The city manager finalists

& the law n' order crowd gets crushed again.

The city manager finalists
Merit Coffee on S. Lamar.

The loud minority loses again

I generally try to avoid election predictions and prognostications. It's a national disgrace that serious investigation of public policy is crowded out by horse race election analysis. Just imagine if those godawful cable news networks devoted half as much time to covering the issues as they do to analyzing who's winning the news cycle?

All that being said, predictions aren't journalism, but they can be fun. And I'm certainly not above bragging about the ones I made in private that came true.

With all precincts reporting, Garza ended up with 66.86%.

No, I'm not a soothsayer. I picked that figure because it was consistent with a number of other public opinion data points. Prop A, the November 2021 ballot prop that would have mandated a huge increase in police staffing, also failed 2-1. In a poll commissioned a year ago by the Austin Monitor, a third of residents said they didn't feel safe in the city.

The big takeaway that I would stress for elected officials is that, like in most other U.S. cities, crime and violence are serious problems here, but addressing it need not involve catering to the very loud law n' order niche. Nor do you have to appease the Defund the Police crowd. You can actually take some time to figure out the most effective public safety investments.

And yet, the vocal conservative minority will continue to have an outsized influence on city politics due to its wealth. Many of the same zillionaires who funded Sylvestine also funded Mayor Kirk Watson's PAC (chaired by Jose Garza's uncle, Jesus Garza!) in 2022.

Just as important, Austin's monied right-wingers have the ear of our unabashedly transactional governor, who is constantly threatening to, in the parlance of our times, fuck with our shit. Consider this text exchange (obtained through a public information request and shared with me) between reactionary tech baron Joe Lonsdale and Mayor Kirk Watson a year ago:

Whether or not Watson actually wants to hang out with Lonsdale and Abbott, he's also not in a great position to ignore them.

The city manager finalists

Yesterday City Council met in a closed-door executive session and selected three of the 39 city manager candidates presented to them by search firm Mosaic. They are:

  • Sara Hensley, city manager of Denton, Tex. and former director of the Austin Parks & Rec Dept.
  • T.C. Broadnax, the recently-ousted city manager of Dallas.
  • Brian Platt, city manager of Kansas City, Mo.

Hmm. Nothing surprising. No fireworks.

At first glance, one quality that all three candidates share is that, unlike the current city manager, they are not attached at the hip to Mayor Kirk Watson –– or any Council member, for that matter.

Then again, given how Watson has muscled the others on the dais into doing his will –– most notably by hiring Jesus Garza –– I wouldn't be surprised if he somehow convinced them to pick three candidates who he believes will work best for, err, with him.

Broadnax has red flags up the wazoo. It's not just his recent ouster, which by some accounts he appeared to engineer himself. Having a bad relationship with Dallas's erratic Republican mayor is hardly a scarlet letter in Austin. But there was also that time that the Dallas Police Department lost 22 terabytes of data and Broadnax didn't bother informing the city's elected leaders, who found out about it months later. The city has also experienced a big increase in wait times for building permits. The vibe feels very familiar to Spencer Cronk ... just sort of an absentee city manager who is hesitant to address problems or take responsibility.

The small sample of city employees I've talked to who worked with Hensley regard her positively. One thing about her that some CMs might not like is the posture she has struck on Denton's voter-approved ordinance decriminalizing marijuana. To what extent is her stubborn –– "it's against the law" –– refrain informed by the more conservative leaders she works with in Denton? Would she be more flexible here? The issue isn't just marijuana, of course, but a wide range of police oversight measures that the old school bureaucrats at City Hall would rather let APD kill.

Finally, there's Platt. He has earned good reviews from the elected officials he served as city manager in Jersey City. And Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas is a big fan. However, last year a group of local Black civic leaders called for his resignation, accusing him of letting Facebook evade minority hiring requirements in a $1 billion construction project and then retaliating against a city official who blew the whistle. His biggest defender in that episode was the mayor, who is Black. A former employee has also sued the city, accusing Platt of gender and age-based discrimination. Yet again, it was the mayor who came to Platt's defense, arguing that the disgruntled employee was emblematic of a development-skeptic city bureaucracy that Platt had successfully disrupted.

In just a few moments of Google research, Platt certainly seems more proactive than recent city managers (permanent or interim) in Austin. Like someone who is enthusiastic about making change. Here he is, for instance, advocating for Kansas City to build the nation's largest city-owned solar farm.

What are your.views on the city manager candidates? Do you have any experience working with any of them? If so, I'd like to hear from you! Drop me an email (just reply to this newsletter) and I guarantee your views will be kept in confidence.