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Rieck announces retirement from city

Tuesday, July 29, 2003 by

Public Works director says he will stay in Austin

Peter Rieck, director of the city’s Public Works Department, said yesterday that he will be retiring at the end of the fiscal year, October 1. Although the announcement comes during a week when layoffs will be announced, Rieck’s says his retirement is not related to the city’s budget woes. He has been planning his departure since the beginning of the year.

After 18 years as a city employee, Rieck says he plans to stay in Austin and wants to take a few months to rest. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to work for anybody else . . . I’m looking at eventually starting my own company.” At 52, he says he wants to “be creative and have fun for the next 50 years. One of the things on his list of possible projects is to design and build his own house. Rieck said eventually he would like to join the development industry as a builder. “But it’s kind of tough to sit down and decide,” while concentrating on doing his job as director, he said. “I need a few months to . . . decide how I’m going to do it,” he said.

He has earned degrees from universities in both Germany and the U.S. After receiving the equivalent of a Master’s degree in architecture, as well as training in engineering at the Technische Universitaet in Hanover, Rieck was given a Fulbright Scholarship to attend Pennsylvania State University, where he earned an M.S. in architecture, he said.

Rieck is optimistic about the future, saying, “I have an opportunity at this time of my life when I still have . . . the energy and drive and opportunity to pursue things I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to have my own business, and through lucky circumstances,” which includes the city’s retirement system, he is able to retire at an early age with a good pension.

“I have an opportunity few people have—to revisit their professional lives without taking too large a risk—to indulge in things they want to do professionally.”

Rieck came to Austin in 1984, joining the Public Works department as a special construction manager. He was appointed director in 1996. In addition to Rieck, a number of other senior city officials have recently announced plans to leave city employment. This is the last week for Mike Heitz, director of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department as well as City Attorney Sedora Jefferson. Police Monitor Iris Jones is also departing for a job in Washington, D.C.

City Manager Toby Futrell said last night, “Talk about two strong folks in the city leaving—Mike (Heitz) and Peter. I’ve known Peter a long time and one thing you could always be sure of—he would be a straight shooter. He is not a yes man. I was pleased to hear he is going to be staying in Austin.”

Futrell said she would appoint Sondra Creighton, assistant director over project management A&E (architectural and engineering) as acting director for the department.

County adopts HUB goals

Travis County officials have agreed to adopt the city’s ethnic-based percentages for construction contracts as a way to promote historically underutilized businesses (HUB).

Travis County spent a total of $115 million on construction contracts during 2002. Despite the county’s efforts, however, less than one percent was spent on African-American businesses overall. In construction, less than $18,000 was spent on African-American businesses—only a fraction of one percent.

Hispanics fared only slightly better. Approximately 2.1 percent was spent on Hispanic businesses overall. In construction, about one percent was spent on Hispanic businesses.

According to statistics compiled by the county’s purchasing department, the number of HUBs and historically underutilized subcontractors employed by the county since 1996 total 193, with 122 of them coming from Travis County. A total of 89 contractors were Hispanic; 73, women; 21, African-American; and 9, Asian-American. One of the contractors was Native American.

County Attorney David Escamilla told the Commissioners Court last week the county does not have the legal ability to adopt race-based mandatory programs. All the county can do is encourage contractors to utilize more HUBs, especially in subcontracting. To say it is a “goal” is just that, Escamilla said.

Commissioner Margaret Gomez said that the bonding ability of minority construction companies has been a problem. Many companies do not have the credit to pick up the bonding authority to be the prime contractor on county projects.

“I think the purchasing department should work with them on that particular issue,” Gomez said. “That’s another way to advocate, so they can move up to be primes.”

The Austin Black Contractors Association (ABCA) met several times with County Judge Sam Biscoe and county department heads in June and July. Changes proposed by ABCA, and adopted by the Commissioners Court, include:

• Developing an advisory committee that will assist the county’s HUB office to help HUBs procure more construction contracts.

• Educating the general contractor construction community on the value of doing business with the HUB community in the utilization of HUB subcontractors.

• Analyzing and identifying roadblocks in the procurement process that inhibit certain groups from participating and receiving contracts.

• Developing incentives that encourage purchasing staff to go beyond minimum requirements to include HUBs in the procurement process.

