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Groups seek separate audience with finalists for Austin Energy job

Monday, June 28, 2010 by Mark Richardson

A number of environmental groups and low-income advocates are asking City Manager Marc Ott for a separate and exclusive meeting this week with the three final candidates announced for the job of general manager of Austin Energy. An opportunity for the public to meet the candidates is scheduled for Wednesday evening.


Ott named the three finalists – Ronald Davis, General Manager, Burbank (Calif.) Water and Power; Larry Weis, General Manager and Chief Executive Officer, Turlock (Calif.) Irrigation District; and David Wright, General Manager, City of Riverside (Calif.) Public Utilities – last week after staff completed its review of applications.


A number of people, including some Council members and several environmentalists, have expressed concern that three local candidates were not among the finalists, all of whom are from relatively small California utilities. The three local candidates – Karl Rábago, Cheryl Mele, and Kerry Overton – are all current employees of Austin Energy. 


“We depend on Austin Energy not just to power our lights but really to set the course in terms of sustainability for our community,” Council Member Chris Riley told KXAN Channel 36. “We did have some very qualified applicants from Austin Energy, and I’m not sure why they weren’t selected.”


Environmental Activist Robin Rather told KXAN, “This job is easily the most important job in Austin right now. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that these guys know anything about Texas, let alone about Austin.”


A letter was sent to Ott last Friday, signed by Matthew Johnson of Public Citizen, requesting representatives of the groups be allowed an opportunity to meet with the finalists outside the public forum to assess their qualifications.


“Few constituencies in Austin have been more involved in or committed to utility issues than we have been,” Johnson wrote. “As such, we would like to question the candidates as necessary to gain confidence in them. Having a Channel 6 televised forum in addition to the June 30 reception would facilitate a more accessible process to get to know the candidates better and observe how they may interact and work with our stakeholder groups in the future.”


In addition to Public Citizen, the letter was signed by the Environmental Defense Fund, SEED Coalition, Solar Austin, Sierra Club-Austin, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Environment Texas, PowerSmack, Texas Legal Services Center, Texas Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy, and Austin-based environmental activists Chris Searles and Scott Johnson.


Ott is seeking to replace former General Manager Roger Duncan. Duncan, who retired in March, was named to the top job at Austin Energy in 2008 after then-GM Juan Garza left the agency.

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