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Council Digs into Hiring Process for a New City Manager

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Callie Hernandez for KUT

The candidates for Austin’s next city manager will be vetted by nearly a million people. At least, that’s how necessary council members and city staff have said public input is to the process of hiring Austin’s newest city manager in roughly a decade.

Current City Manager Marc Ott announced two weeks ago he would leave Austin to serve as the executive director of the International City/County Management Association in Washington, D.C.

While Ott will stay in his post through October, city staff has cautioned council members it should take anywhere from six to nine months (and possibly longer) to secure a permanent replacement.

“Depending on the amount of engagement and other decisions, it may be more, it may be less,” Assistant City Manager Mark Washington told Council members at a special called meeting Tuesday.

The process would begin by hiring an executive search firm sometime in October, with a finalist chosen by April or May. Human Resources Department Director Joya Hayes estimated that a new city manager could be sitting down to his or her desk in June. But including the public in that process certainly ensures a lengthy hiring process.

“The more engagement, more than likely it will elongate the time,” said Washington.

Council Member Don Zimmerman questioned the need for such public input into who should hold Austin’s highest executive position.

“If the reflex is to every time there’s an important decision to make like, ‘What kind of city manager should we be looking for?’ the automatic reaction is to go back to the community," he said. "I think our community could say, ‘Well then, why do we vote?’

Zimmerman’s colleagues appeared to ignore his comments.

Instead, Mayor Steve Adler and Mayor Pro Tem have pitched a citizen panel, with members appointed by council members, to serve as a liaison between the community and the search firm hired by the city. (City staff said Tuesday they can go ahead with that RFP without council approval, and while council discusses its interim appointment).

The citizen group would function much like citizen boards and commissions – as a venue for public input and a body that passes along recommendations to the full council. Adler and Tovo have also recommended public hearings be held on the qualifications for a new city manager and on a list of final candidates for the job.

Council members will continue discussing the interim position and the process for hiring a permanent replacement at sessions on Monday and Tuesday.

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