Austin City Manager, Spencer Cronk, was ousted this week, following a 10-1 City Council vote. Publicly, the reason for terminating Cronk was his poor handling of the city’s response to the recent ice storm. The extreme weather event, described as a hurricane ice storm, left hundreds of thousands of Austin residents and businesses without power.
Despite such events being rare in Austin, Cronk and the City of Austin were roundly criticized for underestimating the impact of the storm, followed by a communication strategy that confused and frustrated citizens. The lone vote against Cronk’s firing was Councilwoman Natasha Harper-Madison, who expressed that the failure was more indicative of systemic shortcomings than the failure of just the City Manager. “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,” she stated.
However, the mishandling of the ice storm was apparently the icing on the cake for Mayor Watson and the City Council. They were angered by Cronk’s support of the Austin Police Association’s attempts to dilute rather than strengthen police oversight. When an outcry to fire APD Chief Brian Manley arose in 2020 due to his lackluster response to the department’s unjustifiable use of lethal force in several cases, Cronk refused. Instead, he mentioned that he wanted to “reimagine public safety”, a response that fell far short of the sense of urgency many citizens and councilmembers felt was necessary.
To make matters worse, on February 8, Cronk attempted to force through a four-year extension of the city’s existing contract with APA, which essentially watered-down police oversight. This was the same day a vote was set to approve a one-year extension that would pave the way to negotiating additional police oversight measures. Cronk’s strategy failed. He was fired and a one-year contract was approved this week. Cronk’s severance package includes a payout of $463,000 and benefits.