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Austin City Hall gets another round of leadership changes

Austin City Hall
Callie Hernandez for KUT
Several leadership changes were made at Austin City Hall last week.

Interim City Manager Jesús Garza announced another round of leadership changes at Austin City Hall last week.

This is the latest in a slew of changes he has made to city leaders and departments since taking over the position in February. Garza was selected as interim city manager after Spencer Cronk was fired in February following the city’s flawed response to an ice storm.

On Friday, Garza named Bob Kahn to run Austin Energy, the city’s electric utility. He will begin July 3.

Kahn has previously served as president and CEO of ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s electric grid. ERCOT has been under scrutiny since much of the state lost power in the deadly February 2021 freeze.

A man in a suit smiles.
City of Austin
Bob Kahn is Austin Energy's new general manager.

Kahn, whose most recent stint at ERCOT lasted only a couple of weeks, has also served as the deputy general manager, general counsel and vice president for legal services at Austin Energy. He served as CEO of ERCOT from 2007 to 2009. Since December 2012, Kahn has served as General Manager for Texas Municipal Power Agency.

He will replace Jackie Sargent as Austin Energy’s next general manager. Sargent retired in March after the most recent February ice storm that left thousands of people in Austin without power for days — some for as long as two weeks.

Austin Energy has been working to remedy its ice storm response. Earlier this year, the entity was given permission to study burying power lines in the city, a task that could cost millions of dollars. Last month, the city entered into a mutual aid agreement that would allow the city to tap neighboring utilities for help with restoration efforts in the event of another emergency.

Kahn joins a roster of other city leadership changes made last week.

Ken Snipes will serve as the director for Homeland Security and Emergency Management starting June 19.

Juan Ortiz, who served as director for the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for six years, is stepping down.

“I am honored to have served our community for the last six years,” Ortiz said. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done at Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and I'm very proud of the team of strong and highly trained emergency managers we’ve developed."

In his tenure, Ortiz helped the city navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, shelter operations for Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Laura, support for the Austin Bomber response and multiple other disasters, including the recent February ice storm.

Snipes currently serves as director of Austin Resource Recovery, the city’s trash and recycling management department. An interim director, Richard McHale, has been named in his place.

Garza also announced other changes for the city: José Roig has been named director of the Development Services Department; Michele Middlebrook-Gonzalez will serve in the city’s newly created position of chief strategic communications and external relations officer; and David Gray, assistant director in the Economic Development Department, will begin a special assignment focused on the programs, policies and funding the city dedicates to addressing homelessness. He will report to Assistant City Manager Stephanie Hayden-Howard and work with the Homeless Strategy Office and other departments “to cohesively advance the community’s work to ensure homelessness in Austin is rare, brief and non-recurring,” the city says.

Garza has made a number of other changes in the last several months. Shortly after taking the role of interim city manager, he named Jim Smith as the interim airport director to replace Jacqueline Yaft, and Bruce Mills as assistant city manager to replace Rey Arellano. He also recently announced a new in-office policythat would require employees to come into the office more frequently.

“Since returning to this organization in February, I have spent considerable time assessing the strengths of our organization and identified opportunities to reorganize to ensure we are operating cohesively, effectively and efficiently,” Garza said in a press release Friday. “I am confident the changes announced today will strengthen the City of Austin as we continually work to improve the services we provide to our residents.”

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Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Austin City Hall reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at lmorenolozano@kut.org. Follow her on X @LuzMorenoLozano.
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