force on Mobility, as a board member of the nonprofit Trans Texas Alliance, which works on transportation issues statewide, and as a member of the group that put together the Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan, which encompasses Plaza Saltillo. He said the development of mixed uses centered on light rail would be more compatible than industrial uses but light rail must be sensitive to neighborhood concerns.

"If the market decides who gets served, low-income people will be left out in the cold," Alvarez said. "We need a strong leader like myself."

Alvarez said these issues were not specific to this neighborhood but were common in all neighborhoods. "I feel we need more sensitivity to neighborhood concerns at City Hall," he said. "I will work tirelessly to find solutions to these problems." Alvarez would advocate hiring a neighborhood ombudsman to assist neighborhoods and report directly to the City Council–not the city manager– and providing earlier public notices on zoning cases, in a format that's easier to understand. He would support neighborhood planning "and adhere to plans adopted."

He said three priority efforts for his work on the council are to improve transportation, support youth and families, and support neighborhoods.

To cope with the projected high gains in population over the next 20 years, Alvarez said the city needs to work on all modes of transportation, and work with employers on ride sharing, staggered hours and telecommuting. He would identify "traffic hot spots" and create a program for school children to have safe routes to schools.

On the environmental front, Alvarez would strive to continue cleaning up pollution of the East Austin gasoline tank farm, push to be sure BFI's recycling facility is removed as planned, and replace the electrical generation capacity so that Holly Power Plant can be taken off-line.

"We need leaders on the council to build partnerships to meet needs the city cannot meet on its own," Alvarez said. "I have the work ethic and vision to accomplish that."

Calling his campaign "serious," Alvarez introduced his campaign staff, including campaign manager Matt Watson, consultants Mike Blizzard and Richard Fawal, and the most recent addition, Joseph A. Martinez, who is overseeing the effort to carry the campaign in the Latino community. Martinez is a state lobbyist for nonprofit organizations and was recently appointed to the Electric Utility Commission by Council Member Garcia.

Enforced rest period…Because of staff relocations as people are moved out of the City Hall Annex (previously reported by In Fact Daily), the Planning Commission will not meet again until Feb. 28… South Park delayed…The Planning Commission last night voted 8-0 to delay action until March 7 on a conditional use permit and site plan for South Park Meadows Amphitheater Improvements. The delay was requested by neighbors and South Austin activist Betty Edgemond, over the strong objections of attorney Richard Suttle of Armbrust Brown & Davis. Suttle said he was confident whatever decision the commission made would be appealed to the City Council, taking another 30-45 days, delaying construction and missing the concert season, giving the edge to a competing venue in San Antonio. Edgemond reminded the commission that concerts can be held there now, and joked she didn't care about San Antonio, and drew laughs when she added that her jurisdiction "cut off at New Braunfels."… Feedback provided…During Citizens Communications to the Planning Commission, Jose Quintero got carried away last night and raised his voice several times while talking about his dismay over the economic impact of industrial zoning in East Austin that prevented homeowners from getting loans to improve their property. When Commissioner Robin Cravey said afterwards, "I don't appreciate being yelled at," Quintero, who was headed out the door, yelled over his shoulder, "I'm not yelling at you."… Loophole spotter…Last night Mary Arnold told the Planning Commission there is a loophole in the site review planning process, in that after an extension is granted by the commission, an applicant can withdraw the application and later resubmit the application, restarting the clock. Asked how many were taking advantage of this loophole, Arnold said, "probably lots of them."… No change…After holding an executive session last night, the Planning Commission declined to reconsider its previous approval on Jan. 25 of the Canyon Rim Subdivision, located at West Rim Drive and Burney Drive in the Bull Creek Watershed. Thus, the approval stands… Fowler brothers delayed again…After 50 minutes of testimony and debate last night, the Planning Commission voted 8-0 to postpone until Feb. 29 a decision on zoning for 6900 Greenshores Road for property owned by Marion Dudley Fowler, Bradley A. Fowler and Robert Penn Fowler. This will give the applicants time to decide if they wish to agree to limited purpose annexation so the city can more directly control an adjacent tract of some 160 acres where the Fowlers want to develop a 350-unit condominium project… Historic compromise…The Planning Commission voted 6-2 last night ( Chair Art Navarro and Commissioner Betty Baker opposed, and Commissioner Gwen Webb absent) to approve an alternate recommendation concerning the Cater Joseph House at 2824 Rio Grande. The motion granted MF-4-H zoning only to the main house with a 10 foot buffers to the west (rear) and south. Removal of the house in the rear at 703 W. 28-1/2 St. would be allowed. This position was accepted by the neighborhood in a dispute resolution process… No acton on ordinances…The Planning Commission last night voted to postpone 11 public hearings on various ordinance changes, most related to Smart Growth, and still didn't finish the meeting till 'round midnight.

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