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An ice storm hit the Austin area the week of Jan. 30. Hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses lost power as ice-covered trees toppled power lines across the city.

Behind closed doors, council members decide Austin city manager has to go, sources say

A person stands listening with a blurred background.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk listens during a news conference Monday about the power outages and debris cleanup after last week's ice storm.

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Austin’s chief executive, Spencer Cronk, will either resign or be fired, according to three council members who relayed parts of a private meeting about his employment to KUT. A change in leadership could happen as early as next week.

The council members, who spoke on the condition of not being named, said the decision Thursday to find a new head city executive was unanimous. Earlier this week, Mayor Kirk Watson announced that the council would consider the future of Cronk’s employment.

"The City Manager has not been made aware of that conversation during closed session and therefore has no comment,” a spokesperson for Cronk said.

The decision to reevaluate Cronk's employment came after what elected officials have characterized as a botched response by the city to hundreds of thousands of power outages caused by an ice storm last week.

“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.

In his role as city manager, Cronk oversees day-to-day operations of the city’s more than 15,000 staff. He was appointed to the job in February 2018.

Council members voted in December to give Cronk a 10% raise, increasing his salary to $388,000 a year. Under his contract, if he resigns or is fired for something other than a criminal act, he is entitled to a year of pay.

Council members met in private for about two hours at the end of their public session Thursday night to discuss Cronk’s employment. While they did not say anything publicly before adjourning the late-night meeting, one council member has spoken out in favor of his firing.

Council Member Chito Vela took issue Thursday with Cronk’s announcement of a new four-year police contract hours before council members were set to vote on a separate measure regarding the city's contract with police.

Vela said he felt the city manager was rushing the process and not acting in good faith.

“These actions have caused me to lose my faith in your leadership of the city,” Vela, who represents parts of North Austin, said. “I do believe it is time for a new city manager."

Updated: February 10, 2023 at 12:16 PM CST
This story has been updated with a response from Spencer Cronk's office.
Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at audrey@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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