AUSTIN (KXAN) — For the first time since Austin City Council tapped Jesús Garza as its interim city manager, Garza spoke with KXAN city hall reporter Grace Reader about his relationship with newly-elected Mayor Kirk Watson, his priorities for the role and how he ended up in the city manager’s office.

Garza stepped into the role after city council voted to part ways with former city manager Spencer Cronk. Cronk was criticized for his response to this month’s ice storm and negotiation with the Austin Police Association on a four-year deal “in principal,” which ultimately fell through.

Garza previously served as city manager of Austin under Mayor Kirk Watson in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He was also behind a PAC that fundraised money in support of Watson during his campaign last year.

Here’s a transcript of the interview with Garza. It has been edited for clarity and brevity:

Where have you been for the last two decades?

When I left the city in ’02, I became the president and CEO of Brackenridge Hospital. Then I worked for the Daughters of Charity for close to 15 years. And I progressed…I started as a president of a hospital, then I became the chief operating officer of a system and then I became the president and CEO of the system. So that’s the path.

Through the great partnership with Central Health, the University of Texas and the support of the public we were able to create this system of care for the poor and uninsured. Part of that three-legged stool — the medical school, Central Health with its clinics and Seton with its acute care system — we were able to build Dell Seton UT. Dell Seton UT was opened in May of ’17 and I left the Seton system around September 2017. That was kind of a goal, get that hospital open, replace Brackenridge Hospital and have a facility that was a state-of-the-art teaching hospital and a state-of-the-art hospital for the poor and the vulnerable, plus bring other specialties in and it’s done a great job of achieving that objective.

What can people expect of you in this position?

One of the attributes I have is I am really keen on meeting people within this organization and providing them with the leadership that they need so they can do their jobs effectively. Our job in supporting the mayor and council is to execute their policies and execute the decisions they made and at least from what I’ve seen the city has lost some of its muscle memory on that.

There are a lot of reasons for that. I wasn’t here so I don’t know exactly what has transpired. But I had a great meeting today with the department directors where I laid out the principals of a highly reliable organization and a culture of action, a bias for action, that maybe don’t all pertain to the things that happen at the City of Austin but many of them are applicable. What I want to do is, I want to be able to lead that effort to have us have the energy, the devotion and the commitment to serve. I think by and large it’s there, it’s just a matter of teasing it out and bringing it to the forefront.

You have worked with Mayor Watson before and helped him with his campaign. Was there any intent that you ended up in this seat today?

No. As a private citizen, I supported candidates and Mayor Watson was somebody I wanted to support because I thought he would be a good mayor. When I did it, it was really just to do that and then live the life I was leading. I have five grandchildren, two young grandchildren that live in this town. My wife and I had a pretty happy arrangement. I was on private not-for-profit boards in the health systems and so I had that rhythm so I stayed active but I didn’t have to get up at 5:00 every morning like I’ve done since I was appointed. It’s disrupted my life a little bit but I had no expectation of doing this, this is not something that I was thinking or contemplating.

But when it did happen — when the call got made, and it was clear that the mayor and council wanted me here — it was not just the mayor, it was the mayor and council — and they were asking me to come, ‘what could I do to come here and serve and help.’ It’s a city that I grew up in, I grew up professionally in the City of Austin. It’s a city that a lot of us love and I told them, ‘if I can be of some service and you think I can make a contribution then I’m willing to do that.’ And that’s what I’ve done for the first few days that I’ve been here.

What have these first couple of days been like for you? You’ve already been name-dropped by the mayor to help fix some really big problems.

The first few days have been intense. There are a lot of issues that need resolution or need attention. Of course, the follow-up action that we take for the ice storm, the reports that have to be prepared.

I think there are issues to address. I think it’s not because people aren’t making an effort, it’s not because people don’t know what needs to be done. We need to have all leaders in this city kind of row the boat the same way to get where we need to go.

It’s been hectic. In some instances, it’s been eye-opening. But I think all the elements are there to succeed. We just have to point ourselves in the right direction and get going.

What priorities do you have moving forward?

There’s no question that public safety is top of the list. You can’t have the number of vacancies we’ve got at the police department, in our 911 system. That’s going to be a tough issue. We’ve got classes that have been authorized. We’ve got to incent people to apply, to become part of that training effort so we can train people to be police officers.

The second thing is we’ve got to be able to address in an effective and humane way the homeless issue. Voters almost two years ago passed an ordinance that said to reinstitute the camping ban, and I understand how difficult that is. It involves a lot of jurisdictions.

The final thing I would say and it’s one that’s been on the list for a long time, and it’s kind of a two-part issue: One is affordability and then what does the development process have to do with affordability. And so can we address the issues where things get hung up in our system, therefore it hinders supply or it hinders the ability to put units on the ground, costs us a lot more money to get stuff built because we’ve got a system that’s just not quite as streamlined as it needs to be.

Those are the things we’ve got to begin to address and then we’ve got to be creative and from a policy standpoint, especially on affordability, and I don’t know that I can even begin to articulate what that’s going to look like, the staff — and I think the staff will — is to look {at} what has been done in other regions, evaluate and research, bring in people from the University of Texas if necessary. Help us understand what a city and a region need to do so it remains affordable.

I don’t have the answer for that, but I do think we have some smart people who can help us sort through what that looks like, and then when that policy document is…we would want to bring that to the city council to have a full hearing of what that would look like, the kinds of implementation plans we would have to have and then really get their best advice to us about whether that’s moving in the right direction or not.