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Max Woodfin, executive director of Earthshare of Texas, retired from his volunteer post as chair of the city’s Resource Management Commission last month. Woodfin, who served 13 years on the commission, said he’s enjoyed “having more direct access to the machinations of the conservation bureaucracy than I would have had, had I not been on the commission. It’s been, first of all, an incredible education for me…(like) a slow-moving melodrama. For someone who has an amateur interest in politics, the structure of bureaucracies, and conservation, it’s just been a wonderful ride.” The commission’s job is advising the City Council on water and energy conservation, alternative energy technologies, and renewable energy sources.

Monday, July 24, 2000 by

Woodfin says former Council Member George Humphrey“talked me into it (serving on the commission) in 1986, when I was at the Texas Water Commission. George took me to lunch and told me about this great commission.” The group had plenty of expertise in the energy conservation area, Humphrey said, but needed Woodfin’s knowledge about water.

“When I started on the commission, Austin was already known as somewhat of a pioneer in energy conservation and sustainable building. At that time, it was just beginning to develop a reputation in water conservation, and that was forced because during the mid-80s our treatment plants–for both wastewater and water–were way under capacity for the booming population…and the distribution system was pretty lousy. So the city, wisely, decided that water conservation was one way to tackle that situation. From that beginning, Austin is recognized as having one of the best city water conservation programs in the country,” he said.

At first, he said, water conservation was basically a public relations campaign. “With the knowledge that national plumbing codes were about to be reviewed, reducing flow requirements for toilets and shower heads, and introducing aerators on faucets, the City of Austin, probably as intelligently as any city in the country, (began to) build a conservation program.” But Woodfin remembers, “Things that were considered literally threats to people’s lifestyles, like low-flush commodes, have been fairly universally accepted. There are still people who complain about them. But I remember when the codes changed and the city started giving away these devices, there were people– including city officials– who just thought these were horrible and could not see the benefit of using structural devices to conserve water.”

Woodfin, a graduate of Southern Methodist University, began his career as a journalist at the Fort Worth Press, which folded, sending Woodfin to Colorado and the Rocky Mountain News. After five years in Colorado, Woodfin and his wife, Shelia, moved back to their home state, Arkansas, though not for long.

“While we were in Arkansas, we drove around the country. And just like half a million other people decided Austin was where we wanted to live.” The Woodfins moved to Austin in 1982 and he joined the Austin American-Statesman as an environmental reporter. Three years later, he became assistant executive director of the Texas Water Commission. From there, Woodfin moved to the Texas Department of Agriculture under Jim Hightower, where he “helped manage pesticide, pest management and consumer programs.” In 1990, when Hightower was defeated, Woodfin became a free-lance writer.

His primary client was former U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan. "I was her speechwriter. I’ve never worked for anyone who praised my work more or made me feel more appreciated. And from what I can tell, that was the way she treated everyone around her.”

During 1995, “I was writing speeches for her. I was also a volunteer on the Austin Citizens Bond Committee,” Woodfin recalls. “There were a couple of stories in the Statesman or the Chronicle about some pretty crucial votes that the committee was taking. And, as usual, Gavino Fernandez (of El Concilio) and I were a minority of two, trying to get more money for inner city schools and less money for building schools over the aquifer. And a couple of the meetings were truly unpleasant…personal insults were thrown around.

“So the next time that Barbara Jordan called me to talk about a speech, she said, ‘Oh, by the way, I greatly appreciate what you’re doing on the bond committee. And, ‘Don’t let those right-wing bastards get you down.’ I had no idea that she was even aware that I was even on the committee.” Jordan taught at the University of Texas until her death in 1996.

In May 1997, Woodfin took over as executive director of Earthshare of Texas, which raises money for 72 environmental organizations, primarily through payroll deduction. “We represent everything from local organizations, such as the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, Tree Folks, the Protect Lake Travis Association and the Save Barton Creek Association, to statewide organizations, such as the Recycling Coalition of Texas,” Woodfin said. In addition, the organization collects donations for national organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy and the National Audubon Society, as well as international organizations, such as World Wildlife Fund.

“Contributors have the ultimate vote” over how their money is allocated, Woodfin said. “Unlike some other federated organizations, we encourage people to tell us how they want their money spent. If people decide they just want to give to environmental work generally, we divide it evenly.” However, Woodfin says there is no committee within the organization that makes decisions about which organizations get the most funding. “We leave that decision to the donor.”

Woodfin says there are no other organizations that do what Earthshare does in the environmental world.

Earthshare of Texas was started in 1992 and has had a remarkable growth pattern since Woodfin joined the organization. “In 1996, the organization raised $273,000. In 1997, we raised $489,000. In 1998, we raised $614,000. Last year, we raised $730,000—so we’ve almost tripled in size,” he said.

Woodfin modestly declines to say this is his doing, saying, “It’s a great tribute to an incredible set of organizations and to people becoming more aware that they can contribute to environmental groups through payroll deduction.”

“Almost all public employees in Central Texas have the option of giving to us. Our private employers include everybody from Planet K on the small end to Dell on the large end.” Recently, he said, “ American Airlines announced they are opening their campaign to our organization– and in Texas that’s 130,000 employees. The hard part—the real work part—is that we have conversations going with more than 200 organizations right now trying to get them to open up their payroll deduction campaigns to us.”

