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McCracken to be Pecan Street Project’s executive director

Thursday, December 10, 2009 by Austin Monitor

The board of directors of the Austin clean energy non-profit Pecan Street Project (PSP) voted unanimously Wednesday to hire former Council Member Brewster McCracken as the group’s executive director.


Although a contract must still be negotiated, Council Member Randi Shade, a member of the PSP board, said she expects McCracken to take over his duties officially beginning Jan. 1. “I’m really pleased that he will be able to serve in this role and he will do an excellent job,” Shade said.


“I’m really excited and ready to get to work,” McCracken said.


The Pecan Street Project recently won a $10.4 million grant from the federal Department of Energy to start up a smart grid at the Mueller development. McCracken wrote the grant application for those funds and, according to board member Isaac Barchas, “pulled something off which literally never happens … a first time federal grant writer won $10.4 million.”


Barchas, who heads the UT Austin Technology Incubator, said he and others at UT were impressed with McCracken’s ability to win the funds, “not just writing the grants but herding the cats to make sure we had a proposal that was integrated and compelling,” he said. “The fact that we were awarded the grant means the organization has some oomph.”


Shade and Barchas both said the PSP board had a number of very well-qualified applicants for the position, which pays $100,000 per year. Helping them find and sift through those applicants on a pro bono basis was Scott Uhrig with Whiterock Partners, an executive search firm focusing on high tech jobs.


For much of the time he was working on the grant application, McCracken was doing so as a volunteer, but later PSP hired him as its grant manager. The non-profit was not established until after McCracken left the council, a factor in his favor as the board looked at legal questions related to hiring a former public official within one year of his leaving office.


Shade said the board had studied the issue of McCracken’s status as a former council member, concluding that they could hire him as executive director so long as he did not solicit funds from the City of Austin or lobby the city on any “project or matter over which the person exercised discretionary authority.” The quote comes from the city’s revolving-door policy for council members, which seemed last summer to bar McCracken from taking the job.


Shade said McCracken would be paid partially from private funds and that 40 percent of his work would involve fund raising — not from the city. The other 60 percent of his work will be spent on the development of the organization, she said.


McCracken said, “ We have a lot of work to do with the DOE on our work plan for our federal grant and that’s what everybody has been doing who’s working on the Pecan Street Project team since Nov. 24,” the day the grant was awarded.


McCracken explained that in addition to the Department of Energy grant and one from the Capital Area Council of Governments, he expects to tap organizations such as the Pew Charitable Trust and the Hewlett Foundation, which fund development of advances in the public interest.


PSP explains its mission this way: “We will establish the City of Austin as America’s clean energy laboratory. We will design and implement an energy generation and management system that generates a power plant’s worth of power from clean sources within the city limits and delivers it over an advanced delivery system that allows for unprecedented customer energy management and conservation.”


In addition to the City of Austin and Austin Energy, the project’s founding partners include Austin Technology Incubator, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, and the University of Texas. Representatives of these organizations sit on the board of directors. Corporate partners include Applied Materials, Cisco, Dell, Freescale, GE, GridPoint, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, and SEMATECH.

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