Naked City

One More New Job for Heitz

After 181/2 years, six jobs, and five city managers, Mike Heitz, director of the city's Watershed Protection and Development Review Dept., is leaving the City Hall roost on Aug. 1. Unlike so many city employees before him, Heitz is not -- we repeat, not -- headed for a higher-paying job with the Lower Colorado River Authority or Seton Healthcare Network. On the contrary, he's going back to his hometown of Louisville, Ky., to take a lower-paying job as director of the city's Metro Parks system. The pay may be less -- $98,000 there, $118,000 here -- but Heitz reasons that Louisville's lower cost of housing will more than make up the difference in salary.

In Louisville, Heitz, an architect, will oversee 119 parks, forests, and recreation facilities and manage an operating budget of $25 million. Eighteen of Louisville's prized parks were designed and developed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the architect and designer of New York's Central Park. Some of those parks were ravaged by a tornado in 1974, and Heitz, then a young assistant parks engineer in Louisville, was part of a team that worked to restore the sites.

Heitz started his job tenure in Austin as assistant director of building inspection, then moved up to serve as acting director of what was then the Resource Management Dept. He returned to building inspection to take the director's post; then it was on to the top position in the parks department, where he stayed for four years (from 1992 to 1996) before moving on to oversee the Watershed Protection Dept., formerly the Drainage Utility. That department took on a number of other functions, including development review (and building inspection), in a 2002 reorganization.

Heitz's fairly constant change of hats occasionally sparked questions about his ability to move seamlessly from one job to another, particularly when he took over the city's environmental and water-quality programs at a time when enviro-development clashes were fairly constant. Heitz at that time was regarded as pro-development.

But overall, Heitz says, his most satisfying experiences as a department head were with PARD, where a number of new parks and swimming pools were added under his watch. Having served under five former city managers -- Jorge Carrasco, interim manager John Ware, Camille Barnett, Jesus Garza, and now Toby Futrell -- he doesn't pick a favorite. "I think I really worked well with all the city managers," he said.

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