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Possible Austin city manager candidate causes '----show,' but also sheds light on recruiting process

Bozeman, Mont. City Manager Jeff Mihelich (right) got into hot water over disparaging comments about Austin's management – and his own colleagues.
NBC Montana
YouTube screengrab
Bozeman, Mont., City Manager Jeff Mihelich (right) got into hot water over a leaked Zoom recording in which he disparages Austin — and his own colleagues.

Austin’s been without a permanent city manager since Spencer Cronk was fired a year ago. The search for his replacement began in earnest this year, and it took a pretty messy turn when a possible candidate for the position called Austin a "- - - -show."

In a leaked recording of a Zoom call, Jeff Mihelich, the city manager of Bozeman, Mont., said he’d been approached by a headhunter about the job. He was placed on administrative leave following his disparaging comments about Austin and his own colleagues.

Neither the City of Austin nor Mosaic Public Partners, the firm conducting a national search for the next city manager, would confirm to KUT that Mihelich was a candidate for the job. But the whole mess has shed light on the typically opaque city manager recruitment process — and the compensation package offered to lure candidates.

“Yeah, the base salary is like [$475,000] or something," Mihelich said in the video, "and then you just throw in the car allowance, the housing and all the other stupid things that city managers get. … There's no way a city like that ... operates as it should."

The pay is substantially higher than what Cronk was making. He was paid a base salary of $388,000, plus a housing stipend and other fringe benefits. (When he got canned, he received a substantial severance, bringing his total take-home pay to $645,924.)

Mihelich claimed he was offered a base salary higher than Cronk's base salary — but also higher than city manager salaries in comparable cities like Sacramento and Phoenix. Sacramento pays its city manager around $420,000 a year; Phoenix pays its manager $425,000.

Neither the city nor Mosaic Public Partners would confirm the possible salary for the job, as the search is ongoing.

Jason Grant, director of advocacy with the International City/County Management Association, cautioned that the reported offer is just a number a guy said on a Zoom call.

“There's no data behind that to show that’s what they're actually offering," he said. "Nobody knows that."

Grant said these sorts of searches — and the negotiations therein — are pretty clandestine. That's been the case in Austin previously, when the city suggested city manager candidates don disguises at the airport to avoid possible media attention.

The process does eventually open up, Grant said, particularly when search firms start winnowing down candidates and present them to the public.

"If it's out there and people are concerned with the amount of money that's offered ... that's where the public can go to the City Council and say, 'Wait a minute, what do we do on this? Here’s a salary range we think is more aligned with the budget,'” he said.

The city told KUT it’s still vetting applications from "people experienced in city leadership," that the salary is negotiable, and that it’ll conduct interviews sometime this year.

If you want to throw your hat in the ring, you have until today to apply.

If you want to tell Mosaic Public Partners what you're looking for in a new city manager, you have until Friday to fill out this online survey.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.