'We need to be hearing your voice': Austin City Council gives Cronk one-week deadline to lay out plans for police reform
Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk has one week to firm up plans for police department reform and lay out for city leaders how he will respond to calls for the ouster of Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, which are mounting in the wake of clashes between police and protesters during anti-brutality demonstrations over the past few weeks.
Cronk, whose position overseeing the city's 13,000 employees makes him responsible for decisions regarding Manley's job, was directed by the Austin City Council on Thursday to update them during the first meeting of the newly formed Council Public Safety Committee next week.
The first meeting of the committee is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 18. Agenda is expected by Monday afternoon.
The timing will give Cronk a chance to "settle his thoughts" on how to implement a package of resolutions, approved unanimously by the council late Thursday, overhauling several aspects of the police department, said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, who chairs the committee.
Flannigan asked both Cronk and Manley to "make room in your schedules" and "be sure to attend" next week's meeting.
"I have a number of questions that I have for you, Chief, stuff that I've seen going on, stuff that I've seen on social media, that has really caused me to scratch my head a little bit about what's been happening in the department you run," he said. "Rather than drag my brain through it after this long day for all of us, I will save my questions for the committee meeting. Just wanted to give you a heads up."
"Certainly," Manley replied.
The resolutions include a vote of no confidence in "current leadership" at the Austin Police Department, which members said is focused on Manley but could be interpreted to mean any of the department's top brass.
Only Cronk has the authority to decide the fate of Manley, who draws an annual $350,000 salary and has been chief since 2018.
Cronk also oversees the budget process and is the council's liaison on directives to city departments, including the police resolutions.
An hour before the vote on the resolutions, some members—inundated with tens of thousands of calls and emails from constituents—chastised Cronk for not making any announcements on his plans yet.
Much of the change will come through the budget process later this summer, but council members were clear they wanted a progress report soon and, specifically, an update on Manley's future with the department.
Cronk has not indicated publicly which direction he's leaning, and while the council did not specify what would happen if Cronk doesn't satisfy them at next week's meeting, several reminded him that he is responsible for carrying out instructions by the council, which has the authority to fire him.
"Your silence has been deafening to me," Council Member Alison Alter said. "We provide you with direction, but nothing prevents you from taking action ... We need to be hearing your voice, and we need to be hearing that you are leading us forward to this transformation in very concrete ways."
Cronk explained that he has been "in constant communication" with his executive team as well as council members, Manley and other public safety leaders on "short-term" changes to police policy after demonstrators were injured by officers during the protests.
At the same time, Cronk said, he recognized that "a parallel conversation" was going on in the community and at City Hall over long-term changes from the top down at the department.
He noted that his office is in the middle of developing "the most challenging budget we have ever put forward" during a historic economic crisis. Discussions on that happen in August.
Cronk also reminded the council that the resolutions have been "evolving" as amendments have been added and discussions picked up. Now that the final versions have passed, he and his office can "quickly pivot into what that action plan is, because that is exactly what our community is expecting and demanding."
"I do know there is more that is needed," he said, "and we're going to have to continue to get not only creative, but much more assertive in the way that we are reimagining and rethinking how we do public safety in Austin."
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