AUSTIN, Texas - Austin leaders hope to choose their next City Manager before the December break, and a list of finalists could be known by next Friday.

The national search process has taken about nine months longer than first anticipated. The City Council took several months to choose a search firm. They chose a firm that specializes in executive headhunting for the private sector in hopes of broadening their pool of candidates.

Last week, the City Council interviewed nine semi-finalists for the job that pays $350,000 to $400,000 a year, according to the city's website, and oversees more than 12,000 employees.

"We have had very productive meetings," said Stephen Newton, of the Russell Reynolds search firm, in a briefing to City Council Thursday.

A second round of interviews with City Council and members of the City Manager Search Task Force will take place in the next couple of weeks, he said.

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"I have listened to all of your comments, concerns. I have also done my own due diligence around these individuals," Newton said. "Based on that, my recommendation is that you bring back between two and five individuals for this second round."

Midway through the search process, the City Council voted unanimously to keep all names of the finalists secret and only reveal the sole finalist to the public. However, that policy created backlash from a number of taxpayers who demanded transparency.

"The names of these up to five individuals will be made public at some point between now and that date," Newton said. "In order to do so appropriately, we need to clear with each one of those individuals that they are interested in going forward in this process and that they are willing to have their names revealed to the public at this point in time."

Newton said he expects to have "full affirmation" from the list of finalists by the end of Friday, Nov. 10, so the City Council can make a formal announcement "at the end of next week."

Newton said a third round of interviews will be conducted in early December with City Council and "members of the community," but he noted that the word "community" has not been defined.