City man­ager search fac­ing fur­ther de­lay

Fi­nal­ist’s de­ci­sion to drop out com­pli­cates se­cret hir­ing process.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Philip Jankowski pjankowski@states­man.com

The ef­fort to hire a new city man­ager be­fore the end of the year could be in jeop­ardy af­ter one fi­nal­ist dropped out over the week­end, prompt­ing con­sul­tants to wade back into the pool of ap­pli­cants.

Con­sul­tants Rus­sell Reynolds and As­so­ciates also rec­om­mended de­lay­ing the re­lease of the iden­ti­ties of the short list of fi­nal­ists, in­for­ma­tion that had been ex­pected Mon­day af­ter the Austin City Coun­cil faced push­back over its con­tin­ued ef­forts to keep the hir­ing process top se­cret.

Mayor Steve Adler posted the an­nounce­ment Sun­day night to the coun­cil’s on­line mes­sage board, in­di­cat­ing that the mes­sage also came from Coun­cil Mem­ber Kathie Tovo, the mayor pro tem.

The con­sul­tants con­duct­ing the search rec­om­mended tak­ing an­other week or two to re­view other po­ten­tial can­di­dates to “en­sure that we have the finest and most di­verse can­di­date pool,” Adler’s post said. Rus­sell Reynolds also rec­om­mended de­lay­ing

the re­lease of the fi­nal­ists’ names un­til later this month.

Adler of­fered no other de­tails Mon­day about the de­vel­op­ments in the search.

“That is all we are say­ing at this point,” he told the States­man.

On Thurs­day, the coun- cil an­nounced that it had whit­tled down the num­ber of fi­nal­ists for the job to be­tween two and five ap­pli­cants. Those names were not re­leased Thurs­day be­cause one fi­nal­ist had not no­ti­fied his or her cur­rent em­ployer

about be­ing considered for the city of Austin’s top job, but coun­cil mem­bers at that time in­di­cated sup­port for

re­leas­ing the names soon. Coun­cil mem­bers have made the hir­ing process a largely se­cre­tive af­fair,go­ing to great lengths to keep re­porters from un­mask­ing those who have in­ter­viewed for the job.

Ear­lier this month they abruptly changed the site of their in­ter­views with no pub­lic no­tice, pos­si­bly vi­o­lat­ing the Open Meet­ings Act, ac­cord­ing to some le­gal ex­perts.

Be­fore that, the city cited a court rul­ing that pro­tects trade se­crets of gov­ern­ment con­trac­tors as the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for deny­ing pub­lic records re­quests for candi- dates’ names and ap­pli­ca­tions, sug­gest­ing that other Texas ci­ties look­ing for city

man­agers might pick off Austin’s list (the largest such city is Sachse, pop­u­la­tion 25,039). The States­man has sued

the city for the records and for pos­si­bly vi­o­lat­ing open meet­ings laws.

Other Texas ci­ties have con­ducted more transpar- ent searches. Last year Dal- las re­leased the names of its fi­nal­ists be­fore hav­ing them meet with pub­lic the

and coun­cil mem­bers. Other large ci­ties, in­clud- ing Austin in its pre­vi­ous

city man­ager searches, have done the same.

Op­er­at­ing un­der the ad­vice of Rus­sell Reynolds, the coun­cil opted in March not to re­veal the iden­ti­ties

of fi­nal­ists be­cause they be­lieved it would en­cour­age bet­ter can­di­dates to ex­press in­ter­est in the job.

De­spite the coun­cil’s ef­forts, the States­man has

iden­ti­fied five of the eight or nine can­di­dates who have been in­ter­viewed. They are Mi­ami City Man­ager Daniel Al­fonso, Min- neapo­lis City Ad­min­is­tra- tor Spencer Cronk, Ann Ar­bor City Ad­min­is­tra­tor Howard Lazarus, Chat­tanooga Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Maura Black Sul­li­van and for­mer Tulsa City Man­ager Jim Twombly.

It is un­clear which can­di­date has dropped out.

City Hall has been with­out a per­ma­nent city man­ager for more than a year since Marc Ott an­nounced his

de­par­ture for a job in Wash­ing­ton in Au­gust 2016. In the mean­time, in­terim City Man­ager Elaine Hart has over­seen day-to-day op­er­a­tions of the city, which has 14,000 em­ploy­ees and a $3.9 bil­lion bud­get. Hart is earn­ing $306,233 in the in­terim role.

Her sta­tus as a pos­si­ble fi­nal­ist has re­mained un­clear. She has not ap­plied for the job but told the Austin Mon­i­tor in Oc­to­ber that she was in­ter­ested.

Adl e r would not say whether Hart’s sta­tus in the search had changed. When tap­ping her for the in­terim role, the coun­cil in­di­cated Hart would not be considered for the per­ma­nent job.

“That was the last pub­lic pro­nounce­ment on that is­sue,” Adler said Mon­day.

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