AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The future of Austin's top city executive plunged into jeopardy Monday as frustration boiled over power outages that have left thousands of people without electricity in the Texas capital for nearly a week and could drag on for days longer.
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, a Democrat, called a meeting for this week that will put City Manager Spencer Cronk's job on the line. The move reflected the growing discontent in America's 11th-largest city over slow repairs to power lines following a deadly ice storm that left residents with no sense about when their electricity might finally return.
Austin Energy, the city's utility, warned Sunday in the face of growing criticism that full power restoration may not happen until Feb. 12 — nearly two weeks after the outages began.
“To all our Austin citizens who are furious about the ongoing power outage, you’re right,” Watson tweeted. “There must be accountability.”
Cronk, who oversees city staff, responded by telling reporters he was focused on the storm recovery and restoring power. Watson did not outright say whether he thinks Cronk should be fired but said Thursday's meeting would “evaluate the employment" of the city manager.
For the vast majority of Austin residents, the lights were on Monday or never went out in the first place. At the peak of the outages, about 170,000 homes and businesses — nearly a third of utility customers in Austin — had no electricity, and in many cases, no heat. By Monday, that number was down to about 21,000, about 4% of all customers.
But in neighborhoods still without power, familiar scenes unfolded.
Outdoor extension cords ran from the homes that have power to neighbors across the street who didn't. Spoiled food piled up in trash bins. Children walked past noisy generators while returning to class Monday for the first time since Austin closed schools for most of last week. And on text message groups and social media apps, the sights of repair crews were treated as urgent developments.
Katy Manganella, 37, grew so fed up that when Austin Energy came to her neighborhood Sunday with a charging station for residents — but still no repair trucks — she paced in front of the station holding a poster that read, “This pregnant lady is over it!”
“It’s been pretty miserable,” said Manganella, a therapist who is seven months pregnant and was unable to work last week because of the outages. “How is there no plan for this?”
Austin Energy has described the remaining outages as the most complicated and time-consuming. The storm plunged temperatures near or below freezing and coated trees with ice across Austin, weighing down branches that eventually snapped and crashed onto power lines. Iced-over equipment and crews driving on slick roads also slowed recovery efforts, according to city officials.
The utility warned Monday that a new front of high winds and potential storms starting Tuesday could further hamper restoration efforts.
“I'm sorry for how long this has taken," said Jackie Sargent, general manager of Austin Energy.
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