Interview

Emily Lindley: Commissioner, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

October 16, 2019

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Where do you work, what is your title and what does your job actually entail?

I am a Commissioner at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, (TCEQ).  As a Commissioner, we are responsible for establishing overall agency policy and direction and for making final determinations on contested permitting and enforcement matters.

How long have you been performing this work?

I was appointed in August 2018.

Where are you from?

Born in Abilene, raised in Midland.

What did you study in college and where did you attend school?

I attended Baylor University where I studied Social Work.

How did you get your start in government?

When I graduated from Baylor, I planned to move to Austin and get a job either working in government or working with children. Those were two fields I knew I could use my degree in and were completely opposite of what my college internship had been (which was an internship with hospice). My plan was to try to find a job in either area, and after a year or two, make the switch to the other. I wanted to try them both out and see which one stuck.

After a short search, I landed my first job at the Rise School of Austin, a small non-profit preschool. Getting an organization like that up and running meant there was a lot of work to be done both inside and outside the classroom for all five of us full-time employees. We also had to punch in a timecard which meant I quickly learned the importance of punctuality!

After working at the Rise School for one year, I decided I had checked that box and that it was time to make the switch to government work in some form or fashion, so I set out to search for a new job. This is a funny story. In 2004, I had the week of July 4th off from the Rise School, and being the go-getter I thought I was, I decided to walk the halls of the Capitol with my resume in hand to knock on some doors. I knew no one, I didn’t know how to get around the building, and I had no idea that no one that works in the Capitol actually works that week. As you could imagine, I did a lot of knocking on doors and that was about it. While I would love to tell you that it was my roaming the halls that got me my first job in the Capitol, that is in no way the truth. To my good fortune, I had a friend interning in Governor Perry’s office that happened to know of an opening that was coming up in the scheduling office. I applied and got the gig. That is how I got my first job in government.

I worked in and around the Capitol for a few years and then started at the TCEQ in 2008 and have been here ever since except for four short months. I came to the agency initially thinking I would learn everything about the TCEQ and then take that skill set to the private sector and make lots of money! This agency sucked me in though; it does that to a lot of folks. It’s a great place to work and there is a great deal to learn.

While at the agency I’ve done a decent amount of bouncing around, again because there are so many diverse opportunities here. I started in the Office of Public Assistance, where I answered one of the agencies toll free 800 numbers and attended agency public meetings on proposed permits. Then I worked in the Intergovernmental Relations division for a few years. After that, I went over to the Office of Water to work directly for the Deputy Director. Finally, I landed in the Executive Director’s office working for the Deputy E.D. As you can tell, I’ve had jobs all over the agency!

In April 2018 I left TCEQ to go work at the EPA Region 6 office in Dallas as Chief of Staff to the Regional Administrator, and then in August of 2018 I was appointed commissioner. Leaving TCEQ to go work at EPA was the biggest and most beneficial career move I have made. At the time it seemed like a risk, but if I had not said yes to that opportunity, I feel sure I would not be a commissioner now. After I left the agency, I was encouraged by a few friends to apply to be a commissioner. If I had stayed at my current role at that time, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to apply. It took stepping out of my comfort zone and saying yes to an opportunity I really wasn’t sure about initially for me to realize that spreading my wings opened many doors for me. While I was only away from the TCEQ for a few months I did a lot of growing during that time, so much that coming back to the agency as a commissioner was something I felt capable of doing.

When did you know you wanted to work within the government?

I come from a long family line of teachers, so I knew public service was important and worthwhile. In college I had a policy class that really got me interested in public policy.  The discussions our professor made us engage in were at the time fascinating. I loved it. 

Proudest moment from 86th session?

Getting confirmed! 

Best professional advice you’ve ever received?

“Hey dumb dumb, take the job.”  It wasn’t said quite that boldly, but almost. Based on my experience, I have learned that if a job falls in your lap, it means that you impressed someone along the way, knowingly or not. If you have any inkling that it could be an awesome opportunity you should trust your gut, and if your gut says maybe this could be a good thing, well then try it.  Say yes, take the job.

Advice you wish you could give your younger self?

Just because you didn’t get the job you wanted doesn’t mean that things won’t work out for you.  Be patient. Opportunities could be right around the corner.

Any leadership programs, mentorship opportunities or organizations you’d recommend?

I was fortunate for the opportunity to attend and complete the Governor’s Executive Development Program through the LBJ School of Public Affairs.  I recommend it for those wanting to grow as a leader in government.  There is also a program called the Transformative Leadership Program at the LBJ School that I hear good things about.

Best tip(s) for staying organized?

Make a list and multiple times throughout the day go back to the list and check in.  Keep reminders around you at all times.

Best tip(s) for networking? Building your tribe in a potentially contentious or political environment?

It’s pretty simple, treat others the way you want to be treated.  Do you want to be respected by others? Then respect them, even if you disagree with them or their beliefs.  The golden rule should be applied in any and every work/life situation.  Relationships take work.  You have to put in the time and effort, even when you don’t feel like it.  If you do, you will reap the benefits. 

You can have dinner with anyone, living or dead – who and why?

Tough one, but I think at this point in my life I would say my two grandmothers who have passed.  I’d love to see their reaction to what I’m doing now. 

What’s always in your bag during session?

Chapstick and Advil.

Favorite political TV show/movie?

Veep and Alpha House. Alpha House didn’t last long, but I found it entertaining.

Favorite social media apps?

Instagram.  Less ranting and lots of pics of bulldogs!

Any final thoughts?

Do the due diligence you need to do your job right.  Understand the issue, understand everyone’s thoughts on the issue.  That doesn’t mean you have to agree with them.  Be informed so that you can make the right decision.

There is a quote I keep on my desk and read every day to help keep me motivated that I always enjoy sharing.  I read it in a publication years ago that is no longer produced, the article was called, “Dear Son”.

“Play.  Every day without exception.  Imagine, dream, and journey.  It’s a daily discipline, like brushing your teeth that you need to keep in your later years. 

But also work.  You were made to contribute to the world.  God gave you gifts expecting you to give them to others.”

Your gifts, whether they are big or small, are significant.  Don’t be scared to use them and have a little fun along the way.

Oh and…

“Why men great ‘til they gotta be great?” (Sorry I had to, I can’t get the song out of my head!).

Thanks so much to Commissioner Lindley for taking the time to share her insights and background with Pink Granite readers. Connect to Emily on LinkedIn here.

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Involved in politics for 20 years as a campaigner, a staffer, and now as a lobbyist - I've also worked as a creative director, freelance writer, and web-designer. These worlds all collide here at Pink Granite where we work to connect women to the resources they need to grow a career in Texas politics.

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