Austin City Council will consider firing City Manager Spencer Cronk after storm response
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson says the City Council will evaluate the employment of City Manager Spencer Cronk at its meeting Thursday. Watson said the city's performance responding to the winter storm and widespread power outages was "unacceptable."
“I added the emergency item to the agenda this morning because the management of this situation and the lack of clear, timely and accurate communication has left our community in the dark," Watson wrote in a message shared on social media Monday morning.
As city manager, Cronk oversees staff and serves as Austin's highest executive.
Watson promised accountability for the city's failures. Austin Energy has changed the time frame for when power will be restored several times in the past week, and more than 20,000 customers remain without power. The utility now says it may be another week before all outages are resolved.
Council members Alison Alter, Chito Vela and Vanessa Fuentes have joined the mayor in wanting to discuss Cronk's future Thursday.
Vela, who represents parts of North Austin, said it's one thing to go without power for 24 hours. It's an entirely different situation to live without electricity for several days.
“If … it’s going to be 100 hours or more without electricity, people will make different choices. But we have to let them know so that they can prepare for themselves and their families, and we did not do that," Vela said. "I’m very disappointed.”
Vela said "everything's on the table," including firing Cronk.
According to the city charter, the council can fire a city manager with a majority vote; for a council of 11 members, that equates to six members. Cronk would have the right to ask for "written charges" and to speak at a public meeting before the vote to remove him. The council can also choose to suspend him first.
The council is only slated to discuss Cronk's employment Thursday, and any vote to fire or suspend him would have to come at a later meeting. According to his contract, Cronk is entitled to a year of pay if he is fired, unless he is fired for a criminal act.
Cronk has served as city manager since February 2018.
"I respect and honor the Mayor and Council’s role to ask questions, gather information and consider decisions in the best interest of the City," Cronk said in a statement Monday afternoon. "My focus and attention remain 100 percent on supporting City departments and marshalling resources to continue power restoration and debris cleanup, and to continue providing assistance and aid to residents and businesses who need it."
This is not the first time council members have expressed dismay with Cronk's performance. In December, council members approved a 10% raise for Cronk, upping his salary to $388,000 a year. While several council members praised his work at that meeting, Alter said she was disappointed.
“I am dissatisfied with the manager’s performance, and it has risen to such a level that I can no longer save it for behind closed doors,” she said. Alter cited an incident from 2020, when Cronk would not demote then-Police Chief Brian Manley after what council members described as the mishandling of mass protests by the police department.