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By Melissa Whitfield
Sue Edwards, Director of Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services, says nothing she studied at Baylor University or Northwestern State University trained her for the various jobs she’s held with the City of Austin.She studied psychology and special education and was on the Board of Directors of the Community Action Agency in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She worked with children with special needs, while her then-husband was a professor at the university. She says she thought she could go back to school, raise kids and take care of her family. But he got a job with the Texas Education Agency and the Edwards family moved to Austin on January 1, 1970. Her first job in Austin was as a teacher and director of a Head Start program with the Community Action Agency, which was not yet a part of the city. Once the city took over the agency in the early ‘70s, she was assigned to research projects with federal programs. After that, she became the deputy director of the newly created Human Services Department. Later, Dan Davidson, City Manager at the time, asked her to become acting director of the Health Department. Legislation then in place required the director be a physician, so she was supposed to be at that position for only three months. She ended up being in charge of the department for three years. “The first day I was at the Health Department, I was sitting all by myself in my office, scared to death, literally scared to death, thinking, ‘Now what am I going to do? I don’t know anything about the Health Department.’ The phone rings and I pick up the phone and this woman starts screaming at me about a loose dog in Zilker Park.” She hung up and said, “I think I can handle this. I can handle loose dogs in the park.” While at the Health Department, Edwards was instrumental in creating the Medical Assistance Program. Next, the City Manager asked her to go to Emergency Medical Services (EMS). EMS had only been around for one and a half years, and her previous work with the Health Department, Medical Assistance Program and Brackenridge Hospital helped further develop the new department. While she was at EMS, it was recognized as the best system of its kind in the United States. She says it was a fun department and the people were flexible and creative. After being at EMS for three years, the City Manager asked her to take on a special project: to create the new Travis Central Appraisal District. She was given seven months to complete it—including the building. When the seven months passed and the Appraisal District had been completed, she was the only person left on the first floor of the Travis Building where they were temporarily housed. “I was the only one left. I was just sitting there, wondering what I was going to do next when the phone rang. Somebody called me from the budget office, and said, ‘Hey, congratulations.’” She learned that the newspaper said she’d been appointed Assistant City Manager . She walked to City Hall and went to the City Manager’s office. Sure enough, she said, she had been appointed and she didn’t even know it. While she was assistant city manager, Edwards worked with the police, fire, and health departments, EMS, Brackenridge, the airport and the libraries. After working for the city for about 11 and half years, she decided she wanted to spend time with her teenage daughters before they went off to college. She resigned in 1985 and took a trip to Europe with them. When they returned, the Mayor called her and asked her to be chair of the city’s billion-dollar bond campaign. She agreed. While she was working on the campaign, she had the opportunity to work with the finance chair of what was then Nations Bank. He offered her a job, but she declined. Finally, she agreed to work as a consultant. For 10 years she served as consultant for 13 institutions, including banks, consortiums and savings and loans and also did work with the city and the Save Our Springs ordinance. In 1994, City Manager Jesus Garza had concerns about EMS and asked her opinion. They talked for some months and he offered Edwards a job. She said no, but finally gave in after she made sure she would only be working for EMS. In March 2002, the City Council directed Garza to encourage various elements of the hi-tech sector to consider locating downtown and thus the Redevelopment Services Department was formed. Edwards was asked to lead this department because of her previous work with banks and land developers. Edwards says the staff includes people from other city departments who can make decisions and make things happen—people who are independent thinkers and want to work for the City of Austin. She says they are also creative people who want to solve problems and have fun working together. “The effort is put into projects,” adds Edwards. These projects include the building of the new City Hall, helping Computer Sciences Corp. move in and working with AMLI Residential Properties to complete what Edwards calls, “Second Street Retail.” Second Street Retail will be a big retail open-space mall with a double line of trees along the street that will run from the Convention Center to the water treatment plant. Second Street will have two lanes that will go both ways in the hopes of having lots of pedestrian cross traffic. Redevelopment Services also works with developers on preserving Austin’s character. They ask companies to donate money to put up art relating to the history of Austin. AMLI will donate $100,000 for art in the Second Street area. The department was originally created to provide a service within the confines of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., Oltorf, MoPac