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Meet TCEQ Commissioner Emily Lindley

Sept. 17, 2018 – A leader who examines all angles

 

Commissioner Emily Lindley (center) is flanked by two chairmen—new Chairman Jon Niermann (left) and retired Chairman Bryan W. Shaw.
Commissioner Emily Lindley (center) is flanked by two chairmen—new Chairman Jon Niermann (left) and retired Chairman Bryan W. Shaw.

While she initially got a lot of calls from friends, former and current colleagues, and general well-wishers, it was not until after the Labor Day holiday that the pace quickened. Emily Lindley’s phone began to ring non-stop and her calendar filled fast.

That’s not to say that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s new commissioner did not hit the ground running. She was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott and sworn in by then-Chairman Bryan W. Shaw on Aug. 20, a mere two days before her first Commissioners’ Agenda meeting. “I’ve already presided over two agendas with two different chairmen!” says Lindley.

Lindley prepares for her next meeting.
Lindley prepares for her next meeting.

Someone observing her first meeting, on Aug. 22, might have been surprised that she was able to jump right in with thoughtful questions and responses, given such a short time to prepare. But TCEQ staff members know that she has served the state, and recently the federal government, well throughout her career and brings a depth of experience with the agency to her new role.

Some background

A professor of hers at Baylor University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work, pointed out that she was a “macro thinker.” She thinks about the big things—policy, long-term strategy, and planning—rather than examining minutiae.

Lindley’s interest in policy came naturally. Her grandmother was very politically engaged and taught all her grandchildren, whether they shared her specific leanings or not, to get involved and vote.

So instead of pursuing an advanced degree in social work, she worked for a while as a teacher (the “family business”—both her parents were teachers) at the Rice School before getting her foot in the door of her first government job, in then-Gov. Perry’s scheduling office.

Lindley eventually made her way to the TCEQ, where she spent ten years serving in several areas, before going to work as chief of staff for Anne Idsal, the administrator for the EPA’s Region 6 office in Dallas, where she learned about issues facing neighboring states as well as Texas. “I visited tribal nations where their love for Mother Earth and their struggles with issues like water availability and public drinking water infrastructure are very real. I also learned from seeing what issues other states have and how they are different but similar,” she says. “There is a lot we can learn from each other.”

Lindley is ready to make a motion during her second agenda meeting as Chairman Niermann stands by to take formal action.
Lindley is ready to make a motion during her second agenda meeting as Chairman Niermann stands by to take formal action.

When the selection was announced, Idsal had only words of praise for her former employee, “I applaud Gov. Abbott’s announcement of Emily Lindley’s appointment as commissioner at the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality. Emily has been a valuable, well-respected member of the EPA team and we look forward to continuing to work with her."

Stakeholder meetings

Some of those phone calls lighting up her line are from stakeholders. This also is not new to her. In her first job at the agency, in the Office of Public Assistance (now part of the Office of the Chief Clerk), Lindley spent a lot of time in public meetings, where she heard the concerns of citizens, applicants, elected officials, and other interested parties. While serving in the agency’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations, she answered questions from elected officials about all kinds of environmental concerns. As a special assistant to the deputy director in the Office of Water, Lindley worked on areas of interest to everyone in the state, collaborating with TCEQ employees and representatives of other state agencies to tackle problems caused by drought, especially in the areas of public drinking water, water supply and management, and water rights and distribution.

Experience with decision makers

In her last position at the agency as a regular staff member, Lindley was special assistant to Deputy Executive Director Stephanie Bergeron Perdue. She considers this job great preparation for her current position as commissioner. “I got to be around decision-makers a lot—thinking things through and looking at issues from all angles,” she explains. “Being in the room when important decisions were made, understanding how the budget is developed, learning about contracts and audits—the day-to-day operations that make the agency run—is not glamorous but it’s important. Briefings from managers gave me a thorough understanding of the nuts and bolts of the inner workings of the agency.”

“I have every confidence that Emily Lindley will serve the state well as commissioner,” says Perdue. “She brings a wealth of experience with the agency’s processes, procedures, and programs to the job.”

Adapting and pushing ahead

Lindley says she misses having candid conversations with staff members (doing so could jeopardize her ability to make impartial decisions as a policy maker). It is also an adjustment to limit her discussions with her fellow commissioners to public settings, but she concedes that this is the new reality.

Another aspect of the job that she is mindful of is the high visibility. “Everything you say is scrutinized and, on the record,” says Lindley. “While it can be intimidating, it is a healthy tension that keeps you from becoming complacent.”

She hardly has time for complacency to set in, because there is lots of studying to be done in advance of the upcoming legislative session. “My priority is to get up to speed on the Legislative Appropriations Request [the proposed budget] so I can assist the agency in carrying these requests forward.” Then there’s the voluminous amount of reading material required to prepare for the aforementioned meetings of the commission.

Lindley is also traveling to the annual Valley Environmental Summit, later this month, to speak to partners there on issues of mutual interest.

Mr. Buster presides over his corner of the Lindley home.
Mr. Buster presides over his corner of the Lindley home.

Family

When she is not working, Lindley and her husband, Kevin, enjoy spending time with their rescue bulldog, Mr. Buster; working to master sous-vide cooking; and traveling. She likes to play tennis, read fiction, and, occasionally, fish.

Now that she is back in Austin, she is also happy to resume some of her volunteer activities, particularly with Meals on Wheels and the Austin Women’s Symphony League.

But first, there’s studying to be done.

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All photos TCEQ.