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Huffman, Texas Nature Conservancy ‘a good fit’

Friday, May 2, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The Austin City Manager’s office is losing another experienced staff member. Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman has been named as the new Executive Director of the Texas Nature Conservancy.


Those who have worked closely with Huffman during her six-year tenure as an Assistant City Manager are confident the new job will be a good fit. “She’s an excellent choice for that position…young and passionate, articulate and convincing,” said former City Manager Toby Futrell. “She’s truly one of the best communicators I’ve ever worked with in more than 30 years. Over the years, she really did learn the art of the deal. She knows how to bring the real estate deal to close and all three of those will serve her well…and serve us well, because it’s a critical position for Texas. She’s going to be terrific at the job and I think it’s a big loss for the City of Austin.”


Huffman is one of several staffers within the City Manager’s office to seek out a new position since Futrell’s departure, although she is the first Assistant City Manager to leave since the arrival of new City Manager Marc Ott. Today is the final day on the job for Chief of Staff Kristen Vassallo. Her departure, along with Huffman’s, will leave the city with significantly fewer females in the top ranks at City Hall.


Huffman, along with Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza, had applied for the City Manager’s position when Futrell announced her departure “Laura has endless possibilities in her career and she’s really at the beginning of it…so she was really going to have to start exploring her options,” Futrell told In Fact Daily. “She was ready to be in charge. Even though we lose at the city, we all gain at the state.”


In her new position, Huffman will be able to draw on her experience in dealing with water, development, and environmental issues for the city. She has overseen several different city departments since being hired in 2002 from the City of San Marcos, where she had worked for eight years and served as Deputy City Manager.


“No question, the most significant work I have done, both in Austin and San Marcos, involved open space acquisition and long-term water supplies. Those are the kinds of projects that are multi-generational in terms of the benefits to communities and are the most fun projects to work on,” Huffman said. “They’re complex and complicated, but I think they produce the most long-term results for the community.”


Huffman noted that she got to know about the Nature Conservancy when she was with City of San Marcos because the city decided to conserve 500 acres of land. Earlier this year, the City of Austin concluded an agreement with the Nature Conservancy for the purchase of 3,000 acres of water quality protection and wildlife habitat land. In her new role as Executive Director, Huffman will continue to work on those types of conservation projects. “They have a mission of conserving Texas’ bio-diverse resources,” she said of the Nature Conservancy. “They have land all over the state. They use, like the City of Austin, a science-based approach to determine what land they’re targeting for conservation.”


That work will likely keep Huffman in contact with staffers at the City of Austin and other local government agencies. “I love working with the City of Austin. I grew up in Austin and this is a community I care about very deeply,” she told In Fact Daily. “Local government is an area of public service that I chose and have enjoyed every minute of. I think the work we do is important.”


Those on the Council who have worked closely with Huffman over the past few years had praise for her accomplishments. “Laura Huffman has been a fabulous addition to the upper city management,” said Mayor Will Wynn. “She has a phenomenal work ethic, great intellect, a great ethic and she fit in perfectly with the Austin way of doing things.”


Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley agreed with the Mayor that Huffman has been a strong asset for the organization. “Laura Huffman has been a really outstanding public servant for the City of Austin. She’s smart, she’s articulate, she unselfish, she works very hard, and I think this opportunity to head up an organization like the Nature Conservancy just shows what quality she is,” Dunkerley said. “I’m very, very happy for her and for the Nature Conservancy in getting such a wonderful person at the helm.”


Wynn also applauded the Nature Conservancy for its selection of Huffman. “I would have a hard time passing up that job and I know that Laura took the decision very seriously,” he said. “But also I think it speaks volumes about Austin…for her to be the best choice for the Nature Conservancy of Texas I think demonstrates how remarkably well we have institutionalized environmental protection in the city.”


Huffman’s last day with the City will be May 16. “What I will miss the most about the City of Austin is the caliber of people that I work with…and the passion that they have for this community,” she said. “It’s just a remarkable group of people, and I think sometimes it is missed by folks just how much city employees care about Austin…and how dedicated they are to making sure that this community remains beautiful, successful, fun and funky…and everything that put this place on the map in the first place.”


Huffman plans to spend the next month with her husband and four children “playing and enjoying a break.” She will begin her new job on June 9.

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