The Secret Search for Austin City Manager

The Problem at Hand

The search for Austin’s next City Manager is currently surrounded in secrecy. The City Manager is a position comparable to a CEO. They have control over the day to day operations of our city, from budgeting and HR to law and implementation of policy. For the selection of this powerful individual, City Council has decided to keep all candidates, aside from their final choice, a secret.

The Hierarchy of Our City’s Management. The next Austin City Manager will oversees 41 departments and offices, over 12,000 employees, and a $3.7 billion budget. (image source)

Why It Matters

By withholding information about the next City Manager, Council is choosing to keep an impactful decision out of the public’s eyes. They are limiting participation and discouraging engagement with and among Austinites.

This action goes directly against the the citizen-appointed Task Force for Community Engagement’s recommendation that “City Council should follow a consistent, structured, transparent process from proposal to decision that allows the public to track online the progress and status of items.”(source)

This is contrary to our Open Government agreements(source) and the practices other Texas cities have engaged in (source). Last February, Austin made the commitment to apply for and eventually join the Open Government Partnership’s Subnational Pilot Program(source). This program cemented our participation in a larger movement to make government more transparent and accessible to the public.

Additionally, we were the only US city selected for participation in this new program where Mayor Steve Adler pledged to “raise the bar in our accountability to the citizens of this great City we love” (source). Open Austin also completed a letter of support for this initiative(source). We did this because we seek to facilitate a more responsive, accessible, and open government in Austin and beyond.

What’s Next

We care about staying accountable to our agreed upon practices. We want our city to continue to be a leader in transparency and put words into action. In the future, we want to see practices that encourage participation and conversation with the public. And we want better citizen feedback loops for the selection of high power city officials.

Already, court action has been taken by the American-Statesman and work has been done to reveal four out of five of the candidates. We ask that the city take the buzz around this search seriously and understand the need for citizens to connect with their potential future leaders and help judge whether they’re right for Austin.

Take Action

We recommend reaching out to your council member if you also feel strongly about this.

If you are unsure who your council member is then you can check MyReps, enter in your address, click search, and you will be provided with the name of your council member, email address, and phone number.

Here is a script developed by one of our members, Shellee O’Brien for you to use.

Script:

By withholding information about the next City Manager, Council is choosing to keep impactful decisions out of the public’s eyes. They are limiting participation and discouraging engagement with and among Austinites.
It goes against the Task Force for Community Engagement’s recommendations and our agreements for the Open Government Partnership. Please consider holding a public forum with finalists like Austin has done in the past.

Learn More

Here are some quick links to the latest related content on the City Manager search: