No Sustainability Input

RECEIVED Tue., June 8, 2010

Dear Editor,
    On Thursday, June 3, Austinites were invited to meet the four finalists being considered for Austin’s new chief sustainability officer. More than 100 citizens took time out from their week to meet these candidates, one of whom will be chosen to lead and coordinate sustainability at the rank of an assistant city manager.
    However, as the meeting began, I began to wonder why the city invited us.
    Environmentalists wanted this position and were a main reason it was created. Yet the only way our opinion was solicited was through a small comment form that rated each of the finalists. The form did not even have a place for the people filling it out to identify themselves. The forms were not strictly monitored, so it was quite possible for one person to hand in several (or in theory dozens) of forms, which would exaggerate their influence.
    When I asked what would become of these comment forms, I was told by city staff that they would all be read by the city manager. I wondered aloud if the staff was insulting my intelligence, that a busy city manager that oversaw 24 or so departments would have time to read dozens of anonymous forms.
    And assuming for the sake of argument that he did, does this substitute for direct input from the constituency that asked for this position in the first place? In several past situations, environmentalists have actually been appointed to interview committees to give direct input into the hiring process.
    This time, we have been brushed out of the way, without being allowed real input in the hiring. The form is a poor (some would say ridiculous) substitute for direct involvement.
Paul Robbins
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