AUSTIN - Wednesday brought another round of interviews in the search for Austin's next city manager.
After a town hall meeting with the public Tuesday night, the two finalists -- Spencer Cronk and Howard Lazarus -- met with the mayor and city council and then the media Wednesday morning.
Hiring a city manager will be one of, if not the, most important decisions the council will make. While the mayor and council create policy, the city manager executes it, serves as CEO of the city and makes key hires; one of the first will need to be the police chief. The city council plans to name a new city manager by the end of the year.
In talking to reporters on Wednesday, the two candidates had different approaches. Cronk talked about the importance of engaging stakeholders and spoke more in generalities, whereas Lazarus discussed specific actions he thinks the city needs to take to address its challenges.
Cronk was the first to meet with the council behind closed doors. He's currently the city coordinator of Minneapolis.
Cronk said he will use his experience of working in growing urban cities, including New York City, to engage a diverse stakeholder group, ensuring that all voices are heard. He added that he's dealt with issues similar to Austin's affordability crisis.
"Minneapolis is a little bit of a microcosm of Austin. And similar, you know, when we were going out for our comprehensive plan, engagement sessions in Minneapolis we're hearing over and over and over again, affordable housing is the number one priority," said Cronk. "In Minneapolis we have been addressing that in new and creative ways and I would like to do the same thing here in Austin."
When asked about some of the specific ways he would work in Austin, Cronk replied "we'll get into that later," with a smile.
Lazarus is currently the city administrator of Ann Arbor. From 2008 to 2016 he served as director of Public Works in Austin.
Lazarus told reporters he and his wife planted roots in Austin and had planned to return to the capitol city to retire, but now he has a chance to come back and lead as the city deals with transportation challenges, Code Next and its affordability crisis.
"In some cases we may need to develop and own housing. In some cases, we may take advantage of city owned property under a ground lease or other mechanism to let the private sector build and maintain the homes," Lazarus said.
He added it's important that developers seeking deals from the city also provide benefits to help meet Austin's challenges.
"And in some cases, and this may be a hard thing for us to accept, we're going to have to relax some standards. We're going to have to realize that the cost of doing business in Austin by itself may preclude units being built that are affordable," he added.
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