and IH-35, but has also taken up special assignments such as the Triangle Project and the biggest project, the Mueller Redevelopment Site. Sue says she hopes the momentum continues despite the downturn in the market. She adds, “There’s lots of planning downtown— Seaholm and Cousins Properties on Congress.” “The decrease in sales taxes makes it difficult to provide core services and you need the core services in order to attract the developments,” says Edwards. She hasn’t always welcomed growth, but says if Austin is going to grow, she wants to be a part of it. One of the ways to attract businesses, she says, is by providing responsible incentives and explaining them to the public. She says people think the city gave Intel money, but adds the city waved fees it would otherwise not have received from the empty Covert Buick building. “Property taxes were very low before Intel started building, now the city gets more than half a million dollars in property taxes.” When she’s not working, Sue likes to cook, particularly when she’s not feeling well. She says she’s an eccentric who experiments in the kitchen and makes up recipes. She also likes to spend time outdoors and play with both of her 75-pound boxers. She says, “You can learn a lot about human nature by loving animals. They tell you a lot.” She adds that a good manager “takes the time to understand people and like people, enjoy people and find out about them. That way you know what those things are you need to ask to get things happening to work well with people.” County staff to address Senate committee The state needs to go further in its effort to provide cities and counties with consistent rules governing subdivision plats in unincorporated areas, Travis County staff will tell a Senate committee today. The Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee is charged with assessing the effectiveness of House Bill 1445, which gives cities and counties the ability to jointly approve subdivision plats. Travis County has targeted four of the 24 cities in the county for joint agreements: Austin, Bee Caves, Pflugerville and Cedar Park. The four cities account for the vast majority of plats. Austin alone had 294 plats over the last three years—72 percent of all plats that fall within cities’ ETJ (extra-territorial jurisdiction) in Travis County. Consistency has been the biggest problem in the implementation of the new law, Transportation and Natural Resources Executive Director Joe Gieselman told commissioners last week. Different jurisdictions are subject to different sections of state code. The city and county differ on aspects as small as the number of days allowed to accept or reject a plat. Under state law, the county can, with the agreement of an applicant, extend the clock. Cities cannot. Cities need to be given more flexibility, Gieselman said. Other areas, such as exemptions from plat requirements, public notice requirements and extractions for right-of-way acquisitions, are also substantially different between cities and counties. What’s needed, Gieselman told commissioners, is a consistent and consolidated code that applies to both. Gieselman said the city had similar thoughts on HB 1445. Assistant City Manager Lisa Gordon will also be on hand this morning as part of the joint presentation between city and county. In addition, the Senate committee is taking testimony on Senate Bill 873, which was of particular interest to Commissioner Margaret Moore. The bill, yet to be implemented by Travis County, would give the county more of the authority of general law cities. The bill applies not only to subdivision plats, Gieselman said, but also to health and safety codes. Moore said the bill was “a very attractive” option to address the gap between city and county codes. Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols said the county had been consumed by the efforts to implement HB 1445, but that HB 1445 and SB 873 did share some overlap. SB 873 could provide the county with the ability to implement consolidated and consistent regulations, Nuckols said. here for Monday ,, Friday. Alvarez gets the windows . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez will be moving into the City Hall office currently occupied by Council Member Beverly Griffith next week. Council Member-elect Betty Dunkerley will take over Alvarez’ smaller office. We understand that Griffith and her staff will be moving out of the corner office at the end of the week, although Griffith does not officially leave office until Dunkerley is sworn in on June 15 . . . Civic Art dialogue begins this week . . . The Texas Commission on the Arts and the City of Austin are sponsoring a forum on design and art for downtown Austin on Friday and Saturday. The keynote speaker is public relations consultant Sherry Wagner, who is currently consulting on the reuse of the Seaholm Power Plant. The conference is limited to 100 invited members of various cultural organizations, as well as planners, artists, developers, business and social groups and will build on recommendations of the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) adopted in 1992 . . . ZAP Stratus meeting tonight . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission task force on the Stratus proposal will begin considering the overall settlement agreement and 14 separate zoning cases at 5:30pm today in Room 500 of One Texas Center . . . South Congress meeting . . . The City of Austin will host a meeting on streetscape improvements for South Congress from Ben White to Town Lake from 6:30 to 8:30pm Wednesday in the Jones Room at St. Edwards University, 3001 S. Congress. © 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.
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