Austin delays naming city manager candidates after one drops out

Lady Bird Lake and the downtown Austin skyline (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)
Lady Bird Lake and the downtown Austin skyline (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — One of the candidates for Austin’s new city manager has withdrawn, prompting a delay in the decision for who will help run the day-to-day functions of the city.

Steve Newton of Russell Reynolds Associates, the consulting firm hired to help recruit candidates, said the decision to publicly identify semi-finalists “was cited as one of the factors” that led the candidate to pull their name from consideration.

The decision left only four candidates for the second round of interviews. Newton recommended the city council have no less than five and advised councilmembers to pick at least one more candidate before moving on — a process Newton expects to take a week or two. It is another delay in the already drawn out search. It has been nearly 15 months since former city manager Marc Ott announced he was leaving to take a job in Washington, D.C.

The prolonged search means Austin has not been able to fill nine vacant department head positions, including chief of police. City officials told KXAN at the end of October as they started interviewing between six and nine candidates that they expected to fill the city manager role by the end of the year. Newton said they were still “working toward that goal.”

The identities of the candidates have become a source of controversy. The Austin American Statesman sued the city, saying it was violating state law by keeping the first round of candidates a secret. From the beginning, Newton recommended protecting the candidates’ anonymity because some may not want their current employers to know they were looking for another job. A spokesperson for Mayor Steve Adler said the city council agreed to identify the candidates before the second round of interviews.

“Our search firm reiterates that we should be honored to have a very impressive group of candidates for the position of City Manager because this speaks well of the high esteem in which the City of Austin is held,” wrote Adler on the city council message board.

A city spokesman confirmed at the end of October that interim city manager Elaine Hart told council she would not apply for the job and will resume her previous role as chief financial officer once this position is filled. But more recently, Hart told the Austin Monitor she has changed her mind.

A KXAN report from July showed other major cities that hired city managers in the last five years have been able to do it in less time than Austin:

  • Charlotte, North Carolina: 8 months, 23 days
  • Fort Worth: 8 months, 4 days
  • Dallas: 6 months, 15 days
  • San Jose, California: 5 months, 21 days
  • Phoenix, Arizona: 5 months, 19 days

 

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