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Cronk says he just wants to get to know us

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 by Jo Clifton

In a brief meeting with reporters on Tuesday, Austin’s new city manager, Spencer Cronk, showed himself to be affable and articulate, but he resisted all efforts to pin him down on questions about several topics, including the contract with the Austin Police Association and the many interim executives he must choose to keep or replace.

Cronk said he was happy to hear from the people who show up at City Council meetings as they did last week. But he also said he wanted to hear from “voices that haven’t been heard. It is important for me in my first few weeks and months to make sure that I am elevating those voices and listening to them to inform my decisions.”

Cronk said with each person he talks to he will want to find out what they want to retain as the city grows, what they want to change, and what gives them hope. He will also be asking them what advice they have for him.

He said he will be seeking advice from different stakeholders, including members of various religious and cultural groups, businesspeople, neighborhood people and others. Cronk said he wanted to make sure that everything that he does is “grounded in the spirit and culture that is Austin.” He said he also hopes to continue to receive advice from the people who sat on the task force that helped to select him as city manager. He also emphasized that he wants to have long-term relationships with people in the community, not just one meeting at the beginning of his tenure here.

Cronk said it is important for him to get to know the current city team before making any decisions about personnel changes, so getting to know the current city staff is his second priority. Before making any personnel changes, he said, he wants to make sure he has a policy in place to help guide those decisions.

He said all of the appointments “might not happen within the first three months or even six months,” adding that he wanted to give himself “the time and space to make sure that those are the right people in those positions.”

Cronk acknowledged the importance of appointing an appropriate permanent police chief as well as assistant city managers. Former Interim City Manager Elaine Hart appointed Brian Manley as interim police chief when Chief Art Acevedo left Austin to take over as chief of Houston’s police force.

Another big job in any city is directing operations at the Fire Department. So Cronk has to think about what he wants in a new fire chief since Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr has announced she will be leaving Austin in July to become fire chief in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she began her career.

Sarah Hensley was appointed as an interim assistant city manager last March when longtime city administrator Sue Edwards retired. Hensley had been the director of the Parks and Recreation Department. With Hensley moving to City Hall, Hart appointed Kimberly McNeeley, an assistant director in PARD, to take over as interim director of the department.

After Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras became San Marcos’ city manager last summer, Hart appointed Joe Pantalion as an interim assistant city manager. Pantalion had been the director of the Watershed Protection Department. Hart then appointed Mike Personett as acting director of that department.

In addition, the Economic Development Department, Austin Resource Recovery, Austin Public Health and the Austin Animal Center all have interim directors.

A third priority for Cronk is understanding Council’s priorities so that those priorities will become the framework for the budget process.

Cronk declined to discuss procedures for police accountability in Minneapolis, the city where he most recently worked, but he did say Minneapolis has something similar to a police monitor.

It is not clear exactly when the city will be ready to sit down with the Austin Police Association and it is not clear – at least from the public’s viewpoint – what the city will be trying to achieve in the negotiations. Council members told city staff they should sit down with each Council member individually to find out what they want.

APA President Ken Casaday has said that his organization is ready whenever the city is ready. He said the earliest he thinks negotiations might begin is Feb. 28. After that, he said, because the South by Southwest festival (March 9-18) takes up the time of so many officers they will not be able to negotiate until the third week of March.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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