Jobs afoot at Planning, Sustainability

March 12, 2010

By Thomas J. Walsh
For PlanPhilly

While most city departments continue to cut staff, a few rare jobs, being funded by outside sources, are being advertised by the city within the Planning and Sustainability offices.

Planning, thanks to a grant from the William Penn Foundation, is ready to establish a Citizens Planning Institute (CPI) in April, which it is calling “the educational and civic outreach component of its comprehensive planning and zoning code reform initiative.”

The commission is seeking a project coordinator to develop a pilot program for the CPI for at least nine months, with up to $50,000 of the grant money going toward the position. The person who wins the job will have to work hard to keep it – during the pilot phase, additional funding will be sought to keep the position.

“I hope that they can get someone to come in who has done some of this before, maybe across the country, who has the experience of leading an institute,” said Natalia Olson Urtecho, who sits on both the Planning and Zoning Code commissions.

The Planning Commission is also seeking a firm – or an individual – to provide graphic design services for the CPI. Up to $24,500 of the William Penn funds are earmarked for the contract.

Applications for both jobs will be accepted by Planning Commission Deputy Executive Director Gary Jastrzab until 5 p.m., Friday, March 19.

The commission is also hoping to hire a “Nutrition and Physical Activity Healthy Communities Coordinator” – that is, a “planner who would help us to take the public health impacts of all of our work into account,” explained Jastrzab.

The health planner would be paid between $44,000 and $56,000, to be paid for by federal stimulus money through the Centers for Disease Control, but the position is still technically up in the air.

Though the job is posted on the Planning Commission’s web site, “We haven’t heard about that grant yet,” said Jastrzab, who credits the city’s Health Department with the application. “It could be any day now. We expect that we will be successful, but the conditions of the grant are that you need to be up and running fairly quickly. So this is an example of ‘planning to plan.’ We want to be ahead of the curve on this.”

Through the city’s budget crisis and the national recession, the Planning Commission has managed to avoid layoffs through attrition, unfilled open positions and one staffer moving to another city department. But Jastrzab said he’s hoping the worst of it is over.

“We expect through grants and the budget we submitted for fiscal year 2011 that we will have a number of positions available to hire,” he said. “The exact number is still subject to discussion, but we’re hopeful, especially after the two years of pain that we’ve gone through. With all the initiatives we have on the table, we think with the grants that we’ll be able to hire staff to carry out those more effectively.”

Sustainability: Growing, moving
At the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the new gig is “energy conservation coordinator,” reporting to Director Katherine Gajewski.

The job will entail “outreach and education, and to implement the development of target energy budgets,” said Alex Dews, the policy and program manager at Sustainability. “It’s part of the Greenworks plan for all of the [city] departments. Right now there really is no incentive to save energy because the departments don’t pay their own energy bills.”

Dews said the idea is that each city agency be given a “target energy” budget to work with, along with an ability to accurately track usage and compare it with a baseline and other departments. The conservation coordinator would be responsible for managing a new utility bill management database, and to train facilities managers and department heads in its use. Every city department is charged with reducing its energy use by 5 percent in fiscal year 2010, and by 10 percent in 2011.

The new employee’s salary will be “commensurate with experience” and come from the same funding that pays Dews: an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, part of the $14.1 million the new city agency received from the U.S. Department of Energy last fall.

Dews, a student who expects to earn a master’s degree in sustainable design from Philadelphia University in May, came on part time in the fall and became a fulltime staffer in January. Previously, he had worked in real estate development, and more recently on the policy side of government with Councilman Curtis Jones, whose district includes Philly U. 

The new hire will join Gajewski, Dews and three other staffers: Kristin Sullivan, director of the “Solar City Partnership” between the DOE and the city; Theresa Driscol, Gajewski’s assistant; and Sarah Wu, Sustainability’s outreach and policy coordinator, who is focusing much of her work on the city’s urban agriculture efforts.

All will be leaving their current space in the Municipal Services Building and moving in with the Planning Commission on the 13th floor of One Parkway within a month or so.
 
“We need a little bit more space,” said Dews. “We share a floor with the Office of Supportive Housing. They’ve been a great host for us, but we’ve outgrown it already, and it’s a little bit hard to find us.”

Gajewsky and Dews say the move is a natural one, since Sustainability works closely with members of the Planning and Commerce departments, both headed up by Acting Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger, and with the city’s Public Property Office.

“There are a lot of people across city government who have worked with our office to make some of the grant proposals as strong as they have been,” Dews said. “A lot of people are supporting our efforts.”

Finally, in the not-at-all surprising department, Sustainability has a growing following on Facebook. “It’s used to be that everyone who joined our Facebook page was someone one of us knew,” Dews said. “Now, there are people following us in Europe and South America. It’s an interesting way to get your message out.”

Contact the reporter at thomaswalsh1@gmail.com.

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