As became expected in the days leading up to the final vote, City Council on Tuesday selected Minneapolis City Coordinator Spencer Cronk to be Austin's next city manager. The final choice was between Cronk, a 38-year-old outsider who billed himself as a facilitator and agent of change, and the more known quantity of Ann Arbor city administrator Howard Lazarus, who previously spent time as the director of Austin's Public Works Department. Following the unanimous vote, Mayor Steve Adler alluded to the job ahead for the city's incoming CEO. "He excels at bringing people together to address tough community challenges," offered the mayor. "He's a proven manager who gets Austin's special spirit and soul because it's within him, too."
Nearly a quarter of city leadership positions are currently filled by staff with an "interim" or "acting" tag. Cronk will have to install permanent department directors and a new team within his own office before turning his attention toward more policy-oriented matters like CodeNEXT, the renegotiation of two meet-and-confer agreements (with the Austin Police Association and Austin-Travis County EMS Association), and, in more abstract terms, coping with the city's ever-present affordability and transportation crises. In his own brief statement following Council's vote, Cronk repeated the bridge-building theme he flexed throughout his interview process. "Austin's future is bright and I believe that by working together, we can build on the city's strengths to be more inclusive and innovative so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed."
Cronk's selection was clouded somewhat by a last-ditch effort for Council to re-identify a Latino candidate for consideration, but Greg Casar pointed to Cronk's experience prioritizing racial equity in Minneapolis' recent comprehensive planning project. He said he and his colleagues who represent communities of color were heartened by reports that Cronk made a considerable effort to bring the voices of African-American, Latino, and Somali immigrants into city government there, and that he was a leader in the effort to raise the minimum wage. Much of the talk focused on the intangibles that Cronk brings to the post. Alison Alter gushed about his reputation for "tearing down silos" and, again, emphasized his collaborative and bridge-building capabilities.
Left in Cronk's wake are Lazarus, who will trek back to snowy Ann Arbor, and interim City Manager Elaine Hart, now finally free to return to her duties as the city's chief financial officer. Hart initially declined to be interviewed for the CM job, though she later reversed course when it was ultimately too late. The city's employee union came out in support of her at the time, and there were regretful whispers among some staff during the process that she was excluded from consideration.
Consultant firm Russell Reynolds Associates, which led the search process for City Council, will now begin contract negotiations with Cronk, and try to hammer out a timeline for his move down I-35. Cronk should expect a hefty pay bump from the new gig: City coordinator in Minneapolis is not as significant of a job as "city manager" down here, since Minneapolis operates on a strong mayor system, and on population alone, Austin is more than twice the size of that Twin City.
Thirteen of the city's 55 departments are currently staffed by heads working in interim or acting capacities, or on temporary assignment.
City Manager: Elaine Hart
Chief Financial Officer: Greg Canally
Assistant City Manager: Sara Hensley
Assistant City Manager: Joe Pantalion
Dir., Parks and Recreation: Kim McNeeley
Dir., Watershed Protection: Mike Personett
Police Monitor: Deven Desai
Chief Labor Relations Officer: Larry Watts
Dir., Austin Resource Recovery: Sam Angoori
Dir., Austin Public Health: Stephanie Hayden
Police Chief: Brian Manley
Exec. Director, Aviation: Jim Smith
Chief Animal Services Officer: Lee Ann Shenefiel
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