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Heitz to retire from city to

Wednesday, June 4, 2003 by

WPDR director going home

The City of Austin is losing one of its most seasoned managers. Mike Heitz, director of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department (WPDR), told In Fact Daily last night that he has accepted the position of Director of Metro Parks in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Heitz said he would retire from the city effective Aug.1, after serving the city for more than 18 years.

City Manager Toby Futrell said Heitz’ departure is “bad news for me. Mike is a valued, strong executive with the City of Austin. He’s going to be missed.” She noted that his department, which runs programs to protect water quality and various development services, is “an area with a lot of heavy lifting. It’s a big hole.” Futrell said she could understand why he would want to take the Louisville job, adding, “Mike is going to be very happy . . . I’ve known him a long time and he’s going to be greatly missed.”

Heitz, 54, was born and educated in Louisville, starting his career as assistant parks engineer in Louisville. In 1985, Heitz began his Austin career as assistant director of building inspection. That job lasted about a year, and then he became acting director of what was then called the Resource Management Department. Heitz is a licensed architect and has two master’s degrees, one in community development and the other in public administration. It was that combination of talents that assisted him when he returned to the Building Inspection Department, where he became director. With the bust of the late 80s, five departments were consolidated and Heitz became director of the Planning and Development Department. His next assignment was as director of Austin’s Parks Department, where he stayed for five years. When the Watershed Protection Department was created, City Manager Jesus Garza chose Heitz as its first director. The WPDR functions were consolidated under Heitz’ management in April 2002.

Heitz said he is very excited about returning to his hometown, where he will preside over 18 parks designed by the renowned architect and designer of New York City’s Central Park, Frederick L. Olmstead. The parks system in Louisville has a budget of $25 million as part of a combined city-county metro government. Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson announced yesterday that Heitz had been selected for the post. Mary Lou Northern, cabinet secretary for Neighborhoods, Parks and Cultural Affairs, said Heitz was the consensus choice of the citizens’ panel which reviewed parks director candidates.

Heitz said he had not planned to apply for the Louisville job, but knew that the area had tried to find a new parks director through two unsuccessful nationwide searches. He said he decided to put in his resume after figuring out that he could retire from the City of Austin this year by buying the final year-and-a-half of the twenty years required. He will leave a job that pays $118,000 per year for a job that pays $98,000 plus a car. Heitz said he is willing to take the pay cut in order to go back to the city where he spent the first 35 years of his life and work with parks again. He and his wife, Leslee, are both Louisville natives.

“I love Austin, though. I don’t want it to sound like I’m unhappy, but home is home,” he said.

Legislation gives more power to county than anticipated

County Attorney David Escamilla told Travis County Commissioners to expect a far more active role in the Central Texas Healthcare District if voters approve it in November.

The healthcare district was a last-minute amendment to House Bill 2292, legislation authored by Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth (R-Burleson) to consolidate the state’s health and human service agencies. By the time HB 2292 reached the Senate floor in the last days of the session, the healthcare district legislation had stalled in House calendars.

An amendment by Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) added the main points of the Central Texas Healthcare District to the HB 2292 and was one of the main reasons Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) decided he would not filibuster the legislation. Barrientos, who represents many state employees, had strong objections to the hundreds of jobs lost under the bill.

But local bills cannot be attached to statewide bills, and to get the healthcare district deal done lawmakers were forced to amend Chapter 281 of the existing Health Code. That’s the chapter of the code that applies to county-run hospital districts. As Escamilla told commissioners yesterday morning, that meant boiling a 30-page bill—representing months of work by a healthcare task force—down to a 10-page amendment to Chapter 281.

The concept of the Healthcare Task Force was a far more coordinated effort between the city and the county, each of which own facilities and offer healthcare services. Under the legislation passed out during the session, however, it will be a county hospital district. While the district will have its own board, it will be county commissioners who approve the healthcare district’s budget and set procedures for purchasing. Legal services for the healthcare district will be provided by the County Attorney’s office.

