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City Manager Jesus Garza, who has been one of Austin’s most successful managers, plans to retire from the city in April and join the management team at the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). Garza has scheduled a press conference for 10:30am today, but could not be reached for comment on Monday. LCRA General Manager Joe Beal told In Fact Daily that Garza would become Deputy General Manager for water and environmental management in May.

Tuesday, January 8, 2002 by

Secrets are hard to keep at City Hall. Garza informed Council members of his decision on Monday and held meetings with his staff, while the buzz about his resignation circled through the building.

Garza will be one of five deputies who report directly to Beal. Before taking over as general manager, Beal held the position Garza is assuming. Beal said Randy Goss, who handles water utility issues, and Paul Thornhill, who is in charge of water resources, would be reporting to Garza.

Mayor Gus Garcia said that he knew when he ran for Mayor that Garza “would be eligible for retirement and the retirement he has is very lucrative. It would pay him a pretty good chunk of change. So he’s working for the city for very little.” With the new job, Garza can become a double-dipper. He said he was sorry to see Garza go, but, “I don’t blame him for taking that . . . He’s been a great city manager . . . I wish he would have stayed to serve as city manager while I’m there, but he’s got personal responsibilities. I told him, ‘Do what you have to do’ . . . He’s paid his dues. And the city has a good management team in place, so it’s not like we are in trouble.”

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said Garza has been “one of the very best” city managers Austin has ever had. She said headhunters were constantly approaching Garza to consider other positions, so it was not a great surprise that he had found a new opportunity. “He’s been here eight years (as city manager) and that’s a long time. It’s a very stressful, very challenging job.” She expressed confidence in the assistant city managers Garza has gathered. “I feel confident there will be little if any, transition time needed,” she said. She mentioned Deputy City Manager Toby Futrell as her first choice to become interim City Manager.

Garcia also mentioned Futrell, along with Chief of Staff Joe Canales, as possible interim managers. Like Goodman, he said he did not feel the need for a nationwide search.

Council Member Will Wynn said he was not surprised about Garza’s decision, because there has been speculation for several months that Garza might retire. “His skills will be missed,” he said. “He has set the bar for future city managers to be judged by. He’s a very accomplished manager and has been recognized nationally for his leadership. But more importantly, I think he has served the citizens and the city very well . . . (Now) the most important thing we will do is hire a (new) city manager.”

Council Member Daryl Slusher said the characteristic he most admires in Garza is his passionate defense of his employees. “He really believes in his employees. He holds them to a high standard, and feels that they are like his family.” In addition, Slusher said Garza has been a good financial manager and has been a true public servant.

Slusher said when Garza worked on the deal with the LCRA to bring the city a guaranteed water supply for the next 50 years, “I saw Jesus at work, and he was a strong advocate for the city’s interests. I think it’s turned out pretty well.” Garza’s field is public service. He holds a master’s degree from the LBJ School, and was executive director of the Texas Water Commission, predecessor to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. Because he wants to stay in Austin and because he has chosen to be a public servant, Slusher pointed out, the LCRA is a logical choice for Garza.

Council Member Danny Thomas said he was surprised by the resignation. He said he has enjoyed working with Garza, whom he described as “an open and caring person . . . who wanted things done right, but is not a perfectionist. He’s a people person.”

Council Member Beverly Griffith said she appreciates Garza’s “careful attention to details and his ability to attract strong managers.” In addition, she noted, “What’s impressive to me is he’s managed to keep the property rate 28 percent below the average of the five largest cities in Texas. The LCRA is fortunate he chose their organization. He should fit in beautifully.” She said she expects Futrell to be interim manager.

LCRA General Manager Joe Beal said City Manager Jesus Garza “made the decision to retire, and then we talked about opportunities at LCRA. I figured if he wasn’t going to be City Manager at Austin—as good as he’s been there—if he wanted to remain in public service, then I certainly wanted to bring his skills” to the agency. Beal said he has known Garza for the past 20 years.

