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Ott says 2013 brought both personal, professional accomplishments

Tuesday, January 7, 2014 by Jo Clifton

City Manager Marc Ott says that, for him, 2013 had a lot of highlights.


Some were personal, like being the recipient of the Mark E. Keane Award for Career Excellence, which he received early in the year. That award came with a stipend, which he will donate to the city for something related to Austin’s Innovation Office.


Others were about Austin’s continued economic growth.


“Austin continued to be a leader, not just in the state, but nationally, in terms of job growth, in terms of businesses expansion and relocation. I think our numbers just went through the roof,” said Ott. “If you look across the range of indicators, or things by which they measure the vitality of a municipality… Austin continues to be near the top of all of those lists.”


“Certainly, in terms of the Great Recession, we were one of the last to feel the impact and one of the first to come out,” said Ott.


He’s also happy with the continued success of Formula One, though he concedes traffic was slightly worse than the first year.


Ott sees White Lodging, and the surrounding controversy about incentives, as “another chapter in what has been a really long story that isn’t over yet.”


“Incentives were being vigorously debated before I got here. When I got here, they wanted to take back incentives that they had given out at the Domain… We even had a vote about it. It’s just been an ongoing part of the overall discourse that’s been going on in Austin. I just think that’s going to continue,” said Ott.


He says that sometimes incentives make sense, sometimes they don’t, but he doubts that they – or the debate about them – are going away any time soon.


Though the current city government was intentionally left out of the districting process that accompanied the shift to single-member districts, the city manager‘s office has been kept busy with transitional work necessitated by last November’s change.


Ott knows that things will be different. Prior to coming to Austin, all of his experience had been district-based.


“When I talk about things changing, I’m obviously speaking from experience,” said Ott. “It will be a huge issue for a while, as the community adjusts, as elected officials (whoever they may be) adjust to being district-focused.”


Ott anticipates that part of his job will be to ensure that the physical space of City Hall will be ready for the expanded City Council and their staff. He’s also working on an “orientation curriculum” that will get new Council members ready for their job. Though it’s something that he says he’s done before, with the possibility of an entirely new City Council, he allows that this orientation needs to be much more thoughtful, and could go much deeper than in years past.


“It’s not just a newly-elected official orientation. It’s a newly-elected official orientation in the context of a new government structure. That’s different,” said Ott.


“It really assists them in an accelerated way and enhances their basic knowledge about local government, this government, how things have worked,” said Ott. He says that his goal is to help them get acclimated as quickly as possible.


“That’s the job, notwithstanding some of the rhetoric that has been written about how powerful this office is going to become. The job doesn’t change here. For me, personally and professionally, I have no interest in what they’ve been saying. I have no interest in a power grab or any of that other stuff,” said Ott. “The job is the same for me. That is to assist the policy makers to the best of my ability.”


Other changes from the election, like the creation of a Civil Service Commission, continue to affect the city. That change is one that stood out for Ott, who says that in some respects he sees the change as a good thing.


“The fact is, Civil Service, one of the things that it does entail is even a greater commitment to making sure that there is a consistent application of personnel rules and policy,” said Ott. “You’re always trying to do that. But now that’s kind of institutionalized.”


Ott also calls the Halloween flood and its impact “very significant,” both in terms of how high the water got and the sheer speed at which it occurred. Despite that, Ott says, emergency responders did a very good, if not perfect, job.


“Were we perfect in our response? The answer is no. Are we ever perfect in our response? No. There is always room for improvement. We acknowledge that.,” said Ott.


“There is the story of the emergency response, and we have policy and procedures in terms of what we do… it’s down to a science. There’s that story. Then there are these other stories. Just human, compassionate, prepared-to-sacrifice yourself for someone else kind of stuff that was going on at the same time,” said Ott, who was touched by flood victims who offered him food as he walked by.


“Compassion, in the midst of total destruction,” said Ott. “What does that say about the human spirit? It says some pretty incredible things, if you ask me.”

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