The amendment has taken power away from the city in other ways. The Health Care Task Force’s original concept was a nine-member board: four appointed by the county, four appointed by the city and one appointed jointly by the county and the city. A further requirement was that two of the four county appointees needed to be city residents.

Under the amendment that passed the Legislature, the proviso for two of the four county residents to come from the city was inadvertently stripped from the legislation, Escamilla said. “You will have a great deal more involvement than was originally contemplated under the original Healthcare Task Force concept,” Escamilla told commissioners.

The reaction of the three members at yesterday’s Commissioners Court meeting was somewhat like a man being told he is going to be a father for the first time—somewhat shocked and a little bit overwhelmed by the thought, but generally pleased.

The amendment has taken on some of the points of the original legislation: It pushes the cap for healthcare districts down from 75 cents to 25 cents per hundred dollars valuation. It gives the county the option of retaining control of StarFlight. And it gives the county and city options on how facilities can be shared. That was important to county officials, who have put both health and human services in the same clinics.

Under the amendment, the city hospital would be turned over to the healthcare district. For its part, the county could deed the facilities over to the health caredistrict and then lease back the human services portion of the building. Or the county could lease the health services portion of the buildings to the healthcare district. The lease terms for the transaction would be three years.

The addition known as the “Stick amendment” also remains, which suggested that county and city tax rates be lowered in proportion to the money spent on health services provided by the healthcare district. Last-minute language to clarify the amendment was not inserted into the legislation, although lawmakers asked that the record to reflect that tax cuts be based on the “net effect” of the healthcare district’s costs.

In other words, the healthcare task force wanted to make sure the healthcare district would not be penalized by the money required for the initial administrative start-up costs of the Central Texas Healthcare District.

Commissioner Ron Davis was concerned that the single-district approach would not allow Travis County to pick up other counties as participants. Escamilla said the amendment would allow the district to charge the costs of healthcare to other counties for reimbursement.

Task force members still have hopes that a special session would provide them with the chance to amend legislation and reflect the intentions of the task force more fully, Escamilla told commissioners. Voters will consider the measure in November.

On the floor of the House the last day of the session, Rep. Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin), the original bill's author, said he was pleased to see some form of the legislation pass in order to give Travis County voters the right to vote up or down a new model for county healthcare.

Historic Landmark Commission Loses member over philosophy

Frank Ivy steps down after particularly heated case

The Historic Landmark Commission is losing one member. Commissioner Frank Ivy is stepping down, citing “philosophical differences” with the other members of the commission. Those differences came to a head in discussions Monday evening over whether to approve a demolition permit for a home at 2508 Jarratt Ave. within the Old West Austin Historic District ( ). The commission voted 9-1 to deny the permit, with Ivy casting the only vote in favor of allowing the homeowners to proceed with the demolition.

“I did resign today,” Ivy told In Fact Daily on Tuesday. “I just find myself philosophically out of step with the apparent goals and ideals of the Commission.” Ivy says he notified HLC Chair Lisa Laky and Steve Sadowsky of the Historic Preservation Office on Tuesday of his decision to step down.

The case that brought the conflict between Ivy and the other commissioners to the forefront stemmed from the desire of James and Lori Johnson to demolish a house once owned by Dewitt C. Greer, a former executive at the Texas Department of Transportation ( ). While the home does not have the “H” designation in its zoning, it is listed as one of more than 1,500 structures classified as contributing to the overall character of the district, which was approved in May of this year.

But property owner James Johnson told Commissioners only eight other properties in the district were actually designated as historic landmarks, and argued that his home did not meet the same criteria applied to those properties. “The question is, does this house warrant being the 9th historic landmark? I would say it’s not in the same class…when you think about the historic landmarks that are in the Old West Austin Historic District.” He also explained to commissioners that remodeling the existing structure would not be economically feasible. And the current home, he said, was not suitable for him, his wife, and their four children. “We would have to sell the property,” he said. Johnson also complained to commissioners that he had been blindsided by the potential for the historic designation. ”It’s very difficult,” he said. “We told the sellers what we were going to do. We told the real estate agent. We told the title company. We told the lender. Right now, it seems to me that if there’s a contributing property to the Old West Austin Historic District, there should be something on the deed that says it’s contributing…so when I do a title search, I can say ‘what does that mean?’ At least it would raise a red flag so I can go check.”

