Criminal JusticeLocal NewsAustin City Manager Spencer Cronk Fired by Council, to Receive $463,000 Severance Pay

The response came after a tumultuous couple of weeks initiated by widespread power outages.
February 15, 2023
Update: Council voted 9 to 2 to negotiate a one-year extension of the current labor contract with the Austin Police Association, spurning the proposed four-year deal-in-principle announced by Cronk last week.

City Manager Spencer Cronk was fired by the Austin City Council on Wednesday, part of the fallout from the ice storm-caused outages earlier this month.

In a 10 to 1 vote, the council opted to part ways with Cronk, effective Thursday, after a wild two weeks replete with utility woes and police contract throes. Thousands of Austinites lost power for days on end in early February after an ice storm caused downed power lines through the Austin Energy service area. The city’s lackluster communication caused displeasure with Cronk, including from Mayor Kirk Watson, and it was discovered that certain recommendations from the city after the 2021 blackouts were not implemented.

Then, in a surprise announcement following the outage issues, Cronk announced a four-year deal in principle for a new contract with the Austin Police Association (APA) less than two months after the negotiations had stalled out. That proposal still must get approval from the council, which hasn’t jumped at the opportunity.

District 1 Councilmember Natasha Harper-Madison was the lone “no” vote against firing Cronk.

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In a statement after the vote, Cronk said, “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.”

“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.”

Watson added, “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.”

The now-former city manager’s contract has a severance section that grants 12-months pay plus an amount equal to six months of health care coverage. Cronk was given a raise to $388,000 last year and with the health benefits, he will receive a parting sum of roughly $463,000.

Jesus Garza, city manager during Watson’s last term as mayor at the turn of the century, was named the interim manager.

Announcing the decision at the beginning of the council’s Wednesday special meeting, Watson said, “Last week, a four-year contract was sprung upon us the day before we were set to weigh in on it. Let me be clear, we will not conduct business like this anymore.”

After Wednesday’s meeting was set over the weekend, Cronk issued a statement that read, “[S]ince the posting of these Saturday night addendum items relate to my employment and severance benefits, I will simply reiterate that I remain Austin’s City Manager and no actions have been taken by this new Mayor and Council to change my responsibilities or role.”

Cronk then lobbied against the proposal of a one-year APA contract extension and proposed to give a longer runway to negotiations.

Moving forward on a four-year contract provides greater assurance that the safety of our residents remains intact,” Cronk stated. “Chief Chacon and I have serious concerns that our police staffing levels will be compromised if a one-year contract is pursued.”

The council will consider that one-year item during the Wednesday meeting.

On the dais Wednesday, Watson said of the issue, “To approach this decision thoughtfully and carefully, we need to understand three key principles: first, we need to respect the people of Austin who empowered us to make this decision; next, we need to respect the police officers of Austin, and no one should fear the police; third, we need to respect the process.”

In the span of a month, Austin has sworn in a new mayor and three new council members, and will now have a new city manager.

Cronk’s five-year tenure was marked by two police contract fights, the repeal and then reinstatement by the city council of a public camping ban, and a large funding cut followed by a half-hearted restoration of the Austin Police Department.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.