AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin city council will meet Tuesday to discuss the plan for finding a new city manager, after council members voted to fire ex-city manager Spencer Cronk on Feb. 15.
The discussion will happen during an executive session at city hall. Executive sessions are held behind closed doors and are not open to the public.
The city council work session agenda shows two items will be discussed during the private meeting. The first part of the meeting will “discuss the employment, duties, and evaluation of the Interim City Manager,” and the second part will “discuss personnel and legal issues related to the search for and appointment of a new city manager.”
Evaluating the interim city manager
Former city manager Jesús Garza was named the interim city manager after Cronk’s firing. Since taking over the position Garza has performed an overview of the city organization and has already announced leadership changes.
A news release from the city said Rey Arellano, the assistant manager, announced his retirement, and Jacqueline Yaft, the executive director of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, announced her resignation.
In a more recent move, Garza developed a pay plan for Austin police officers to help with retention efforts as the city and police union are in the midst of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement.
The plan will give a 4% pay increase to all officers under the rank of assistant chief starting April 1. It also offers a $15,000 incentive for new police cadets, and retains benefits for officers.
KXAN spoke to some city council members before Tuesday’s work session. Every member that spoke with KXAN was happy with Garza’s performance so far.
“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, district 10, said she wants to make sure Garza takes certain actions that will setup the next city manager to “look forward” whenever they are hired.
“We have some things that we need to address so that we can better recruit and retain, and I think that is an area that Mr. Garza in particular is going to be focused on,” Alison Alter said.
Is Garza a good candidate for next city manager?
It is unclear at this time if Garza would accept a permanent position as the next city manager.
When asked if Garza was a candidate for the next city manager, council member Ryan Alter explained, “No, and that is because he does not want to be. He is someone who came out of retirement to do this and the understanding always was that this was a short-term deal.”
Council member Alison Alter said she had not had a conversation with Garza about his interest in the job, but did say it was her understanding he was not interested at this point. She did acknowledge that could change.
KXAN reached out to the city to ask Garza about his interest in the job. A city spokesperson said, “The city manager has a very full calendar and we have not been able to pose your question to him yet. We will get back with you as soon as we’re able to do so.”
Looking ahead to the future
City council will discuss the plan moving forward of finding a new candidate at its work session on Tuesday.
Fuentes said the most pressing issue when it comes to finding the right candidate is the process in which city does the search. She wants the process to be transparent for the community.
“The priority is going to be establishing that process, that framework that we undertake to look for a permanent city manager,” Fuentes said.
Alison Alter seconded that transparency and wants to bring the community into the process to see what they want in their next city manager.
The next city manager will have an important role in the city. They act as the CEO of the city and are the boss of each department head.
“We need somebody who is going to understand that they have a really critical role when we need to bring those departments together to solve challenges,” Alison Alter explained.
Fuentes said the city needs someone with experience and, “someone who is a dedicated leader, and who understands the inner workings of public administration.”
Council member Leslie Pool, district 7, said, “Austin is at a critical juncture as we launch the search process for a new city manager. Because Austin is one of the largest and fastest-growing cities in the country, we need the kind of leadership stability that will help us with the significant challenges that come with our growing role in both the U.S. and across the globe.”