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Austin is about to hire a new top boss. So what does a city manager do?

Skyscrapers are pictured under construction on the other side of a bridge spanning a waterway
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Austin is hiring a new city manager, the top executive for the city.

Lee esta historia en español

Austinites will get a chance to meet the two candidates for city manager at a town hall Monday.

Austin has been without a permanent city manager since February 2023, when Spencer Cronk was fired in the aftermath of an ice storm that led to widespread power outages. Jesús Garza has been serving in the interim.

The city manager is typically the highest paid city executive. How much this person will make has not been made public. City officials say the salary is contingent upon several factors. Cronk's final salary was $388,000. He also had been receiving other monetary benefits, including an “executive allowance” of $7,200 a year and cellphone reimbursement.

Austin is expected to pick someone early next month. Whoever is hired has a big job to do. We wanted to break down exactly what that big job is.

What are this person's responsibilities?

Essentially, the city manager is the CEO of the city. This person is appointed by the City Council and tasked with implementing its policies. For example, if council wants to expand where child care facilities can be built or create an on-site health inspection program for food trucks, the city manager is in charge of finding ways to make these things happen — whether that be changing city rules or creating new positions to fulfill the goal.

How is this different from what the mayor does?

Well, Sherri Greenberg, assistant dean for state and local government engagement for UT Austin's LBJ School, says it can get fuzzy. But ultimately they are two different jobs.

The city manager has the administrative duties of hiring and firing department heads, preparing the budget and even serving as an objective adviser to the council. This person also implements the policies set by the council and manages and tries to make services more effective and efficient.

The mayor's job is to preside over council meetings. This person, who is elected by the people, has no administrative duties, but can fire the city manager with the council's OK. The mayor does have heavy influence on city policies, but only with the support of the City Council.

“It's not always that clearcut, but that is the distinction,” Greenberg said.

Why does Austin have this form of government?

Greenberg said this system was set up as a way to take politics out of the administration and combat corruption. The idea is to hire a professional in city government who has expertise in areas like administration, finance and water systems.

Austin has had this council-manager form of government in place since at least the 1920s.

Back in 2021, some Austin voters tried to change the government to a strong-mayor system, which eliminates the city manager role altogether. The system would have given the mayor all the power, including the ability to hire and fire employees, oversee day-to-day operations and preside over the council. The effort failed.

That type of system can get messy, and often political agendas spill over into city operations that are supposed to be transparent and equitable, according to experts from the International City/County Management Association. Houston is the largest city in Texas that functions under a strong-mayor form of government.

What's at stake?

Two candidates — T.C. Broadnax and Sara Hensley — are up for the job.

Broadnax had been the city manager of Dallas from February 2017 up until last month. He also worked as a city manager in Tacoma, Washington, and was assistant city manager in San Antonio for six years. He has at least 30 years of experience in city government.

Broadnax resigned his position in Dallas after calls from a majority of the City Council. For years, he had had a tense relationship with the mayor and some council members, making it difficult for the city to accomplish anything.

In 2022, the Dallas mayor and three council members called for his firing, amid vacancies in the city’s 911 call center and delays in the building permits office. He was criticized for his handling of millions of deleted Dallas Police Department data files that included evidence and investigations.

Hensley, the city manager in Denton, is familiar with Austin. She was the parks and recreation director for nearly a decade here, before becoming an assistant city manager in 2017. She left for Denton in 2019.

As assistant city manager, she oversaw five departments in Austin: Austin Public Health, Austin Public Library, Austin Parks and Recreation, Austin Animal Services and the Office of Real Estate. Her career in local government spans 26 years.

While in Denton, she has tackled and faced several issues, including the decriminalization of marijuana passed by voters in November 2022. Despite the overwhelming support, Hensley said it conflicted with state law and refused to direct the police chief to enforce the ordinance.

There's more to learn about the candidates

Both candidates will have a lot to do in this role as city manager — from dealing with homelessness response to emergency preparedness to affordability issues.

The community can hear more about both of them starting Monday at 6 p.m. at the Permitting and Development Center, 6310 Wilhelmina Delco Drive. The town hall will also be aired live on ATXN and in Spanish on ATXN3.

The public was allowed to submit questions in advance for the moderated discussion. Some of those questions will be asked during the discussion. Following the event, the public will be invited to give their feedback on the two candidates via a survey. That information will be provided directly to the City Council to help aid in the selection. 

Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Austin City Hall reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @LuzMorenoLozano.
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