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Cronk, Lazarus vie for city manager job

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Each of the two finalists for the job of Austin city manager, Howard Lazarus and Spencer Cronk, did his best to convince a small crowd gathered at the Austin Convention Center last night, as well as an unknown number of people watching on TV and Facebook, that he should be chosen for the job.

Lazarus, 61, has been city administrator for Ann Arbor, Michigan, since leaving Austin in June 2016, but prior to that, he served for eight years as director of Austin’s Public Works Department. He said that he and his wife consider Austin home and really want to return.

Cronk, 38, has been coordinator for the city of Minneapolis since 2014 and served as commissioner of administration for the state of Minnesota for three years prior to that. Prior to his move back to Minnesota where he grew up, Cronk was executive director of the Department of Small Business Services for New York City from 2006 to 2009.

Each man had about an hour on the dais with Doug Matthews, chief communications officer for the city. Cronk took the stage first, describing himself as curious, collaborative and accessible. He even gave out his email address so that anyone could reach him that way.

Cronk said Austin is “on the verge of greatness. … Right now we’re making key decisions that will determine (the city’s) direction, and I want to be a part of it.”

Both candidates stressed a commitment to equity, inclusiveness and transparency.

Cronk said he wanted to find and solve problems before they get out of hand and compared himself to Smokey the Bear. He told the audience to remember the differences between Smokey the Bear and Ranger Rick. “Smokey the Bear is preventing forest fires, while Ranger Rick is up in his tower and looking at where the fires are and running after them to put them out. … I believe that I am more of a Smokey the Bear,” he said. “I really think that we’re always going to see fires that come across our desk day after day. … But the more that we can do preventative thinking about how we can have systems in place to prevent those fires from happening, we will be better off as a community.”

In response to a question about how to handle the budget, Lazarus said it would be a good idea to do one thing that Ann Arbor does, which is to set a two-year budget cycle. He said to do that, the city would “put a two-year work plan in place. It gives the issues time to germinate, to grow and to be successful. It lets us look down the road. The second year of that cycle is really just about changes and we have to commit not to make a lot of changes because in that second year of the budget cycle we can look long term. We can plan long term.”

Lazarus also said it was imperative to fix what is wrong with CodeNEXT, but not to reject it altogether. It’s important because the city has already spent $8 million on it and because the city needs to address the issues in the Land Development Code, he said.

Matthews urged people to share their opinions and preferences about the two candidates by texting “manager” or “gerente” to 512-598-5359 to get a survey in English or Spanish. Council will be meeting with each candidate in the morning and is expected to make a decision early next week. The full town hall is available to watch here.

Photo by John Flynn.

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