Members of the Charter Review Committee (CRC) are giving seemingly compelling arguments for modifying Article V of the County Charter. There is, however, another side to the story. The changes proposed by the CRC are not “benign recommendations” but are rather extensive, often confusing, modifications that strike at the heart of the original intent of the Charter: Operate the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) as a business absent of political self interests.
The actions of the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) are being painted as self-serving but that characterization ignores that it is the duty of the BPU to evaluate both the pros and cons of any presented recommendation then act in the best interests of ratepayers and the citizens of Los Alamos who own the utilities system. That is exactly what the BPU did by gleaning only those parts of the CRC recommendation that address areas of utilities management that need clarification and improvement while continuing to protect Los Alamos citizens from overly political County Council influences in DPU management.
Before continuing, it is important that readers know my background regarding this issue. Over the period of 40 years that I have lived and worked in Los Alamos, I have served 12 years on the BPU and 12 years on the County Council. I therefore have intimate experience on both sides of this issue, as a board member and an elected county councilor.
During the 24 years I have served both bodies, actually over the 40 Years I have lived in Los Alamos, I have never witnessed the BPU or its individual members acting in a way that did not serve the best interests of the ratepayers and citizens. Unfortunately, I cannot make the same statement regarding the County Council.
Over the years, the range of attitudes of some county councilors has spanned the egocentric “I’m the elected official so do what I want” to more insidious attempts to use revenue from the DPU as hidden taxes by badgering the BPU to transfer more money to the General Fund.
Although the recommendations of the CRC are being presented as improvements and sound business practice, the unintended consequences are to weaken the protections put in place by the original crafters of the Charter. (The first proposed Charter was defeated in the 1960’s in part because it gave the County Council too much control over the DPU.)
The BPU, by a 4-1 margin, acted responsibly by accepting, with modification, only those recommendations of the CRC that truly improve Article V of the Charter. The County Council would be wise to heed the board’s wisdom.