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AFSCME supports Hart as city manager

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 by Jo Clifton

The city employees union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has sent a letter to Mayor Steve Adler requesting that City Council consider hiring Interim City Manager Elaine Hart as Austin’s permanent city manager.

In the letter, which was delivered to the mayor but not Council members last week, AFSCME Local 1624 business manager Carol Guthrie wrote, “The city manager position has been vacant for too long,” an opinion quietly voiced by a number of city employees while speaking off the record with the Austin Monitor.

“City employees need and deserve to feel secure and supported in their positions, which cannot happen without strong and stable leadership at the top,” Guthrie wrote. “Despite the vacancy, the city’s workforce has continued to thrive under the leadership of Ms. Hart. We believe this is, in large part, due to the fact that Ms. Hart is an established member of the Austin community, as well as a trusted and familiar presence at City Hall. For the sake of continuity and stability, which this workforce and community desperately need, we urge you to consider Ms. Hart for the permanent position of city manager.”

When Council promoted Hart in September 2016, she indicated that she did not want to be considered for the permanent position.

But on Tuesday, Hart said she had changed her mind during the past year. She said when she accepted the interim city manager job she thought she would go back to being chief financial officer until she retired.

“The longer I was in the (city manager) job the more fun I was having, and I really think we’re getting a lot of things done, but I held to what I said. I told Council I wasn’t applying. I didn’t apply because that’s what I’d said a year ago. But if they want to have that conversation, I’d have that conversation with them. I think we’re getting a lot done and I have a great team,” she said.

Hart said no one has asked her to apply for the job, but she would be honored to be selected. Still, she said she does not want to interfere in the process that Council has chosen for finding a new manager.

When Council embarked on its search process, it was estimated to take six to nine months. Now, 13 months later, Council and its consultants are currently in phase two of the three-phase process for hiring the next city manager, according to Laura Huffman, who chairs the City Manager Search Advisory Task Force.

The city hired Steve Newton of the executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates to help with the search. Newton said Tuesday that his firm never reveals the names of its candidates and he would not discuss whether Hart would be part of the process.

The mayor has told city staff that he wants to keep the Council agenda light on Nov. 2, because he expects to be spending significant time in executive session reviewing city manager candidates. Newton said he will meet with Council in executive session in mid-October “to review individuals’ backgrounds who are interested or interesting to us relative to the position. Later in the month … the list will be narrowed down to between six and 10 individuals who will meet with City Council, all of which will be in executive session.”

“The City Council will meet with those individuals and from there they will narrow it down to a smaller group for a second round of interviews,” Newton concluded. As for Nov. 2, Newton said there will be meetings “around that date and we’re still working on the exact date.”

But as for AFSCME, its position is clear: “Given the fact that we have a qualified individual who has proven to be effective in this position already, we do not believe that the expense of recruitment is the best use of city resources.”

Council Member Leslie Pool told the Monitor, “It appears that (Hart) has solid backing from the current employees, and if the union is sending that letter, that would be significant to me.” She pointed out that she is also a member of AFSCME.

Photo by John Flynn.

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