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Austin City Manager Announces Assistant City Manager Hires

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Austin City Hall
Austin City Hall. Photo credit: Todd Ross Nienkerk / That Other Paper under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk has selected Rodney Gonzales and Chris Shorter as Assistant City Managers in his first steps toward reorganizing the executive team to align with Austin’s Strategic Direction.

Mr. Gonzales will oversee departments and projects focused on economic opportunity and affordability. Mr. Shorter will manage efforts on health & environment and culture & lifelong learning.

“Rodney and Chris stood out amongst the other candidates as people who understand the challenges facing Austin. It was clear to me that they’re well-prepared to work with our community and our employees to advance strategies that can address those challenges in a way that aligns with our priorities,” said Cronk. “Both of them are ready to hit the ground running.”

Rodney Gonzales

Austin Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzales
Austin Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzales will oversee departments and projects focused on economic opportunity and affordability. Photo courtesy: City of Austin.

Rodney Gonzales comes to the Assistant City Manager role having served in leadership roles in Development Services and Economic Development for the City of Austin over the past 12 years. Mr. Gonzales began his career in finance, serving as the Director of Finance for the cities of San Marcos and Luling, TX. He holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration and a Bachelor’s degree from Texas State University.

Chris Shorter

Austin Assistant City Manager Chris Shorter
Austin Assistant City Manager Chris Shorter will manage efforts on health & environment and culture & lifelong learning. Photo courtesy: City of Austin

Chris Shorter has served in leadership roles for the District of Columbia (DC) Government for the past 10 years. Most recently he has been the district’s Director of Public Works which provides environmental services and solid waste management for residents. He has also held roles as Chief Operating Officer (COO) for DC’s Department of Health and as COO and Chief of Staff for the district’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. Mr. Shorter received a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public & International Affairs and a Bachelor of Science degree in economics from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida.

The Selection Process

This process started in late July when Cronk issued a memo outlining the restructuring of the City Manager’s Office around outcomes articulated in the Strategic Direction 2023. His memo detailed the process for an open recruitment for four Assistant City Manager positions and one Deputy City Manager, beginning this Fall with the recruitment of these two positions.

In September, a survey was released to the public asking them to identify the skills and characteristics they felt were most important for City leaders to possess. The response to the survey helped build the job posting and candidate profiles. Cronk solicited additional feedback in September from the quality of life groups and with community groups related to the areas of responsibility on which each Assistant City Manager will focus. This information was used to inform Cronk’s selection.

“The feedback I received at the start of the process has been invaluable in identifying leaders whose background and approach will align with the expectations of our community moving forward,” Cronk noted, adding his recognition for those who have served in interim roles during the search. “Both Sara Hensley and Joe Pantalion deserve thanks and credit for the seamless leadership they’ve provided. They’re an example of the incredible skill and deep professional depth we have here at the city.”

Hensley and Pantalion will return to their jobs as Director of the Parks and Recreation Department and Watershed Protection Department, respectively.

The recruitment for the next two Assistant City Managers, overseeing Mobility and Safety, opened on November 20. The search for a Deputy City Manager is slated to begin in Spring 2019.

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Austin

More Algae Tests Positive for Neurotoxins

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Barton Creek (center) flowing in to Lady Bird Lake. Photo credit: Chase Martin / therepubliq

Additional testing has revealed increasing levels of neurotoxins in algae at a greater number of locations. Samples were taken on Monday, August 12, 2019, at Auditorium Shores, at Red Bud Isle and at Barton Creek. Samples at Barton Creek were taken just below the pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. All the samples contained greater amounts of neurotoxins than found the previous week.

Red Bud Isle remains closed. The public should not allow their dogs to swim anywhere in Lady Bird Lake. In addition, they should keep their dogs out of Barton Creek where algae is present.

In addition to swimming, dogs should not be allowed to drink the water in these locations. People should avoid handling the algae and minimize their exposure to the water. Boating and paddle-boarding is still allowed at your own risk. Pets and people who come into contact with the water should rinse off. If symptoms develop, they should seek immediate medical attention.

“Barking Springs” at the spillway of Barton Springs Pool is upstream of this area. Water at Barking Springs is cold and flows from Barton Springs and Barton Creek. At this time, we believe people and pets can continue to swim in this area at their own risk. They should avoid going downstream to areas with floating algae. They should be aware that bacteria is always a concern in smaller waterways where there is a high concentration of dogs.

Previously, algae in Barton Creek downstream of Barton Springs appeared to be a mix of harmless green algae. However, the most recent samples showed a low presence of blue green algae in the Barton Creek area of Lady Bird Lake. These samples did test positive for neurotoxins. This is a reminder that the situation is evolving and can change rapidly. Watershed Protection will be taking more samples for testing tomorrow.

The algae will naturally die off when cooler weather returns in the fall. At this time, the City of Austin has not identified a safe and effective way to treat or remove the algae, and it is likely that Red Bud Isle will remain closed for the next several weeks.

