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Futrell proposes major reorganization of development services

Wednesday, July 7, 2004 by

Budget crisis means TPSD to be eliminated; no job cuts planned

As part of this year’s budget, City Manager Toby Futrell is proposing to reorganize departments that handle land development services in an effort to save money, improve efficiency and eliminate duplication of services. In addition, she plans to eliminate the Transportation Planning and Sustainability Department (TPSD), moving most of its functions and staff into either the Public Works Department or the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department(NPZD). The Watershed Protection and Development Review Department(WPDRD) will absorb many of the functions and staff doing development review work.

In Fact Daily she is excited about the possibilities presented by the reorganization of land development services. “Reorgs are hard. They involve a lot of change and disruption and they’re particularly hard in bureaucracies where change is tough. But I am excited.” She explained that changes in the process began last year, with the introduction of the One-Stop Shop.

“Last year we did phase one. We decreased cycle time and at the same time we reduced resources 40 percent. This is phase two, the structural change. So if we manage the change appropriately—the human part of change—we might take a quantum leap here and at the very least we should have simplified this process for the customer,” Futrell said.

Several other city departments will see changes as part of the 2004-05 budget, but none of the changes will result in any layoffs, according to a memo from Futrell. The proposed development review changes are designed to improve efficiency and eliminate duplication of services by different departments, Futrell wrote.

According to the memo, "The new Watershed Protection and Development Review Department will realign our development services to create a linear progression through the four phases of development regulation (pre-submittal planning, formal review, permitting, and inspections).” Employees who work on development issues are currently scattered among 13 different departments and 12 buildings. The reorganization plan will house all of those regulatory employees under the same roof and within the same department, WPDRD. "Perhaps most significantly, the process redesign team has simplified and consolidated 57 city regulatory processes into 21 based largely on suggestions from staff interviews," Futrell wrote. The changes have already begun at the WPDRD as part of the plan to create a One-Stop Shop for permitting and development functions.

Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman, who oversees all of the land use and planning departments, described how her team came up with the reorganization plans. “Part of it was saying . . . if the jobs being done happened between two people could they be absorbed by one?” In addition, they asked whether review functions being done within other departments could be handled at One Texas Center, where the One-Stop Shop is located. “So it was that kind of sifting and combing through,” the various functions housed in disparate departments, but all relating to one process to see how consolidation could happen.

Huffman said the team of Clarence Bibby and Todd Gosselink of Austin Energy acted as consultants to the manager’s office “to take a fresh clean look at all the process from start to finish.” She added that the two worked on the project full-time for about a year. Not only did they look at the process on paper, they talked to the employees involved and looked at how other cities manage their land development processing. Huffman believes that “they made a recommendation that really makes sense for Austin. This has been a very thorough, thoughtful process. Recall that last year we lost about 40 percent of review staff in WPDRD,” due to budget cuts, she said. “So they had a tough task. And the beauty of what they do and how they do it is they went to the folks who work with the community day after day and asked, ‘How can we do that better?’ So, many of recommendations are from those people.”

They flow-charted all the functions being done to see whether they could be combined. They also looked at each part of the process, Huffman said, to determine whether it was necessary or duplicative. However, she added, “Our job is regulatory in nature and we aren’t going to give up on code compliance.”

All code enforcement jobs will be moved to the Solid Waste Services Department. "This allows us to locate code enforcement employees with the bulk of the equipment and infrastructure needed to provide these services," Futrell wrote. That will relieve other departments of code enforcement duties, including Neighborhood Planning and Zoning and the Police Department. Under the new system, police officers will no longer be required to respond to calls regarding abandoned vehicles, freeing them up to handle other police work.

Huffman explained, “There are a number of code compliance issues that lump together,” including unkempt lots and weedy lots. “Several years ago we put weedy lot functions into SWS and this is a continuation of that.” Approximately 40 employees are involved in code enforcement duties, she said.

Responsibility for the city's water conservation and air quality programs will also be moved to the Austin Water Utility and Austin Energy. Austin Energy already provides funding for the Early Action Compact, in which Austin and surrounding communities agreed to take voluntary steps to reduce air pollution in order to avoid being declared in violation of air quality rules by the EPA. "With both Water Conservation and Air Quality our aim is to have vital and specialized programs assigned to the utilities that fund them and around which the bulk of the work centers," Futrell wrote. Projects that don't fall into any of the above categories, such as long-term redevelopment and rail plans, will be handled by Austan Librach within the Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office. Librach, who is the director of TPSD, will take a new position that includes working with Capital Metro on transit-oriented development and Seaholm. Huffman said “Seaholm is the kind of project that could take an enormous amount of time,” and Librach started work on its redevelopment in his current department.

Futrell said the budget crisis—now heading into its fourth year—has forced her to look at “all feasible consolidation of functions and departments.” But all of the cuts and worries are clearly taking their toll on Futrell, who prides herself on knowing many city employees by name and expresses concern for their well-being even as she makes hard budget decisions. As for budget work, she said, it’s hard to remember exactly when she started planning exactly what changes because, “It all blurs together. It has been 24/7 all year, year round,” of thinking about the budget. “We’re monitoring it month to month.”