Among the Commissioners, only Frank Ivy sided with Johnson’s position. “I’m aghast,” Ivy said. “The City of Austin is doing a disservice by not providing full disclosure. The city ought to publish a list (of these properties) and make it a part of the abstract.”

Other commissioners were more sympathetic to the concerns voiced by residents of the Old West Austin Historic District, who said the fabric of their neighborhood was being slowly chipped away by demolitions. “We are having a problem with tear-downs and insensitive re-modelings,” said neighbor John Volz. “This is a test case…you’re setting a precedent for our neighborhood.” Neighbor Kathy Cronkite shared those concerns, although she stressed she did not bear any ill-will toward the Johnson family. “It sounds like they really got a raw deal,” she said. “I’m concerned about their plan for the property. I’m simply asking that the Commission be allowed to make a full evaluation.”

By denying the demolition permit, the Commission will have time to do just that. The case is expected to be on the agenda for the commission next month with a full presentation from staff and a recommendation on whether the house should be zoned Historic.

Ivy noted that he has not served on the commission for very long, but the whole experience “was not what I was expecting. Last night was just the trigger.”

Final early vote totals . . . Nearly 2,800 voters cast ballots yesterday, the final day of early voting for the June 7 runoff election. That brings to 15,502 the total number who voted early for Place 5 candidates Brewster McCracken or Margot Clarke. Voting was significantly heavier yesterday than on any other day during the 11-day early voting period. Northcross Mall continued to pull in the most voters, with 598 persons casting ballots there Tuesday. The Randall’s on Research was chosen by 476 voters, and 254 voters cast ballots at the HEB store on South Congress. The final tally of 15,502 represents 3.86 percent of the city’s 401,873 registered voters. In the May early voting period, 22,176 persons—or 4.74 percent of those registered in the city—voted early. Thirty-four percent of those participating in the May election took advantage of the early voting period. If the percentage remained the same for this Saturday’s election, the turnout would be about 46,000, or less than 12 percent of eligible voters . . . Landfill ordinance vote postponed . . . With Commissioners Karen Sonleitner and Margaret Gomez away from the table, the county’s solid waste ordinance vote has been pushed to next week. County Judge Sam Biscoe promises no more than 10 minutes of discussion and a straight “up or down” vote. The two big questions at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting were whether Type IV landfills should be lumped in with other minor facilities in the current ordinance, and whether the county should elaborate on landfills and their variances in the county flood plain ordinance. Tuesday’s discussion, which went on for almost two hours, will be reported in full . . . Liveable City fundraiser . . . The non-profit community organization Liveable City is holding a fundraiser tonight at Antone's, 213 W. 5th Street, from 6:30 to 8:30pm. Celebrants will choose favorite quirky Austin characters and places, including Austin’s weirdest retail, greenest of the green, biggest dreamers, neighborhood with perfect attendance at City Council meetings, Austin’s weirdest music and Austin’s weirdest music venue. Music will be provided by the Damnations . . . Capital Metro workshop . . . South Lamar area residents are invited to the final meeting in a series of workshops called Community Connections, a project designed to increase Capital Metro’s understanding of neighbors’ priorities for improving how they get around. The project entails neighborhood workshops that concentrate on safe foot and bike access to buses. The meetings are designed to generate a list of immediate improvements that the transit company can start right away, such as new bus stop facilities, sidewalks and landscaping and beautification projects. Tonight’s meeting will be at the Kinney Avenue Baptist Church, 1801 Kinney Ave., from 5:30 to 8:30pm. For more information on the Community Connections Project, contact Rob D’Amico at 799-3606 or . . . City employees frustrated by technology . . . The folks who toil over things like candidate contribution and expenditure reports in the City Clerk’s office are just as frustrated as those looking online for the most recent paperwork. That’s because the imaging system has not worked properly for several days. Those in charge have tried repeatedly to scan in the documents, but to no avail.

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