As the search for Austin's next permanent city manager nears its end, the two finalists for the role spent time meeting with local residents and officials before City Council makes a final hiring decision.

Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax and Denton City Manager Sara Hensley, the lone remaining candidates for the Austin position, arrived in town in late March for community engagement and closed-door interviews with council.

Council members are responsible for hiring and firing Austin's city manager. Following private meetings with the candidates March 26, members will likely make their selection in the near future.

Meet the candidates

Council launched the city manager recruitment process last year to identify interim City Manager Jesús Garza's successor. Garza took over last February on a temporary basis after council fired former City Manager Spencer Cronk.

A national search conducted by Mosaic Public Partners drew 39 applicants for the Austin job. Three finalists were selected this month, and soon after, one took himself out of contention.

Broadnax spent seven years leading Dallas City Hall and recently submitted his resignation effective later this spring. He handled a similarly sized municipal workforce and budget. He highlighted the following in his application:
  • Emergency response
  • Oversight of infrastructure projects
  • Budget strategy
  • Homelessness
Broadnax began his government service in Florida in the 1990s, and previously served as city manager in Tacoma, Washington, and assistant city manager in San Antonio and Pompano Beach, Florida.

Hensley has been a government executive in Denton since 2019 and has served as manager for the approximately 140,000-person city since early 2021.

She highlighted the following in her application:
  • Overseeing a variety of city departments
  • Leading cross-departmental efforts
  • Managing large development projects
Hensley arrived in Denton after a previous tenure in Austin, including nearly a decade as parks director and two years as an interim assistant city manager. Her past experience includes working as parks and recreation director in Virginia Beach, Virginia, from the late 1990s to 2000s; leading neighborhood, animal and parks services in San Jose, California, in the 2000s; and leading the Phoenix parks department from 2006-08.

Zooming in

Hensley and Broadnax laid out their visions for city management in Austin during a moderated community forum and meet and greet March 25, followed by individual meetings with council and Q&A sessions with media March 26. The public town hall can be viewed here.

Both candidates stressed their commitment to solidifying police department leadership, running a transparent City Hall, supporting diversity initiatives and hiring, and prioritizing homelessness if they secure the job.
Ausinites attended a community forum with city manager candidates March 25. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact)
Ausinites attended a community forum with city manager candidates March 25. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact)
If selected, Hensley said she aims to be a relatable leader while keeping up constant communication with City Council, executive leadership and department heads to keep pace with city projects and goals. She also said she'd hope to hold regular forums with city employees and be visible around the community.

“If you don’t have a good relationship with mayor and council, and you’re not communicating with the mayor and council, you’re not going to be a successful city manager," she said.

She also said she'd hope to review major city initiatives, such as development projects, recruitment efforts, permitting reforms, sustainability efforts and public safety affairs, before taking any further strides.

Hensley said issues tied to the police department, particularly choosing a permanent chief and hiring new officers, would be key.

“It’s hard to add 350 police officers to fill holes when people are retiring and people choose to go somewhere else. So you’ve got to create an environment where people want to work; you’ve got to create an environment where you give them good training and you help them be the best; you’ve got to create an environment where they want to stay, they want to live here; and you’ve got to create an environment where there’s mobility," she said.
Denton City Manager Sara Hensley met with Austinites March 25. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact)
Denton City Manager Sara Hensley met with Austinites on March 25. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact)
On homelessness, Hensley said there's a need to review Austin's current spending and strategies before working with council and the community to chart a path forward. She also said she'd like to take a similar approach as she has in Denton, such as evaluating services and working more closely with nonprofit, faith-based and business partners.

With the possibility of leaner years of city spending ahead, Hensley said her approach to budgeting—like other management work—would be based around Austin's high-level strategic plans. She said creativity and innovation will be needed to fund basic services and other priorities, especially as one-time federal funds dry up.

Broadnax highlighted his big-city background and a desire to bring his work to Austin as reasons to support his hiring.

“There are a lot of things that have happened in Dallas, quite honestly, that I’ve had to experience as a city manager in my brief time there that some managers, frankly, don’t get to deal with or have to deal with in their entire career. Those things happen monthly for me," he said.

Broadnax also addressed reporting on his frayed relationship with Dallas City Council that led him to resign there.

“At any point in time, people make decisions and I think collectively the decision that they wanted to go and have a reset and go in a different direction with the new manager that could coalesce and work with them in a manner similar to when they hired me," he said. "Gotta respect that. And so I think my time there has been good, I think I served the community well.”

In his first days at City Hall, Broadnax said he'd first like to focus on a permanent police chief search and hiring, and either completing or implementing a new contract with the Austin Police Association. He also said he'd have "no reservations" pushing to ensure council- and voter-supported policies, such as Austin's disputed new police oversight measures, are fully addressed.

Next, he said he'd evaluate the city's approach to homelessness and housing affordability, including a revamped review of Austin's spending on services for the unhoused.

Broadnax pointed to homeless programming he's overseen, which he said has connected thousands of people to housing in just a few years, as a model of success to build off of. He also said more public and private collaboration, such as with businesses or property owners, would be needed.

"I do believe the city of Dallas has found that model as it relates to people, touching them many times but trying to move them directly from encampments that you may see in your community directly into housing,” he said.
Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax met with Austinites March 25. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact)
Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax spoke with city residents March 25. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact)
He also hopes to address any lingering emergency preparations gaps and have a hand in shaping the city's next budget—depending on the timing of his hire. On budgeting, he also floated the idea of drawing up two-year balanced spending plans to set up future expectations and improve sustainability.

Broadnax said he'd keep City Council closely informed of all his decision-making and own the personnel or policy choices he makes; pay close attention to Austin's migrant community—he noted one of his earliest actions in Dallas was standing up an immigrant affairs office; and keep better ties with Austinites during contentious debates and legal action over planning and land-use.

"The closer we get, the more transparency and the more feedback loops and conversations with people help sensitize them to the needs and the challenges that we have, I think could lessen and take down the temperature on future lawsuits [over zoning] if they understand the whats and whys and actually are a part of the process," he said. "I’m not saying that they have not been; some folks just don’t like what folks don’t like. But, I think more explanation is better than less."