Busi­ness lead­ers like both choices for Austin En­ergy chief, but en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists don’t share their en­thu­si­asm

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - By Marty Toohey mtoohey@states­man.com; 445-3673

A panel of en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists con­cluded Thurs­day that nei­ther of the two fi­nal­ists se­lected by City Man­ager Marc Ott is a suit­able choice to be Austin En­ergy’s next gen­eral man­ager. Busi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tives, mean­while, con­cluded that both Larry Weis and David Wright, both of whom run Cal­i­for­nia util­i­ties, would be a good pick.

The busi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tives and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists in­ter­viewed the can­di­dates as part of the city’s for­mal hir­ing process. Ott will make the fi­nal hir­ing de­ci­sion.

The gen­eral man­ager’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­clude im­ple­ment­ing an ag­gres­sive shift to re­new­able en­ergy, over­see­ing a ma­jor rate in­crease around 2012 and re­think­ing the util­ity’s ba­sic busi­ness model.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal panel said Ott should re­open the search and con­sider of­fer­ing a much higher salary to widen the pool of po­ten­tial can­di­dates. Sev­eral of its mem­bers have said they pre­fer Karl Rábago, who over­sees Austin En­ergy’s re­new­able-en­ergy and en­er­gy­ef­fi­ciency ini­tia­tives.

“Austin En­ergy is in a time of trans­for­ma­tive changes,” said Cary Fer­chill, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of en­vi­ron­men­tal group Pub­lic Cit­i­zen who ad­vised the city in craft­ing a re­new­able- en­ergy plan passed this year.

Given the dif­fer­ences be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and Texas, “I think the learn­ing curve for these can­di­dates is quite high,” Fer­chill said. “I don’t think Austin En­ergy should put its plans on hold and wait for them to catch up.”

The busi­ness panel con­cluded both Weis and Wright would be ex­cel­lent choices, al­though mem­bers said nei­ther can­di­date rose above the other. They said Ott should not de­lay pick­ing a gen­eral man­ager.

“I felt like the can­di­dates both had very rel­e­vant ex­pe­ri­ence for what Austin is do­ing,” said Martha Smi­ley, pres­i­dent of the Austin Area Re­search Or­ga­ni­za­tion, an um­brella busi­ness group. “There is a man­date in Cal­i­for­nia sim­i­lar to Austin’s plan, and they have worked ex­ten­sively to add re­new­ables to their util­i­ties.”

David Wright works in River­side, Calif.

Larry Weis works in Tur­lock, Calif.

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