They did it. The Austin City Council hired a new City Manager. Some people, like me, were doubtful that they could pull it off by April — or at all — but they did. 

Another way of looking at this is that the Council took 14 months, did a national search, and then found a City Manager who was getting pushed out just up the road in Dallas. Regardless of how one might view this outcome, it is a fact that the Austin City Council completed their quest for a new City Manager.

The lucky winner is T.C. Broadnax. According to a City memo announcing the hire, Broadnax starts May 6. He will make $470,017 per year. That’s $50,000 more than Broadnax was making in Dallas and also a big hike over previous City Manager Spencer Cronk who was only pulling down $388,000 per year. 

Broadnax won out over fellow finalist Sara Hensley, the current City Manager of Denton and a former Director of the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, who also served as an Assistant City Manager for two years. This appears to be consistent with the suspicion that the Council wanted someone from outside the current Austin city staff, and not even recent city staff. Buttressing that suspicion is that no one from existing City management appears to have applied. I don’t know what that means, but it could be that the word was out that Council wanted an outsider. It could also mean that current high ranking managers inside the City of Austin have witnessed how the Mayor and Council operate and didn’t want any part of the top job. Whatever the case working with the current Council is now Broadnax’s job. We wish him the best and hope he has some idea of what he’s getting into. 

Back before I went on a several weeks long spring break I did a short blurb on the final City Manager candidates. Therein I tried to say something nice about each finalist. I quickly got emails telling me about the shortcomings of both candidates, particularly Broadnax. Broadnax also got hammered a bit by Ken Martin in his Austin Bulldog. Martin primarily summarized local press coverage of Broadnax in Dallas. That included some less than kind parting shots. 

For instance Monty Bennett, the publisher of The Dallas Express, wrote that Broadnax was a “terrible city manager” and that during his tenure “the City has dropped in performance in every area that The Dallas Express measures.”

Martin added that Dallas Morning News columnist Dallas Cothrum wrote that Broadnax leaves behind a “legacy of disasters” and “leaves Dallas worse than he found it.” Cothrum also wrote, “Always curt, his manner lately has veered into outright rudeness with council members.” Cothrum continued, “Broadnax was often reluctant to answer the questions of his bosses, who are elected by the people.”  

Broadnax also sparked criticism from some who attended the public sessions in Austin for him and fellow finalist Hensley. That’s because Broadnax more than once refused to stop talking when Judy Maggio told him his time was up. There was also concern about his use of the first person possessive, as in “My Police Chief.”

Whatever Broadnax’s struggles in Dallas and his shortcomings at the public session in Austin, that’s all in the past now. It seems like the thing to do is give the guy a chance here. After all he was chosen by our elected representatives. 

Any Day Now, I Shall Be Released

One person comes to mind who is almost certainly happy that the Council has hired a new City Manager, perhaps even ecstatic. That would be Interim City Manager/former City Manager Jesús Garza. Garza previously served as City Manager from 1994 to 2002, after working his way up through the City of Austin ranks; beginning in 1978.

Garza willingly walked into a tragically disastrous situation and got to work trying to patch it up as best as he could. He made a lot of people mad along the way. That includes some current and former City employees whom I deeply respect and I’m sure some of their criticisms are legitimate. 

Nonetheless I think the citizens of Austin should have immense gratitude for Jesús Garza. He knew that the previous Mayor and Council broke City government. I say he knew because he was so concerned that he was considering running for Mayor himself, then stepped aside when Kirk Watson expressed interest in running. Still, I think even Garza underestimated what he faced. But, he dove right in and tried to fix as many problems as he could or at least patch things back together. 

Garza didn’t need the job. I don’t know his finances, but, based on the jobs he’s had, I’m pretty sure he didn’t need the money. He didn’t have to worry about getting at odds with Council Members and getting fired. Thus, he could be very blunt with Council Members and he was. 

Interim City Manager/Former City Manager Jesús Garza

He concentrated intensely on what he felt was best for the City of Austin organization. He called back some of his old team. They got to work repairing what they could. The City is better off for it, but Garza and his team could only do so much. Thanks to Jesús and his team. Hope y’all can get some rest and relaxation now.

HOME 2 is Here

Many Austin residents got another purple postcard from the City recently. Although the term was not used, those signify that HOME 2 (Home Options for Middle-Income Empowerment) has arrived on the Council agenda. Readers may recall that HOME 1 was approved in December (Alison Alter and Mackenzie Kelly voting no). Among other things, it allows three units on any single family zoned lot in Austin. Now, as planned, HOME 2 will allow those lots to be chopped up into smaller parcels. According to initial HOME materials lot sizes could be as small as 2,000 square feet — compared to a current minimum size of 5,750 square feet in SF (Single Family) 2 and SF3 zoning categories. Many lots are larger than the minimum. So HOME 2 would make it possible for some lots where there is currently one house to have six, nine or possibly even more units. 

