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Council Tables Independent Oversight For Austin Energy

I-Hwa Cheng, KUT News

The City of Austin cooled the idea of creating a board to oversee Austin Energy.

The original idea was to form a board whose members are more knowledgeable than city council members are about the electric utility industry, but after concerns that its members would be insufficiently accountable to voters, the plan changed, leaving the proposed board with less authority.

Today, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said the current proposal would just be adding bureaucracy, making things not more efficient, but less.

“I think for the good of the Utility, we would be better off just withdrawing this whole proposition than going in that direction,” Leffingwell said.

Council member Kathy Tovo expressed concerns over the rule-making authority of the oversight committee, suggesting that the final action of any decision be up to the council.

But council member Bill Spelman said that the committee should be trusted with utility decisions because they’ll have more time to discuss Austin Energy’s issues.

“They’ll ask more questions, the meetings will be longer. They’ll have more discussion before a decision gets reached, and I think they’ll make better decisions,” Spelman said. “I think they will be in a better position to have those longer discussions based on more information than we will as a council, because they will be specializing in the electric utility in a way that we’re not able to do.”

Rather than entirely abandoning the idea of an Austin Energy Board, the city may form a committee to give the matter more study. The council is expected to discuss the idea further on their regular session on Thursday.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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