One finalist for city manager drops out, possibly threatening timeline


A finalist for Austin city manager dropped out over the weekend.

The council had two to five finalists ready to bring back for interviews.

Hiring the next city manager could be delayed as consultants re-examine the pool of applicants.

The effort to hire a new city manager before the end of the year could be in jeopardy after one finalist dropped out over the weekend, prompting consultants to wade back into the pool of applicants.

Consultants Russell Reynolds and Associates also recommended delaying the release of the identities of the short list of finalists, information that had been expected Monday after the Austin City Council faced pushback over its continued efforts to keep the hiring process top secret.

Mayor Steve Adler posted the announcement Sunday night to the council’s online message board, indicating that the message also came from Council Member Kathie Tovo, the mayor pro tem.

The consultants conducting the search recommended taking another week or two to review other potential candidates to “ensure that we have the finest and most diverse candidate pool,” Adler’s post said. Russell Reynolds also recommended delaying the release of the finalists’ names until later this month.

Adler offered no other details Monday about the developments in the search.

“That is all we are saying at this point,” he told the Statesman.

THE BACKSTORY: A van getaway, a maybe-illegal meeting. What the heck happened Nov. 2?

On Thursday, the council announced that it had whittled down the number of finalists for the job to between two and five applicants. Those names were not released Thursday because one finalist had not notified his or her current employer about being considered for the city of Austin’s top job, but council members at that time indicated support for releasing the names soon.

Council members have made the hiring process a largely secretive affair, going to great lengths to keep reporters from unmasking those who have interviewed for the job.

Earlier this month they abruptly changed the site of their interviews with no public notice, possibly violating the Open Meetings Act, according to some legal experts.

Before that, the city cited a court ruling that protects trade secrets of government contractors as the justification for denying public records requests for candidates’ names and applications, suggesting that other Texas cities looking for city managers might pick off Austin’s list (the largest such city is Sachse, population 25,039).

RELATED: Austin vs. Watauga? City claims competition to keep candidates secret

The Statesman has sued the city for the records and for possibly violating open meetings laws.

Other Texas cities have conducted more transparent searches. Last year Dallas released the names of its finalists before having them meet with the public and council members. Other large cities, including Austin in its previous city manager searches, have done the same.

Operating under the advice of Russell Reynolds, the council opted in March not to reveal the identities of finalists because they believed it would encourage better candidates to express interest in the job.

Despite the council’s efforts, the Statesman has identified five of the eight or nine candidates who have been interviewed. They are Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso, Minneapolis City Administrator Spencer Cronk, Ann Arbor City Administrator Howard Lazarus, Chattanooga Chief Operating Officer Maura Black Sullivan and former Tulsa City Manager Jim Twombly.

It is unclear which candidate has dropped out.

VIEWPOINTS: Austin should release names of city manager candidates

City Hall has been without a permanent city manager for more than a year since Marc Ott announced his departure for a job in Washington in August 2016. In the meantime, interim City Manager Elaine Hart has overseen day-to-day operations of the city, which has 14,000 employees and a $3.9 billion budget. Hart is earning $306,233 in the interim role.

Her status as a possible finalist has remained unclear. She has not applied for the job but told the Austin Monitor in October that she was interested.

Adler would not say whether Hart’s status in the search had changed. When tapping her for the interim role, the council indicated Hart would not be considered for the permanent job.

“That was the last public pronouncement on that issue,” Adler said Monday.

VISIT VOTETRACKER: See how your Austin City Council member voted on key issues

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