Austin Energy is under new leadership following the March 31 announcement that General Manager Jackie Sargent is retiring as city leaders continue to evaluate the utility's response to February's ice storm, which knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of Austinites.

News of Sargent's retirement was shared with city officials in a memo from interim City Manager Jesús Garza. Stuart Reilly, who served as AE deputy general manager and chief operating officer, will step in as interim general manager effective immediately. The move is the latest in a series of city executive shakeups during Garza’s tenure since he returned to City Hall in February.

Sargent was tapped to lead AE in 2016 and was the first woman named the utility's general manager. She earned a $419,515.20 salary this fiscal year.

In his memo to City Council, Garza credited Sargent for contending with several challenges while boosting AE's renewable energy portfolio, improving reliability, expanding electric vehicle services in the city and upgrading street lighting downtown.

“Jackie's trailblazing career spans four decades and she is nationally recognized as a visionary leader in the electric utility industry. Her focus on safety, renewable energy, operational effectiveness, and the customer experience set Austin Energy on a positive path forward and I am extremely grateful for her service to our community,” Garza said in a statement. “I wish her all the best in her retirement and am sure she will continue to make valuable contributions to this career field where she has left such an indelible mark.”

Austin Energy in the news

Sargent led AE through two large-scale power disruptions brought on by extreme weather, including 2021’s Winter Storm Uri and the related statewide blackouts as well as February’s Winter Storm Mara, which brought heavy icing to Austin trees and power lines.

This year’s ice storm raised questions about the utility’s public communications and emergency preparedness amid an extensive power restoration effort that for some residents and businesses dragged on for around two weeks.

Sargent told city leaders in February that AE was already taking on or considering several organizational changes following the ice storm, and a comprehensive after-action report from the city's emergency management office is in the works. City Council has also moved for further changes or reviews by ordering an audit of AE's tree-trimming program and asking for in-depth consideration of burying more city power lines across Austin.

AE was also recently involved in a pair of electric rate hikes that have increased power costs for users across the utility's service area, raising the typical resident's annual bill by hundreds of dollars.

The first, approved in October, stemmed from factors that AE leaders said were largely out of their control and was needed to ensure the utility's financial stability given market disruptions. The second, approved in December and effective this March, came as part of AE's regular billing review cycle and drew criticism for its “rate shock” effect on lower-income customers.

Executive changes continue

In the wake of the ice storm and during contentious debate over labor negotiations with the Austin Police Association, council fired former City Manager Spencer Cronk Feb. 15 and named Garza to the position on an interim basis. He last held the city manager post from the 1990s to the early 2000s and most recently managed a political organization supporting Mayor Kirk Watson’s election campaign.

Multiple staffing shakeups in key government positions have taken place under Garza's watch so far, beginning with the retirement of Rey Arellano, former assistant city manager for public safety, and Jacqueline Yaft, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport's former chief executive.

Garza last week announced the reorganization of several city departments and leadership roles while also directing special evaluations of Austin's emergency management structure and airport operations.

Sargent’s retirement comes just over a year after the departure of another civic utility head following widespread service disruptions. Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros resigned last February amid the fallout from the third citywide boil-water notice Austin residents and businesses endured in just a handful of years.