Thursday, August 27, 2009

Milwaukee Sustainability Director Resigns; Decisions,Tasks Ahead

Ann Beier, Milwaukee's first sustainability director, has resigned after three years to return to Portland for an environmental position there.

Ann was a solid and savvy public servant. She will be missed.

Word on the street is that unlike the national search that found Ann (as a member of Mayor Tom Barrett's Green Team, I participated in the creation of the sustainability position and the hiring process) a quicker search will likely result in a local selection, perhaps an existing city employee who will merge his or her current job with the position Ann held.

A couple of observations:

It's good that the position will be filled, given the sacrifices coming in a tough budget, though someone doing double duty will be in a difficult position to get important work done at either/both posts.

It can be done, but it will take super energy and talent.

The city must have a strong voice in sustainability issues because several major decisions are looming, including whether/when to sign on to Waukesha's Lake Michigan diversion application (as the supplier, Milwaukee would have to sign on, though there are major hurdles in Common Council policy for Waukesha to satisfy, or overcome).

And there is the matter of the separate city study on how to price water, for which a consultant has yet to be hired.

Could the city sign on to an application before it knew how to price what was being supplied?

Does Waukesha care to wait for, or abide by, the answers (and it has an aggressive team of lawyers, consultants, scientists and city officials working fulltime on these matters)?

In fact, there are several lines of authority in City Hall that would carry weight in all these decisions:

The Common Council.

The Mayor, for whom the sustainability officer works.

The Water Utility Manager, responsible to the Mayor, but also, as a revenue producer, a resource for the Council.

The sustainability officer will a key position adviser for the Mayor, and the Council, so whom Mayor Barrett name will help define and face important decision as the Waukesha application and water pricing study take shape this year.

No doubt that Milwaukee needs a strong sustainability officer.

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