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Jesus Garza surprised friends and colleagues at both the City of Austin and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) yesterday with the announcement that he will be joining the Seton Healthcare Network. Garza, who left his position at the city to take a post as deputy general manager for water and environmental issues at the LCRA, has held his current job for only seven months. He will be stepping into a job with great potential for stress and conflict as president and CEO of what Seton calls “a newly-defined health ministry,” which includes Brackenridge Hospital and three rural facilities.

Tuesday, December 3, 2002 by

Council Member Will Wynn was among those who had not foreseen Garza’s career change. He remarked, “It’s interesting that he wants to get in the middle of what could be a very long term, very contentious issue . . . It really did surprise me, and after a couple of years on the dais, I didn’t think anything would surprise me—but this did.”

Council Member Betty Dunkerley said she too was “extremely surprised . . . I worked for Jesus for a long time and I have a lot of respect for him. He knows a lot about primary care and hospital issues. I think in that respect it will be helpful for someone who knows our perspective” to do the job. Dunkerley added that facing Garza across the table as the leader of the division managing Brackenridge would “require some adjusting.” He’s been a public servant for a long time and that perspective’s ingrained in him.”

City Manager Toby Futrell, who will be in charge of future negotiations with Seton on the thorny issues surrounding the Children’s Hospital and the possibility of a hospital district, said, “The first thing I think you need to remember is that Jesus is not going to be able to be involved in the negotiations” between the city and Seton over contractual obligations. The city’s revolving door regulation means that Garza cannot be involved “in issues regarding anything he was a decision-maker on for one year after he leaves . . . He was very intricately involved in the lease negotiations,” she said. Garza stepped down as City Manager on May 1. However, Futrell noted that, “He may be setting a tone and the tone’s got to be better than the tone we have now.” She added, “I know Jesus has great feel for and caring for health care in this community. I have a sense that this is a job he will put his heart into.”

“I think he’ll do well wherever he goes but he’s walking into a very tough situation in the relationship between Seton and the city,” said Council Member Daryl Slusher. Slusher criticized the health care provider for forcing the city to deal with the issue of reproductive services before admitting to plans for a new children’s hospital. Those issues have soured the relationship between Seton and the city and members of the community, he said. “So, hopefully, Jesus can improve that once he’s able to work on these issues . . . Whoever has him is getting a really skilled manager and somebody who really cares for his employees.”

In addition to Brackenridge, Garza will be responsible for Seton Southwest, which provides surgery, maternity, emergency and other services near Oak Hill, Seton Highland Lakes in Burnet and Seton Edgar B. Davis in Luling.

Joe Beal, General Manager of the LCRA, said in a prepared statement, “While LCRA will lose a valued and valuable leader, the community as a whole will continue to benefit from the skills and dedication that Jesus brings to serve the public good. Sometimes a once-in-a-lifetime offer comes along. That is what has happened in this case with Jesus. I wish him the very best as he moves into this new phase of his career of public service.”

Paul Thornhill, executive manager of river services for LCRA, will take over Garza’s job. Thornhill, an engineer, has worked at the agency for the past five years overseeing such things as river and flood management, water quality, dams, irrigation systems and the LCRA-SAWS Water Project .

Travis County Commissioners have passed a resolution endorsing the “4-4-1” makeup of a hospital district board. Under the resolution passed at the urging of Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, four of the board members would be appointed by the county, four would be appointed by the City of Austin and one would be a consensus appointment. Two of the four Travis County representatives would be chosen from inside the city limits of Austin. The vote was 4-0-1, with Commissioner Ron Davis abstaining.

Davis instead wanted the board to be elected, not appointed. “If these folks are going to levy taxes, I think the position would be an elected position,” he said. Having elected board members, he predicted, would make the group more fiscally responsible. “What hospital district in the sate of Texas is operating in the black right now? I do hear there are a lot of them operating in the red,” Davis said. “And they do have taxing authority.”

But Sonleitner and others argued in favor of appointing the board, since that would give commissioners the ability to select board members with a background in both health care and finance. The resolution passed by commissioners is not necessarily binding, since the creation of a hospital district will require approval from the Legislature and the voters within the proposed district. That vote could go to the public in the fall of 2003 if the enabling legislation is approved in the spring.

Commissioners were also presented with several other issues related to the hospital district during their discussion. One was the possible creation of a “super board,” composed of elected officials to oversee the appointed board. The supervisory board could have veto power over any tax increase voted on by the appointed body as well as the power to dissolve the hospital district. Commissioners also discussed provisions that could clarify the future of other health-related services should the hospital district win approval from voters. They did not take any votes on those issues, but may consider language in the future outlining the status of the StarFlight helicopter and the clinic system operated by the Austin Travis-County Health and Human Services Department.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Downtown merchants to voice concerns . . . The proposal to eliminate the current one-way system of downtown streets continues to worry some downtown merchants and business owners. A group calling itself Citizens for Keeping Downtown Austin Accessible is holding a press conference to highlight its views at 10am Wednesday at Kruger Jewelers, 8th and Congress. Dominic Chavez, formerly with the Real Estate Council of Austin, is coordinating the event. For more information, call him at 461-3769 . . . Health care subcommittee meets today . . . The City Council subcommittee on health care will meet at 10:30am today in room 304 at City Hall. They will discuss new appointees to the hospital board for the 5th Floor hospital within Brackenridge and try to come up with a better name for the reproductive services floor . . . Towers up for discussion . . . The City Council subcommittee on telecommunications infrastructure is scheduled to meet at 4pm Wednesday. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman wants to talk about city regulations and policies on communications towers and antennae. Goodman was distressed when Verizon Wireless put up a cell phone tower just outside the West Lake Hills city limits, since she thought the matter was still under negotiation. The committee will also discuss the possibility of awarding a contract to Austin Free-Net for providing free Internet access to the public . . . Clean Energy forum . . . Good Company Associates is sponsoring a forum to focus on energy and clean air issues that may be debated during the 78th Legislative session. Invited speakers include EPA regional administrator Gregg Cooke, Sen. David Cain, PUC Commissioner Brett Perlman, Collin County Judge Ron Harris, who is chair of the Texas Clean Air Working Group and Tom Smith of Public Citizen. For more information, call 480-2226 or turn to http://www.goodcompanyassociates.com/subj/forum.php . . . Central area planning begins . . . The Central Austin Combined Planning Area meets for the first time from 9am to 1pm Saturday at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Planner Mark Walters will facilitate the team, which includes residents of North University Neighborhood Association, West University and Hancock neighborhoods . . . Turnout good for legislators lunch . . . There was a good turnout Monday for the City of Austin’s luncheon for incoming lawmakers at the Doubletree Hotel. Several new House and Senate members from around the state attended, as did new members from the local delegation, including Democrat Eddie Rodriguez and Republicans Jack Stick and Todd Baxter. Veteran lawmakers Pete Laney and Elliott Naishtat were also in attendance . . . Eastside mixed use plan unveiled . . . Developers of “The Pedernales” went before the Design Commission last night to present details of their plans for the residential, office and commercial project in East Austin. The area is being downzoned to commercial and mixed-use in accordance with the neighborhood plan. The 3.2-acre tract at 6th and Pedernales will take up two city blocks. Larry Warshaw and Richard deVargas say they intend to offer affordable loft-style housing close to downtown. The Design Commission will return with its recommendations for Smart Growth points in January. Warshaw and deVargas plan to go to the full City Council after that seeking a Smart Growth designation and points.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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