San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

Upon becoming the San Marcos city manager in December 2010, Jim Nuse introduced himself to the community with a YouTube performance of a song he penned called “from the Rock to the River.” He recently wrote a tribute to public employees called “City Worker,” which he performed in city council chambers. PHOTO by DON ANDERS

Upon becoming the San Marcos city manager in December 2010, Jim Nuse introduced himself to the community with a YouTube performance of a song he penned called “From the Rock to the River.” He recently wrote a tribute to public employees called “City Worker,” which he performed in city council chambers. PHOTO by DON ANDERS

by BRAD ROLLINS

A movement is underway to convince City Manager Jim Nuse to reconsider his decision to retire in less than four months, an announcement made via a midnight email to city council and staff that caught everyone by surprise.

Three council members — Wayne Becak, Jude Prather and Shane Scott — said on Monday that they want their colleagues to formally ask Nuse to delay his departure for at least a year to a year and a half, if not indefinitely. Two weeks after Nuse told them he was out, the council is scheduled to discuss the city manager position for the first time during an executive session before tonight’s regular meeting.

“With the direction San Marcos is headed, we need someone who can manage a city of 100,000 people. Jim is that person. But if he’s not going to stay, we need someone like him who understands the dynamics of a small town that’s growing quickly. If he’s not going to stay, we at least need more time to find an appropriate replacement,” council member Shane Scott said.

Nuse took over the top job at San Marcos City Hall in December 2010 after 27 years at the city of Round Rock, including eight as city manager, during a period when the Austin suburb grew from 13,000 people to more than 100,000. His San Marcos admirers say he has been a transformative leader who has professionalized operations, improved staff morale and is aggressively rebuilding much of the physical city itself. More than $100 million in capital improvement projects are either under construction or in design, an unprecedented burst of infrastructure improvement evidenced by a new civic color scheme of construction cone orange and bulldozer yellow.

Said Prather, “We are knee-deep in a number of important projects. I want to keep him as long as we can.”

Becak, likewise, said he has already personally asked Nuse to stay on and is hopeful the rest of the council will join him in doing so after tonight’s executive session.

Their efforts are backed my key representatives of the city’s business community including Corridor Title Co. President Patrick M. Rose and Central Texas Medical Center CEO Sam Huenergardt, both board members of the Greater San Marcos Partnership who have lobbied council members to compel Nuse to stay put.

“I believe that San Marcos is on the cusp of some remarkable accomplishments as it pertains to growing jobs,” Rose said. “Jim brings depths of experience and I believe he’s a capable leader. I think we are in a better position to succeed in the coming months if he were at the helm than we are if he weren’t.”

The partnership’s leaders, who have been consistently asserting a more aggressive role in city policy, recently hired an economic development “star” in former Austin Chamber of Commerce executive Adriana Cruz, who they say found Nuse’s abrupt departure announcement alarming just as she was coming on board. Some community leaders say privately that Nuse’s retirement — the “I’m-outta-here” tone of his resignation letter and the fact none of his bosses on city council saw it coming — has raised eyebrows across the region and left the impression that San Marcos “can’t get it together,” in the words of one prominent local resident.

“It does not bode well for our community” for Nuse to leave under these circumstances. “We are getting so close to putting together a really strong team and then a shoe like this drops. It’s frustrating but we have to keep working through it,” said one local business leader who spoke on the condition he not be named. Another person from the same camp said it this way: “It makes us look like we don’t know what the hell we are doing.”

People who have discussed Nuse’s retirement with Nuse say there is some truth to his public statement that he is simply ready to retire after more than 30 years in public service. But they also suggest that Nuse is frustrated with a city council that doesn’t quite pull in the same direction, leaving Nuse and his staff to take public heat for unpopular decisions while lapping up credit for popular ones. Already financially secure with a generous lifelong public pension in the bag, Nuse simply does not need the job and does not want it if he doesn’t feel he is moving the city forward, they say.

“This better be fun and rewarding for him or he’s not going to do it,” said one source who says he has discussed the situation candidly with Nuse.

A creature of Round Rock, the Central Texas poster child for soulless suburban sprawl, Nuse was met on arrival with suspicion from neighborhood and environmental advocates who have argued for more than a decade that San Marcos’s development has been largely unplanned and unsustainable. Yet Nuse has made a concerted effort to build rapport with environmental and neighborhood leaders and has had some success in doing so.

On the Friday before his Sunday night resignation, for example, he met for more than an hour with opponents of a student housing project on Craddock Avenue, a group that was largely unreceptive to what he was pitching but said they appreciated the briefing and his effort to re-negotiate an agreement with the developer that addressed their concerns. Many of the same people had a strong hand in shaping the recently approved Comprehensive Master Plan, which is widely regarded as setting a more progressive course for San Marcos’ growth.

