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Reversing on secrecy, Austin announces six city manager finalists


Mayor Steve Adler released the names of the six finalists to be Austin’s next city manager on Monday.

All finalists have extensive experience in government administration, but some have seen recent foibles.

The next round of interviews will begin Dec. 3.

After weeks of secrecy that included meetings behind security lines at the airport, a lawsuit and a possible violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act, the Austin City Council on Monday named the six finalists in the running for city manager.

Mayor Steve Adler posted the names on the council’s online message board and outlined the next phases of the selection process. The council conducted one last round of interviews behind closed doors at City Hall on Monday.

The six finalists all have progressive, bona fide credentials in public service — and a couple have had a few recent stumbles. The six are:

• Denise Turner Roth, senior adviser for global construction consulting firm WSP.

• Scott Kubly, director of the Seattle Department of Transportation.

• Cecil House, an attorney overseeing public-sector construction for Gilbane Building Co. in New York.

• Howard Lazarus, city administrator of Ann Arbor, Mich.

• Maura Black Sullivan, chief operating officer for Chattanooga, Tenn.

• Spencer Cronk, city administrator of Minneapolis.

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

The final list of contenders came a week after the council briefly went back to the drawing board when one finalist bowed out. In another post on the message board, Adler said that council members needed to ensure they had a diverse group of candidates.

The finalists are four men and two women. Two finalists are African-American; the rest are white. Adler said he was happy with the group.

“They are all high-caliber people,” he said. “They have very different kinds of backgrounds, come from different kinds of places, have different kinds of experiences, and it’s going to give the council and the community a range of possibilities.”

Up next for the finalists is another round of interviews Dec. 3 with smaller groups of council members and the people appointed to Austin’s city manager search task force. On Dec. 7, the council will meet and whittle down the group to one or two finalists.

Then the council will conduct final interviews Dec. 11 and 12 that will include meetings with residents and city staffers. It was unclear whether any of these interviews would be held in public.

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

Here are more details on the candidates:

Roth: She is a former Obama administration official who drew some criticism as the head of the U.S. General Services Administration for not forcing President Donald Trump to divest himself of the lease for the old Post Office in Washington that houses the Trump International Hotel. A clause in the lease stated that no elected official could be a party to the lease, and Roth’s position drew a stern rebuke from The New York Times editorial board.

Roth left the GSA in January. She was then named a senior adviser for WSP, a global engineering and construction management consulting firm that has been involved in various large government construction contracts, including One World Trade Center.

As head of the GSA, she oversaw 12,000 employees with a budget of $27 billion. Before that, she was the acting city manager of Greensboro, N.C., with a population of 287,027. After her appointment to the D.C. post was announced, the Greensboro News & Record mourned her departure as the loss of a “young and talented city manager” lured to a more prominent post in her hometown.

Kubly: He has been the Department of Transportation director in Seattle, a city with 704,352 people, since 2014. Before that, he was deputy director of the Transportation Department in Chicago, his hometown. The job included developing a financial plan for Chicago’s Riverwalk and constructing protected bike lanes. He has also worked in the Transportation Department for Washington, D.C.

In Seattle, urbanists touted the progressive, bike-supporting Kubly as a savior from the traffic and transportation problems, according to Pacific Northwest nonprofit news site Crosscut. His penchant for getting things done “struck a deep chord in a city notorious for its endless, bureaucratic ‘Seattle Process,’ ” Crosscut said.

But Kubly came under investigation for violating Seattle ethics rules by not recusing himself from work matters related to his own former bike-sharing company, which operated the city’s bike-share program, according to the Seattle Times. Kubly admitted to two related ethics violations, for a penalty of $10,000.

House: He operates a housing construction practice for New York’s Gilbane Building Co. He previously was the general manager of the New York Housing Authority, the country’s largest public housing authority, where the New York Daily News dubbed him “Mr. Fix It.”

House was hired at the authority in 2012 after reporting on mismanagement and repair backlogs there. He made a dent in the backlog, according to the Daily News, but his resignation came a week after the paper in 2015 revealed that the authority had piles of unused supplies it was selling off at a loss.

The Daily News also reported Sunday that for several years under House’s leadership, the housing authority failed to legally require lead paint inspections in thousands of public housing units.

House has also been vice president of major electric utilities in California and New Jersey and practiced law in New York and New Jersey, according to the website of Columbia University, where he is a faculty member.

MORE ON THE CANDIDATES: Covert interviews done, Austin council to discuss city manager search

Sullivan: She took over as chief operating officer in Chattanooga, Tenn., population 177,571, nearly two years ago. She formerly worked in planning and development for Memphis, Tenn., and Shelby County, and was a family court mediator in Shelby County, according to a résumé she submitted to the city of Dallas last year. She was a finalist for the city manager job there.

Lazarus: He would be a familiar face to many in Austin after eight years as the public works director here. He left last year to become city administrator of Ann Arbor, Mich., population 120,782. He previously worked as engineering director in Newark, N.J., and served in the military after graduating from West Point, according to the Ann Arbor News.

Cronk: He has been city administrator of Minneapolis, population 413,651, since 2014. A Minnesota native, he previously worked for New York City and then as a commissioner in Minnesota’s Department of Administration, leading state purchasing. In a 2014 interview with MinnPost, he said the desire to see a city grow in its potential and the challenge of uniting various departments drew him to city management.

Not included in the list was interim City Manager Elaine Hart, who some had speculated might be in the running as a finalist after she said that she would be interested in the job but had not been asked to apply. Hart had garnered an endorsement for the job from the city’s employee union and has held the city’s top job for more than a year.

The Statesman sued the city of Austin on Oct. 31 over its refusal to release the identities of all finalists who interviewed for the job. After the City Council secretly changed the location of its second round of interviews to an area not accessible to the public, the Statesman added a complaint to its lawsuit that the council’s actions violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.

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