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.Email | Print