The purchasing office does have HUB programs. HUB Coordinator Sylvia Lopez presented one of the letters the purchasing department sends to contractors. The letter registers “good faith efforts” made by a contractor and lists the specific minority subcontractors used.

Along with the adoption of the goals and the advisory committee, the county will also contract with the law firm of Colette Holt & Associates for advice on additional county actions to improve HUB results for the county.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Layoffs reported . . . Fox7 News reported last night that the City Manager’s proposed budget—which will be presented to the City Council officially on Thursday afternoon—would outline cost savings of $53 million to balance next year’s budget. The station said that elimination of 452 positions—many of them already vacant—would be included in that proposal and that 107 employees would be offered other jobs within the city. City Manager Toby Futrell said the reporter “has a version of the cover letter for the budget. His numbers are not accurate.” However, she added, “I only caught them briefly.” Later in the conversation, Futrell said, “I am not going to be commenting . . . everyone can report at their own risk.” She acknowledged that a budget memo had mistakenly been sent to one or more Council members last week. It was retrieved from those offices within “three to four minutes of being dropped on a desk,” she said. Futrell said her biggest concern is for individual employees who will be facing possible unemployment. She wants to make sure that support will be available to them when they learn the news, she said. That is scheduled to happen on Thursday morning . . . Mueller status unchanged . . . A bill that would have transferred control of land next to the former Mueller Airport to the Texas Department of Transportation died with the end of the first special session yesterday. The land, which belonged to the now-defunct Aircraft Pooling Board, will remain under the control of the General Land Office, according to city lobbyist John Hrncir . . . Lowe’s up again before Commissioners . . . Although Travis County Commissioners are slated to take action on Lowe’s Home Center’s request for approval, Judge Sam Biscoe’s office has said he will move to delay the item until next week. The City of Austin has been in negotiations with Lowe’s to settle a lawsuit over what sort of land use controls should apply to the land and who has jurisdiction over it. The City Council is scheduled to meet on Thursday, but settlement of the matter is not on the agenda . . . Neighbors hire PR pros . . . The Circle C Homeowners Association has hired Christian Archer and Mark Nathan to fight the proposed Wal-Mart on MoPac close to Circle C. The Mayor’s former aide and his partner provided political advice to Mayor Will Wynn during his successful campaign and are continuing to assist him in various matters . . . Legal whispers . . . The U.S. Senate on Monday confirmed Justice Earl L. Yeakel III as U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Texas. Yeakel currently serves on the Third District Court of Appeals in Austin . . . The Hispanic Bar Association of Austin and the Austin Black Lawyer's Association put out their fourth annual report card on the hiring of minority attorneys by the city’s largest law firms. Several firms received an A+ for their percentage of minorities, including Andrews & Kurth LLP; Bickerstaff, Heath, Smiley, Pollen, Kever & McDaniel LLP; Jenkins & Gilchrist ; and Winstead Sechrest & Minick PC. Five firms were given an A: Brown McCarroll LLP; Clark, Thomas & Winters; Davis & Wilkerson; Gray, Cary, Ware & Freidenrich, and Hilgers & Watkins. Two firms were given an F for their shortage of Hispanic and African-American lawyers: Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody and Scott, Douglass & McConnico. For the first time, the bar associations are including a Diversity Progress Report, grading firms on their efforts at recruiting new minority lawyers. Nine firms were ranked as excellent in that category, including Vinson & Elkins and Fulbright & Jaworski . . . Back to the Legislature (or not) . . It’s the House Democrats’ turn to offer moral and political support for their counterparts in the Texas Senate. Eleven Democrats, including Gonzalo Barrientos, have left the state to block a quorum of the Senate for the second special called session on congressional redistricting. “We’re so proud of the Senators for standing tall,” said State Rep. Elliot Naishtat, D-Travis County. “I think what we in the House, certainly the ‘Killer D’s,’ are doing now is standing in solidarity with the courageous members of the Texas Senate who are doing what, in my opinion, is the right thing for Texas. We’re here to represent the interests of our constituents, and if the only way to do it . . . is to use the rules to bust the quorum so that bad things don’t happen . . . then that’s what we’ll do.” While the House Democrats spent their time in the Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Oklahoma, the Senate Democrats are at a Marriott Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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