Letter to the Editor: A Serious Charter Issue Regarding Utilities

A Serious Charter Issue Regarding Utilities
Los Alamos

A fundamental question in the Los Alamos charter regarding utilities pertains to the issue of who is in charge in the event that the County Council and the Board of Public Utilities arrive at a policy or management impasse. 

At present the BPU has authority over the County’s Utilities Department while the Council has the legal responsibility for all county operations including utilities and is answerable to the voters. Clearly authority and responsibility should be joined or there is no accountability. There are legal liability issues at stake, not just sensible management and leadership.

Council does appoint the members of the BPU to five year staggered terms, but otherwise has little authority or control over the members actions or performance. It has been asserted that council’s power over the Utilities purse strings gives Council ultimate control, but that cannot address time urgent issues and in any case the options available to Council are minimal. Any effort to deny funding for the DPU would have a negative effect on consumers, not the Board or Utilities Department Manager. Such action would make no sense.

Both the first and second Charter Review Committees examined several alternatives to join responsibility and authority recognizing that Council is legally responsible. The first CRC felt that the simplest solution was to give Council ultimate authority over the membership of the BPU and recommended that the Council have the authority to remove BPU members by at least a 5 to 2 vote of Council. 

The second CRC was established to address accountability, and two other specific issues, for Article V. CRC2 recognized the need for accountability and the rationale for joining responsibility and authority. CRC2 also feels that improved communication and conflict resolution procedures are appropriate for the charter and would do much to reduce the chance that Council would ever have to invoke their prerogatives to remove members of the BPU. CRC2 agrees that Council should ultimately have the authority to remove BPU members, but by a 6 to 1 vote rather than the 5 to 2 vote recommended by CRC1.

By clearly articulating the powers of Council with regard to Article V, both CRC1 and CRC2 have recommended an answer to the question: Who is in charge?

With the answer to that question the other issues raised by Council are largely moot with regard to the charter. Either Council and the BPU reach agreement, or Council, with sufficient unanimity, can ultimately exercise their authority.

We have spent enough time on this and have sound recommendations from two responsible committees.

I urge Council to demonstrate the leadership that they are charged with by law. They owe it to their constituents.