Austin has a big decision to make. Earlier this week, the final two candidates for Austin’s city manager position were introduced to the public. City Council is expected to pick one of them as early as next week.
Why is the city manager so important?
The city manager is basically the highest unelected official in the City of Austin. They’re responsible for the day-to-day operations of the city. While City Council is in charge of making big policy decisions, the city manager is the person who makes sure that those plans actually go through.
The city manger also plays a major role in the city’s budgeting process, working with all the city departments and the public to put together a first draft. That draft is then analyzed and edited by City Council.
In Austin, the city manager is often compared to the city’s CEO, while the City Council acts as the board of directors.
So how did we get here?
Austin’s previous city manager (Marc Ott) left in September of 2016. After that, the city hired a firm to help recruit top candidates for the job. Over the past month or so, City Council began bringing candidates into Austin for interviews that were closed to the public and the press, setting off a good amount of public controversy. The Austin American-Statesman even sued the city, saying that the secrecy violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler responded to these accusations, saying that secrecy was necessary to protect the privacy of candidates who already have jobs in other cities across the US.
Eventually, the names of six finalists were released. That list was then winnowed down to the final two candidates – Spencer Cronk and Howard Lazarus.
More about Spencer Cronk
- 38 years old
- Minneapolis City Coordinator
- Previously worked in New York City and as a commissioner in Minnesota’s Department of Administration
- “Minneapolis is a little bit of a microcosm of Austin,” Cronk said at a press conference on Wednesday.”We’re hearing over and over and over, affordable housing is the number one priority…So it is a theme that is running across our country, particularly in these urban areas, so in Minneapolis we have been addressing that in new and creative ways and I would like to do the same thing here in Austin.”
- “Certainly, everyone loves their parks and I think that it’s a clear priority… and so I’d want to make sure that we’re prioritizing parks and making that accessible for all Austinites,” Cronk said at a press conference on Wednesday.
More about Howard Lazarus
- 61 years old
- City Administrator of Ann Arbor, Michigan
- Former Public Works Director with the City of Austin
- “The challenge of leading this city right now, through the tremendous challenges it faces so it can always hold the potential for future generations is something that I think I am well suited to do right now,” Lazarus said at a press conference on Wednesday. “I bring a long career in various aspects of municipal government, as well as private industry.”
- At the town hall meeting held Tuesday night, Lazarus also suggested that if he gets the job, he will consider moving Austin to a two-year budget cycle, freeing up council and staff time and allowing them to really focus on the budget when the time comes.
So far, there haven’t been a lot of details in the public appearances from the two finalists. Since their names were only released very recently, there also hasn’t been much input from local community and activists organizations on the merits of these two candidates.
However, Texas Campaign for the Environment has recently published a blog post expressing their concerns with Lazarus (based on his previous time working for the City of Austin). In the post, TCE explains that they have “serious doubts about Mr. Lazarus’ ability to effectively lead Austin’s Zero Waste efforts,” referencing contracting issues in both Austin and Ann Arbor. As far as Cronk’s records go, they mentioned that they are currently reaching out to environmental activists in Minneapolis to learn more.
The bottom line here is that this is an important issue. If you’d like to get involved, watch the videos below and then send an email to your City Council person explaining who you’d like to see in our city’s top spot.