Commentary: Austin has spoken. Now it’s time to find a city manager

This spring, the City Council recognized that Austin is at a watershed moment and that growing with grace will require hiring the right city manager who possesses qualities that are important to our unique community. With 21 vacant executive-level positions at the city — half of which are at the department director level or above — the next city manager has the opportunity to transform the organization to respond to the needs to this fast-growing city.

As a result, the City Council created the City Manager Search Advisory Task Force, composed of appointees from the mayor and each council member, and charged it with developing and conducting a community engagement process to shape the candidate profile for the next city manager of Austin.

HOW WE GOT HERE: City manager search leaves several top city jobs in limbo.

The Task Force got busy beginning in June. We conducted four citywide public hearings and public outreach opportunities in each of the 10 City Council districts. We created an online survey to make it easy for residents to express themselves. There was also a 3-1-1 option for anyone who wanted to simply call in. Finally, city of Austin senior staff was invited to respond to an online cultural analysis of the organization. Executive recruiter Russell Reynolds Associates partnered with the task force throughout this outreach.

As always, the community showed up. More than 500 residents submitted online surveys; 286 city of Austin staff completed the cultural survey; and task force members compiled feedback reports from all 10 districts. The data was thoughtful and provides an exceptional road map for the mayor and City Council as they make their most important decision in the coming months.

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According to the results, Austin wants a city manager who will:

• Serve as a strategic advisor to the mayor and City Council. This partnership is the most basic building block of successful policymaking and implementation. There must be a dynamic flow of information, interaction and creation.

• Demonstrate exceptional communication skills and have a genuine willingness to listen and engage with all members of the community. Residents and community stakeholders want a leader who’ll have the skills and experience to lead Austin by combining vision, efficient strategy and operational excellence in an open communicative style.

• Embrace Austin. We want someone who will cherish the spirit of the community and support an environment of transparency, community, innovation and open-mindedness. This person must be a proponent of diversity and inclusiveness who values all points of view.

• Have the skills to deal with rapid growth — the No. 1 issue facing Austin across multiple areas. These include affordability, housing, equity, transportation, maintenance, infrastructure and the budget.

• Communicates transparently with staff and creates an organizational culture that values high performance and accountability.

VOTE TRACKER: The Statesman logs the Austin City Council’s votes on high-profile issues.

In addition to developing the profile for our next city manager, the task force recommended that we conduct conversational interviews with the short list of candidates. We believe this is yet another way to include the community in this important decision. On Thursday, the City Council accepted the task force’s recommendations.

Now it’s time to go find the best city manager we can.

Huffman is chair and Kirk vice chair of the City Manager Search Advisory Task Force.

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