Meet the New Man Leading the City of Austin

City Manager Broadnax discusses police, homelessness, and more

The new City Manager T.C. Broadnax (photos by Katherine Irwin)

T.C. Broadnax’s first month on the job as Austin’s city manager is drawing to a close – just as the city is preparing to enter a momentous period during which several critical policy and personnel decisions will be made.

On top of that to-do list for Broadnax is the hiring of a permanent police chief (Robin Henderson is interim chief). A nationwide search for candidates is currently underway. Broadnax’s executive team has also begun briefing him on the city’s Fiscal Year 2024-2025 budget, which he will present in July and City Council will amend and adopt in August.

Broadnax’s labor relations team is barreling ahead with negotiations over a long-term labor contract with the Austin Police Association; his housing, planning, and adjacent departments will be implementing the bold development reforms Council recently approved; and summer is for all intents and purposes already here – an increasingly perilous season in Texas, when extreme heats can cause the kind of emergencies that test city government’s ability to provide critical information and lifesaving supports to residents. (Consider that the last city manager, Spencer Cronk, lost his job shortly after a winter storm during which Council criticized his performance.)

While all of this is happening in the foreground, Broadnax and his top deputies will be establishing relationships with the manager’s bosses – the 11 members of Austin’s City Council.

Managing the Council

Fractious relationships between the city manager and Council members preceded the departure of Austin’s previous two managers (Cronk and Marc Ott) and a similar dynamic appears to have motivated Broadnax’s resignation as Dallas’ city manager.

Clear communication will be paramount, Broadnax told the Chronicle in a sit-down interview on May 21. “I can’t be successful unless they give me clear guidance,” Broadnax said. Mayor Kirk Watson’s cozy relationship with Broadnax’s predecessor, interim CM Jesús Garza, played a key part in the dynamic between Garza and the Council as a whole, so what does Broadnax think his relationship with the mayor should look like?

“Ultimately the Council looks to [the mayor] for leadership and guidance,” Broadnax said. “I believe the manager and the mayor’s relationship is one of the most important in all of city government, while understanding that you still have other people who are your bosses.”

Police Problems

In addition to finding Austin’s next police chief, Broadnax will also be responsible for determining what civilian oversight of the Austin Police Department looks like. “Voters went to the polls and voted for enhanced oversight very prescriptively,” Broadnax said of the Oversight Act. “We’re trying to do that through our own authority or through the [labor contract with the APA].”

“The work that’s being done in the police department, no different than any other department, needs to be done in a manner that is above reproach.” – T.C. Broadnax

On the negotiations over the police contract, Broadnax agreed that the central disputes will be over pay, benefits, and oversight. He also said that offering a compensation package that can boost recruitment and retainment within APD is crucial – especially amid growing competition from suburban police forces – but he pushed back on the notion commonly voiced by APA officials that strong civilian oversight might push recruits away.

“It should be expected that the work that’s being done in the police department, no different than any other department, needs to be done in a manner that is above reproach and consistent with the norms of policing in 2024,” Broadnax said. “People join a police force to protect and serve their community, even though it’s a very difficult job. But that job requires accountability and responsiveness to how people in a city want to be policed.”

Striking the Budget Balance

The city’s next budget will be presented to the public in July, but Broadnax’s work on the billion-dollar spending plan has already begun. Staff began forming it in February, so Broadnax is coming in on a mostly finished document, but he still intends to put his stamp on the finished product.

He’s starting that off by rejecting the notion that the next budget will be one marked by austerity – that is, reduced or flat spending on city services. “But we will be looking at a much more laser-focused approach on services. We will need to ask the public and Council: If we can’t do everything, what are the most important things we do?”

Broadnax also hopes to modify the way Austin policymakers and community advocates think about the budget by putting together a “two year snapshot” of what city spending will look like. Programs and services will still be funded on an annual basis, as is required by state law, but alongside that the city’s budget staff will include a forecast of what it would cost to fund programs for another year.

It’s a practice that Broadnax brought to Dallas and one that he says helps provide a sense of stability to community groups, because they can be reasonably assured city funding they depend on will likely be available for at least two years. “The idea is that we shouldn’t be funding anything in year one that we can’t pay for in year two,” Broadnax said (with the caveat that some city programs are intentionally one-time deals). “Then, we cut back on the year-to-year game played by the city and groups over how much funding will be available for various needs.”

T.C. Broadnax sits down with reporter Austin Sanders in May

Honing Homelessness Response

Watson and Garza failed in their effort to hire the pricey consulting firm McKinsey & Company to conduct a cross-agency audit of government spending to reduce homelessness – but Broadnax said he supports pursuing that kind of review, and that it should take into account spending from other entities like Travis County, Central Health, and Integral Care.

That third party could also help “develop a plan that’s inclusive” of what each agency brings to the table.

Weather Woes

Most of the weather-related emergencies Texans have endured in recent years occurred during the winter months, but increasingly hot summers pose their own risks. Last year, the Energy Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the power grid throughout most of the state, issued several energy conservation calls as people and businesses blasted air conditioning units to stay cool in what was one of the hottest summers on record.

Broadnax said, based on the briefings he’s received so far, the city is prepared to respond to emergency situations in the summer and winter. After-action reports that examined the city’s responses to prior winter storms emphasized a need to communicate better with the public – especially around power outages. Broadnax sees improvement. Extreme weather shelter has also been a focus.

“We’re in a much better place to deal with emergencies,” Broadnax said. “I’m only here to help figure out how we continue down that path and to make sure we’re ready to execute when an emergency hits.”

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T.C. Broadnax, City Council, Kirk Watson, Spencer Cronk, Jesús Garza, Marc Ott

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