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Council names two Texans as City Manager finalists

Friday, January 11, 2008 by Austin Monitor

San Antonio Deputy City Manager Jelynne Burley and Ft. Worth Assistant City Manager Marc Ott will be back in Austin next week for another round of interviews, now that they’ve been named the two finalists for the position of City Manager. In addition to another closed-door session with members of the City Council, the two will also meet Austin residents Tuesday night before the Council makes its final decision.


“They are both highly qualified and I think they will do a great job in this position,” Council Member Sheryl Cole said after the Council’s vote to name the two semi-finalists. “We’ve just got to narrow it down to one.”


The decision means neither of the city’s two internal candidates, Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza or Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman, will advance to the final round. “We just thought that there were benefits to having a fresh perspective,” said Cole. “More than anything…I think we just decided to go with an external candidate. We haven’t done that in 19 years, and we figured it was time for a change.”


The last City Manager brought in from outside Austin was Camille Barnett, who served as City Manager from 1989 to 1994. She had previously been the Director of Finance and Administration for the City of Houston. Barnett was succeeded in the City Manager’s position by Jesus Garza, who had worked for the city from 1978 to 1988, then returned in 1993 to serve as Assistant City Manager before being promoted to the top job. When Garza left in 2002 for a job at the LCRA, the Council promoted Toby Futrell.


Both of the finalists come from other major cities in Texas, which Council Member Cole said played a role in making the finalists list. “There are a lot of things that we wanted to see (that are) happening in both of the cities that they are coming from,” she said. “Ft. Worth has a transit system…we were very impressed with the fact that that’s going on in the Metroplex area, and we think Marc Ott brought a lot with that. We were impressed with Jelynne’s tourism experience as Austin continues to try to compete in that industry.”


Garza praised the Council for the selection process and offered a positive assessment of the two finalists. “The Council set up the process that was very fair and equitable, nobody had an upper hand whether you were internal or external. So there’s no surprise,” he said. “I think fact is that the Council made a very good and wise decision. “I think they’ve demonstrated, as they always, do significant leadership. I know that they had a very thorough process, so what they’ve ended up with is two very, very qualified and experienced candidates.”


Now that he is no longer in the running, Garza said he was as interested as other city employees to find out who the next chief executive will be. “Obviously I’m disappointed for me personally. But I love this organization, I love what I do and I’m committed to the community and that’s not going to change.” As for his future with the city, Garza said, “I can tell you that I have a lot of work to do in the organization.  There’s nothing that’s going to change that. The bottom line is what we do is not about an individual. It really is about the people that we serve and the needs of our citizens, so that’s what I’m committed to. If we get too wrapped up about who’s the City Manager, we just won’t get any work done…and the fact is that I’m committed to continuing to work to serve our citizens.”


The selection of Jelynne Burley and Marc Ott means that whichever candidate is chosen, Austin will have its first African-American City Manager. “It’s a historic day,” said Council Member Sheryl Cole. “That is very much a positive. But at the same time I want to emphasize that these candidates are stellar. They are more than qualified for this job and they have really demonstrated that capacity in their existing cities.”


Citizens will get a chance to meet the finalists face-to-face on Tuesday of next week. The Council will schedule a meeting, possibly at the Palmer Events Center, to allow Burley and Ott a chance to interact with citizens and answer questions. Citizens will also be allowed to provide feedback. The Council has scheduled a special called meeting on Jan. 16, to conduct a final round of interviews with the two finalists.

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