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Council names eight candidates for City Manager post

Friday, January 4, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The Austin City Council named eight semi-finalists for the job of City Manager Thursday afternoon after a three-hour meeting in executive session to review the resumes of candidates collected by an executive search firm. Austin Energy General Manager Juan Garza was one of three internal candidates to make the list, although Council Members knew at the time he would likely be offered a job at the Pedernales Electric Co-Op. Garza accepted that job as GM of the PEC just a few hours later.


The two remaining internal candidates are Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza and Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman. Garza has been with the city since 2000. He served as Budget Director from 2000 to 2004 before being promoted to Assistant City Manager. Previously, he was the City of Corpus Christi as Acting Budget Director and Accounting Supervisor.


Huffman has been an Assistant City Manager since 2002. She was hired from San Marcos, where she served as Deputy City Manager from 1994 to 2002. She got her start in city government in Austin, where she worked City Manager’s office and in the Office of the City Auditor.


“We obviously have a lot of confidence in Rudy Garza and Laura Huffman. But we’re looking all over the country because we know the best can come from anywhere,” said Council Member Brewster McCracken.


Council Member Lee Leffingwell agreed that the two current city employees on the list would bring some attributes to the job that outside candidates could not. But he also said the city could benefit from the perspective offered by an outside voice. ”There are strengths in having an internal candidate and strengths in having an external candidate,” he said. “Someone from the outside is apt to bring in new ideas, new ways of looking at things and new ways of doing things. On the other hand, somebody who’s been around here for a while has that institutional memory that’s so valuable in getting things done. So we’re going to have to try to balance those two positive aspects.”


Of the five outside candidates, two are from cities in Texas. Jelynne Burley is the Deputy City Manager for San Antonio. She has worked her way up through the ranks of the city since 1984, holding several positions within city government, including a period as the city’s Budget and Management Analyst. She is the only candidate currently working for a city larger than Austin.


The other Texas candidate is Marc Ott, an Assistant City Manager in Ft. Worth. He has been employed there since 2002. Prior to that, he worked for a series of cities in Michigan. The most recent Census figures from 2006 show Ft. Worth with a population just slightly less than that of Austin. Ott was a finalist for the position of City Manager in Ft. Worth in 2007, but the Council there selected another Assistant City Manager for the top job in December.


The three remaining candidates come from across the country. Rick Cole has been the City Manager of Ventura, Calif. since 2004. He was named one of the “Public Officials of the Year” by Governing Magazine in 2006. He previously served as City Manager of Azusa, Calif. Cole also has experience as an elected official. He was on the City Council of Pasadena for 12 years, eventually serving as Mayor.


Michael Brown is currently the City Manager of Savannah, Ga.,  where he has served since 1995. He was previously with the city’s of Stratford, Conn. and Mount Pleasant, Tenn. The Council also named Kansas City City Manager Wayne Cauthen as a semi-finalist. He has been in his current job since 2003. He was previously the Chief of Staff for the Mayor of Denver, Colo., and before that was employed in the private sector with Martin Marietta Aerospace in Colorado.


Cauthen, Burley, and Ott are African-American, which means four of the seven semi-finalists are minorities. Two are women. “Our efforts to diversify are the result of a long period of city governments and state governments being the place where people of minority groups had openings,” said Leffingwell. “Now we’re looking at 20 and 30 years after this process began, and I believe that’s why you see such a high-percentage of well-qualified, able minority candidates in city government.”


The semi-finalists will be in town next week for face-to-face interviews with members of the Council. Mayor Will Wynn has said he expects the Council to be ready to make an offer to the Council’s top choice on Jan. 17.


As they go into the interview process next week, each Council Member has a list of qualities he or she is seeking in the next City Manager. “I would say that I’m looking for a City Manager who is primarily an administrator and a manager, sort of an ‘under the hood’ person…out in the kitchen, getting the job done,” said Leffingwell, “making the city actually operate the way a big city like this needs to operate to make it smooth for everybody.”


McCracken said he would be looking for a candidate able to deal with the challenges brought on by the city’s rapid growth. “Austin has some big economic opportunities. We’re a fast-growing city with big transportation challenges,” he said. “We need a City Manager who has the ability to be strong on the economics, strong on transportation and land planning, and be able to put in place all these real great opportunities we have for Austin’s future.”


McCracken also said the person the city hires could be on-board by late January or early February, even though current City Manager Toby Futrell does not plan to retire until May. “We have to honor her retirement contract and her retirement vests in May. She’ll be in a consulting role once the new City Manager takes charge,” McCracken said. “My understanding is that either by City Charter or state law, once we name a City Manager and that person takes the job, you can’t have two city managers at the same time. That’s why we’ll have that arrangement.”

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