Austin city manager becomes city's 1st executive to lose job over prolonged power outages

ByPaul J. Weber AP logo
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
Texas power woes linger as deep freeze covers New England
The 10-1 vote by city council to remove the city's top executive came after a growing number of calls for accountability after February's ice storm knocked out power to more than 170,000 customers for at least a week.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Austin's city manager was fired Wednesday in the wake of outrage over a slow and fumbled response to a winter storm power outage that left thousands of people without electricity for a week or longer in the Texas capital.

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The 10-1 vote by the Austin City Council to remove Spencer Cronk, the city's top executive, came in the face of growing calls for accountability after an ice storm this month knocked out power to more than 170,000 customers. Frustration in the nation's 11th-largest city boiled as Austin officials publicly offered little information and gave residents no estimates on how long repairs would take.

Cronk, who had been in the job since 2018, was the city's first executive to lose his job over the prolonged outages. He will receive about $463,000 in severance.

The council appointed Jesús Garza, who has previously served as Austin's city manager, to take Cronk's job on an interim basis.

The ice storm toppled trees and power lines across the city of more than 1 million residents, causing outages and damage on a scale that Austin officials compared to a hurricane or tornado. Slow restoration efforts left thousands of people dealing with school closures, malfunctioning traffic lights and the financial pinch of spoiled groceries and hotel bills. Power was not fully restored in Austin until nearly two weeks after the outages began.

Cronk had apologized for "any shortcomings in our response" and vowed that the city would implement changes to better respond to future disasters.

His office did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Thursday.

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, a Democrat who took office in January, put in motion meetings that plunged Cronk's job into jeopardy. In Austin, the city manager is appointed by the mayor and city council, and operates like the chief executive officer of a business.

Austin Energy, the city-run power provider, brought in additional utility crews from across Texas to help tackle the vast number of outages.

For thousands of Austin residents, it was the second time in three years that a February winter storm knocked out their power for days. Although Texas' catastrophic blackouts in 2021 were the result of a different failure - an ice storm pushing the state's electric grid to the brink of collapse - the different reason was of little comfort to Austin residents.