Letter to the Editor: Responsible Thing To Do Is To Support Proposed Charter Amendments

By STEVEN P. GIRRENS
County Councilor, CRC-2 Member

Nearly two years ago, the County Council decided that the Utilities section of the Charter required an in-depth review. Because of previous work done by the 2010 Charter Review Committee, the Council understood that there were possible weakness in the Charter that could create oversight and accountability problems for the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). Therefore it created the Charter Review Committee – Utilities (CRC-2). As a CRC-2 member, I realized the work would be challenging. I also realized that I was going need to immerse myself in the issues. I am glad that I made the investment and I would like to explain my rationale for upporting the major areas of change as follows.

Dispute Resolution The presence of a clear path of action in the case of a dispute between the Council and the Board of Public Utilities (Board) will make each accountable to reach a reasonable solution and will tend to avoid destructive personal agendas that damage the organization.

Communication Poor communication is a primary concern related to accountability and liability. Providing specific direction related to communication in the Charter will serve to mitigate accountability and liability issues going forward.

Board member removal While guaranteed to be sparingly used because a supermajority vote of 6-1 among the Councilors is required, the public deserves to have a mechanism that will allow the removal of a board member who may, for a multitude of reasons (i.e., no confidence or poor business judgment), totally prevent the board from conducting utility business. 

County-wide policies Employment law is one of the largest fields of liability for the County. Utilities employees deserve all the protections provided by the policies and the citizens are entitled to know that the county has reduced its exposure to loss by ensuing application of the provision that up-to-date policies apply to all its employees.

Vote on New Utilities In an evolving world, the County needs a mechanism for adding utilities to its system as those become practical. The suggested revision requires a vote of the public to purchase or create a new utility. Should the voters decide they want a new utility such as broadband, the Charter should accommodate addition to the utilities department.

Several intelligent, dedicated citizens have critically reviewed the utilities department operational structure in the original county charter. In fact, attorneys who spoke with the committee advised that the scheme of operations provided in the current charter involves a risk to county resources that the Council should not ignore. A consistent theme that has evolved is that revising the charter to reflect an improved synchronization between those with authority and responsibility for utilities and those with accountability to the citizens is justified and prudent.

When I began my service on the CRC-2, I did not have any pre-conceived opinions. It was only over the several meetings where we discussed the issues, sometimes twice a month, that I eventually formulated a position.  So it is with a strong conviction that I believe the right thing to do, in fact the responsible thing to do, is support the proposed amendments to the Charter.

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