Rationale and call for replacing Austin City Manager

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Don Zimmerman
Posts: 168
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2015 11:05 am

Rationale and call for replacing Austin City Manager

Post by Don Zimmerman »

Dear Council Colleagues,

I am posting this regarding City Manager Marc Ott.

Mr. Ott has been the City Manager of Austin since January 2008. He managed the City through the turmoil of the Great Recession. I appreciate his efforts during that period. Unfortunately, there seem to be systemic and chronic issues plaguing our City and its employees. For the good of the City, it is time we replace Marc Ott.

Past Council
I encourage everyone to listen to the 2014 Council Executive Session meetings, where the past Council discussed the City Manager’s Performance. I believe you will find it enlightening. City Attorney Anne Morgan should be able to provide these recordings to you.

Some of the same issues that Bill Spelman wrote as Late Backup to Item 35 at the October 2, 2014 Council Meeting still remain: “Some councilmembers expressed frustration that even routine projects sometimes move slowly or get stuck, and that issues remain unresolved, sometimes for months”; “recurring problem of vacancy savings”; and “some of us have found it difficult to bring to your attention cases where intervention was necessary”.

Election Issue
In the 2014 election, I ran on the platform of replacing the City Manager. I had a suspicion at that time that the City was being mismanaged. After winning and officially being sworn in, I found the mismanagement worse than I imagined. I, like four other of my colleagues, are up for re-election in November. If we do not replace the City Manager before Election Day, I will make this one of my top issues.

Issues with City Management:
1. Metrics
The City has 21 Financial Metrics that it has tracked that includes measures like: % of residents “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with traffic flow on major streets; Renewable power as a % of consumption; % of waste stream diverted by Austin Resource Recovery operations; etc. Over the past 5 years, the City has averaged meeting only 60% of these metrics, with the most recent metrics (FY2014-15) being at only 52.4% passing.

As this shows, the City is not achieving its goals and the situation is actually getting worse.

2. Morale & Culture
We have a major morale and cultural problem inside the City bureaucracy. The “Listening to our Workforce” survey time and time again has shown issues regarding morale and the culture of workers. This is especially true from our EMS employees. In other departments, it feeds through to our residents who have to fight overzealous bureaucrats that interpret City Codes and procedures to harass and stifle city residents. Morale and cultural issues must be changed at the top.

3. Zucker Report, lack of “customer service” mentality
In 2015, Paul Zucker released his final report on the City’s Planning and Development Review Department noting that the City was “the worst we have seen in our national studies” relating to negative responses from constituents and office customers. While minimal progress has been made, especially under the leadership of Rodney Gonzalez, too much still remains to do. When talking with the development community, they are still concerned with: the time it takes to pull permits; the arbitrary comments they receive back on site plans, inconsistent “interpretation” of codes, etc.; and the overall process is very unsatisfactory and unlikely to change under incumbent management.

4. CodeNEXT
According to the Austin Monitor, CodeNEXT is two years behind schedule and hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget. Unfortunately, it is continually being delayed. The City is lacking in clear leadership.

5. Chief Acevedo
On April 26, 2016, Chief Art Acevedo was reprimanded by the City Manager for insubordination regarding communications concerning the death of David Joseph, which appears to me as a rebuke for “too much transparency”. The irony is that the City Manager had just released a press statement on an award received for Austin government transparency; however, the Council learned of the APD chief reprimand from the media, not from city management. Another irony is that on April 28, neither the City Manager, nor any Assistant City Manager attended the Austin Energy Committee, even though the Manager was clearly directed and scheduled to give an update regarding the process to fill the position of Austin Energy General Manager. The manager proceeded to name the new AE GM without a Council reschedule of the missed review. This could certainly be interpreted as an act of insubordination by the City Manager.

6. Staff Manipulating Outcomes
If City Staff want a specific outcome, they work hard to make sure only their point of view is heard. This has been shown time and time again. One of the most egregious examples was making “Once-a-Week Watering” permanent. 56% of Austinites responding to the survey said they did not want permanent “Once-a-Week Watering”, however, the City Staff presented that half the Districts do want it. Another example was on November 18, 2015, when the Zero Waste Advisory Commission voted unanimously (9-0) to oppose staff’s recommendation regarding a controversial landfill. Staff responded by promising a convincing presentation against the commission with no respect for the commission’s view.

7. Cost Overruns on Major Projects
The Central Library was approved by voters for $90M, but the amount spent has now exceeded $120M. The Waller Creek Tunnel was estimated as $25M, but it is now over $150M. Water Treatment Plant 4 was set at $359M, but ended up costing over $525M. Such significant overruns undermine the public trust that city management can competently execute large Bond projects, which are again being discussed for transportation/mobility in 2016.

Call to Action
I encourage other Council Members to have the courage to join the many others in our community such as Bill Aleshire, Fred Lewis, Mike Hebert, Linda Curtis, Mike Levy, Roger Borgelt, Gonzalo Barrientos, and Brandon Reed who are calling for a change in leadership for the City.
Don Zimmerman
Council Member District 6 (northwest Austin)