AUSTIN (KXAN) — A little more than a month after Jesús Garza was asked to temporarily take Austin’s city manager seat, Garza has shaken up the city’s leadership structure and is working towards establishing what he thinks will be more collaborative office procedures.
Garza is being asked to fill the city manager role after council and the mayor voted to part ways with former city manager Spencer Cronk last month. The body expressed concern about Cronk’s handling of the February winter storm and police contract negotiations, among other issues.
“While I understand that change can lead to some anxiety, in the end the way we grow, the way we develop is to be challenged,” Garza said. “If you’re comfortable being challenged, you’re going to be absolutely alright in this new structure.”
Late Friday night, the city announced a shakeup in who reports to who at some of the city’s highest levels. It means several assistant city managers will oversee a different spread of city departments.
“When you’re in one portfolio for a long time, you’re not as cross functional as you can be because you become siloed, if you will,” Garza said. “I think when you switch them up like this it allows them just kind of to look at the world a little differently, with a new lens, a new way of approaching their work that needs to get done and also just a different direction in terms of pace that needs to happen.”
Garza said every Monday leadership talks about priorities the community has and priorities the mayor and council have: That guides next steps.
“For instance, we split up the planning department and the housing department so now there’s planning and zoning and the housing department. Those are two critical issues for our city,” Garza said.
Leadership says that split will allow the housing department to be laser focused on affordability, something that was a focal point of last year’s election and something Mayor Kirk Watson has promised voters would be a priority.
That will leave the planning department to focus on overall objectives set by council including a renewed focus on transit oriented districts and Reimagine Austin, Garza explained. A new director has been hired to lead that department.
KXAN has a list of all of the changes made during Garza’s most recent restructuring here.
Changes could be coming to the workplace
When asked if workplace practices would change under new city leadership, Garza said it’s still something they’re working through, but how frequently staff work from home is being looked at.
“I want to change the culture of the organization. You can’t be more responsive unless we’re all together to figure out how we can be more responsive and work together. So what does that look like in the end? At this point I don’t know,” Garza said.
KXAN has received several ReportIts from city staff members, who asked to remain anonymous, with concerns about no longer being allowed to work from home and what they might do for retention. We brought those concerns to Garza who said some level of telework will still be in place, but that the details of that are still being hemmed out.
“To the degree that you feel a little uncomfortable, that’s okay,” Garza said of city staff that feel uneasy right now. “We’ve all felt uncomfortable in our professional lives and that’s how we grow, that’s how we learn and that’s how we can be more productive.”
City Council members: ‘A sense of urgency’
Ahead of a discussion that happened behind closed doors earlier this month regarding hiring a new city manager, KXAN’s Dylan McKim spoke to city council members about what they were looking for in a new city manager and their thoughts on how Garza is doing. All of the members he spoke to said they were pleased with the change.
“Interim city manager Jesús Garza has shown to be a problem solver, and that was something that we wanted when we were looking at who could come in. We wanted someone who could really take the reigns and hit the ground running,” council member Ryan Alter, District 5, said.
“He certainly has acted with a sense of urgency and commitment to the city’s most pressing problems,” council member Vanessa Fuentes, District 2, explained.
Council Member Alison Alter, who was the most vocal member of council for the firing of the former city manager, said she wants Garza to set the next city manager up for success, especially when it comes to retaining and hiring staff.
“And I think that is an area that Mr. Garza in particular is going to be focused on,” Alter said.