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City government grows considerably under Ott’s management

Monday, August 12, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Austin City Manager Marc Ott has overseen the creation of at least eight new city departments since the start of his tenure in 2008. Over the same period of time, Ott has also added to his managerial staff with the creation of an entirely new Assistant City Manager position – a move that came with the elimination of two administrative assistant jobs – and the reclassification of his Chief of Staff position to an Assistant City Manager role.


All told, the changes increase annual city employee expenses by just under $700,000, mostly for department director positions. Ott took over as City Manager in February 2008.


However, the Management Services Department – the city budgetary category that includes Ott and his team, as well as offices such as Sustainability and the city’s Public Information division – has grown from 48.23 full time employees in FY2010 to a proposed 91.23 employees in FY2013. In FY2010, the department cost taxpayers $4.95 million. At its proposed level, the FY2013 budget includes $10.54 million for management services.


The information was released in response to a May budget question from Council Member Bill Spelman related to the growth of city management since 2004. Only one city department was added over the four fiscal years prior to the start of Ott’s run.


Ott declined comment.


The Office of Labor Relations (created in FY2009) and the offices of Real Estate Services, Animal Services, and Building Services (all created in FY2012) came with no extra costs. The Sustainability Office, Code Compliance Department (separated from Solid Waste Services), the Transportation Department (all added in FY2009) and the Capital Planning Office (created in FY2011) are responsible for about $473,000 in annual salary increases.


The management additions – the new Assistant City Manager position in FY2008 and the reclassification in FY2012 – account for the remainder.


In addition to providing Spelman with the information, management offered a response that included more detail about the actions. “These departments and offices were created mostly through transfers of FTEs as well as contractuals and commodities from existing departments,” it says. “The Chief Environmental Sustainability Officer position (was) created for the administration of the new offices. Building Services, Labor Relations, and Real Estate Services were separated from existing departments but no new executive positions were created or reclassified. For the remaining departments/offices, an existing position was reclassified into a director position or an executive officer position.”


The response offers no further detail on the additional positions within the City Manager’s Office.


The largest sole portion of the increase, at $142,204 is for the city’s Chief Sustainability Officer. The reclassification of an existing position to the Director of Transportation position came in next with a payroll increase of $118,398. The Code Compliance director reclassification (also from an unspecified existing position) followed closely behind at $118,337. The reclassification of the Accounting Associate position to the Capitol Planning Officer role was responsible for a $94,184 increase.


The creation of the new Assistant City Manager position added $109,941 to the city’s balance sheet, and the reclassification of CMO Chief of Staff to an Assistant City Manager position cost taxpayers $41,267.


Another change – the creation of an independent Contract Management department – resulted in the addition of roughly $52,000 to the city’s payroll in FY2008.


Mayor Lee Leffingwell told In Fact Daily via email that “2004 to 2013 is a very long time in the life of a city and in terms of employment practices in general.” Leffingwell added that “the creation of the Transportation and Sustainability Offices are examples growth made to meet both policy direction and the needs of our growing community.”


Leffingwell also cited population growth as a factor. “Statistics show that in 2004, our population was at 692,102 while today we sit at 842,750,” he continued. “That type of planned growth places a demand on services.

Further, the Mayor placed some of the responsibility for the growth of city management on himself and the Council: “The City Manager makes a budget recommendation each year that takes into account these factors and City Council has the authority to approve or revise the budget as they see fit.”


Remarks from LBJ School Professor Emeritus Terrell Blodgett appear to support Leffingwell’s position. Blodgett is a veteran of both government and academia has published a book on the council-manager style of government in Texas. He points to the massive amount of construction, and the general growth of the city. “You just can’t do it right with the people that you had 10 years ago, five years ago, even a year ago,” Blodgett told In Fact Daily.


Blodgett called the growth of management over Ott’s tenure “a necessary build-up of the hierarchy.” Further, Blodgett added, “I think (Ott) is doing a very good job.”


Still, the situation raises concerns for Spelman. “The question I think we need to ask is something that gets at the following: Of the 12,000 people that work for the city, how many of them now are in positions where their primary job is to deal with customers – meaning the lowest rung of the hierarchy,” he told In Fact Daily. “And how many of them are in supervisor or managerial positions and how does that compare with what the organization looked like eight years ago.”


Spelman’s office plans to file a budget question designed to get those answers. “What I would like not to see is that we have an increasingly top-heavy organization, where we have more supervisors and more managers, and relatively fewer people actually doing work.”

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