AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk’s employment will be “evaluated” at a special-called Austin City Council meeting Thursday morning.
There is only one item listed on the agenda. “Evaluate the terms and conditions of the City Manager’s employment with the City of Austin,” the agenda states.
The discussion will be held in an executive session, according to the meeting agenda, meaning behind closed doors.
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson wrote on Twitter Monday he added the emergency item to the agenda “because the management of this situation and the lack of clear and timely and accurate communication has left our community in the dark. It is unacceptable. The City of Austin can and will do better.”
Cronk was at a media conference Monday to discuss winter weather cleanup. KXAN’s Grace Reader asked for his response to the meeting.
“I serve at the pleasure of this new mayor and council and I’ll be having that conversation with them on Thursday. I’m here to make sure that we are responding directly to this weather event. That’s been my sole focus. I’m very grateful of our incredible city staff that have been doing the same. I am laser-focused on getting power restored to all of our customers and to ensure that we’re getting through this weather event successfully,” Cronk said.
The ice storm that pushed through Central Texas last week left thousands of Austinites without power for an extended period of time. The city’s utility operator, Austin Energy, was hit hard with outages. At one time, more than 150,000 Austinites were without power directly after the storm.
As of Monday morning, around 27,000 Austin Energy customers remained without power. Austin Energy said it expects “nearly all” customers to have power by Feb. 12 — 11 days after the initial outages hit the area.
“To all our Austin citizens who are furious about the ongoing power outage, you’re right. There must be accountability,” Watson wrote. “While the members of the City Council answer to the people of Austin, the City Manager answers to us.”
Watson wrote that Council Members Alison Alter, Chito Vela and Vanessa Fuentes are also sponsoring the agenda item.
“I am disappointed in the city’s response to the ice storm, and I am especially dissatisfied with the communications during this crisis,” Vela said. “My office and I are reviewing the operational details as we speak, and the City Manager review is a part of that. As a representative of the people, it’s my job to demand answers for why Austinites were left literally and metaphorically in the dark for far too long.”
On Monday, Cronk was asked if he believes he should be responsible for the city’s response to the ice storm.
“What I will say is that, in the last few years, our city has seen some incredible weather events. This was a historic ice storm that we have never had in our community. We know that our community is going to be faced with additional weather events in the future and we need to do a better job collectively to prepare ourselves. Again, my focus is solely on this response and that’s where I think our community’s focus should be, as well,” Cronk said.
Cronk was announced as Austin’s city manager in December 2017. In late 2022, City Council voted to give him a $38,000 raise.
Austin Energy audit
City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly requested a “comprehensive audit of Austin Energy’s response” to power outages from last week’s ice storm.
“During the February 2023 freeze, our community needed answers and didn’t receive them. This is why it’s important that we make an effort as a step forward to answer the call of so many Austinites,” Kelly stated in the release.
Council Member Leslie Pool said she doesn’t oppose the item, but thinks the city can get better information more quickly by requesting specifics from Austin Energy’s after-action report.
A spokesperson for Pool said while the audit would be due Sept. 30, as its written now, the after-action report could produce answers in months, if not weeks.
Last week, council members Alison Alter and Vanessa Fuentes, requested a briefing on the City’s storm response during Tuesday’s work session.