AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin City Council on Wednesday voted to fire City Manager Spencer Cronk following his response to the winter storm earlier this month. The council voted 10-1 in a special called session, with only Natasha Harper-Madison (District 1) voting against Cronk's firing.
Cronk's termination is effective Thursday, Feb. 16. He will receive a one-year severance of $463,001.50, under a City ordinance in which he was hired in 2018. The council has appointed Jesús Garza, who served as Austin's city manager from 1994 to 2002, to serve as interim city manager.
“I serve at the pleasure of the mayor and council and acknowledge their decision. In our Council-Manager form of government, the elected officials ultimately decide whether I am the right choice for them to lead our organization," Cronk said in a statement. "I stand proud of our organizational accomplishments under my tenure. I thank the Austin community for the opportunity to lead this great city, and I thank our City employees for their consistent commitment to providing the very best public service."
Following the council's decision, Mayor Kirk Watson thanked Cronk for his service and wished him well in his next endeavor.
"Running a big, dynamic city such as Austin is an enormous job, and Spencer has been a committed public servant throughout his time as city manager," Watson said.
Harper-Madison provided KVUE the following statement regarding her vote against Cronk's termination:
"When I consider the depth and breadth of challenges our community is facing, I do not believe terminating the city manager is the most measured or reasonable decision at this time. Today, I chose not to support the immediate termination of our city manager because this action will not solve the systemic issues within our city government or our collective response to the recent winter storm."
Watson and three councilmembers had placed on Wednesday's agenda paying Cronk a severance of a one-year salary. The council was also set to discuss a "transition plan for an interim city manager."
Last week, the council met in a closed-door executive session to discuss an item evaluating Cronk's position and employment. Watson, along with Councilmembers Alison Alter (District 10), José “Chito” Vela (District 4) and Vanessa Fuentes (District 2) sponsored the emergency item.
When he initially announced the council would be evaluating Cronk's employment, Watson said that the City's response to the winter storm was "unacceptable."
"The management of this situation and the lack of clear, timely and accurate communication has left our community in the dark. It is unacceptable. The City of Austin can do and will do better," Watson said, adding, "While the members of the City Council answer to the people of Austin, the City Manager answers to us."
The council approved a near 11% raise for Cronk in December 2022, raising his salary to $338,190.40. This was his second raise since taking the city manager position.
The KVUE Defenders found that Cronk has been the second-highest paid city official behind Jackie Sargent, the general manager of Austin Energy.
According to the City's website, Austin operates under a "council-manager" system of government, under which the mayor and city council are responsible for all legislative functions of the city. They appoint a professional city manager who "operates much like a CEO in private-sector businesses and who is tasked with carrying out city council's legislative and policy objectives."
The City's website lists the following responsibilities for the city manager:
- Preparing a $4.2 billion budget for council consideration and managing its passage
- Managing a City staff of more than 14,000 including overseeing recruiting and hiring
- Directing operations
- Recommending policies and programs to city council and carrying out council policies
- Spearheading key initiatives