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Candidate withdraws from Austin Energy interviews; more meetings set

Tuesday, June 29, 2010 by Michelle Jimenez

Ronald Davis, one of three candidates named as a finalist for Austin Energy’s general manager position, has withdrawn his candidacy, the recruitment firm handling the selection process confirmed Monday afternoon.


City Manager Marc Ott alerted Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council members to Davis’ withdrawal in a memo Monday. In the memo, Ott also told officials that a number of community groups will now have a role in on the selection process.


Scott Fry, managing director for the Colorado-based recruiting firm Mycoff, Fry & Prouse LLC, said Monday he did not know why Davis pulled out.


“I’m still working on the details of that,” he said. “I don’t have an answer for you right now.”


Davis, general manager of Burbank Water and Power, a community-owned utility that serves the Los Angeles suburb, did not return a telephone call to his office Monday afternoon. Robert Olson, chair of the Burbank utility board, did not respond to a message left for him at city offices.


Rumors were circulating this weekend that Davis had promised the utility board that he would withdraw because they had offered him a higher salary than the approximately $240,000 he has been making.


The remaining finalists are Larry Weis, general manager and chief executive officer of the Turlock (Calif.) Irrigation District, and David Wright, general manager of the City of Riverside (Calif.) Public Utilities.


Ott received another letter on Monday from several local environmental activists, complaining that none of the finalists for the job meet the requirements set out in the job application.


“None of the finalists appear to meet the job description requirement of having ‘a proven track record of success’ applicable to the ‘regulatory and legislative process within the State of Texas, at the federal level, and locally in Austin.’ Texas is not California,” they wrote. “None of the finalists have the requisite understanding of the two most important issues facing Austin Energy: executing an effective rate case in Texas and creating an innovative new business model to help Austin stay a leader in Texas’ rapidly changing energy market.”


The letter was sign by a number of local activists, including Bill Bunch, Susan Moffat, Robin Rather, Brigid Shea and Roy Waley, among others.


In his memo, Ott said the process will move forward with Weis and Wright, who will be in Austin on Wednesday and Thursday for a series of panel interviews and a community meeting.


“The withdrawal of Davis creates an opportunity to use the extra time in the schedule for additional vetting by community stakeholders,” Ott’s memo states. “In addition to the Community Meeting, we are working on scheduling two additional panel interviews, one with the business community and one with the environmental community.”


The decision to bring interest groups into the fold comes on the heels of a push late last week by the environmental community and low-income advocates, who asked Ott for a separate meeting with the candidates.


City Council Member Bill Spelman said including those groups in the process is a step in the right direction. He said the person at the helm of the city’s electric utility plays a major role in Austin’s vitality.  The next general manager, he said, must be able to balance the needs of a diverse community, from business owners concerned about the cost of electricity to environmentalists who want to ensure Austin is powered using renewable energy.


“What we need our CEO to do is to be able to balance all of these competing interests and keep the lights on and that’s a very, very difficult task,” Spelman told In Fact Daily on Monday. “So what has happened in the last 24 hours, really, is that we are closer than we were last week to a process where…people who represent all of these interests have a chance to get the information they need about who the finalists are what they’re proposing to do.”


Spelman said some in the community had concerns that the finalists, all from California, didn’t have the experience to head up a large utility like Austin’s. He said he plans to keep an open mind until the public forum Wednesday.


Wednesday’s meeting, open to the general public, will be held from 6 to 8pm at the Town Lake Center, Austin Energy’s headquarters, at 721 Barton Springs Road.

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