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County Emergency Services Chief Hobby looks toward retirement

Monday, July 16, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Travis County’s executive for Emergency Services, Danny Hobby, is set to retire next January after a career of serving as a specialist in keeping the wheels of local government greased.


“Danny is one of the most talented mediators and facilitators I’ve ever met,” says Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt.


Echoes Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber, “Danny Hobby is one of those rare individuals that brings a true commitment to the delivery of excellent public services combined with both compassion and a high level of professionalism. His experience and expertise will be hard to beat.”


Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe says, “I hate to see him go.”


Hobby, who has worked three stints with the county including since 2002 most recently, has built a legacy that could also include a unified Travis County fire system. 


Travis County is aiming for a hybrid unified fire system in the next “12 to 24 months,” Biscoe says. That change – one that would unite at least some of the county’s myriad Emergency Service Districts into perhaps a handful of super districts – could preview an eventual total unification of fire fighting in the unincorporated areas of Travis County.


Fire fighting in the county is broken into 12 individual Emergency Service Districts. These entities collect their budgets through property tax dollars. That arrangement can offer some amount of disparity in operating ability, thanks to fluctuations in property value throughout the county.


A unified district – or even a system that offered fewer districts – would allow districts to combine revenue, which would provide for more funding in regions that are shortchanged. The issue has been on the county’s radar for some time.


Biscoe says he’d be disappointed if a hybrid fire system doesn’t emerge by 2014. When that happens, Hobby, the man who may be most singly responsible for it, will have long left county service.


Hobby says that he had planned on retiring when former county Transportation and Natural Resources executive Joe Gieselman left county service in January 2011. However, Hobby felt obligated to oversee the completion of two studies that will guide key portions of county Emergency Services into the future: A look at the county’s emergency medical services and at its medical examiner’s office.


“I still have some work to do, by the way, between now and January, that I want to finish out with the unified fire service,” says Hobby, who will work a few months of overlap with his successor, who has not yet been named. “Right now though, it’s the perfect time for a person to come in, stay here, and be committed.” 


Biscoe gives Hobby credit for more than improving the operations fire services, the medical examiner’s office and EMS during a period of rapid growth for Travis County. “I do think that he improved our relationship with the City of Austin,” says Biscoe, alluding to Hobby’s previous service with Austin.


“Emergency Services requires knowledge and skills in interagency dealings and Danny has been around the block on this,” Huber says. “Retiring from a career at the City of Austin, Travis County was lucky to get him on board. These two jurisdictions are integrally related in many emergency service operations and significantly impact delivery of services in other areas of operations. Danny understands these pushes and pulls and has done a fabulous job of making Emergency Services run smoothly while constantly nudging continuous improvement.”


Huber adds, “Danny has tremendous ‘process skills’ which help slow-moving public sector entities tackle projects in ways that keep them moving forward to completion.”


Hobby says, “I’ve always been a person that loved to bring people together, to work better together. With this unified fire service, and then the medical examiner’s office – where we serve 43 other counties – those are two exciting projects that, if I were younger…”


Hobby doesn’t tail off so much as he moves in to the next thought. “I feel real proud of the fact that I have been blessed to work with such talented, professional people that are in Emergency Services. It’s just an honor to work with them,” he continues. “It’s an honor to work with this Court. They’ve been very supportive of all of the initiatives.”


“To be able to come close now to a unified fire service and to come close now to a new medical examiner’s facility and be tied in with the Medical School – those are exciting,” Hobby says. “I hope that I have had a little bit of input – again, I rely upon everybody else as a resource. But to be part of that, I think is important, and I feel proud to be part of that initial part.”


Hobby, who is also a minister, will leave county service for religious opportunities, which he said is where his heart lays. He says he also looks forward to spending more time with his three grandchildren.

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