Is the strong mayor over?

Well, barring a surprising development, TC Broadnax, the outgoing city manager of Dallas, will be the next city manager of Austin.

In a statement released by the city, Broadnax said exactly what you'd expect him to say:

I am honored and I look forward to the City Council’s vote to allow me to serve as Austin’s next City Manager. With the continued growth of our state’s capital city, I am mindful of the critical needs we must urgently address and I am committed to doing so with a collaborative, transparent, inclusive and equitable approach.

Yawn. I fed the statement to ChatGPT and asked it to produce something spicier:

I pledge my unwavering dedication to tackle these challenges with a fiery fervor, orchestrating a dynamic symphony of collaboration, transparency, inclusivity, and equity. Together, we shall ignite the flames of progress and dominance, charting an unparalleled course towards a future where Austin thrives as the undisputed beacon of excellence."

Much better!

Over on the Council message board, most Council members responded with messages of congratulations. Only Leslie Pool and Natasha Harper-Madison offered explanations for their support for Broadnax.

"The scope of TC's experience tipped the balance for me: he has not only managed cities of our size and complexity, he has specifically demonstrated the ability to work through difficult controversies," said Pool.

Harper-Madison similarly cited Broadnax's experience in a large city and listed a number of issues that she believed he understood well, including transit, criminal justice, land use and housing. For instance: "His perspective on the pervasive and worldwide challenge of homelessness and potential solutions, while recognizing barriers, was insightful and optimistic."

Well, I certainly hope so.

Does this mean the end of strong mayor?

For the past year, we've had a city manager who has functionally served as the mayor's chief of staff. Jesus Garza, who Watson convinced Council to hire on an interim basis after Spencer Cronk's firing last year, has put the entire city bureaucracy in service of the mayor's political agenda.

This was to be expected –– Garza was a notorious Watson fanboy when he was city manager during the first Watson era at the turn of the millennium. In 2002 the Chronicle's Mike Clark Madison wrote that Garza was perceived as "little more than the lord-in-waiting of the increasingly autocratic mayor."

There's no obvious reason to believe that Broadnax will be similarly subservient to Watson's interests. He has operated for years in Council-Manager governments and understands, at least intellectually, that the mayor is no more his boss than the other 10 Council members. The fact that he is leaving his current job due to differences with the mayor also hints at an independent streak, but it might just be that Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, who is now palling around with Ted Cruz, is a special situation.

There is another reason, however, to believe that Watson may end up exerting more influence over the city manager and staff than his colleagues on the dais: He might just be a much more skilled and dedicated politician than the rest of them.

It's not that I think Watson is a political genius (did you see his last campaign?). It's that many of the others on the dais tend to be passive. They have their pet issues and voice their opinions but they're not proactively shaping the agenda a la Greg Casar. And they have largely allowed the Watson-Garza partnership to plow forward, even when they're unhappy with the outcomes. Art Acevedo was a notable exception.

If nothing else, I wonder what will happen to the two "consultants" Garza hired to serve at the pleasure of the mayor.