Austin Energy independent governance pushed back

Austin City Council approved 7-0 on March 21 a study comparing Austin Energy to other municipally owned utilities throughout the nation. The decision came after City Manager Marc Ott told council he and his staff would not be able to provide an ordinance outlining an independent governing board for the electric utility until about April 11.

"My hope is that we'll get some information as to the type of discernment process we'll need to use about what responsibilities could be reasonably delegated to some form of sovereign board," Councilwoman Kathie Tovo said.

Some of the metrics stated in the resolution the study should consider when choosing utilities to compare to AE include utilities governed by councils and independent boards, size of service area and diversity of power supply. The study will come back to council by the second week of April

Roy Waley, an Austin resident and vice chairman of the Austin Regional Group of Sierra Club, spoke to the council in favor of conducting the study.

"You should have all the information you can get in order to continue to make the best decisions you can for the citizens of Austin," Waley said.

Councilman Bill Spelman asked Councilwomen Laura Morrison and Tovo if they thought there was any information the study could discover that would persuade them to vote for AE's independent governance. Morrison answered that one possible result from the study could be the realization of how much work the council takes on to run the utility.

"What I can envision is seeing that, 'Wow, it really might make sense for this subset of things that we do, to pass the authority on to another body,'" Morrison said.

Spelman said that because of the additional consideration Morrison and Tovo could possibly give to independent governance, he thinks the study is worth investing in.

"In my point of view, if this is what it's going to take to bring everybody on the council to consider [independent governance], then I'm very happy with it," Spelman said. "Even if it takes us a couple of weeks longer than what we had in mind, then that's worth the trouble."

Councilman Mike Martinez said he hopes the study doesn't bog down the consideration process as the deadline for considering the ordinance gets pushed back.

"When we come back in April, we're going to be put in a position to potentially take action," Martinez said. "What I hope that action looks like is that we move forward with an evolving process, if you will, so that we can take into consideration any information that comes from this study. What I would not like to see moving forward in April is now we need more time to study the study and not take action."

As the city moves forward with its consideration of the issue, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said he would like to see a layout of the basic structure of what an independent governing board would look like for AE on April 11 and then a separate ordinance that would outline the transition process at a later date.

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