Covert interviews done, Austin council to discuss city manager search


Items concerning the city manager search added to the City Council’s agendas for Tuesday and Thursday.

A look at the five candidates identified out of the nine finalists the council secretly interviewed this week.

After a hectic week of going on the lam in vans to give the slip to reporters trying to unmask city manager candidates in town for interviews, the Austin City Council will discuss the next steps of the search process next week.

The city added items concerning the city manager search to the agendas for both the council’s Tuesday work session and Thursday meeting. That conversation could discuss how to forward and how to involve a citizen task force expected to interview finalists, Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Kathie Tovo said Friday.

Despite Austin’s secrecy, the American-Statesman has confirmed five finalists from five states, all career public servants, with several others still unknown.

ICYMI: What the heck happened Thursday with the city manager search?

The Statesman has sued the city of Austin for refusing to provide records of the candidates requested under the Texas Public Information Act, and for abruptly relocating the Thursday public meeting from its posted location, the Hilton Austin Airport, to a room in the airport itself, behind federal security checkpoints.

Council members took the extreme action after Statesman reporters staked out the hotel during a first round of interviews Tuesday and were able to identify four of five candidates. The fifth covered her face with a folder as search consultants blocked her from a reporter’s view. On Thursday, the Statesman confirmed the identity of one of the four candidates who interviewed at the airport.

RELATED: Council may have broken open meetings law with ‘secret’ city manager search

Here is more information about the known candidates on the short list:

• Maura Black Sullivan, Chattanooga chief operating officer

The daughter of two reporters, Sullivan was always interested in politics and got her first job as a teenager answering citizen complaint calls in the county mayor’s office, she wrote in an application to the city of Dallas last year.

Sullivan was one of five finalists who interviewed publicly in Dallas last year for its city manager job. An Austin City Hall source confirmed Sullivan interviewed with Austin council members at the airport Thursday.

She has been chief operating officer for Chattanooga, Tenn., population 177,571, for nearly two years. She previously worked in planning and development for Memphis, Tenn., and Shelby County and was a family court mediator in Shelby County, according to her résumé.

In her Dallas application, Sullivan touted her communication skills and work fighting blight and budget imbalances in Memphis. She could not be reached by phone Friday.

• Daniel Alfonso, Miami city manager

Alfonso’s drink of choice is a Menterita, otherwise called a Cuba Libre — a Floridian joke that swaps the name “little lie” for “free Cuba,” he said. The son of a Cuban political prisoner, he arrived in the United States at the age of 11. He’s lived in Florida most of his life, aside from time stationed in Germany as an Army sergeant and deployed in the Gulf War.

He worked his way up from transit revenue collector to department head at Miami-Dade County and then, in 2011, went to work for the city of Miami as a budget officer. He has been city manager since 2014 for the city of 453,579 people and has presided over a period of relative tranquility in the normally volatile Miami government, after helping turn around a financial department with dwindling reserves as it was under federal investigation, according to the Miami Herald.

But in the last year, Alfonso has drawn the ire of some city commissioners after firing the director of the Little Haiti Cultural Complex and has twice fended off firing attempts, according to the Herald. Alfonso, who spoke with the Statesman on Monday evening, said Austin and Miami deal with similar issues, especially with regard to growth, affordability and housing.

“As I read through these issues, I’m thinking ‘déjà vu,’” he said. Plus, he added, “This is one of the cities we (city managers) aspire to. This is a capstone city.”

• Spencer Cronk, Minneapolis city administrator

Cronk, at 6 foot 6 inches tall, is hard to miss walking around Minneapolis, he wrote in a greeting to city employees when he became city administrator in 2014. The same was true in Austin, where a Twitter user quickly identified Cronk on Tuesday from a photo of him walking to interview with council members.

A Minnesota native, he cut his teeth in government working for New York, and then as a commissioner in Minnesota’s Department of Administration, leading state purchasing, according to a city news release from 2014.

In a 2014 interview with MinnPost, he said he was drawn to being a city administrator due to a desire to see Minneapolis — now home to 413,651 people — become a world class city, and to the challenge of making disparate departments operate effectively.

“But it’s not just that it needs to run well,” he told MinnPost. “It needs to run well for everyone. It gets to the equity conversation.”

Cronk declined to comment Friday, but said he would be happy to talk publicly about his interest in Austin in the coming weeks.

• Howard Lazarus, Ann Arbor city administrator

Former Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez responded happily when he saw the Statesman tweet a photo of Lazarus walking into an interview with council members Thursday.

“He is an excellent candidate,” Martinez tweeted. “Wicked smart and incredible sense of humor. Gonna need that.”

Lazarus would be a familiar face to many here after eight years as Austin’s public works director. He departed last year to take the city administrator job in Ann Arbor, Mich., population 120,782. A graduate of West Point, he previously worked as engineering director in Newark, N.J., and served in the military, according to the Ann Arbor News.

Lazarus did not respond to an email Friday. He told the Ann Arbor News this week that he’s happy with his job there, but couldn’t pass up the “unique opportunity” to apply for the Austin job. Council members there told the Michigan paper they were surprised to hear of him applying elsewhere and would be disappointed to lose him.

• Jim Twombly, former Tulsa city manager

A native of St. Louis, Mo., Twombly has worked for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and in planning in Oklahoma City. He became city manager of Broken Arrow, Okla., in 2004, and then of Tulsa in 2009. In the past year, he has been a finalist for both Dallas’ and Amarillo’s city manager jobs.

In his application to Dallas, he cited his work branding Broken Arrow and drawing development there, as well as addressing homelessness and aggressive panhandling in Tulsa.

He left Tulsa last year, telling media outlets that he expected a newly elected mayor to pick a new city manager.

“My first love is definitely city management,” he told the Amarillo Globe-News in January. “I really would like to get a city management position that’s not in the Tulsa area, I’d still want to be in the Midwest or southwest area.”

Twombly warned the Globe-News in January not to play poker with him — he’s even-tempered, but tough to read. He could not be located for comment Friday.

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