Garza makes major changes to city organization

Monday, March 27, 2023 by Jo Clifton

Interim City Manager Jesús Garza announced a series of major organizational changes in a press release late Friday, saying his “highest priority is to organize our people and our work so that we are operating cohesively and focused on problem-solving.”

The new structure “will be conducive to reducing process redundancies and to operating at the highest efficiency,” Garza said.

For Austinites who follow land use and zoning cases, perhaps the most important change is the hiring of a new director of planning and separating the Planning Department from the Housing Department.

Garza announced he has hired Lauren Middleton-Pratt as director of the Planning Department. She currently serves as assistant city manager in Buda, where her duties include overseeing that city’s Development Services Department, including planning and zoning, engineering, building inspections and code enforcement, among others. Middleton-Pratt will join the city of Austin on May 1. Until then, David Gray will serve as interim director.

Assistant City Manager Veronica Briseño will oversee the Development Services Department, Housing, Planning, Economic Development and the Austin Convention Center.

The Development Services Department and the Austin Code Department will be consolidated under the leadership of José Roig, interim director. In a separate memo, Roig wrote that “Austin Code and Development Services have long been partners in ensuring the safety of our built environment. This realignment formalizes our working relationship, streamlines how the city provides the services, and brings our organizational structure in line with the best practices of our peer cities.”

Other notable changes include consolidation of Austin Transportation, Public Works, the Corridor Program Office and the Project Connect Office. The new department will be called Public Works and Transportation, and will report to interim Director Richard Mendoza. This department, along with Austin Water, Watershed Protection and Aviation, will report to interim Assistant City Manager Robert Goode.

Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo will now report directly to the city manager. In addition, the director of Fleet Mobility Services and the Building Services Officer will report to Van Eenoo.

Garza also announced that he is creating a new executive position called Strategic Communications and External Affairs. He did not name a person to take the job, but it seems likely that the decision is a direct response to perceived failures in communication during the recent ice storm. The intergovernmental relations officer and the chief communications director will report to the person holding this job.

Beginning April 1, Garza announced that Kerrica Laake will become interim director of Communications and Technology Management. According to the memo, the current director, Chris Stewart, “has agreed to stay on for six months to assist Kerrica with this important transition.” The interim chief innovation officer and the chief information security officer will both be part of CTM.

Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzales will oversee CTM, as well as Human Resources, the Labor Relations Office, Civil Rights, the Equity Office, the Resilience Office and the Sustainability Office.

Assistant City Manager Stephanie Hayden-Howard will have the task of overseeing the Austin Public Library, Parks and Recreation, Austin Public Health, Animal Services, and Austin Resource Recovery. Ken Snipes, director of ARR, will be on special assignment “to lead an evaluation of our Emergency Operations functions and will be a special assistant to Interim Assistant City Manager Bruce Mills.” Mills’ portfolio includes all the emergency services departments plus Forensic Science and the Office of the Chief Medical Director.

Garza also announced that he was promoting Sammi Curless to Assistant to the City Manager. Longtime City Council liaison Kay Guedea will report to her.

Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent, City Attorney Anne Morgan and Sylvia Hardman, interim director of the Office of Police Oversight, will continue to report directly to the city manager.

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