“He’s been such a fine asset for the City of Austin,” Beal said. He praised Garza for the manager’s integrity, saying Garza is “honest, methodical and measured in his response to things.” He argues that Austin is “not losing a man from the region,” nor from public service.

“I think he’s going to be a great addition to our senior staff.” Beal said he wants Garza to take over not only the traditional duties of the agency’s deputy for water matters, but also be in charge of water quality and air quality. In the past, water quality programs have been handled by a different division. However, the LCRA embarked last year on an ambitious project to model all of the Colorado River Basin. The model will be designed so the agency’s staff can better predict the impact of population growth, increased pollution and catastrophic spills anywhere in the basin. (See In Fact Daily, Nov. 27, 2000 )

Employees working on the modeling project will report to Garza, Beal said. In addition, Garza will be asked to study environmental issues throughout the agency. That will include air quality issues associated with LCRA power plants, Beal said. He noted that Garza’s management of the Texas Water Commission, as well as his years as City Manager, have well prepared Garza for the job he will take at the LCRA.

Members of the Charter Revision Committee are recommending to the City Council that voters be given an opportunity to strike down the city’s term limits for Mayor and Council members. Currently, Article 2, Section 3 of the City Charter ( http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/law/lgchta2.htm ) limits city elected officials to two consecutive terms in the same office. Three members of the current council affected by that rule— Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Members Beverly Griffith and Daryl Slusher—are each currently seeking more than 18,000 signatures on a petition to in order to run again.

Members of the committee spent most of Monday night’s meeting discussing the proposed campaign-finance reform measure that will likely be on the ballot in May. The group formed a subcommittee to study the measure in greater detail and compile a list of possible alternative recommendations to be sent back to the Council. Council members had requested advice on the campaign finance proposal and other possible charter amendments. (See In Fact Daily, Dec. 18, 2001. )

While committee members were split over the wisdom of offering voters alternate campaign-finance proposals, they were united in their decision to ask for a public vote on repealing term limits. “I’m a strong advocate of term limits . . . I think they should be administered by the voters at the polls,” said Committee member Charles Miles. Committee member Stephen Yelenosky agreed that voters should be given the final say. “I can see arguments for term limits, but I can’t see an argument for not putting the repeal on the ballot,” he said. “I support the repeal, but even if I didn’t there’s enough support that it ought to be on the ballot.”

The committee plans to meet at least once a week through the beginning of February to study a variety of other possible changes to the City Charter. Some of those proposals call for certain high profile city employees such as the civilian police monitor or a “consumer advocate” for Austin Energy to report to the Council directly instead of the city manager’s office. Those ideas may run into some opposition on the committee and may not make the final list of recommendations. “I do not wish to discuss these issues because they involve changing our system of government,” said Committee member Martha Cotera. “I wasn’t brought on board with that mind set and I don’t personally wish to spend any time on that.” However, other members expressed their desire to at least put those proposals on the agenda for discussion.

The committee’s final meeting is scheduled for February 4th.

Did you miss yesterday's news ? Click here for January 7 .

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Rainbow Materials returns . . . The Electric Utility Commission last night unanimously voted to recommend that the City Council not give a new contract to provide concrete to polluter Rainbow Materials. A representative of the Sierra Club and a local political activist both urged the commission to make the negative recommendation. Rainbow Materials has been cited for dumping concrete into the Colorado River by both the city and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. However, as the low bidder with a $960,000 contract, city staff recommended the company be chosen. The matter is on this week’s Council agenda . . . Mueller deadline extended . . . The city has extended the deadline for developers interested in the old Robert Mueller Airport site to submit their proposals. The deadline was reset from early January to Jan. 31 at the request of one of the two companies remaining in the process. There were originally three finalists, but one company withdrew from the process in the fall of 2001. The two companies participating are the Catellus Development Corporation and a coalition of Austin-based developers known as the Mueller Redevelopment Team. The city commission overseeing Mueller’s conversion is scheduled to meet at 6pm this evening at the Waller Creek Center.

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