Protestors oppose changing Austin Energy governance
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Demonstrators outside City Hall Wednesday were fired up over a plan to overhaul Austin Energy, often described as Austin’s greatest asset.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell has proposed creating a seven-member board of directors to oversee the publicly-owned utility company. The current mayor would be at the helm with six experts from the energy field.
"It needs to be run in a businesslike and professional manner, day-to-day, instead of kind of happenstance coming up at Council meetings and passing hundreds of items on consent," Mayor Leffingwell said.
Tom Smith says the mayor’s plan could unravel decades of work put forth by this and past council members who have put Austin pride before profits.
"The citizens of Austin are literally giving the power over their utility away to an independent board,” Smith said. “What's made Austin Energy the utility that it is today is because of the vision and courage of previous City Councils who said, 'We want to do things differently, more efficiently.'"
While many of these advocates had concerns with last year's rate hike, they're glad they at least have the channels to get their voices heard. As a result, the rate increase was nearly half of what leaders originally proposed.
Right now, voters are the only ones that can make the decision to switch Austin Energy’s leadership structure, but a bill introduced by State Senator Kirk Watson at the Capitol could cut voters' voices out completely.
"Why wouldn't we want to present this to the voters for consideration?” Council Member Chris Riley said.
Leffingwell says the Council considered that option last election, but he himself was among members who felt the plan still needed work.
Mayor Leffingwell said the plan would get rid of the current Electric Utility Commission. It oversees some of Austin Energy's operations and purchases.
Council is expected to vote on the changes at Thursday's City Council meeting.