At 6 feet 6 inches tall, Spencer Cronk is hard to miss, and he was stopped repeatedly by well-wishers as he walked through the skyways on his second-to-last day as the Minneapolis city coordinator, the city’s top administrative position. Cronk starts his new job as city manager of Austin, Texas, on Monday. He sat for an exit interview over lunch on Thursday, which has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: What’s your proudest accomplishment in Minneapolis?
A: The services that the city provides its residents have been very smooth. I haven’t seen any big controversies or drops in those services. The other thing is recognizing talent and hiring good people, being able to recruit and retain top-caliber individuals for city government and making sure departments work well together.
Q: Aren’t city services — plowing the streets, garbage pickup — the kinds of things most citizens care about?
A: Yes, and they can be potentially the downfall of politicians. You see discussions in St. Paul where they haven’t been able to plow their streets. Who ultimately gets blamed for that? It’s the mayor. I don’t believe that this election in Minneapolis was about management of city government. All the debates and discussions and campaign lit, it never was brought up that our city is not providing valuable services.
Q: Minneapolis has seen seven years of more than a billion dollars in new construction, and yet people’s property tax bills keep going up. Is there a simple explanation?
A: Not really. We’re fortunate to be a growing city, and cities are being asked to do more, and as a result, the expectations of what we have from our residents need to be met. It’s always a balance: What’s the appetite for an increased level of service without pushing it too far.
Q: How would you like to see city government in Minneapolis change?
A: When the city switched from two-year terms for council members to four years, that same shift did not happen for the 10 charter department heads. To give city executives enough of a chance to really understand their department and be held accountable for their performance, it would be helpful to align those. Also, to remove department heads, they essentially have to be impeached. They would need to have the mayor approach the executive committee with a removal process, have that voted on by the executive committee, and then get seven votes on the council plus the mayor. It’s been proposed in the past to vest the authority in the city coordinator. Right now, when you’re accountable to 14 elected officials, you can feel like you’re accountable to no one.
Q: That’s the kind of role you’re walking into in Austin, one with a lot more authority.
A: Everything reports to the city manager. Everything from the police chief, the fire chief, the airport, the municipal energy company, they all report to the city manager: 14,000 employees, $4 billion budget, and twice the population of Minneapolis. It’s an incredible opportunity.
Q: What do you wish you had accomplished in Minneapolis that you weren’t able to?
A: A discussion publicly about what type of accountability we want from our appointed city leaders would be healthy. Seeing [a new city office building] through to fruition would be something I would have loved to still be part of.
Q: What is the city’s biggest challenge?
A: Looking at affordable housing, looking at police-community relations, inclusive economic development. Those themes that have been hit on by our elected officials are certainly where we need to be focused. And they are not dissimilar to what I’ll be looking at in Austin.