Connecting the Dots: The Mayor, the Interim City Manager, Their Two Friends

The Nineties are back, baby – especially at City Hall

Art by Zeke Barbaro / Getty Images

Like Watson and Garza, Huffman and Canales are creatures of Austin's Nineties-era City Hall. Garza served as city manager from 1994 to 2002, which completely overlapped with Watson's first stint as mayor, from 1997 to 2001. Huffman's City Hall career began in 1990 in the city auditor's office; by 2002, she was an assistant city manager. Huffman and Watson did not work as closely at City Hall as Watson and Garza did. Still, in 2008, the Chronicle described Watson and Huffman as "running budd[ies]."

After leaving City Hall and spending more than a decade working for the Nature Conservancy, Huffman was named president and CEO of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce in 2020. In the news release announcing Huffman's hire at the chamber, only one elected official was quoted: state Sen. Kirk Watson. "Laura has been an asset in this community for so long, it's honestly hard to imagine where we'd be without her." She stepped down from that role in November 2022, as Watson was preparing to wage a run-off campaign for mayor. Then, she launched consulting firm CivicSol with UT-Austin's Steven Pedigo. Before signing a contract to serve as a consultant to Garza, she was rumored to be up for the interim job herself.

Huffman and Garza are also acquainted. They both serve on the board of directors for the Headliners Club – an exclusive club for Austin big wigs. But Garza and Canales have a much longer-running and closer alliance. In the late Nineties, when Watson and Garza ruled City Hall for the first time, Canales served as Garza's chief of staff (a role described by the Chronicle as "the manager's manager").

When Canales left City Hall in 2006, he did consulting work before joining Ascension Seton as an executive in 2014, where Garza had been an executive for 12 years already. Garza announced he was stepping away from the organization in 2017. Canales followed two years later, and has been consulting ever since.

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