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Austin City Manager Fired Over Ice Storm Response

Winter storm left more than 100K without power for days
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 3, 2023 12:06 PM CST
Updated Feb 16, 2023 4:56 AM CST
Austin Mayor: 'The City Let Its Citizens Down'
An iced-over pedestrian walkway is lined by trees that are covered with ice from a few days of sleet and rain on Thursday in Dallas.   (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
UPDATE Feb 16, 2023 4:56 AM CST

Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk has been fired amid public anger over the city's slow response to an ice storm that left more than 100,000 people without power for days earlier this month—but a hefty severance package might soften the blow. Cronk, who was appointed in 2018, will receive $463,000 in severance, including a year's salary and 240 vacation hours, the Austin American-Statesman reports. In Austin, unlike many cities, the city manager, not the mayor, oversees municipal departments including the energy department, KUT notes. The city council voted 10-1 to fire Cronk. Natasha Harper-Madison, the only dissenter, said firing Cronk wouldn't fix "systemic issues within our city government or our collective response to the recent winter storm."

Feb 3, 2023 12:06 PM CST

Rising temperatures offered some hope Friday for frustrated Texans days after they lost power—and in many cases heat—in a deadly winter storm, while a new wave of frigid weather rolling into the Northeast led communities to close schools and open warming centers. Wind chills in some higher elevations of the Northeast could punch below minus 50 Fahrenheit as an Arctic front swept in from Canada, forecasters said. In Texas, Austin officials compared damage from fallen trees and iced-over power lines to tornadoes as they came under criticism for slow repairs and shifting timelines to restore power, per the AP. More than 240,000 customers across the state lacked power early Friday, down from 430,000 on Thursday, according to

"Our heat source is our fireplace ... and we've been in bed, snuggled up under like five or six blankets," Edward Dahlke, of Spring Branch, told KSAT. Power failures were most widespread in Austin. Impatience rose there among nearly 123,000 customers days after the electricity first went out. Thursday night, officials backtracked on early estimates that power would be fully restored by Friday evening. Damage was worse than originally calculated, they said, and they could no longer provide an estimate. "The city let its citizens down," Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said at a news conference Friday. "The situation is unacceptable to the community, and it's unacceptable to me. And I'm sorry."

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The outages recalled the 2021 blackouts in Texas, when hundreds of people died after the state's power grid was pushed to the brink of total failure because of a lack of generation. There've been no reports of deaths from this week's power outages, though the storm and freezing temperatures have been blamed for at least 12 traffic fatalities on slick roads in Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Meanwhile, in New England, temperatures began plunging Friday morning. "The worst part of the upcoming cold snap is going to be the wind," which has already topped 80mph in higher elevations, per National Weather Service forecaster Bob Oravec. Wind gusts as high as 40mph raised the prospect of power outages in Maine. Schools closed Friday in Boston and in Manchester, New Hampshire, where frostbite warnings were issued.

(More Texas stories.)

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