Assigning the cold designation of bureaucrat to someone who works for a city is easy in this age of austerity. Even in a city of Austin’s size, many people who are residents of the city or visiting for the first time interact with its government in the Capital City’s gorgeous parks and green spaces during one of countless festivals and special events. Whether that interaction is positive or negative might inform decisions about moving here, visiting again or spending money.
Jason Maurer, a 13-year city worker and current events manager for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, does the not-necessarily-glamorous work of making sure all those points of contact are seamless. He’s not the guy giving out proclamations or being interviewed on television, but he is the one attending many meetings with the Austin City Limits Music Festival team and leading his two APRD colleagues’ efforts in accommodating a range of competing interests.
“It’s about working hard and putting the effort into it,” said Maurer in a South Austin coffee shop as we discussed what has been his life’s work. Maurer, a resident since 1994, recalled the very first ACL Festival and how much it has evolved along with the growing city. “Everyone can make a difference, regardless of who you are. You don’t have to be a president or a front-line worker. What people do everyday is what really matters. With municipal government, you have to keep in focus—this may be that person’s first contact with the city or it might be their last. There is a lot of honor in working for municipal government.”
Listening, managing unique people and relationships and multitasking are critical responsibilities for a city office that manages some of the day to day outdoor rentals for families, which is about 1,600 rentals per year, and hosts 100 to 150 special events per year. On a typical day, Maurer’s in three to four daily meetings and then spends time digesting notes from all those meetings. During busy season (roughly from March through May and again in the fall), his department is the caretaker of property, making sure that traffic is flowing and everything’s happening without a glitch. That often means working weekends.
“My family taught me to laugh and have passion about your work. My grandparents taught me about sticking with something, investing in it and working hard,” said Maurer, adding that they grew up in the era of hiding money in shoe boxes during the Depression. “Some of those values were imparted: putting in a good day’s work. You can never be too good to do the most basic job.”
While at the University of Texas at Austin, he worked part-time jobs for the city in Facilities Planning and Management; a few months after graduation, he got a call from the same department saying that they’d never filled the position. Six months later, one of the city managers needed an executive assistant to fill in for someone who was on maternity leave. Shortly thereafter, he was called by former Mayor Kirk Watson’s office. When Watson resigned to run for the senate, Maurer was offered a position working for then City Manager Toby Futrell, which he held until 2008. “It’s been an incredible experience working for the city. I always thought there was a big sense of family.”
Brenham-raised and artistically inclined as a child growing up, Maurer was exposed to the value of public service early on. His maternal grandfather worked for Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative and his paternal grandfather worked for the Lower Colorado River Authority. One of his grandmothers was a homemaker and the other a teacher, while his mother was a lifelong banker. Maurer worked at Silver Wings Ballroom, an events space in Brenham, throughout his teenage years, beginning in the kitchen and ultimately moving up to a leadership position. It was never a question of whether to move to Austin, but more when, since his grandfather, a diehard Longhorns’ fan, drove him to football games years ago. UT was the only college he applied to, and he majored in education.
As a young child, Maurer shied away from football and fishing, the typical pursuits of boys in his town. He took piano lessons, played with dolls and embraced being free-spirited. In February of 2000, a cousin spilled the beans to his mother. “Coming out is really a steaming plate of honesty served without the finishing sauce,” he deadpans. “We actually have talked more than ever before since that time—I think now about the respect we have and it makes me tear up.” It was a process of acceptance and understanding for his Lutheran-raised parents; they ultimately came to realize that they hadn’t done anything “wrong” in raising their son. “I think it was a lot of pressure they felt on themselves,” said Maurer. “You did nothing wrong. You did everything right. You let me be me. My artistic side was encouraged.”
Maurer met his partner of almost 10 years, Bruce Nelson, at a Hyde Park Theater performance. A mutual friend connected them officially a few days later, which led to dates and a bond that’s only grown over time. While Maurer is all about to-do lists, Nelson, who works for Dell as a Commercial/Channel Credit advisor, is more free-spirited and enjoys cultivating his backyard garden. They complement each other well and, according to Maurer, they’ve never really had a serious argument. They enjoy dinners at Buenos Aires Café and time spent relaxing by the pool at their house in Travis Country.
“The biggest thing that bonds Jason and I together is our balance,” said Nelson, a resident of Austin for 12 years. “Real relationships look nothing like a Nicholas Sparks novel-turned-movie—yes, there absolutely has to be that deep love and passion for each other, but there is also the reality of day-to-day life, which is not always perfect and you have to realize that.”
Maurer recalled a former colleague who often chides him about his first day at City Hall years ago: “I had highlights; I can only imagine what I was wearing at the time. She says (he adopts a Southern drawl], ‘Jason, do you remember that first day when you came up here with highlights in your hair?’ Whew, we thought something about you!’” he said, laughing. “And we’re great friends. You have to love what you’re doing, but if you can’t laugh at work, you are doomed from the get go.”
Futrell said that Maurer’s name should appear next to the universal definition of “strong work ethic.” She recalled one late night at City Hall when she was hashing out negotiations on a complex project and one of the people involved in negotiations showed up with a bottle of wine. Given the location, there were paper cups—and that’s it. “I made a quiet phone call to Jason,” she said. “He’d luckily stayed downtown to meet some friends for dinner. He convinced the bartender at the restaurant to give him a wine (bottle) opener and glasses—then showed up within 15 minutes to save the day as if the request was perfectly normal.”
Nelson and Maurer visited Maui in January and spent time relaxing on the beach; they hope to schedule more time to enjoy th city’s plentiful offerings. Marriage is a goal, but they want to wait until it’s legal in Texas. Professionally, Maurer will stick with the city; in 10 years, he could retire. What would he change about his beloved Austin? “We need multimodal mass transit here, like in New York City and Chicago,” said Maurer, adding that anything passed now will initiate a multi-year process.
“There’s a line in the city proclamations that says, ‘There’s no greater calling than public service.’ I think that’s true,” Maurer said. “You sacrifice something to do it, but there are rewards. My greatest one is the relationships I’ve made and the folks I’ve met.”