City, county work on choosing hospital district board

No shortage of experts has applied

More than 80 people are willing to serve on the board of the new Central Texas Health Care District. Now that the deadline for applications has passed, it will be up to the Travis County Commissioners Court and the Austin City Council to sort through the dozens of applications. Each group will come up with a short list of potential board members. Each will appoint four members to nine-member board, with the remaining member being appointed by consensus of the two bodies. The city received 63 valid applications, with another 4 marked as either late or incomplete. Of those 63, 28 also submitted applications to Travis County. The county's list of applicants has 50 names, plus another 3 who submitted applications just after the deadline.

The slate of would-be board members includes plenty of doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals, as well as attorneys with experience in health care law. But there are also applicants from outside the health care field. Bobbie Barker, who applied to both the city and the county, is a VP at Texas Gas Service. She spent several years as a caseworker at the Austin State Hospital earlier in her career. Other business leaders willing to serve include Cathy Bonner, founder of the marketing and consulting firm Bonner and Associates, Texas Monthly Associate Editor David Dunham, and Clint Small, who owns a Phillips 66 gasoline station.

Some of the major supporters of the creation of the district are stepping up to offer their guidance as the district takes its crucial first steps. "I feel that it is important for at least some of us who were involved in formulating the case for the hospital district . . . be willing to serve on the district board," wrote attorney Clarke Heidrick in his application. Heidrick served as the Chair of the Hospital District Steering Committee. "I believe this service will provide continuity and will also connect the initial board and its actions to the case presented to the voters in May of 2004," he wrote. Another member of the steering committee, Mary Lou McLain, also applied.

Other applicants stressed their financial experience, not health care experience, as reasons they should be picked for the board. "Because times are tight, it is crucial that the new hospital district be responsible and effective in its spending; it must earn the goodwill of the public by establishing a reputation for thoughtfulness and frugality in its use of the taxpayers' money," wrote Kevin McHale of First Standard Mortgage. "For these reasons, the hospital district needs on its board business people, like myself, who have been forced to make tough decisions about important financial considerations such as personnel, benefits, budget analysis, and product development." Other candidates with a financial background include retired CPA Hugh Higgins and auditor Edwin Floyd.

Both the city and the county will be able to tap the expertise of current and former state workers for the board. Staff from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, T exas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, and the Texas Board of Medical Examiners all applied. Two members of the Austin Fire Department submitted applications, as did Georgetown Community Clinic CEO Pete Perialas and former City of Austin Budget Director Frank Rodriguez.

The next task for both organizations will be to come up with a list of finalists for the nine positions. "We're looking for a balance of people," said Acting Assistant City Manager Michael McDonald. "We'd like to have people with some experience in health care, others with experience in the private sector and maybe another with an accounting background. We're looking for a diverse mix, not just in terms of business, but also in terms of experience and ethnicity." A team led by City Council Member Betty Dunkerley and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman will determine how many names are on Austin's list of finalists. Ed Adams and former State Rep. Ann Kitchen, who both served on the Travis County Hospital District Steering Committee, will help Goodman and Dunkerley make the first cut and interview the preferred candidates. Neither Adams nor Kitchen intended to apply for the board.

Once the city team has interviewed the finalists, the list will be taken to the Council Health Care Subcommittee. Goodman and Dunkerley serve on that subcommittee, along with Council Members Danny Thomas and Raul Alvarez. Names approved by the subcommittee will go to the full Council. McDonald said the process of choosing board members should be fairly open. The city's goal is to name its finalists by the end of July.

County officials have already decided they will produce a list of five names for their final consideration. A team headed by County Judge Sam Biscoe and Commissioner Karen Sonleitner will assemble that list. Commissioners intend to name their choices to the board by July 15. The county has modeled its process on how board members were chosen for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, although it took more extensive work to come up with a conflict-of-interest policy for that body.

In the meantime, city and county staff members are working on two issues: the legalities for the handoff of city and county assets to the health care district and the compiling of financial information for a district budget. If the board is expected to approve a budget by the end of August, the Central Texas Health Care District must "hit the ground running," said Acting Assistant City Manager Mike McDonald. The board is likely to rely heavily on information from the staff during the first year of the district's operation, at least until permanent staff is on board, he added.

For the city, this health care district means handing over the city clinics, as well as Brackenridge Hospital and the fifth floor Women's Hospital. That represents a complicated set of agreements that must be reconciled before final approval from the health care district board. In the meantime, the city and county will continue to run their own operations until the board formally takes charge of those assets, McDonald said.

"You can't change all of this overnight," McDonald said. "Some of it may remain with the city for a while, and the hospital district may choose to leave things operating exactly the way it is. Right now, it's our recommendation that the city keep to operating the clinics and the hospital, until the leases are turned over to the district."

As for the budget, McDonald said the hospital district is "not starting from scratch." Data from current operations is being gathered to start the budget process for the district, and McDonald is hopeful that the city's economy will rebound enough to provide more than the current level of funding to the new health care district.

