New Austin city manager wants to focus on engaging with community, staff

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — One week on the job, Austin’s new city manager Spencer Cronk met with news outlets “to discuss his vision, challenges and opportunities facing the city, and his goals in the coming months.”

Cronk recently worked as the city coordinator for Minneapolis, directing the management of Minneapolis city government. He will be responsible for hiring department heads, the biggest opening right now being a police chief.

Cronk is getting paid $325,000 a year to oversee 12,000 city employees and its operations. In addition to the base salary, Cronk will receive $7,200 in executive allowance each year.

In Cronk’s meeting with reporters Tuesday, he started by saying, “Certainly I’m thrilled to finally be here. It’s been a busy first week on the job but I look forward to working with the community in Austin, getting to know each of the different groups that our wonderful city has.”

The key word that kept coming up in his answers about how he will approach his role as city manager is engagement — how he plans to engage with the community and city staff to gain a base understanding of Austin ahead of making some big decisions in city leadership.

“There have been voices that haven’t been heard and it is important for me in my first few weeks and months to make sure that I am elevating those voices and listening to them to inform my decisions,” Cronk said.

Having attended his first Austin City Council meeting last week, he said it was incredible to see the number of people who came out to the meeting, but he wondered who didn’t come out and wants to look into reaching more people, to give them a voice at the table.

Cronk said he plans to meet with cultural communities, faith-based leaders, neighborhood organizations, the business community and city employees and ask the same three questions.

“What are those special things that need to be retained as our city grows and conversely, what are the things that should change? The second question is, what gives you hope? What gives you hope for our future of Austin? And the third question is, what advice do you have for me? I am a newcomer to Austin and I’ll be learning a lot about the unique culture that is our city and I would really welcome and appreciate the advice everyone has for me as I get my feet on the ground.”

Cronk said another priority is making sure strategic planning drives the budget. Plus, “getting to know our city staff and our leadership team and ensuring that I’m bringing on board the right leaders that will help guide our city moving forward.”

But the new city manager says there needs to be more than just talk to move forward.

“There’s a lot of things that Austin is dealing with and it’s important we don’t just talk about things for months and years ahead, that we actually start making decisions,” Cronk said.

He acknowledged the importance of negotiating a police contract.

“It certainly is a priority and to start that process we have initiated scheduling a meeting with the association so that is underway but I’m also looking for feedback from both our policymakers and community to help guide the way that I’ll be approaching the negotiations going forward,” Cronk said, adding he will also be listening to community and stakeholder feedback to help inform his decision on a police chief.

“I think there’s an expectation both from our elected officials, from our community, on ensuring there’s more transparency and accountability in those appointment processes,” Cronk said.

He says Minneapolis has the equivalent of a police monitor but added it’s too early for him to comment on things he’d like to see in Austin’s police contract.

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