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Dunkerley retires from city service for second time

Thursday, June 19, 2008 by Austin Monitor

After six years on the City Council, 11 years as the city’s Financial Director and a year as Assistant City Manager over housing, health and human services, and libraries, among others, Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley is retiring from the City of Austin—for the second time.


Dunkerley, 72, retired in 2002 to run for Council against then incumbent Beverly Griffith. She used her retirement to fund that first race against Griffith and several other challengers, making it into a runoff with Griffith, who then decided to step down rather than go through a grueling second election.


With her experience in accounting and her knowledge about the city’s financial structure, Dunkerley became the Council’s go-to person when a question arose about how to fund a project or how to cut the budget without cutting services.


Now, Dunkerley says she is going to retire to a little “fixer-upper” near the golf course in Bastrop County. However, she also plans to work part-time here in Austin, but not for the city. Dunkerley stressed that she has not yet formalized her plans in that regard.


Dunkerley said she found getting different points of view on the various matters Council must decide as the most enjoyable part of her service on the Council. She said she least liked the rancor that seems to be a common part of politics. But as a result of the rancor, she said, “I’ve done a lot of casual mediation,” between opposing parties.


Asked what was the most difficult adjustment she made when she became a Council Member, Dunkerley recalled, “ I was so used to, as an Assistant City Manager and chief financial officer, just getting things done…when I got on Council and I was just setting policy it was very hard for me to stay on the right side of the dais.” Dunkerley credited her friend, former City Manager Toby Futrell, with help on the front.


Dunkerley said the most difficult task a politician faces is trying to explain complex issues simply. “Looking back on it, there were lots of hard things and it’s hard so many times to explain it or describe it in a bumper sticker. . . They’re all issues that you just try to find the best compromise for.


“Most of the issues we deal with are not bumper sticker issues. They’re much more complex and you have to spend time talking about them and thinking about them and worrying about them before you can come to a good decision and those are not the type of things that you can explain to the public either in a TV broadcast where you get one minute if you’re lucky, 30 seconds if you’re not.


“So I think in general that it has been the most difficult thing, trying to explain very complex issues that have a lot of ramifications in a bumper sticker format,” she concluded.


During the past few months, Dunkerley has received major awards from Seton Hospital, the Austin Convention Center and Visitors Bureau, Housing Works, Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods, PeopleFund and AISD Trustees.


In 2002, after Dunkerley was elected to City Council, In Fact Daily ran a profile of her that had originally run in 1999. We are running it once again for those who would like to read more about Dunkerley’s history.


Betty Dunkerley profile

In Fact Daily ran the following profile of Council Member-elect Betty Dunkerley before she had thought much about running for the City Council. We thought you might want to see what she had to say three years ago. There have been some changes, in addition to her title. She is no longer married and she is now 66:

She oversees the city’s $1.5 billion operating budget and helps work out complex financial deals like the one between the city and Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC). She also sits on a multi-jurisdiction task force seeking a solution on how to fund emergency medical services for the metropolitan area. But she started her career doing the books for her husband’s medical practice.

She was born in Ennis, near Dallas, and grew up there, she says. Betty Dunkerley married her husband, Garner Dunkerley, when she was a sophomore at Southern Methodist University. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English, she taught school for three semesters, and then started raising a family, Dunkerley says.

By the time she was nearly 40, Dunkerley was the mother of three daughters and a son. The family had moved to the Beaumont area by that time, and she decided to pursue a medical career also. While taking pre-med classes at Lamar University in Beaumont, Dunkerley says, she decided to take an accounting class because she was already keeping her husband’s books. After a time, Dunkerley says, she realized she could have a career as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in a relatively short period of time — as opposed to the 10 years it would take to become a doctor. Within a year of making that decision, Dunkerley says, she completed the course work required to sit for the CPA exam. She joined a firm in Nederland , and “did a lot of audit work nationwide on grant programs. It was just a fluke,” she says, but all her work was for federal, state or local governments. Then, Dunkerley says, she worked for the City of Dallas for three years.

“In 1985, the city of Beaumont lost $20 million, about two-thirds of their cash, on bad investments,” Dunkerley says. “I was asked to come down on a temporary basis to help them come up with a plan to get them out of those straits. It was a very terrible time for Beaumont. I went there in March, 1985, and stayed for five years,” she says. In 1990, then-Austin City Manager Camille Barnett called Dunkerley and asked her to come to Austin. Dunkerley came to the city of Austin as finance director and has taken on more responsibilities over the last nine years.

Under City Manager Jesus Garza, Dunkerley’s job has risen to the level of an assistant city manager. In addition to overseeing the budget, all the financial departments — including the Comptroller’s Office, Treasury, and Purchasing — report to Dunkerley. She also manages Building Services, Channels 6 and 15, and Regulatory Affairs, a group that monitors city franchises, like the cable franchise and Internet services, Dunkerley says.

Dunkerley says she enjoys coming up with creative solutions to problems. She also enjoys the excitement of working on projects like CSC and the proposed Town Lake Park, she says. She is comfortable dealing with large numbers, and plays a key role in getting the budget balanced each year. So when Budget Officer Charles Curry says, “‘I’m out of balance a million bucks,’…My job is to try to help him close that gap. It’s like a bowl of Jell-O and you think you have it all done; and you find something you’ve left out here, and you put that it and then it squeezes out on the other side and you have to find something else to whittle off there,” Dunkerley explains. Dunkerley says she also negotiates with the departments and with assistant city managers on budgetary items.

Obviously not ready for retirement, Dunkerley says, “I’m 63 and I feel like I’m 33. I like what I’m doing. I came to it late. It’s been extremely exciting, and I’m at the stage now where I think I can really be helpful.” Dunkerley says she treasures Austin for its intelligent and spirited people, and for the green environment. She enjoys bird watching, and still finds time to enjoy her children and seven grandchildren, she says.

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