AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council voted Thursday to move forward with an external audit process into Austin Water after a series of water boil notices over the past few years. The audit will be managed by the city auditor and reported to council.
“We as a council need an independent set of eyes so that we know that we are taking our oversight responsibilities seriously,” council member Alison Alter, who brought the resolution forward, said.
The resolution states, “Austin Water has experienced five significant negative water quality events and water supply service interruptions in fewer than five years,” one of those being a three-day citywide boil water notice that took place earlier this month.
Thursday, council members continued to ask questions of former Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros who resigned from the position shortly after the boil notice earlier this month. During that question and answer, and in documents posted to the city council’s website, Meszaros and Austin Water staff addressed staffing shortages and their possible role in the issues.
“We had 20 people leave the water department in January,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler noted during a portion of Thursday’s council meeting.
A spokesperson for Austin Water confirmed in January alone, Austin Water had 21 people leave the department. Five of those were resignations, one was a termination, 10 were retirements and five transferred to other City of Austin departments, that spokesperson said.
Meszaros also said there are no supervisors on night shifts right now and no automated alarms to notify supervisors of issues, something they’re looking at implementing down the road.
In documents posted on the issue Austin Water staff addressed the issue:
“For the last several years the Austin MSA has seen unemployment rates as low as 2%; lower than anywhere in Texas and the US. Given the competition we have with other large-scale employers, we have seen smaller candidate pools, particularly since the beginning of the pandemic. We also lose candidates during the hiring process as well as post-offer due to entry level pay. We routinely place our job postings on external job boards, schools, and professional associations to reach as many potential candidates as possible. We constantly assess our hiring practices for continuous improvements.”
Council members also brought forward questions about staffing and training in Tuesday’s question and answer session with the former director. Meszaros said then, there is a certification process for employees, but he admitted there’s been high turnover lately.
The audit passed through by city council Thursday will examine the last five water quality episodes, as well as review Austin Water’s management practices and emergency preparedness. Alter noted four of the five recent water quality or supply disruption events stemmed from the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant.
The resolution is cosponsored by council members Kathie Tovo, Vanessa Fuentes, Paige Ellis, Leslie Pool, and Mackenzie Kelly.