Austin City Managers Take a Trip Back in Time

Erik Bernstein crisis management, Crisis Prevention, Erik Bernstein, Jonathan Bernstein, public relations, reputation management Leave a Comment

A situation that begs the question, “what were they thinking?”

Austin, Texas has been making a name for itself as a hip and progressive city in recent years. While you would expect city officials to be celebrating their new majority female City Council, the first in Austin’s history, their reaction has instead become a point of major embarrassment.Austin City Managers Take a Trip Back in Time

As the story goes, the city manager’s office felt this was such a huge change that staff who would be interacting with this assortment of intelligent, professional females needed special training in the form of two “experts” from out of state.

The speakers were straight out of an age where the predominant thinking was that women simply couldn’t wrap their pretty little heads around important topics like budgets, and reporters from the Austin Statesman wasted no time in (rightfully) ripping into the whole situation. Here’s a quote from the paper’s description of one training session:

Women ask lots of questions. He learned a valuable lesson on communicating with women from his 11-year-old daughter, who peppered him with questions while they were on the way to volleyball. “In a matter of 15 seconds, I got 10 questions that I had to patiently respond to,” Allen said. Allen says female City Council members are less likely to read agenda information and instead ask questions. He says it’s tempting to just tell them to read the packet, but “my daughter taught me the importance of being patient” even when they may already know the answer to the question.

Women don’t want to deal with numbers. Allen said in his city they used to have background information and financial analysis on the front pages of agenda forms. Allen says he normally would have presented the financial argument, but that his female commissioners would balk and say “Mr. Manager, I don’t want to hear about the financial argument, I want to hear about how this impacts the whole community.” He said that it may make good financial sense, but if he wants to get the votes, he has to present his arguments “in a totally different way.”

For those of you thinking perhaps you’ve fallen into some kind of time warp, this really did happen in 2015. Are the people in charge that out of touch? Do they even pay attention to the things they’re spending tax dollars on? These are the types of questions being raised in the minds of stakeholders, and they’re creating damage for the reputation of city management as a whole.

If you aren’t cautious about the decisions you make then you risk creating issues for not only yourself, but your entire organization. Slow down, do your research, and put in the work required to ensure you’re making a smart decision.

Erik & Jonathan Bernstein

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