Reversing course, Austin council to reveal city manager finalists


Austin City Council members will reverse course on their secret search for a city manager and release up to five finalists’ names in the next few days, a week after the American-Statesman staked out candidate interviews and sued the city over refusing to release records on the search.

Stephen Newton, a representative of search firm Russell Reynolds, told the council Thursday that he recommended making the finalists’ names public — a departure from his previous advice, and from a decision the council made in March to keep the process confidential until the council made its final pick.

“I’ve listened to all your comments, concerns,” he said. “Based on that, my recommendation is that you bring back between two and five individuals for the second round. I’m also recommending to you that the names of these individuals be made public … but in order to do so appropriately, we need to hear from each one of those individuals that they’re interested in going forward and that they’re willing to have their names given to the public.”

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

Newton said he expected to have those names released sometime Friday or, at the latest, Monday.

The Statesman last week identified five of the eight or nine candidates the council interviewed over two days, despite the city’s attempts to maintain secrecy. Those candidates 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.

The council members voted unanimously in March to keep all candidate names secret until a single finalist was picked, operating on advice from Newton that they would get a wider pool of applicants if they maintained confidentiality. When the city sought to withhold records related to the search under a provision typically applied to competitive advantages between private companies, the Statesman sued.

Last week, after Statesman reporters identified four candidates seen on the first day of interviews, the council sought to evade public scrutiny on the second day of interviews by racing away unexpectedly in vans, blocking reporters from following them and moving its closed-door meeting to a conference room behind federal security checkpoints at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The Statesman added a complaint to its lawsuit that the council’s actions violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by moving from the publicly advertised location to another site that was not accessible to the public.

RELATED: Statesman sues for city manager candidate names as interviews begin

After Thursday’s meeting, Mayor Steve Adler said the council always hoped to make finalist names public, but voted previously to preserve the option of confidentiality in case it had a particularly desirable candidate who wanted to remain unidentified.

“We both wanted to get absolutely the best person and wanted it to be open and transparent,” he said. “We said it from the beginning. We set up a process to maintain confidentiality to the end. We don’t need it to the end.”

Newton said the same, noting that revealing candidate names had always depended on how the candidates felt.

“We wanted to make sure those individuals were comfortable,” he said.

He said he is reaching out to about five candidates to confirm that they want to continue with the search process. Those who do will have a second round of interviews at City Hall. Two to three more will have final interviews with citizen groups.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Four Republicans compete for Williamson County commissioner seat
Four Republicans compete for Williamson County commissioner seat

Four Republicans are competing for the chance to be Williamson County’s next Precinct 4 commissioner in the primary in March. Vying to face off against Democrat Carlos Salinas in November are Russ Boles, a commercial broker; David Marek, a truck driver for Williamson County’s Road and Bridge Division; Heather Peal, a managing partner of...
Court-at-Law No. 3 judge faces Democratic challenger
Court-at-Law No. 3 judge faces Democratic challenger

As Travis County faces racial disparities in its jails, both Democratic judicial candidates for Court-at-Law No. 3 said tackling the issue will be among the biggest challenges for the winner. This summer, the civil rights organization Grassroots Leadership revealed that, according to an analysis of 2015 jail booking data, African-Americans on average...
Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance a first in Texas
Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance a first in Texas

Just before 1 a.m. Friday, the Austin City Council voted in what could be described as the most progressive labor policy for the entire state and possibly the American South. At the behest of Council Member Greg Casar, the council made Austin the first city in Texas to require private employers to provide paid sick leave, a move that quickly garnered...
City Council approves plan to replace security boxes after burglaries

The Austin City Council approved a plan Thursday to replace the locks on security boxes in apartments and commercial buildings across the city, months after police investigators said one of the master keys first responders use for emergencies was likely stolen and used in burglaries. Per the council’s direction, the overhaul is not to exceed...
Democratic candidates for Hays judge diverge on rail, water
Democratic candidates for Hays judge diverge on rail, water

The two Democratic candidates vying next month to face former Commissioner Will Conley, a Republican, in November to become the next Hays County judge are no strangers to the local election circuit. Abel Velasquez challenged the now-outgoing Judge Bert Cobb in 2014 and lost. Ruben Becerra narrowly lost to San Marcos Mayor John Thomaides by 42 votes...
More Stories