Austin’s city manager fired over widespread power outages

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Austin’s city manager was fired Wednesday in the wake of outrage over a slow and fumbled response to a winter storm power outage that left thousands of people in the Texas capital without electricity for a week or longer.

The 10-1 vote by the Austin City Council to remove Spencer Cronk, the city’s top executive, followed growing calls for accountability after an ice storm this month knocked out power to more than 170,000 customers. Frustration in the nation’s 11th-largest city boiled as Austin officials for days gave few updates about the widespread outages and no assurances about how long repairs would take.

Cronk, who had been in the job since 2018, was the city’s first executive to lose his job over the prolonged outages. He will receive about $463,000 in severance.

He did not publicly dig in and fight for his job as his ouster seemed increasingly likely, and said Wednesday that he was proud of his accomplishments.

“I serve at the pleasure of the Mayor and Council and acknowledge their decision,” Cronk said in a statement released through the city.

The ice storm toppled trees and power lines across the city of more than 1 million residents, causing outages and damage on a scale that Austin officials compared to a hurricane or tornado. Slow restoration efforts left thousands of people dealing with school closures, malfunctioning traffic lights and the financial pinch of spoiled groceries and hotel bills. Although the majority of Austin never lost power, at the peak of the outages nearly 1 in 3 homes and businesses had no electricity.

Power was not fully restored in Austin until nearly two weeks after the outages began.

Cronk previously apologized for “any shortcomings in our response” and had vowed that the city would implement changes to better respond to future disasters. For now, his job will be filled by Jesús Garza, who previously served as Austin’s city manager and was appointed by the council to replace Cronk on an interim basis.

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, a Democrat who took office in January, put in motion meetings that plunged Cronk’s job into jeopardy. In Austin, the city manager is appointed by the mayor and city council, and operates like the chief executive officer of a business.

Austin Energy, the city-run power provider, brought in additional utility crews from across Texas to help tackle the vast number of outages.

For thousands of Austin residents, it was the second time in three years that a February winter storm knocked out their power for days. Although Texas’ catastrophic blackouts in 2021 were the result of a different failure — an ice storm pushing the state’s electric grid to the brink of collapse — the different reason was of little comfort to Austin residents.

Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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