Austin Is Trying Hard To Keep Its City Manager Search Secret. That May Be Illegal.
Austin City Council members have been meeting this week with candidates to be Austin’s next city manager — which is among the most powerful positions at City Hall. But the city's gone to great lengths to keep this selection process secret.
It's declined to name the candidates, and council members appear to have gone to great lengths to conceal their identities.
On Tuesday, KUT’s Audrey McGlinchy staked out the Hilton hotel at the airport, where the council publicly posted they would be meeting for the interviews, as they’re required to do under the state’s open meetings laws.
Went up to several people walking into the Hilton this morning to ask, "Are you coming for a job interview today?" No luck. https://t.co/Ss3h98AuJU— Audrey McGlinchy (@AKMcGlinchy) October 31, 2017
Actually, accidentally asked this of the hiring firm consultant (he was wearing a suit). Was told, "You're wasting your time." https://t.co/ESJOZXhsjk— Audrey McGlinchy (@AKMcGlinchy) October 31, 2017
A while later, Austin American-Statesman reporter Elizabeth Findell was at the entrance of the Hilton, looking for job candidates. She found them less than forthcoming.
Consultants upping their efforts to keep #atxcouncil city manager candidates hidden. pic.twitter.com/qSf86OYQ23— Elizabeth Findell (@efindell) October 31, 2017
The interviews continued today, and things got weird.
In an apparent effort to get some privacy, Statesman reporter Phil Jankowski reports the council abruptly left the Hilton and went to a conference room in the airport terminal — past airport security — to continue their interviews.
I tried to follow in my car. A city employee who refused to ID himself padlocked a gate and wouldn’t let me through. #ATXcouncil— Phil Jankowski 🍕 (@PhilJankowski) November 2, 2017
A short time later, over at the terminal, Findell was trying to get access to the meeting area.
When they found out I wasn't, they wouldn't escort me through.— Elizabeth Findell (@efindell) November 2, 2017
Many of the city manager candidates have already been identified. None are exactly household names. Earlier this week, The Statesman announced that it's suing the city for not releasing the candidates identities under the state's open records laws. The city argued that doing so would put it at a disadvantage, since it is competing for talent with other cities.
But today's spectacle at the airport may create a different set of problems for the city.
The official posting for the council's meeting to interview the candidates listed the location as the Hilton Austin Airport. But by moving the location with no notice, and having a quorum of council members present, the council may be running afoul of open meetings laws.
"My understanding is that any time a meeting location is changed that requires a new notice [to be posted]," said Wesley Lewis, an associate with Haynes and Boone, LLP. Lewis said, per state law, a location change requires 72 hours notice. The post of Thursday's meeting on the city's website still lists Hilton Airport as its location.
Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said the Austin City Council may be skirting the intention of the law by holding these interviews beyond airport security.
"The point of posting the meeting and the meeting location is so that the public knows where this is going on and the public can be there to witness and to wait for them to emerge from executive session," said Shannon. "Members of the public that might want to wait outside the closed session cannot do so, if they go over somewhere on the airport that's behind security where the public cannot get through."
“Today’s meeting was conducted appropriately," wrote a city spokesperson in an email.
This post has been updated with a response from the City.