On Sunday, August 4, the City of Austin warned residents not to allow their pets to swim in or drink from Lady Bird Lake after being told that a dog had died from possible exposure to harmful algae. Since then, the City has been told about three other dogs who have died after swimming in the lake.

On Monday, August 5, the City was able to confirm the presence of algae that could produce a neurotoxin.

Drinking water remains unaffected by this situation. Austin Water regularly looks at algae levels on Lake Austin and Lake Travis and has not seen levels of concern for drinking water. Austin Water does not currently use Lady Bird Lake as a source for drinking water.

Dogs who ingest water contaminated with this toxin could have a number of symptoms. On the severe end, it could result in respiratory paralysis and death. Look for these signs in your pet within minutes to hours of exposure:

  • Excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Jaundice, hepatomegaly
  • Blood in urine or dark urine
  • Stumbling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Photosensitization in recovering animals
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Progression of muscle twitches
  • Respiratory paralysis

The amount of toxins the dog ingests and licking of the fur are factors.

In people, possible health effects include:

  • Dermatologic signs or symptoms such as rash, irritation, swelling, or sores
  • Gastrointestinal signs or symptoms
  • Respiratory signs or symptoms
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Neurologic signs or symptoms
  • Ear symptoms
  • Eye irritation

Austin Public Health routinely tracks emergency department visits. We have not seen any increases in unusual conditions that may be related to exposure to the water. APH will continue to monitor.

If members of the public have questions or concerns, please have them call 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000.

Source: City of Austin website

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Austin Police Launch Safe Place Initiative

APD Safe Place will help those who are victims of a hate crime identify and find a safe place to take shelter and contact 9-1-1.

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The Austin Police Department announced the launch for its SAFE PLACE Initiative today during a press conference at Halcyon Wednesday afternoon led by Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk, Austin City Council Member for District 6 Jimmy Flannigan and Lesbian & Gay Peace Officers Association – LGPOA President Sgt. Mike Crumrine.

The new partnership between the police department and local businesses, which is free and voluntary, will help those who are victims of a hate crime identify and find a safe place to take shelter and contact 9-1-1.

Safe Place was started by the Seattle Police Department in 2014 to address low reporting of anti-LGBTQ crimes and school bullying incidents by increasing public trust in law enforcement and feelings of safety in the community. The program has since been initiated by over 200 police agencies across the United States and Canada and was expanded in 2018 to include anyone who may have been a victim of a bias crime.

The Safe Place symbol is trademarked and depicts a police shield surrounding the colors that traditionally have symbolized the LGBTQ+ community since the 1970s. The Safe Place decal is meant to convey inclusion and intersectionality with any and all individuals, regardless of their race, political beliefs, nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation and/or identification, or any other differences either actual or perceived.

Businesses who want to participate in the APD Safe Place initiative should contact the program coordinator Christian Mendoza by email or phone at 512-974-4734.

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Officials: Keep Pets Out of Lady Bird Lake

Owners strongly advised to keep pets out of Lady Bird Lake.

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The City of Austin is advising pet owners to not allow pets to swim in or drink water from Lady Bird Lake after being notified that two dogs have died after swimming in the lake. The City cannot confirm the cause of either death.

On Sunday, City of Austin scientists investigating the water quality noted the presence of clumps of algae in Lady Bird Lake. Preliminary results indicate the algae is a type of blue green algae of the genus Oscillatoria. This type of algae can release a neurotoxin. The neurotoxin in this type of algae can be harmful to pets and people if a sufficient quantity of water or algae is ingested.

The algae is especially prevalent near Red Bud Isle, covering up to 40% of the water surface in that area. It also tends to be more abundant near shorelines and in areas with low water flow. The situation is evolving. We have not seen any impacts to aquatic species at this time.

There have been blue-green algae blooms in Austin in previous years, but we have not been aware of any effects from neurotoxins. Algae tends to be more prevalent in late summer and early fall and when flows are low.

Austin Water regularly looks at algae levels on Lake Austin and Lake Travis and has not seen levels of concern for drinking water. Austin Water does not use Lady Bird Lake as a source for drinking water.

The current algae bloom appears to be confined to algae growing on the bottom of the lake and then floating in clumps to the surface. Scientists have taken samples of both the algae and the water near the algae in Lady Bird Lake. Results from the analysis for the actual presence of the toxin should be available early next week.

Dogs who ingest water contaminated with this toxin could have a number of symptoms. On the severe end, it could result in respiratory paralysis and death. Look for these signs in your pet within minutes to hours of exposure:

  • Excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Jaundice, hepatomegaly
  • Blood in urine or dark urine
  • Stumbling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Photosensitization in recovering animals
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Progression of muscle twitches
  • Respiratory paralysis

Until the City has more information, it strongly advise that pets stay out of the water. At this time, the City have no reason to believe that boating is unsafe. However, people should not be swimming in Lady Bird Lake. It is illegal. When out on the lake, people should take care to avoid ingesting water or coming into direct contact with the algae. The degree of risk to human exposure, such as through accidental swallowing of lake water, cannot be known until the tests results are available and analyzed.

Source: Press release

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