Getting mailed a notice that this is happening is an improvement over the previous Casar-Adler Councils who refused to provide notice and had their actions thrown out in court as a consequence. Nonetheless the purple card isn’t near as specific, let’s say, as I was above. Here’s how the purple card describes HOME 2, without calling it by name: “Revise regulations that apply to lots with one housing unit and regulations that apply to flag lots.”

Another bullet discusses “Compatability Standards,” which it does call by name. The potential action listed there is, “Revise height, building placement, and other related regulations that are in addition to a property’s base zoning regulations.” This basically means that the Council is going to dramatically loosen regulations that prevent tall buildings from towering over predominately single family neighborhoods.

A third item on the card would “allow properties to be used for charging electric vehicles.” This is unlikely to create much controversy in Austin and would be the answer to the question, which of these three items doesn’t have anything to do with the other two?

Return of the ETODs

The purple card also includes a QR Code which leads to a bit more information including a nifty update of the “Schedule of Active Code Amendments.” That shows that ETODs (Equitable Transit Oriented Districts) will be returning for a vote in May along with HOME 2 and compatability standards. 

Readers may remember ETODs as the mile in radius circles proposed to be drawn around planned rail stops and also around bus rapid transit stops. That makes for around 100 in all. Since ETODs burst onto the scene in March 2023, however, the planned light rail system has been cut back drastically due to massive cost overruns. For example, instead of the initial north to south line extending from U.S. 183 and Lamar south all the way to Congress and Stassney (as was advertised in the election), the new plan goes from 38th Street and Guadalupe to Congress and Oltorf. Nonetheless, based on a map reached through multiple clicks from the ETOD page (linked from the QR code on the notice), ETODs Phase 1 will be instituted at all transit stops in the entire rail long-term plan (beyond even what was on the ballot). A Phase 2, presumably to include rapid bus stops, is scheduled to follow in early 2025.

The Austin Independent is submitting questions to the City to try and get more clarity on what is included in ETODs Phase 1, as well as questions on other topics. I will just say right here though that the City’s ETOD page would benefit from a precise listing of what’s included in Phase 1 and Phase 2 along with readable maps; that is if the City indeed wants interested members of the public to know what is being done.

Readers may also recall that ETODs are the vehicle with which the City plans to utilize “sensitive development” to “secure affordability” and “enhance protection for low-income households and communities of color” as rail is built. That really sounds great, but you might be wondering what is “sensitive development” and why didn’t anybody think of that before. I wondered that too. So, over a year ago I asked City staff for a written definition of sensitive development. That request didn’t seem unreasonable to me, especially given that the term is used 70 times within the ETOD Policy Plan. I began asking in March 2023 and I have asked again since then. But, the City has still declined to provide a written definition. That seems odd for a breakthrough measure which the City is depending on to do so much. 

That really sounds great, but you might be wondering what is “sensitive development” and why didn’t anybody think of that before.

Maybe they just think the spoken answer I was given in a Microsoft Teams interview of staff was so good that they are letting it stand. Here’s the spoken definition from the staff member that was required to answer the question, last March: “I would say it’s broadly defined as kind of based on what the intentionality of the Policy Plan is and the tool kits that we are recommending be brought to bear to create what the plan has kind of described as sensitive development. It’s development that supports our transit goals, that supports our place making goals, while also supporting our City goals around preventing displacement and connecting folks to opportunity.” Mmmm.

ETODs and both phases of HOME are directly connected to the proposed light rail system. For instance at least two speakers at Council Member Leslie Pool’s press briefing a day before the December HOME vote maintained that a core reason to approve HOME was to help get enough density to meet federal standards for funding of rail projects. (I think press briefing is the proper term for an event where the press is invited, but not allowed to ask questions). 

For instance Dottie Watkins, CEO of Capital Metro expressed her support for HOME and explained that “our federal partners. . . actively consider land use when reviewing transit projects for funding. The potential impact of these (HOME) amendments excites us for future federal funding opportunities.”

I do not remember the Mayor and Council Members (at that time), or rail advocates, mentioning during the rail election that anything like the HOME initiative would be necessary. Please correct me if I’m wrong and provide documentation. 

That’s all for now. We’ll have more on recent events surrounding the rail project, Project Connect, in an upcoming installment.

Following are the hearing dates and times on HOME 2. A list of open houses being held by the City can be found here. 

  • Joint City Council and Planning Commission Public Hearing – Thursday, April 11 at 9 a.m.
  • Planning Commission Meeting – Tuesday, April 23 at 4 p.m.
  • City Council Meeting (and likely vote) – Thursday, May 16 at 10 a.m.

All the above meetings are at Austin City Hall, 301 W. 2nd Street 


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