March 02, 2023
Happy Thursday. Your weekend is almost here.
Situational awareness: Today is Amplify Austin Day, with special matches available that may amplify donations to your favorite charity.
Today's newsletter is 888 words — a 3.5-minute read.
1 big thing: Shake-up at City Hall
Austin interim city manager Jesús Garza, appointed after last month's winter storm outages, is shaking up leadership at City Hall.
Driving the news: Garza announced yesterday that Austin-Bergstrom International Airport executive director Jacqueline Yaft, hired in 2019 by now-fired city manager Spencer Cronk to oversee an ambitious airport expansion, had resigned.
- Assistant city manager Rey Arrellano, who was involved in the city's ongoing, contentious police contract negotiations, has retired.
Why it matters: Garza and Mayor Kirk Watson, who worked together during their time in power in the 1990s, are reshaping City Hall in their image — highly competent and deeply connected with the city's managerial class.
Catch up quick: Garza brought back a host of old city hands yesterday, among them former assistant city manager Laura Huffman and former deputy city manager Joe Canales.
- Canales served as a vice president at Seton Healthcare Family while Garza was CEO at the hospital system.
What they're saying: "I am confident that this group of seasoned professionals … can help deliver on those issues the way the public and council expects, laying a solid foundation for the future," Garza said in a statement.
The intrigue: Huffman, who headed the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and who has long worked with Watson, would be a top candidate to be the next city manager if she puts in for the job, per a city council aide and the head of a city commission who have worked closely with top decision-makers and didn't want their names used in order to talk freely about the appointments.
- With Watson required to run again in 2024, expect Garza to serve in the interim role through that election before city leaders hire a full-time successor.
Watch this space: More dismissals could come, the sources said, especially among the assistant city manager ranks.
2. New pro softball team announced for Austin
A former Major League Baseball player and a professional wrestler are teaming up to bring a pro softball franchise to Austin.
Driving the news: The Texas Smoke will be the fourth franchise in Women’s Professional Fastpitch.
- The league replaces National Pro Fastpitch, which shuttered in 2021 after two decades due to COVID-induced financial losses.
What's happening: The squad is owned by (married couple) former Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips and pro wrestler Jade Cargill.
Details: Former University of Texas softball player and 2022 World Games gold medalist Janae Jefferson, the first player announced for the Smoke, signed to the team as a free agent.
- Austinite and former major leaguer Courtney Hawkins will serve as assistant general manager.
What they're saying: "These players are amazing athletes, and we will bring them a new level of support to help them hone their craft," Phillips said in a statement.
Between the lines: A host of women's startup teams have taken root in Austin lately, but frisbee, roller derby, soccer and football teams have still had trouble finding audiences or generating revenue.
- A team spokesperson told Axios the Texas Smoke is "still finalizing the contract for where they will be playing home games."
💭 Our thought bubble: With its season not starting until June, the pro team could piggyback off the spring success of the University of Texas Longhorns softball team, which was ranked sixth in at least one pre-season poll.
3. 🤠 The Roundup: Wrangling the news
🚲 Austin-based electric bike company Zugo has filed for bankruptcy. (Austin Business Journal 🔒)
🗑️ Austin Resource Recovery officials say they have collected an "unprecedented" amount of debris from the winter storm. (KXAN)
💰 Austin Energy's new electricity rates kicked in Wednesday. Customers can expect higher electricity bills starting this month. (KUT)
4. My very best Austin Day with Dottie Watkins
We had the pleasure of chatting with Dottie Watkins, recently named CEO of CapMetro.
- An Austin public school product — she attended Riley, Kealing and McCallum — Watkins grew up in the business. Her father was a CapMetro vehicle mechanic and she started working for the agency as a part-time driver in 1994 when she was a University of Texas undergraduate.
How would you characterize CapMetro's performance?
"The bread-and-butter of what CapMetro does is connect people to opportunities, to work, to play, to social events, so they can take kids to the park and get to doctor's appointments. ... A year ago, 3-5% of our service wasn’t being operated. Today, we're regularly meeting our goal of less than 1%."
What challenges does the transit agency face?
"Keeping the system moving and safe. A lot of complaints we receive start as quality of life issues, someone sleeping on the bus or loitering at a stop. Those situations don't necessarily require a police officer. "
It's your best day in Austin. Where are you having breakfast?
"The Kerbey Lane on William Cannon, with my 8-year-old daughter. I love the buttermilk pancakes and the breakfast tacos."
A new career is waiting for you
5. Charted: Low gas prices
Austin drivers spent an average of $3 for every gallon of gas in February, per GasBuddy data. That's down 8% compared with last January, and up slightly — 2% — from this January.
The big picture: Cheaper gas is good news for American consumers, especially commuters.
Yes, but: Lower prices may disincentivize drivers from switching to more efficient cars, going electric, or embracing public transit — all of which can have big environmental benefits.
Zoom in: Austin's February gas prices were the fourth cheapest of 31 cities analyzed.
- Only Dallas, Houston and San Antonio had cheaper gas.
Thanks to Bob Gee for editing and Kate Sommers-Dawes and Keely Bastow for copy editing this newsletter.
🤓 On this Texas Independence Day, Asher is zooming in to this free, noon hour deep dive on longhorn and bluebonnet science.
🎾 Nicole is catching some tennis at the ATX Open.