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Adler lays out new staffing plans for his office

Wednesday, February 25, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

City Council members peppered Mayor Steve Adler with questions at a work session Tuesday about his new proposal to ask city staff to look into ways to fund five additional full-time staff members for his office and allocate an additional $25,000 for each Council office.

As he indicated to the Monitor last week, Adler said he plans to propose the item — which is on the agenda for Thursday’s Council meeting — as a replacement for a proposal that would have used staff hired by funds donated from the Mayor’s Better Austin Foundation, established by former Mayor Kirk Watson in 2000.

“I think that the will of the community was not to do it that way,” Adler said. “While I got a lot of concern about that, I found pretty widespread support for us having the tools to be able to move forward.”

Though the former item is still on Thursday’s agenda, Adler clarified that he does not intend to pursue it, but requested it be listed so that Council can discuss it if needed.

Adler said his understanding is that the current fiscal year budget already includes funding for five additional full-time employees — though the city hasn’t allocated it — and the additional funding for Council offices is available due to higher-than-expected tax revenues.

The resolution would ask City Manager Marc Ott to identify these funding availabilities and report back to Council at a work session on March 10, or as soon as possible.

Adler later told the Monitor that the purpose of the resolution would be to meet “immediate staffing needs for the Council to be able to move forward now.” He added that he envisions Council’s Audit and Finance Committee discussing the “long-term staffing needs of the mayor and Council offices” for the next fiscal year, which will start in October.

Adler also said that, based on the discussion, “it seemed as if most of the Council believed that this would be a good tool on an interim basis for us to be able to move forward.”

Some Council members, however, expressed concern about the idea.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, for example, said that, while she appreciates the changes that Adler made to the proposal, they do not address all of her questions. “It’s just difficult for me to understand how employees within your office will be able to serve the entire Council,” she said.

“I really do appreciate the work that you’re doing and the policy work that you’re doing,” Tovo continued. “It’s not a lack of confidence or a lack of comfort with you personally, but we are setting in place a structure that will continue long beyond … as long as any of us are here.”

Tovo said she is particularly concerned about whether the change would be “a shift that upsets the balance of power or upsets the Charter responsibilities,” noting that the only staff members the City Charter allows Council to direct are the city manager, the city auditor, the city clerk and the municipal clerk.

Tovo said she would like to know if there is an alternative option that would give the mayor and Council additional staffing resources yet not raise such questions. “I don’t know the answer to that, and no one proffered any suggestions (at the work session),” she later told the Monitor. “But it’s something I’ll be giving some thought to.”

Adler used the term “shepherd” throughout the discussion to describe the role the new staff members would play in his office, and for Council and its committees as a whole. “It’s a group of people that are not policy experts — they’re people that are facilitators,” he said. “They’ll take projects, they’ll take assignments, they’ll take goals and then they’ll try to help us march to them.”

In response to Council Member Ora Houston’s question about whether the new staff members will take their assignments from her, as a Council member, or from the mayor, Adler said, “Ultimately, it’s me.”

“If everybody is giving them assignments, then I’m going to have people that potentially are pulled 50 different ways. And to me, operationally, that doesn’t work,” Adler said. Rather, he continued, he envisions taking requests from Council members or committees and then assigning them to the new staff.

Council members, Adler said, would be able to use the additional $25,000 each within their individual offices at their own discretion.

Jim Wick, director of community engagement in the mayor’s office, later clarified that the hiring process for the new staff would “generally follow the same hiring process that the rest of the mayor’s staff and other Council’s staffs have followed.”

“Who those people are and how many of them there are really depends on the item that’s in front of Council and what the city manager comes back with,” Wick said.


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