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Friday, June 17, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Facing termination, CodeNEXT leader quits

The top executive presiding over the city’s rewrite of its land use regulations, Matt Lewis, submitted his resignation on Thursday after an investigation by the Human Resources Department concluded that Lewis had violated city policies regarding harassment of and retaliation against other city employees.

Lewis, the executive lead over CodeNEXT and assistant director of long-range planning, neighborhood involvement and urban design and demographics in the Planning and Zoning Department, defended his actions in his letter of resignation.

“Due to historical obstacles, a substantial portion of my work focused on creating a new proactive mindset in the department. I knew I would face challenges but I underestimated the magnitude of the internal pushback. This opposition manifested itself in a variety of spurious allegations. While I take exception to those allegations, the resistance they reflect makes it impossible to continue in my position,” he wrote.

Lewis also said Thursday that his boss, department director Greg Guernsey, had recommended him for a raise right before he was placed on administrative leave.

According to a statement released by Guernsey on Thursday, “Lewis was placed on Administrative Leave April 18, 2016 while the Human Resources Department conducted an investigation into allegations involving Mr. Lewis’s professional behavior. After reviewing the findings of those investigations Mr. Lewis opted to resign from the City.”

According to the investigation report released on Thursday, Donna Arwood, who worked for Lewis, stated that he yelled at her and followed her to her cubicle, “which made her feel upset, intimidated, and emotionally threatened.”

The report stated that Lewis was upset because he thought people, including Arwood, were making anonymous complaints about him. The report contains statements from various witnesses regarding a particular incident on April 15, after which Arwood complained to the Human Resources division.

“Evidence indicates Mr. Lewis made retaliatory actions against Ms. Arwood,” the report reads. “Ms. Arwood filed several complaints with the human resources division regarding Mr. Lewis’s conduct toward her.”

Retaliation included Lewis’ decision to move Arwood and diminish some of her duties, the investigators found.

There was also an allegation against Lewis that he discriminated against Arwood and other older women based on their age. However, the investigators said the evidence did not indicate that Lewis was discriminating based on age or gender.

Lewis, who won several national awards for his work in Hutto and San Marcos before coming to Austin in September 2014 as assistant director of the Planning and Development Review Department, plans to start his own company now.

Lewis said Thursday night that he has already secured the name Simple City Design and that this new firm would be focused on helping communities draw up comprehensive master plans and doing various kinds of master planning. He said he wants “to help cities be nimble” and help create “resilient cities.”

After the Zucker Report came out in March 2015, describing in scathing detail everything that was off-kilter in the Planning and Development Review Department, the department was split and Lewis went with Guernsey, becoming head of CodeNEXT.

Lewis said that he and his team had made elaborate plans for solving some of the problems pointed out by the Zucker Report. He said he was proud of his tenure at the city and was hopeful that new leadership would continue to implement and use “the advancements my team and I developed to create a better Austin, Texas.”

In his statement, Guernsey said, “I want to assure everyone that Mr. Lewis’s departure will not affect the work being done by the CodeNEXT team. Jim Robertson, who has served as the Project Manager for over a year, will continue to guide the project forward. I’m confident the CodeNEXT team is on track to meet its current timeline. The next prescription paper will be released in July and the draft of the code is still scheduled for release in January 2017.”

At the moment, the CodeNEXT process is about two years behind schedule and has cost more than $2.2 million.

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Photo by WhisperToMe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

CodeNEXT: CodeNEXT is the name given to the land development code rewrite process undertaken in the early 2010s by the City of Austin.

Planning and Development Review: The Planning and Development Review Department is responsible for Austin's city planning, preservation, and design. The department also provides development review and inspection services for the city.

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