Austin City Council decided Tuesday not to ask voters whether to create an independent board to oversee Austin Energy.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell was the only council member in favor of a proposed charter amendment election to create the board. He says it’s an issue that shouldn't wait
"My understanding is it wouldn't be a whole lot different from the Electric Utility Commission that we have now, which is purely an advisory board," the mayor said. "With some tweaks to the existing state law that give cities this authority, we could do it."
Leffingwell may ask State Sen. Kirk Watson to help persuade the council. Watson was also the city’s Mayor from 1997 to 2001, and knows the intricacies of overseeing Austin’s largest revenue source.
"I have, for a long time, believed that it would be in the best interest if we had an independent board. It's very important that I believe it ought to be a local decision," Sen. Watson said.
Leffingwell contends Sen. Watson isn't overstepping his bounds by suggesting the measure.
"It's not a state power grab," he said. "It is just a piece of state legislation that authorizes cities to do things that they need to do."
Leffingwell and Watson are working together on another important issue that will affect Austin overall - they’re both advocating for the University of Texas medical school.
"That's what I do as a State Senator, is to make sure that issues we need to move forward, we move forward with," Watson said.
The senator also said he will only act on the utility board issue if asked by the city council.
Without changes to the city's charter or state law, Mayor Leffingwell says an independent panel would report to the city manager and, in his eyes, be redundant.