AUSTIN (KXAN) — Assistant City Manager Anthony Snipes has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into a controversial training session titled “Women Leading in Local Government.”
The training was in response to the newly elected 10-1 council, which is made up of mostly women. Snipes organized the event.
Austin City Council members said they did not learn about the March 27 sessions until Tuesday night — when it hit blogs and social media. City leaders said one of the speakers, Jonathan Allen, suggested women ask too many questions, do not like to deal with finances and should be spoken to differently than men.
“I’m not someone who is generally a ‘P.C. police’ and jumps on every little thing that could have been taken out of context,” said councilwoman Ellen Troxclair. “So I did go back and watch the full video, but I only became more and more frustrated, and more and more offended.”
Other council members thought the whole situation could have been avoided.
“The irony I see in this is, people really are, I think, hypersensitive to these issues of gender, sexism, race,” said councilman Don Zimmerman, “It’s as if the hypersensitivity gets everybody ginned up about having training, and then ironically they do the very thing they’re trying to avoid by bringing up issues that don’t need to be discussed at all.”
City Manager Marc Ott said Wednesday he was embarrassed and offended by the speakers at the training. He said he was not there at the time and nor were any council members.
“I take responsibility for this, the buck stops at city manager’s desk,” said Ott. “I take responsibility. It should not have happened; it should have been vetted.”
Ott sent the following memo, which was obtained by the Austin Monitor, to Mayor Steve Adler and city council members:
As stated in my memo to you yesterday, the remarks made in the referenced training are not reflective in any way of our culture, philosophy, or approach toward managing this organization, nor our approach toward partnering with the City Council. I also promised to work toward addressing this issue swiftly and directly. To that end, I have already begun an investigation into how this training was implemented without the appropriate vetting.
As we do in any evaluation of a serious personal issue, I have put Assistant City Manger Anthony Snipes on Administrative Leave pending the outcome of this investigation. In the interim Human Resource Director Mark Washington will be the Acting Assistant City Manager.
“I think it’s great and appropriate that the city manager is conducting an investigation to ensure that that kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” said Adler.
Neither council members nor the mayor had any input in the Ott’s decision to put Snipes on leave, but Adler said it had better be a one-time occurrence.
“I think it’s important that all future trainings don’t repeat this same error in judgment,” the mayor said.
Snipes and Allen, the former city manager for Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., are both part the National Forum for Black Public Administrators. Allen was fired from his position in April.
The City of Austin said it did not pay Allen to speak at the event or for his travel expenses, but did pay $457.70 for his hotel stay. The second speaker, Dr. Miya Burt-Stewart, did not receive any money from the city.
In his role as assistant city manager, Snipes oversees human relations and labor relations, along with several other tasks. He served as the chief of staff for the City of Austin for four years before moving into his current role.
Former Mayor Lee Leffingwell weighs in
“Based on the reporting of it, I think the content was very inappropriate, and I think it was even bizarre. And I can’t imagine it was even sanctioned by city staff,” said former mayor Lee Leffingwell. “I mean it would not be unusual for them to hire someone to help facilitate training…but I’m sure that if they knew what he was going to say they wouldn’t have approved that.”
Leffingwell believed Ott’s decision to step in and take action was the right one.
“I think the city manager made an appropriate response,” Leffingwell said of the decision to place Snipes on leave. “(Ott) is the city manager, he’s responsible for what those who work under him do and say and I think it was appropriate for him to take that responsibility and take any corrective actions he deems necessary, and I think corrective action is probably warranted.”