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Council debates process for hiring city manager

Monday, March 6, 2017 by Kara Nuzback

The firm hired to find Austin’s next city manager said it hopes to get the job done by this summer.

At a Feb. 28 City Council work session, Steve Newton of Russell Reynolds Associates Inc. said the firm would take about six weeks to search for candidates and allow 10 weeks for interviews to take place.

Council selected the international firm on Feb. 9 to conduct a search to replace former City Manager Marc Ott, despite the fact that the firm had never conducted a city manager search.

Newton asked Council to appoint a six- or seven-member committee to prioritize candidates, leaving Council to interview the final three to five candidates.

Stephanie Tomasso, who works in Reynolds’ Washington, D.C., office, said a committee of six or seven is enough to incorporate residents with different skill sets and be able to represent the interests of the city and its residents. She also said it could be hard to align the values of more than six or seven people.

Council Member Ann Kitchen immediately called for the committee to have 11 members, which she said would give the group more diversity.

“We’re 11. We can work together,” Kitchen said, referring to Council.

Council Member Leslie Pool said because committee meetings would be noticed, it would be easier to obtain a quorum with 11 members. She also said she preferred to have at least one person on the committee to represent the interests of her district.

Also at issue was whether the final city manager candidates would be subject to a public vetting. In the firm’s presentation describing how it would select candidates, Tomasso said the firm would collect public input on qualities the community wanted in a city manager before it began the search process.

Newton said most candidates would likely be employed by other entities and would value confidentiality.

“They don’t want their names in the press if they can avoid it,” he said.

Council Member Ora Houston said when the city hired former Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo, he and two other finalists for the position were put in a high-profile public forum. She also said that when the last city manager was hired, it was a public process. Kitchen asked the firm to come back to Council with a range of options on how to involve the public.

Council Member Delia Garza and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo expressed preference for candidates with experience in the public sector, rather than the private, academic or nonprofit sector.

“There’s a real value in having done it before,” Tovo said. “It’s very different serving a city than it is serving within private industry.”

Mayor Steve Adler said Council would schedule a vote on the city manager search process, including how many committee members to appoint and whether the public would be able to vet the final candidates, at its March 23 meeting.

Photo by John Flynn. This story has been corrected, as it originally misidentified the Russell Reynolds representative as “Russell Reynolds,” when his name is actually Steve Newton.

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