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Photo by Jim Nix

Watershed Protection makes departmental changes

Friday, July 9, 2021 by Amy Smith

In response to the retirements of key personnel, and to better respond to Austin’s growth while retaining the city’s environmental identity, the Watershed Protection Department has undergone a staff reorganization, Director Jorge Morales told the Environmental Commission at its Tuesday meeting.

The changes both restructure and temporarily fill the job vacancies that were created with the recent retirement of Environmental Officer Chris Herrington and the upcoming retirement of Assistant Director Jose Guerrero, who leaves the city next month after 37 years. More retirements are also anticipated within the department’s rank and file.

Morales, who moved from the city’s Public Works Department to take lead Watershed in October 2019, said he learned during his first week on the job that three members of his executive team would be leaving – Herrington, Guerrero and Mike Personett, an assistant director who retired last year after serving as the department’s interim director.

The reorganization work kicked off a year ago in July.

“One might think, why would you start a realignment process during the pandemic? The pandemic taught us a lot of things … it’s taught us that we have to be resilient, and to be resilient you have to plan,” Morales said. “So many things happened during the pandemic and it’s made us a stronger organization, but in the end I felt that the executive structure needed to be realigned, so that was step one.”

Another step was to ask Watershed employees either to respond to an online survey or participate in a series of feedback sessions, which combined, resulted in more than 75 percent of the employees providing feedback.

With Herrington’s departure last week, Sara Hartley takes on his responsibilities as interim director/environmental officer until a successor is hired. Hartley will oversee planning, monitoring and compliance, which includes the floodplain office, drainage review and environmental policy review. She’ll be joined by Deputy Environmental Officer Liz Johnston.

Additionally, financial manager Anupa Gharpurey is now an interim assistant director overseeing the department’s support services, which cover a range of functions including administration, financial services, IT management, education, and communications and community engagement.

Assistant Director Mike Kelly will assume more engineering oversight that will focus on a number of the department’s capital projects.

Morales said his emphasis is on equity, effectiveness and efficiency. He said the realignment “has been the anchor of what we are attempting to do and making sure we’re serving the citizens of this community, addressing (the issues) promptly and making sure that we retain the green identity of this community.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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