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Public to meet manager candidates after all

Friday, November 10, 2017 by Jo Clifton

After months of insisting on keeping the names of all city manager candidates secret, Steve Newton of Russell Reynolds Associates announced during Thursday’s City Council meeting that the names of the finalists would become public on either Friday or Monday.

In addition, he said that the public would get to meet the last group of finalists.

Newton has demanded and Council has not disagreed that the names of all the candidates be kept confidential until a finalist was picked, despite arguments to the contrary from open meetings lawyers and the press, and a lawsuit filed by the Austin American-Statesman.

He said at the meeting that up to five finalists would meet with Council and the City Manager Search Advisory Task Force in early December and “then a later date would be set for that third round,” which will include an introduction of the finalists to the community.

Last week, in an attempt to hide the faces as well as the names of city manager candidates, the entire Council fled the site it had posted as its meeting place to interview candidates, got on a bus, and ended up behind the security access point at the airport.

Nevertheless, the Statesman was able to identify the following five candidates: Howard Lazarus, former public works director for the city of Austin and current Ann Arbor city administrator; Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso; Minneapolis City Coordinator Spencer Cronk; former Tulsa City Manager Jim Twombly; and Chattanooga, Tennessee, Chief Operating Officer Maura Black Sullivan. It is likely that there were three others whose names were not revealed.

Newton said he could not reveal the names of the five finalists on Thursday because some of them had not yet told their current employers that they were candidates for the Austin position.

Mayor Steve Adler said that he would like to post the names on the City Council Message Board on Friday and put out a press release, but there was some question about the timing of both of those things because Friday is a city holiday for Veterans Day.

Upon learning the news, attorney Bill Aleshire commented, “I am glad to hear the mayor and Council have regained a bit of their senses and will stop trying to hide the identity of city manager candidates. Thanks to some excellent gumshoe sleuthing by the news media, that dumb secrecy tactic wasn’t working anyway. I am sad for Adler, Council and the voters of Austin that they chose the path of unlawful secrecy to begin with. Public officials who truly believe in transparency don’t have to get sued to walk the walk for transparency. Bottom line, though: I am fearful of what message this awful and stupidly secret hiring process has taught our future city manager about this city’s commitment to open government. Will the new city manager figure that he/she should follow this mayor/Council’s lead and start with secrecy and only give that up when the city is about to get its ass handed to them in court?”

Photo by John Flynn.

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