Council: Meet Your City Manager Semifinalists

Winnowing down the list

There's no regular City Council meeting today (Thursday, Nov. 30), although council members will gather at 9am to continue their intermittent administrative discussion of "policy priorities, goals, and the potential impacts on governance." The next regular meeting is Dec. 7.

In the meantime, the main order of business continues to be the search for a permanent city manager to follow Marc Ott (who resigned last year) and interim manager Elaine Hart (who, despite support from the AFSCME employees' union, does not appear on the list of semifinalists). As reported last week, Council will be re-interviewing the semifinalists in more detail than the first round – in collaboration with members of the City Manager Search Advisory Task Force – with the intention of winnowing the list down to a few finalists by Dec. 11 and 12. At that point, there will be some form of larger public engagement, but the precise shape that will take is yet to be determined.

The six semifinalists form an experienced and diverse group, although there have been some negative rumblings that no Hispanic candidate survived to this stage (also a complaint in 2008, when Ott was hired). A review of publicly available info on the group yields additional detail.

Council: Meet Your City Manager Semifinalists

Cecil House

House is a lawyer (New York and Virginia bar), currently directing the public sector practice of the Gilbane Building Company; his most directly relevant experience was as the general manager and COO of the New York City Housing Authority (2012-15), where he was praised for greatly improving repair practices but resigned after reports of surplus materials being sold at a loss. He's worked for major utilities in New Jersey and California, and carries degrees from Columbia, Harvard Law, and the Uni­ver­sity of Virginia.

Council: Meet Your City Manager Semifinalists

Scott Kubly

Kubly has been director of the Seattle Depart­ment of Transportation since 2014, with previously similar appointments in Chicago and D.C., but has Austin roots (middle and high school here, UT-Aus­tin master's in planning as well as a Wharton MBA) He's got a good reputation for advancing multimodal transportation initiatives in Seattle, as well as implementing a major bond program that echoes Austin's "Get Austin Moving" transportation project. (He's also VP of the National Association of City Transportation Officials). But his earlier involvement with a private bike-share company that won city support – no financial gain for him, but he had not recused himself – resulted in a settlement fine for ethics violations. Strongest credentials appear to be transportation-related, along with the local connection.

Council: Meet Your City Manager Semifinalists

Spencer Cronk

Cronk has been the Minneapolis city coord­inator since 2014, a position that appears to be that city's equivalent to Austin's manager (i.e., the executive director of city departments and employees). He served previously as com­mis­sioner of the Minnesota Department of Admin­i­stration (overseeing real property and infrastructure), and before that, in the Michael Bloomberg administration in New York City. He's got volunteer and educational credentials (UWisconsin-Madison and Harvard), and he's openly gay.

Council: Meet Your City Manager Semifinalists

Howard Lazarus

Another strong local hook is represented by Lazarus, since 2016 the city admin­i­strator of Ann Arbor, but for the previous eight years Austin's director of Public Works (with an interim stint as assistant city manager). He's told Ann Arbor officials that the Austin job is a "unique opportunity" that he couldn't pass up, but otherwise is happy to remain in Mich­igan. It's a smaller, quieter place – exchanging hard winters for hot summers – and Lazarus has apparently done well there, judging from official and public comment. (He's also worked as an engineer in both private and public sector jobs.) He had a good reputation here when he left, and his Austin background could both help and hurt him, depending on perspective. (Fun fact: He's a distant descendant of Statue of Liberty poet Emma Lazarus.) He's a West Point grad, with additional degrees from Johns Hopkins and Harvard's Kennedy School.

Council: Meet Your City Manager Semifinalists

Denise Turner Roth

Roth is probably the most high-profile candidate, as her most recent job (before joining WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff as a projects administrator) was as head of the U.S. General Services Admini­stra­tion under Obama. She hit the headlines when, before the transition, she declined to declare Donald Trump in violation of the GSA lease underlying his D.C. hotel, despite a clause forbidding an "elected official" from being party to the lease. On technical grounds, Roth and the GSA declined to act – for which she received plenty of heat, including a New York Times editorial blast. That history may have an influence on Coun­cil; otherwise, Roth is certainly qualified, rising from a tough D.C. neighborhood to jobs on Capitol Hill and D.C. city administration, then administrative jobs for Greens­boro, N.C. – impressive enough to become city manager prior to her GSA appointment. She holds an undergraduate degree and an honorary graduate degree (for public service) from George Mason University.

Council: Meet Your City Manager Semifinalists

Maura Black Sullivan

Sullivan has been rooted in Tennessee (Memphis and Chat­ta­noo­ga). Since 2016, she's been Chatta­noo­ga's chief operating officer; from 2010 to 2015, she was deputy chief administrative officer for the city of Memphis, and previously served in various administrative jobs in Memphis and Shelby County (and earlier, as a congressional aide for Rep. Harold Ford). Her undergrad and graduate degrees in public administration and international relations are from the Uni­versity of Memphis. In late 2016, she was one of five finalists for the Dallas city manager position – so it looks like she might be ready to leave Tennessee.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 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 City Manager
So You Want to Be Austin’s City Manager
So You Want to Be Austin’s City Manager
Finalists hit public forum before Council’s Tuesday decision

Nina Hernandez, Dec. 15, 2017

LULAC Protests Lack of Latino Manager Candidates
LULAC Protests Lack of Latino Manager Candidates
The League of United Latin American Citizens is not happy with the city manager pool

Michael King, Dec. 8, 2017

More by Michael King
Point Austin: Vouchers, Borders, and Critical (White) Race Theory
Point Austin: Vouchers, Borders, and Critical (White) Race Theory
Gov. Abbott does his damnedest to block the Texas future

Nov. 21, 2023

The Exquisite Torments of Ken Paxton
The Exquisite Torments of Ken Paxton
Why is everybody so mean to the Texas Attorney General?

Sept. 18, 2023


City Manager, Marc Ott, Elaine Hart, Spencer Cronk, Cecil House, Scott Kubly, Howard Lazarus, Denise Turner Roth, Maura Black Sullivan

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

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