Earlier this week, Mayor Fischer announced he’d hired Maria Koetter as the long-awaited Director of Sustainability for the city. For those of who remember the 2010
Mayoral election, the hire brought us back to Jackie Green’s independent candidacy, and speculation at the time that Green dropped out of the race that he was promised a job in the new administration. Turns out he wasn’t, but this week’s news prompted Green to send the following letter out to his followers.
I think it’s interesting enough to share with you here:
The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability
by Jackie Green, former mayoral candidate
20 January 2012
Late 2010 it was erroneously believed that I had traded a mayoral endorsement for the directorship of the Office of Sustainability. Hear clearly. I have no interest in serving this Office of Sustainability. To begin with, I have my hands full shepherding three bicycle shops through yet another year of recession. But more to the point, I long have maintained that Louisville cannot recruit a Director of Sustainability currently serving in another city because they, like me, want nothing to do with Louisville’s current land use, transportation and energy policies. The following critique is not of the Director of Sustainability, but rather it is a critique of the office, the structure, the priorities, scope, authority and resources of the Office of Sustainability as determined by the mayor. It is also a critique of the mayor’s selection criterion for the directorship. The mayor’s selection criterion informs what the mayor expects from the office. The selection should leverage leadership-by-example. The Director of Sustainability should be held to a higher standard than most people in the private sector. It is analogous to expecting members of Louisville Metro Police Department not to drive drunk. Again, the following critique is not of the Director of Sustainability, but of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and his choices relative to the office.
I immediately extended congratulations to the mayor’s selected director and extended an invitation to dialogue. She responded with an acceptance of the invitation. I will do what I can to help the director and the mayor focus the Office of Sustainability and the city of Louisville on sustainability priorities. That help begins with speaking plainly, honestly of the mayor’s Office of Sustainability and of his selection.
Mayor Fischer’s first mistake was in burying the newly created Office of Sustainability within the Department of Economic Growth and Innovation. For several reasons the Director of Sustainability should have direct access to and answer directly to the mayor.
The mayor’s statement in the announcement of the office raised real concerns. “Having a point person for sustainability will not only lead to cost-saving efficiencies in city government, it will help make Louisville a more environmentally friendly city and serve as an economic development tool by attracting new green industries and jobs.”
Again, Louisville’s Director of Sustainability should not be an ‘economic development tool’, an economic booster, buried within the Department of Economic Growth. Louisville’s path to becoming a sustainable (“environmentally friendly”) city is by developing a strong public transit system, by becoming walkable, more compact, more bicycle-friendly, by protecting local farms, fields and forests, by developing superior schools and adequate housing in clean, peaceful neighborhoods.
Further, Louisville’s Director of Sustainability should not focus on “cost-saving efficiencies in city government”. Public Works & Assets’ office of Facilities Management already monitors energy contracts with Johnson Controls that result in desired cost-savings. Let Public Works and other departments do their jobs in making city government more efficient.
Further analysis of the mayor’s selection illustrates how he on several accounts compounded his mistakes. First, by selecting a director of whom a long-time, local Sierra Club activist asked: “Who is she? And what work has she done?”, the mayor lost an opportunity to build strong local allies needed to forward sustainability. If the mayor were determined to tap local talent for the city’s Director of Sustainability, that person should have long, deep connections with the local environmental community, particularly in light of the new director’s consulting work with Shell and Halliburton.
While it is encouraging that the mayor selected someone with Green Building Council experience and whose home sports solar panels his overall score on establishing the Office of Sustainability is, at least initially, weak.
This lack of understanding of sustainability comes as no surprise to many. In the mayoral race of 2010 the three mayoral candidates (Greg Fischer, Jackie Green and Hal Heiner) were invited to address the Louisville Sustainability Forum. Heiner did not show up – he knew this was not his audience. Fischer did not show up either, he sent a lieutenant while he attended a fund raiser. All three candidates were told in advance that they would be asked their definition of ‘sustainability’. Fischer’s lieutenant said that he and Fischer ‘googled’ sustainability and then defined sustainability as “diversity and productivity over time”. Breath-taking as the admission was that they had to ‘google’ the word to define it, the quadratic equation as definition confirmed all doubts – the Fischer camp had/has no real understanding of sustainability. Confidence within the forum was restored only after Green defined sustainability as “meeting one’s needs, as a city or as a species, without reducing the ability of others to meet their needs”.
Sustainability is about meeting our population’s needs (food, shelter, energy, transportation) in an environmentally friendly manner. Louisville will not make progress on the sustainability front until we address the basics. While the questions: How can you save the city money? What businesses can you attract? may be appropriate for some positions, the questions the mayor should ask of all interviewees for the Director of Sustainability should be: What are your primary forms of transportation? What do you know of gardens and orchards? What kind of neighborhood do you live in? How energy intensive is your life?
Pledge with me, to reach out to the mayor and the Director of Sustainability in making Louisville a sustainable city. They need our help. We need their help.