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Marc Ott hired as Austin city manager

Friday, January 18, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The Austin City Council named Marc Ott as the next City Manager on Thursday, publicly voting to hire the Fort Worth Assistant City Manager to take over for Toby Futrell, who will retire next month after holding the city’s top job for nearly six years and nearly 30 years as an employee of the City of Austin.

 

“I certainly stand here today to extend my heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to each of you,” Ott told the Council. “I can’t tell you how excited and proud and privileged I feel to have the opportunity to provide leadership on your behalf.”

 

Ott said he was not nervous about making the transition from Ft. Worth to Austin. “I feel calm, and I know that might surprise you. And the calmness that I feel has everything to do with how I’ve been received…from the very first time that I came to your great city. The calmness has to do with the way I’ve been treated by this Mayor and Council Members. They have done everything anyone can do to make someone like me feel comfortable.”

 

Ott told reporters during a break in the Council meeting he would try to meet as many members of the city workforce as possible. “As daunting a challenge as that may seem, I mean exactly that. You will see me out interacting with the employees,” he said. “One of the things I’ve done over the years is I have what you call ‘manager field days’. I go out and get assigned to various work units.” Ott said that first-hand experience was valuable in making decisions about city spending. “If I’m having a conversation about the condition of the city streets and what’s involved in reconstructing them, I understand that in a substantive way because I’ve operated the paver. I know what it is not only to ride on a city bus, but to drive one…or to be out with police officers at night when they’re outside an abandoned house they suspect may be a haven for drug trafficking.”

 

Council Members praised Ott on Thursday, saying he has the right experience and management style to lead the organization. “Marc Ott is a major figure in Texas on transportation and land use issues, and is going to bring some really dynamic experience and thinking as we look to the expansion of our rail transit system and the land use changes we’ve been embarking on to implement Envision Central Texas,” said Council Member Brewster McCracken. “Marc Ott has the temperament of a great leader. He’s someone who can unify not just this organization and this council, but this community.”

 

Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley, a former city staffer herself, also backed Ott’s selection. “I was really very proud to support your candidacy,” she said. “I think our staff and our community will reap the benefits of a lot of hard work you’ve done in the past.”

 

Council Member Sheryl Cole said she was particularly excited to have not only a well-qualified candidate, but the city’s first African American to be named City Manager. “It is a change, it is historic, and in the words of the old Negro gospel, it is a happy day,” she said. “I can not tell you how ecstatic this entire community is to have you, including the African American community. It pleases me to tell you that this Council has unanimous support behind you as you transition into our world-class and sometimes a little weird city.”

 

The vote to name Ott as the next City Manager was 6-0, with Council Member Jennifer Kim abstaining.

 

Although Kim abstained from the vote, it was not because she felt Ott was not qualified for the position. “I’m also very excited about bringing Mr. Ott on board,” she said. “However, I certainly do believe there has been inadequate public input in the process. It is because of this lack of process that I must, in good conscience, abstain from this vote.”

 

Kim raised her objections publicly last week, and the Council provided a chance for residents to meet the Ott and a second finalist, Jelynne Burley of San Antonio, and provide feedback during a public forum Tuesday night. However, Kim was not satisfied with that forum, and on Tuesday afternoon—just hours before the forum—called for additional opportunities for public input.

 

Outgoing City Manager Toby Futrell had announced her decision to retire in July of last year, and Mayor Will Wynn issued a memo outlining the timetable for the selection process in November. Kim’s opponent in the Place 4 Council race, Randi Shade, on Thursday said Kim’s objections to that process should have been voiced sooner.

 

“If Jennifer Kim really thought that this process should have been conducted differently, she ought to have said so months ago,” Shade said in a statement released by her campaign. “Protesting in the 11th hour, and only after it appears politically advantageous to do so, is classic Jennifer Kim. I do think that the public should have been more involved in the process, but unlike Jennifer Kim, I would not have waited until the eve of the vote to say so.”

 

Ott will begin his job on February 18, a city holiday.  “The budget we vote on in September actually starts being drafted by our departments this month,” Wynn said during Thursday’s meeting. “Everyone agreed it would be better to have our new City Manager part of that process, having input and oversight and learning a lot about the organization. We also are about to begin some significant labor negotiations, so we wanted to have the new City Manager on board for that lengthy and important process. And we like the idea of getting this very important decision done before City Council elections start in earnest very soon.”

 

While Futrell had announced her intention last year to retire at the end of May, she had also indicated to the Council she would be flexible in her timeline. Since the city can only have one City Manager, Futrell’s last day will be February 17. The Council boosted her retirement package last year.

 

Ott’s salary, approved by the Council Thursday afternoon following negotiations in executive session, will be $242,000 per year. Ott will also receive an executive allowance, car allowance, cell phone allowance, and deferred compensation. The city will also provide a temporary housing allowance for up to nine months while Ott and his family search for a home in Austin and will cover moving costs and two house-hunting trips.

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