Austin city manager will replace executive team after open recruitment


Spencer Cronk plans to create five positions that align with city’s strategic goals in ‘structural shift.’

Existing assistant city managers will be free to apply for new positions, which could be filled by winter.

Austin’s new city manager, Spencer Cronk, will eliminate the positions that form his executive team and replace those with five new roles oriented to City Council-endorsed goals, he said Friday.

As part of the changes, the existing five assistant city managers will have to join other candidates in applying for the new positions.

Cronk, who started at the city in February, called the move the next logical step during a year when the city has shifted its emphasis away from such individual departments as police and housing to strategic outcomes such as public safety and affordability. In short: The city is trying to organize its operations around overall goals, not traditional divisions of labor.

“It’s really a structural shift in how I’m thinking about this office,” Cronk said.

BACKGROUND: In his first 100 days, Cronk’s ‘listening tour’ interrupted by a crisis

The move throws into turmoil some of the city’s highest-ranking employees, who could be ousted as Cronk seeks to build his leadership team.

The city currently divides responsibility for all city departments and more than 15,000 employees among five assistant city managers: Rey Arellano, Robert Goode, Mark Washington, Joe Pantalion and Sara Hensley. They will be replaced by four assistant city managers, each attached to different strategic goals, and a deputy city manager responsible for overseeing a “government that works for all.”

Cronk already has asked the city’s chief financial officer, Elaine Hart, who was interim city manager for a year and a half before Cronk’s hiring, to serve in the deputy role. She plans to retire next year and will be replaced then, he said. The other jobs will be filled through an open recruitment process over the fall and winter.

“Part of being new, I have the opportunity to really cast a wider net to see who is going to be best positioned to achieve the objectives that we have,” Cronk said.

The move is a stark departure from Cronk’s strategy in hiring a new police chief, as he opted to make Chief Brian Manley’s interim title permanent without considering any other candidates. Whether the upcoming searches could mean layoffs for any assistant city manager who is not rehired will be determined on an individual basis, Cronk said.

Hensley and Pantalion are serving on an interim basis, so they could apply for new jobs or return to the departments they ordinarily head. Both said via a city spokesman that they haven’t yet thought about which course they will pursue. None of the assistant city managers could be reached for comment Friday, and most were out of the office, staffers said.

Cronk outlined his hiring plans for the new positions in a memo sent to department directors Friday. He plans to hire two assistant city managers this fall and two more over the winter.

“There’s a new CEO in town,” said Mayor Steve Adler, after reading the memo.

RELATED: Homelessness or infrastructure? New city budgeting targets goal topics

Adler said Cronk’s decision didn’t surprise him, saying the city manager had been “foreshadowing this kind of thing” to elected leaders in recent months. He applauded Cronk for focusing on council priorities and cross-departmental work. He also praised the assistant city managers and said he hopes they will consider reapplying.

The council has no formal role in Cronk’s City Hall staffing decisions, but Adler said Cronk is very collaborative and willing to listen to input from elected leaders.

Friday’s announcement came after much speculation at City Hall about what Cronk would do with his executive team. He met with the group about the changes last week. Questioned by the American-Statesman on Tuesday, Cronk denied that he planned to ask the assistant city managers to resign and reapply.

It’s unclear whether the city will hire a firm to do a nationwide search for candidates, as it did for the city manager’s position. The two positions that the interim assistant city managers now hold will be phased out this fall, and the other three will disappear as hires are made next year.

The strategic direction plan that City Council members approved in March lists six strategic outcomes: economic opportunity and affordability; mobility; safety; health; cultural learning opportunities; and government that works for all. The first two new assistant managers hired will oversee health, cultural learning opportunities and affordability. The two winter hires will deal with safety and mobility.

“Often plans just sit on a shelf,” Cronk said. “How do we make sure that we’re aligned with the strategic direction? For me that means aligning the city manager’s office.”

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