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Chief sustainability officer finalists to meet public today

Thursday, June 3, 2010 by Michael Kanin

As the city manager’s office interviewed semifinalists for the new chief sustainability officer position yesterday, one candidate, Brandi Clark Burton, decided to pull her name from consideration. Clark, founder and chief inspiration officer at Austin EcoNetwork, wrote on that group’s Web site that she had decided she didn’t want the job because she is newly married and expecting a baby in November.


“I want the person who gets this job to give it the 100% full attention it deserves,” she wrote, “which I am not available to do at this particular juncture. … To me this feels like the most holistic, realistic and powerful approach that will allow me to give my best to each thing I’m doing and not feel guilty about my inability to give more to my family or my job.”


The departure of Clark, who recently changed her last name to Burton, leaves five semifinalists up for the position. 


By this afternoon the city will have whittled that number down to “two or three” following each candidate’s interview with three different panels — one comprised of the city manager’s staff, another by department directors and assistant directors, and the third by staff members with “technical expertise or knowledge.” Those finalists will then participate in two public forums starting at 2:30pm today.


Matt Watson would seem to have an inside track for the job. Though he currently serves as the Environmental Defense Fund’s energy policy specialist in Washington, D.C., Watson has strong local ties. He’s a one-time aide to former Mayor Will Wynn, and he actually played a major role in writing the description for the sustainability officer position he’s being considered for.


An LBJ school grad who served as a legislative aide to State Representative Glen Maxey, Watson’s long list of local environmental roles includes time spent on the city’s Environmental Board; as the “legislative director for energy and water policy, land conservation, air quality, waste management (and) transportation” for former State Senator David Bernsen; and as a planner with the Austin Water Utility’s water conservation program.


Natalie Marquis would seem to be another favorite. She currently works as both the general manager for the “green” Habitat Suites Hotel and the executive director of the Texas Solar Energy Society. She is also a strong supporter of the city’s zero-waste goals, a position that she shares with such prominent environmental groups as the Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE).


For their part, TCE will be withholding their endorsement until at least after today’s meet and greet sessions. They hope to find out each candidate’s position on getting the city to its stated goal of being zero waste by 2040. TCE Program Assistant Stacy Guidry told In Fact Daily, “That will be our chance to stand before them and find out what their knowledge is of Austin and what their stance is on zero waste.


“The chief sustainability officer position is going to be the liaison between the city manager, City Council, and several city agencies, so they’ll be critical in pushing Austin to zero waste.”


The third candidate is Lucia Athens of Seattle’s CollinsWoerman architecture firm. There, as a senior sustainable future strategist, she “leads the firm’s business development strategy within the sustainable design industry.” Athens, a former water efficiency program assistant for the City of Austin, has also served as a sustainability strategic advisor for Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment and co-founded the Sustainable Building Coalition of Austin.


She has also written a book called Building an Emerald City: A Guide to Green Building Programs and Policies, and is the co-author of Austin’s Green Builders Guide.


Kansas City’s Chief Environmental Officer Dennis Murphey may be another strong candidate. However, the fact that Murphey, who has also served as Cincinnati’s director of the Office of Environmental Management, has no local experience could be a mark against him.


If selected, final candidate Beth Pratt would leave the wilds of Yellowstone National Park for the wilds of Austin City Hall. As the director of environmental affairs for Xanterra Parks & Resorts at Yellowstone, “she leads sustainability efforts, compliance, and environmental initiatives for park concessioner with (an) $80 million budget, 2,800 employees and nine locations in Yellowstone,” according to her bio.


The public forum sessions will be held today from 2:30-4pm and 5-7pm at Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Road, Room 130. Reyne Telles, media relations manager with the Communications and Public Information Office, told In Fact Daily he believes the final decision on the candidates will be made “shortly after the community forums.”


And though he expects “informal input from Council,” Telles said the final decision is the city manager’s.

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