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Council reviews Ott, renews annual salary with no raise

Friday, May 28, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

City Manager Marc Ott, even a month ago, probably had no idea he would spend his annual review not only with Council members behind closed doors but also with speakers who would publicly criticize his treatment of the minority community. Nor could he have known the revelations of the last two weeks—related back to police shooting a year ago of an East Austin teenager—would so rock City Hall and lead to the resignation/retirement of his City Attorney.


In his two years in Austin, Ott has prided himself on his connection to Austin’s East Side, even sending his chief of staff out to negotiate some of the thornier issues of urban renewal. Ott’s at his most comfortable talking directly to Austin’s minority community, and he’s candid in his assessment of race relations. He expressed those thoughts during a speech at Huston Tillotson University last January, thoughts he has expressed in a number of settings.


“I found an interesting dichotomy here in Austin,” Ott told the audience. “We take great pride in patting ourselves on our collective backs about our heightened sensibilities that we have here about all sorts of things… and yet I find, when I think about the course of my career over 27 years, I find that I observe here probably the hardest demographic line that I’ve seen in my career.”


When he raised that subject of the racial divide of I-35, Ott told the crowd, he would see the looks on people’s faces change, and often people would find some way to change the subject, because it’s a subject no one wants to talk about.

Last night, however, that racial divide was exactly what Ann Del Llano and others wanted to talk about when it came time to discuss Ott’s evaluation. A number of speakers – Del Llano being the most articulate – took the microphone to criticize Ott’s handling of the KeyPoint report, which the public did not get to see, in detail, before it was leaked to the media last week.


Was this report, Del Llano asked, a tightly contained and extremely privileged document, or was it something that appeared to be freely distributed by Chief Art Acevedo to any number of acquaintances for an assessment?

“Which one was it, when Acevedo was e-mailing the report out to his drinking buddies at will?” Del Llano asked. “Did you ask the AG before or after he already had sent the report out to his buddies?”


Del Llano was followed by a number of speakers, some articulate and others emotional about who bore final responsibility for Nathaniel Sanders’ shooting. One said Ott deserved no raise and certainly no more compensation or benefits than the $50,000 report that the city appeared to throw in the trash. Another said he should have disciplined Acevedo for noting conclusions about the shooting before an investigation was complete.


The final speaker asked for a response from Council about the Sanders shooting.


An emotional Council Member Sheryl Cole responded, saying no one lost in an officer-involved shooting – be he African-American, Hispanic or white – would go unnoticed by the city’s leadership.`


“Me and my colleagues are sorry,” Cole said quietly.


Ott was stoic through much of the testimony about his evaluation, attentive to the speakers but showing little emotion in any particular direction.


Council Member Randi Shade made the motion for a generally favorable review and to maintain Ott at his current salary of about $242,000. Shade noted Ott handled an enterprise with a $2.5 billion budget that included an electric and water utility, an airport and convention center, as well as oversight of more than 10,000 employees. Her comments were met with some hisses from the audience.


Shade noted that the KeyPoint testimony earlier in the day was proof that there was a lot of room for improvement all around. She alluded to the fact those comments did not go unnoticed when it came time to discuss the evaluation in closed session.


“We had a very productive discussion, and we discussed very candidly what’s going well, and what needs to get better,” Shade said.


Austin was fortunate to have a manager of Ott’s experience and caliber, Shade said. Overall, Ott had performed his duties well during a particularly challenging budget time, and his leadership had resulted in employees stepping up to do more with less. The citizens had benefited from a city manager of Ott’s experience, Shade said.


“Except for Nathaniel Sanders,” one person yelled from the audience.


Shade pushed on, saying the Council had noted some highlights from Ott’s administration in its resolution: opening up the budget process; allowing citizens more opportunities to express their concerns; making critical choices for federal stimulus funding; implementing major initiatives in affordable housing and transportation; and implementing a new transportation department.


Most years, the Council takes turns thanking the city manager and offering kudos. Last night, it was only Shade who thanked Ott for his work, telling him the Council felt fortunate to have a leader who shared their vision and priorities. She also noted that Ott had declined a raise, although Council had put in a caveat that additional compensation might be considered once the budget was passed.


Ott’s evaluation passed on a vote of 6-0, with Council Member Bill Spelman off the dais on city business.


Asked for any response after the vote, Ott offered a simple statement. “My discussion with the Mayor and Council was candid and productive. I appreciate their feedback and support.”


Ott talking about the Great Divide in Austin:

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