Earthshare of Texas has only two fulltime staff people. The group has one part-time person in Houston and a part- time person in Austin, Woodfin said.

According to Woodfin, “The best way to open these campaigns is for our board members, or the board members of our member organizations, to get me in the door so that I can present the professional package. We go in and tell folks how easy it is and how much their employees enjoy having more choice.”

Asked about the biggest obstacle to Earthshare becoming as big as United Way, Woodfin answered, “United Way. They, for almost a hundred years, had a virtual monopoly. We have nothing against United Way. The organizations they fund do wonderful work. I personally contribute to many of them, but they don’t …fund any environmental organizations. It’s hard for people to understand that by adding environmental choice they’re not hurting United Way…(But) by adding our organizations, they are tapping new donors, people who’ve never given to United Way before, or they’re exciting old donors, who will give more because they see other organizations they would like to support.”

United Way had suffered economically since Earthshare of Texas came on the scene, Woodfin said, “ In Austin, they increased (donations). Look at the numbers. United Way continues to increase. We can give some concrete examples– in the City of Austin, the City of Houston, Dell Computer, National Instruments, Union Texas Petroleum– where adding Earthshare, or Earthshare and other organizations, not only increases the whole pie, but also increases the amount of money going to United Way.”

As for his decision to leave the commission, Woodfin, who turned 50 this month, says, “I am, like most people in Austin, overextended. As you can see, Earthshare of Texas is taking off. It’s taking more time. I have a 14-year old son, Dabbs, who’s entering high school. He’ll be a freshman at the Fine Arts Academy this fall.” Ran, the Woodfins’ youngest son, will be in second grade at Travis Heights Elementary. “I was just recently elected vice president of the National Alliance for Choice Campaign, which is a trade association for non-profits.”

Conservation Consciousness still a problem

Woodfin said, “I’ll never forget–and I think this is just so typical of our overall consciousness of water in general. One afternoon, when I was still writing for the Statesman, we got a pretty heavy rainstorm, and one of the editors …walked over to me and said, ‘Well, I guess we’ve seen the last of our water conservation stories. Right?’ (He was) thinking that one rainstorm—albeit a good one—meant the end of our summer’s water problems. And, I think as a culture, we still have that mentality.

“ Bill Hobby, as Lt. Governor, used to say that he hoped that in the months leading up to any legislative session that had any major water proposals that it would quit raining. Bill Hobby knew Texas as well as anyone. And I think that still rings true.”

Woodfin said, “ Deregulation is the potential biggest problem for the city. I’m convinced the city should maintain ownership of the (electric) utility. And it should do everything it can to make sure that it continues having a utility that is very much a part of the whole city, and not allow the market to be opened up to investor-owned utilities.

“ Water has been much more of an education process. We still need to conserve water—not for the wrong reasons—to make it available for more people to move to Austin. But we need to conserve water because of the environmental impact when we overuse and misuse water. It teaches our children a bad lesson about use of all of our resources, when the most readily apparent natural resource, water, is not treated with care.”

Ruling gave prosecutors too much power, Gunter says

Last week we reported that the Third Court of Appeals rejected an appeal from the Austin Independent School District (AISD), which had asked the court to declare unconstitutional a statute that allowed Travis County Attorney Ken Oden to indict AISD for actions of employees who changed data to make the district look better on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills( TAAS) test.(In Fact Daily, July 17,2000)

Christ Gunter, AISD’s attorney, said he will advise his clients to ask the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to review the matter. The Court of Criminal Appeals is the last stop in the appeals process for cases that do not involve the U.S. Constitution or federal law. Gunter said the Third Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Travis and other central Texas counties “just flat ignored 100 years of precedent,” in ruling that the school district is criminally liable for the acts of its employees. Gunter said if the ruling stands, “It will give Ken Oden and (District Attorney) Ronnie Earle incredible power. Theoretically, they could indict the Office of the Governor,” for wrongdoing by a low-level state employee.

Gunter said he probably will not be able to meet with the school board until the second week of August.

The Mueller Neighborhood Coalition will meet Tues. from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Asbury United Methodist Church, 1605 E. 38 1/2 St. at Maplewood Rd. (refreshments available). An update on the ROMA Master Plan is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The City Council is scheduled to hear the final ROMA presentation make appointments to the Mueller implementation commission on Aug. 3… OSSF rules yet again…The Water and Wastewater Commission’s subcommittee on on-site sewage facilities (OSSF) rules is scheduled to meet tonight at 6 p.m. at Waller Creek Center, Room 105… New faces… The Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau has hired Cynthia Maddox as director of marketing communications and Jaclyn Barajas as marketing communications manager. Maddox has spent the past 10 years working as a freelance writer and as head of her own media relations firm. Barajas has worked as a public relations manager for an international trade organization. The ACVB markets Austin as a business, convention and leisure destination… Leaders change… The Resource Management Commission has chosen as its new Chair, Michael Osborne and Adan Martinez is the new vice-chair.. Foster mistaken…On Friday, we reported that former Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice John Hill had sold his Hays County property. An informed source has said that Erin Foster, chair of the Hays County Water Planning Partnership, was misinformed. Hill is still the owner of a sizeable chunk of land in northern Hays County.Foster was out of town Sunday and could not be reached for comment.

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