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Council digs into hiring process for new city manager

Thursday, August 25, 2016 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

The candidates for Austin’s next city manager will be vetted by nearly a million people. At least, that’s how necessary City Council members and city staff have said public input is to the process of hiring Austin’s newest city manager in roughly a decade.

City Manager Marc Ott announced two weeks ago he would leave Austin to serve as the executive director of the International City/County Management Association in Washington, D.C. While Ott will stay in his post through October, city staff has cautioned Council members that it should take anywhere from six to nine months (and possibly longer) to secure a permanent replacement.

“Depending on the amount of engagement and other decisions, it may be more, it may be less,” Assistant City Manager Mark Washington told Council members at a special called meeting Tuesday.

The process would begin with the hiring of an executive search firm sometime in October; a finalist will be chosen by April or May. Human Resources Department Director Joya Hayes estimated that a new city manager could be sitting down to his or her desk in June. But the inclusion of the public in that process certainly ensures a lengthy hiring process.

“The more engagement, more than likely it will elongate the time,” said Washington.

Council Member Don Zimmerman questioned the need for such public input into who should hold Austin’s highest executive position.

“If … every time there’s an important decision to make – like, ‘What kind of city manager should we be looking for?’ – the automatic reaction is to go back to the community, I think our community could say, ‘Well, then, why do we vote?’”

Zimmerman’s colleagues appeared to ignore his comments.

Instead, Mayor Steve Adler and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo have pitched the idea of convening a citizen panel, with members appointed by Council members, to serve as a liaison between the community and the search firm hired by the city. (City staff said Tuesday that while Council discusses an interim appointment, staff can move forward without Council approval on a request for proposals for the new firm.)

The citizen group would function much like citizen boards and commissions – as a venue for public input and a body that passes along recommendations to the full Council. Adler and Tovo have also recommended that public hearings be held on the qualifications for a new city manager and on a list of final candidates for the job.

Council members will continue discussing the interim position and the process for hiring a permanent replacement at sessions on Monday and Tuesday.

Photo by M.Fitzsimmons (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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