When the citizens approved the health care district measure, they were sending a message to the city and county that they wanted to improve health care services, McDonald said. It would naturally follow that the health care district would upgrade services in a number of areas, especially in trauma care and the mental health care services.

Joint operation is not new to the city and or the county, McDonald said. Not only have the two sides recently written a joint subdivision code, the city and county have negotiated over common health department and joint jail operations.

New sidewalk welcomed . . . City construction crews began work on a new sidewalk for Kinney Avenue on Tuesday. The street runs from Barton Springs Road next to Flipnotics Coffeespace uphill into the Zilker Neighborhood. Residents and businesses collected more than $6,000 to cover half the cost of the sidewalk as part of the city's Owner Participation Program. "It's a very heavily-used route, and yet because the road is so narrow and so steep it's a real dangerous situation," said Zilker Neighborhood Association President Robin Cravey. Construction of the new sidewalks will take about two weeks . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Environmental Board is holding its regularly scheduled meeting at 6pm tonight in Room 325 of One Texas Center. They will hear a report from Environmental Officer Pat Murphy on a proposal to revise the Forum PUD to accommodate the Southwest Marketplace, a shopping center within the Barton Springs zone of the Edwards Aquifer that was designed with extensive neighborhood input . . . The Parks and Recreation Board’s committee on navigation will take another look at the proposed St. Tropez Marina on Lake Austin. The board recently rejected one form of the proposal. That meeting is at noon at the Parks and Recreation Department HQ, 200 S. Lamar . . . The Planning Commission will hold a special called meeting to hear from Ben Luckens, who will brief them on annexation . . . Water and wastewater commission . . . The Water and Wastewater Commission will meet at 6pm at Waller Creek Center . . . Rainey rezoning dates set . . . The city has released a schedule for shopping the Rainey Street CBD rezoning to the various city boards and commissions. Tentatively, the Design Commission would hear the plan on August 2; the Downtown Commission on August 11; the Mexican-American Cultural Center Advisory Board on August 18; the Historic Landmark Commission on August 23; and the Parks and Recreation Board on August 25. Council Member Raul Alvarez is scheduled to meet with the Rainey Street neighborhood the week of August 9. The Zoning and Platting Commission will hear the Rainey Street presentation on either Sept. 7 or Sept. 21. The City Council directed city staff to develop the plan in February. They are expected to receive it sometime in October . . . Mueller transportation adjustment. . . T he Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department is making adjustments to 51st Street to accommodate both the Mueller redevelopment project and Promiseland Church. TPSD staff is recommending a raised median to the east of the Mueller intersection. Further west from the intersection, 51st Street will have a continuous left-turn bay. Long term, the plan is to widen the street and possibly incorporate transit facilities, according to a memo from Director Austan Librach to Council Member Danny Thomas . . . Road work reportedly sailing smoothly . . . Director of Public Works Sondra Creighton provided an update to Mayor Will Wynn and the Council yesterday on the city's major street reconstruction projects: Lamar Boulevard, Enfield Road, Cesar Chavez, South First and Second Street. All projects are on schedule, according to Creighton’s memo. Lamar and Cesar Chavez from I-35 to Pleasant Valley are ahead of schedule. Creighton reported that the Cesar Chavez project was going especially well, with the first two phases being complete within the next 2 to 3 weeks . . . Zero energy subdivision coming to East Austin . . . The City of Austin/Austin Housing Finance Corporation and Austin Energy will announce a first of its kind Zero Energy subdivision at the 2004 Montopolis Homebuyer Fair. The Montopolis subdivision, with 100 single-family homes, will feature homes with photovoltaic solar panels. The homes are intended to be both affordable and energy efficient. The Montopolis Homebuyer Fair is scheduled for Saturday, July 31, at the Montopolis Recreation Center, 1200 Montopolis Drive, from 10am to 1pm. More than 40 organizations, from lending institutions to city departments to credit counselors, will be on hand for the fair to promote their services . . . New committee for regional water qualityplanning. . . The Regional Water Quality Planning Project started by Council Member Daryl Slusher and Hays County Judge Jim Powers has assembled a team of stakeholders to provide input from different segments of the community. The Stakeholder Committee includes property owners in Hays County, developers, neighborhood groups, government agencies and environmental organizations. Executive Director Terry Tull describes the list of committee representatives as "provisional." He wants more time to assure that all viewpoints are included on the committee before the membership is finalized . . . LCRA announces archaeological workshop . . . The Lower Colorado River Authority will host a three-day "summer camp" on Lake LBJ to present the prehistoric archeology to the public, but especially teachers, from July 20 to July 22. The workshop, to be held at LCRA's Nightengale Archeological Center at Kingsland, will explore archaeological field methods and include participation in excavations at an actual archaeological site. The cost is $35 per day. Participants are not required to attend all three days, but each day is a prerequisite for the rest. For more information, call Andy Malof at 800-776-5272, extension 2753.

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