First week on the job: City manager seeks civic input, restaurant tips

The new manager at the helm of the city of Austin is a 38 year old, 6-foot-6 Minnesotan hired for his fresh eyes on Austin issues and touted ability to bring people together.

Spencer Cronk started the job just a week after the Super Bowl he helped organize in his former role as Minneapolis city administrator. His first day coincided with the drop of a contentious new CodeNext draft. His first City Council meeting lasted nearly 15 hours, ending close to 1 a.m. after hundreds of people swarmed City Hall to argue both sides of a historic mandate for paid sick leave in the city.

So, you might say it was an Austin welcome, if ever there was one.

Cronk and his husband, a fundraiser for performing arts, are renting an apartment downtown while they look for a place to live permanently. Council members hired him from a field of 44 applicants, after a search that pitted reporters against mad-cap antics attempting to keep candidates secret.

At the end of a busy first week, we caught up with the city manager for a speed-round of questions.

You made it through your first Austin City Council meeting. Do you still want to do this job?

Absolutely. It’s an incredible city and (Thursday) night was really reflective of just how engaged our residents are. I loved it. It’s democracy in action. And, in some ways — We saw hundreds of people come out, but I’m always wondering, who didn’t we see? How do we get at more people?

Did anything surprise you out of your first week?

Not surprising, but certainly reinforced how happy and fortunate I am to be here. I’m honored to have this job… One surprising thing: We did have a meet and greet with directors in the city and I went around and asked them for restaurant recommendations. It was so easy for everyone to say exactly what type of food or where they would go. Honestly, I think they got more out of it than I did.

(Interruption while the city spokesmen jump in with happy hour and Frito pie recommendations.)

How will you spend your first day off?

Oh, I don’t think it will be a day off.

Whenever you eventually get a day off…

Certainly, living downtown and just exploring different neighborhoods. I’ve been trying to take advantage of the great running trails, so exercising is probably the first thing that I’ll do. That list of restaurant recommendations, I’m going to slowly pick through that.

First impressions of Austin in five words?

Welcoming, engaged, creative, active, quirky.

Now that you’re in charge, what’s the minimum temperature for opening City Hall (on cold weather days)?

I have heard rumors that since I was offered this position that the threshold (for closure) would be a lot less. It would have to be pretty cold.

It’s 1:45 a.m. Council has just adjourned after 15 and a half hours. You have 15 minutes until last call. What do you order?

So, I’d never had one before I came to Austin, but I’m falling in love with the Mexican martini.

If you were strong enough, which statue would you steal, Mary Tyler Moore or Willie?

What am I doing with it? I don’t want to steal Willie!

What book or TV show have you most enjoyed lately?

Well, I can’t say the budget book… I love the Olympics, so it’s been fun to watch the Olympics lately.

What are your goals for your first year?

Big picture: Engagement. A lot of listening, talking to the community, getting to know city staff, getting to know the new culture that is Austin. That’s the big picture.

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