City Council moves forward with Austin Energy independent board

Hannah Jane DeCiutiis

After receiving extensive input from Austin residents, City Council moved forward with the process of creating an independent, unelected board to govern Austin Energy.

Several hours of the council’s Thursday meeting were spent giving speakers time to share opinions about overturning the governance of Austin Energy from City Council to an appointed board. The first reading of the ordinance was unanimously approved by the council members present. 

The council also passed a vote of 5-1 on an ordinance supporting two legislative bills allowing the council to implement the type of independent board they hope to create.

Roy Waley, vice chair of the Austin Sierra Club, said the lack of democracy and representation in an independent board is something that goes against the values of many Austin residents. 

“What I believe is that one of the things that Austin has always believed in is a representation of democracy that’s driven by the citizens of Austin,” Whaley said. “Austin Energy is owned by the rate payers.”

Cathy Coneway, chair of the Austin Board of Realtors, said she represented a body of realtors that supported the move toward an independent board.

“We would like to express our support for the restructure of Austin Energy so that its operation can be overseen by an independent board,” Coneway said at the meeting. “We believe that oversight by an independent board will allow for a more strategic approach to the day-to-day decisions that impact the functionality of the utility.”

Council Member Chris Riley requested city staff look into ways concerned citizens could introduce appeals of the new board’s decisions and bring them before council before the second reading of the ordinance.

“Citizens have a legitimate gripe,” Riley said at the meeting. 

Council Member Bill Spelman said some of the main questions regarding the power of the governing board have yet to be answered in future readings of the ordinance.

“The particular question that I think we need to think harder about the answer to is, ‘What authority do we give to a board and what authority do we keep to the city council?’” Spelman said at the meeting. “We have a first draft of that in this ordinance before us, but I think we still have more work to do before us.”