AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the final hours of Austin City Council’s meeting Thursday night, it bumped City Manager Spencer Cronk’s base salary to $388,190.40. It’s a roughly $38,000 raise or just under 11%.

“We have an incredible workforce that I am here to support. And so when we do the work of ensuring that we provide the services that our community expects, I take that responsibility very seriously,” Cronk said in his short remarks following the vote.

While the pay increase was approved with eight council members voting yes, it wasn’t without pushback from Mayor Pro-Tem Alison Alter, who said she is “dissatisfied with the manager’s performance.” Alter is one of the council members who will remain on the dais next year.

Alter, Council Member Paige Ellis and outgoing Council Member Kathie Tovo all abstained from voting.

“Until now I’ve tried to work behind the scenes and out of the public eye. I believe that our city workers are doing important and valuable work, and it is the responsibility of the city manager to support them,” Alter said.

“Our 911 call center continues to operate at what I believe to be a crisis level of staffing. And although management has taken steps to address the issue, the problem remains unresolved,” Alter continued. “Vacancies continue to plague multiple departments, causing key issues in performance.”

Alter said in the city workforce survey, staff often describe their work environment as toxic. She pointed to Cronk.

City Manager Spencer Cronk has previously responded to the concerns stated in the survey, the City of Austin pointed out, saying: “Our employees do so much for this community, and it is important to me that they feel valued and supported. I, along with leaders throughout this organization, use the survey results as a guide to help improve in the areas that are of concern to employees. We value our employees and are committed to addressing staff concerns, while improving morale.”   

Through a Texas Public Information Act request by KXAN’s Investigates team, KXAN was able to obtain a survey looking at city leadership from the Austin Police Department. The survey was conducted and completed last October.

In it, Austin police officers blasted their department and city leadership. It was the most widely taken survey of any city department and also had the most negative responses toward city leadership. But while Alter pointed squarely to Cronk, APD staff also blamed city council members for the environment.

“Mayor and City Council seems to have no idea how much their decisions have negatively impacted APD and the citizens of Austin. Employee morale among sworn staff is so low,” said one written APD survey response. “It will take some repair and more visibility from City Manager Spencer Cronk to show support/restore trust. So many are retiring early. Swift action is needed.”

During Thursday’s meeting, Alter said an executive leader under the city manager accidentally called Alter and referred to her “as a derogatory expletive” after she requested documents ahead of the pay increase vote. She pointed to the accidental phone call as an example of toxicity under the manager.

“The City is in the early stages of an internal review into this matter, which came to light earlier this week. We are working to determine next steps and, consistent with normal practice and protocol, we won’t be confirming the identity of the employee involved at this stage,” a spokesperson for the city said.

As of early January, a City spokesperson said it was still investigating and the employee was on administrative leave.

“I am dissatisfied with the manager’s performance, and it has risen to such a level that I can no longer save it for behind closed doors,” Alter said.

Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, Leslie Pool, Sabino “Pio” Renteria and Ann Kitchen followed Alter’s critique by thanking the city manager for his work with the city.

“The people that you have assembled in your management teams all the way down through the directors to our line staff have a real sense that you support them,” Pool said. “And that the work they do is valued by you.”

Cronk was hired by the city in late 2017, besting Howard Lazarus, who had a history with the City of Austin as a director for the Public Works Department and interim assistant city manager in 2010.

Prior to moving to Austin, Cronk worked as the city coordinator for Minneapolis.

The last time council approved a base salary increase for Cronk was 2018, which brought his salary to right around $350,000.

Austin City Council members will also get a raise starting next year. During council’s budget process, it approved a 40% pay raise for council members and the mayor. It was the first time those salaries had been updated in 16 years.

In response to Alter’s remarks, a city spokesperson said: “The City Manager meets regularly with Council Members to listen to and discuss any concerns they may have. He appreciates the kind words of support offered by a number of Council Members during yesterday’s discussion and looks forward to continuing to work closely with Council to deliver its priorities and provide effective City management.” 

The raise will go into effect on December 19, 2022.