For years, people in San Marcos have said they don’t want their city to “become another Round Rock,” and yet they have found the man who helped build Round Rock to be someone they can work with.

“It’s not an easy job running a city with as much diversity as we have on so many different levels [and] I think overall Jim has done a good job,” Becak said.

Nevertheless, Nuse appears to have a rocky relationship with council member John Thomaides, the almost-mayor who has long been the perceived champion of environmental and neighborhood interests. Council member Kim Porterfield, similarly, has not expressed great enthusiasm for Nuse and, in an informal discussion with the Mercury a few weeks ago, seemed ready to move on to the search process, her third since taking office in 2007. Neither Thomaides nor Porterfield returned the Mercury’s phone call on Monday.

Council member Ryan Thomason — who once publicly called Nuse “the Jack Welch of city managers” — said he does not know what to expect from tonight’s discussion until the discussion is had. Whatever the outcome, he said, Nuse’s departure does not amount to a crisis at City Hall.

“We’re not in dire straits. Everyone can show up to tomorrow and know what their job is and do their jobs as professionals. The city is going to be fine. There’s no doubt about that,” Thomason said.

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9 thoughts on “Council members want Nuse to stay on as city manager

  1. From an earlier Mercury article…

    “The San Marcos City Council fired Rick Menchaca as city manager on June 24 by a 4-3 vote. Menchaca’s annual salary with San Marcos was $170,000 plus benefits, while Nuse’s salary with Round Rock is $180,939.”

    For that kind of money we should be able to get someone pretty good. I think the relationship with someone you begged to stay would be uncomfortable.

    Also,

    “This better be fun and rewarding for him or he’s not going to do it,” said one source who says he has discussed the situation candidly with Nuse.

    That doesn’t sound promising. I liked Jim every time I met him but we need to move on.

  2. I agree with you more often than not, SMsince95, but I think — whether you want Nuse to stay long-term or not — we need to have a succession or search plan in place with a long fuse to ensure an orderly transition. San Marcos has a $160 million a year budget and 517 employees. No corporation or non profit of a similar size would approach a leadership transition in this way.

    Whether he stays or goes, this cannot be seen as anything but a leadership failure on the part of the council, and particularly the mayor, who seems these days to just be going through the motions. I have proven over the years I am not a managerial genius myself but I’ve never been so out of touch with key employees that I completely failed to notice one of them was unhappy to the point of quitting abruptly.

  3. Also, I think you’ve got to take into account the impact on the city’s existing employees who are obviously watching how this works out. Nuse is highly respected among most of the department/division directors with whom I talk. If the council is just going to shrug and walk away from Nuse, it doesn’t exactly send a message that the city council values talent and rewards success. I am sure that the council does value talent and reward success but we’re talking about macro-messages being sent across a huge organization.

  4. Four months is not a very long period for this kind of transition in city staff, I would hate to see a rushed search for the best candidate in a short amount of time.

    The city has to form a search committee and meet all the EEO requirements during the search, and that in itself takes A LOT of time and paperwork. I seriously doubt they could get anyone into the position and still have time for Jim to show them ropes (which I feel would be necessary) before he leaves. I’ve seen names of current city employees tossed around though, so with hope one of them can fill the bill and make a smooth transition for the City.

    What Nuse did I’m am positive he didn’t take lightly. If he really doesn’t want to be in the position anymore, I can’t see what good it will do to beg him to stay. Once someone is unhappy about their situation and makes a move to improve it, they don’t want to back up, they want to move on.

  5. Brad, I agree with your comments about trying to change leadership for an organization so large, and with what you say about not knowing that an employee in such an important role was unhappy (assuming that he is).

    It would be really great to understand why he is unhappy and what the anonymous “prominent residents” are talking about. The idea that some people seem to think they know what is going on, while others are in the dark, just fuels (IMO) the “us and them” mentality and the conspiracy theories.

  6. It’s not us against them, I happen to be one the “prominent business person” 😉

    Not to bust yer knuckles Brad, but this does sound tabloid-ish. I just flew to Fla and I always pick up a crap magazine for short flights…it reminds me of what I read this weekend re: Michael Jackson ~ sources close to the star say… but hey, I enjoy hearing the hub bub, so I’m not complaining. Got any leads on this Jimmy Hoffa situation?

  7. Ted,

    I don’t yet know the details of what he is specifically unhappy about. I did hear that the entirety of the San Marcos City Council is furious about this article and agreed amongst themselves in executive session to refer all questions about the city manager situation to the mayor. This is disappointing to me because the mayor is one of the council members who is least likely to tell you the straight truth about anything.

    Melissa,

    You are a prominent something, my friend, but prominent business person doesn’t quite sound right to me. 🙂

  8. Funny Brad! I suppose it depends upon who you talk to what word or words would come after prominent 😉

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