Drama continues to unfold in the quaint city of Georgetown, where a local reporter claims the mayor threatened her for exposing a disastrous city financial deal.
Georgetown, about an hour north of Austin, is commonly known as a quiet community with one of the best historic town squares in the state. But in recent weeks, the city’s local officials have been in the spotlight for their ill-advised and costly actions.
The story originally began in 2012, when Mayor Dale Ross and city officials signed long-term energy contracts with wind and solar companies to switch the city’s power supply completely to renewable energy. They locked residents into a fixed-rate price for energy, taking a huge gamble that the costs would be lower than if they used other power sources.
The decision sparked national praise for the mayor, even earning him a spot in one of Al Gore’s environmental movies. Gore called Georgetown a “trailblazer” for their switch to 100 percent renewables.
But questions about the deal began surfacing when in 2016, one resident asked the city for the cost-benefit analysis of the new energy deals. The city refused to release the document, and the resident filed a lawsuit.
Then recently, the deal was exposed to be a disaster. Renewable energy costs have surged $26 million over what the mayor and city officials bet, and their contract is forcing residents to pay higher prices for green energy when other power, like natural gas, is much cheaper.
Now, the mayor has allegedly threatened a local reporter over her coverage of the debacle.
Lorraine Brady, editor for the Williamson County Sun, wrote an article describing her run-in with Mayor Ross at a local museum earlier this month. As she was walking out of the building, she says the mayor stopped her and wanted a word.
“The mayor was unhappy. He told me how disgruntled he is with the Sun’s coverage of the city’s renewable energy problems,” Brady wrote. “He said the paper is basing its reporting on unreliable information. He then told me that he will run for re-election in 2020.”
Brady then said the mayor reminded her that his influence could help shut the paper down.
“Mr. Ross went on to say he would not advertise for his mayoral campaign in the Sun, which he said will impact the newspaper financially. He said he could influence city spending, which could have an effect on the paper’s finances,” she wrote. “He told me that the Sun may not be around much longer.”
Brady asked Ross if that meant she should get another job.
“He said yes, that would be a good idea.”
Brady wrote that the Sun’s job was to report the truth.
“Our readers, mostly Georgetown citizens, want to know the truth about how and why our electric bills have gone up much more than they were led to believe when the city moved to renewables,” she said. “The city has routinely denied the Sun’s requests for information, not only for information in the renewable contracts themselves, but also information outside the contracts. Our staff has worked diligently to enlighten you about this debacle… this apparent effort to silence the press suggests a disregard for the people and their right to know.”
On Wednesday, Mayor Ross spoke with CBS Austin and claimed the article is untrue. According to the mayor, he never threatened to use his influence to hurt the newspaper, though he told Brady he thought her coverage on the green energy deal was unfair. He did confirm, however, that he won’t be buying any more campaign advertising in the Sun.
Ross also said he called Brady to apologize for any appearance of a threat or bullying.
Mayor Ross’ contact information is listed below: