Beside the Point

Futrell's Remarkable Year

In the laudatory welter of adulation that was City Manager Toby Futrell's performance evaluation last week, Betty Dunkerley thanked her for "coming through a really tough year." We had to wonder, tough for whom: the city or Toby?

Despite the fluffy clouds of council's comment – the toughest debate was if Futrell is the best city manager "in the country" (Brewster McCracken) or "in the world" (Dunkerley) – the review was slightly more subdued than last year's bash, when Futrell's $36,000 boost to approximately $232,000 a year was immediately trumpeted in a press release from her office minutes later. No, if last year was the raging kegger, then this was more along the lines of drinks at a friend's house. Tito's Vodka, to be accurate – in a complete coincidence, we're assured, one of the city's proclamations that meeting went to hooch-distiller Tito Beveridge, who repaid the favor by giving the mayor a bottle of his namesake liquor, which promptly disappeared behind the dais and was never seen again.

Going into the evaluation, you'd think a stiff drink would've been in order – but not for celebratory reasons. The still-warm search warrant served that day on the office of former Convention Center director Bob Hodge was only the capper on a long list of troubling occurrences at the city under Futrell's watch last year. Aside from the still-unfurling Convention Center shenanigans, there's been: on-duty porn viewing by EMS; untrustworthy information at the Small and Minority Business Resources Department; a delay in naming police chief finalists, while the cop shop reportedly flounders; Futrell's hand-wringing over spiraling police overtime (somewhat disingenuous considering her office sold the budget to council amid concerns the overtime budget wasn't enough); a massive audit of the water utility for wastefulness, along with the uncertain future of Water Treatment Plant No. 4 and unseemly allegations stemming from former project manager Bill Moriarty's dismissal; and most prominently, an abdication of proactive city planning, leaving neighborhoods to fend for themselves while the city inexplicably drag-assed everything from the Big Box Ordinance to affordability and PUD standards. This culminated in the biggest blunder of them all: Northcross, where, despite her acknowledged conflict-of-interest in cases involving Wal-Mart, the Best City Manager in the World didn't recuse herself until everything had long been approved.


Don't get us wrong; we're not eager to see Futrell get all Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on our asses and cop to raining out Easter Sunday and busting FactoryPeople. But an acknowledgment of the massive challenge facing the city in the face of unprecedented growth would have been nice. True, the boom she's presiding over is surely the envy of city planners everywhere. But her reluctance to differentiate or qualify economic development – as we've seen by the city's laissez-faire handling of Northcross – has created such blowback that one massive, motivated, and pissed-off neighborhood group (Responsible Growth for Northcross) is calling for a referendum on her very office next election.

Not exactly the envy of city managers worldwide.

Mike Martinez made the sole attempt to temper his acclaim, obliquely noting that he'd "been critical" in the past (not of Futrell, mind you, but faceless "city concerns"). But it was plainly Futrell's day Thursday. Maybe council leveled with her more behind close doors, in executive session – likely between shots of Tito's.

This week: Why bother? There's little of note happening at council outside of noontime citizen's communications, where a clutch of speakers are signed up to address all things Northcross; also, Sheryl Cole will be creating a citizen advisory commission to vet suggestions for Waller Creek. But the real action comes tomorrow as part of Fresh Air Friday. Converting City Hall into Swap Meet v. 2.0, you can bring in your old computers, TVs, and electronics for safe disposal and get some free compact-fluorescent lightbulbs for your trouble. Now there's a bright idea.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Austin City Council
New Study Changes City Council's View of Flood Risk
New Study Changes City Council's View of Flood Risk
Puzzling over a variance on Avenue D, and spending the first of the 2018 bond funds

Nina Hernandez, March 15, 2019

Housing Plan, Stadium Vote in Council Spotlight
Housing Plan, Stadium Vote in Council Spotlight
Still to come this spring: child-friendly policy, land use code reboot

Nina Hernandez, Feb. 22, 2019

More Beside the Point
Beside the Point: Referendum, Texas
Beside the Point: Referendum, Texas
Let’s vote on ... something, anything, and all of the time

Chase Hoffberger, July 20, 2018

Beside the Point: Represent, Represent
Beside the Point: Represent, Represent
County Commissioners consider the right form of indigent defense

Chase Hoffberger, April 27, 2018


Austin City Council, Toby Futrell, City Council, Robert Hodge, City Manager, Northcross, Sheryl Cole

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle