The City Manager Search Task Force saw its genesis after the Austin City Council voted unanimously for its creation on Thursday.

The ­­11-member, council-appointed group will be tasked with surveying the public to help set the criteria for choosing city manager candidates. Whether criteria setting will be the only part of the process that involves the public remains unknown.

During its March 23 meeting, council voted unanimously to follow the recommendation from hired search firm Russell Reynolds and Associates to keep the identity of all potential candidates confidential throughout the hiring process. This means the only name that will be made public will be the person the City Council votes on to hire.

However, during the April 4 work session, some council members, including Kathie Tovo (District 9) and Delia Garza (District 2) said they were unaware their vote supported a completely confidential process.

“I actually am in favor of having the final candidates be introduced to the public in a public setting,” Tovo said.

The March decision by council was not made recklessly, but rather after a substantial debate over the community benefit of keeping the candidates confidential. Stephen Newton, a representative of Russell Reynolds and Associates, said the level of confidentiality could impact the caliber of candidates the search process turns up. His search firm was hired because of its ability to headhunt candidates in both the private and public sectors.

Newton suggested that many of the best people for the job were likely currently employed in a high-ranking position. For these high-ranking candidates, the promise of confidentiality makes it low-risk to be considered for an unguaranteed position. Word that a candidate is considering a new job could reach his or her boss should identities be made public. That could put the candidate’s current job in a more vulnerable position.

The Austin city manager seat, the top-ranking position among city staff, has been vacant since former city manager Marc Ott left for a position in Washington D.C. in August. Assistant City Manager Elaine Hart has taken the reins as interim city manager since September.