Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Re-cap on Maggie Lewis' Open Forum on the Utility Sale

I attended a public forum hosted by my council representative, Maggie Lewis, last night. José Evans, Monroe Gray, Doris Minton-McNeill, and a number of other council representatives were all in attendance, and Evans seemed to be emceeing the event. Chris Cotterill, Chief of Staff to Mayor Greg Ballard, and Jean Richcreek, Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer for Citizens Energy Group, led the presentation and answered the bulk of questions. Citizens Energy Group also had at least one employee in the audience that fielded a few questions about how Citizens negotiates payments with customers. Ballard came in, unexpectedly, about 30 minutes into the presentation and stayed for 30 minutes, said his bit, and answered questions from council representatives and members of the public. He came in with three other people, one of which was his wife, Winnie Ballard. As you may have noticed, public officials vastly outnumbered the half a dozen or so non-elected/appointed citizens at this meeting.

Nevertheless, Cotterill, Evans, Ballard, and Richcreek ran a tight ship. They got in all questions anyone in the audience had, did so respectfully, and the Power Point presentation wasn't relied on as a script.

Minton-McNeill was grandstanding when Ballard was there and kept going afterward, and I thought it was absolutely shameful. She said that she is still trying to gather information on the utility sale. But these public forums and various hearings have been going on for months. Her comments and questions at the forum made it seem like she hasn't done any research at all. And as I commented during the meeting, it isn't part of my job description to be there, but I did my best to get to these meetings, research, and read. She and any other council representative should do the same, so that the most frequently asked questions don't get asked repeatedly. For example, one of her questions was what if Citizens decides to sell the utilities. According to state law (I'm still researching on a citation for this, so I'm taking others at their word), public trusts can't sell their utilities, and the only way a city can repossess the utilities is if the services aren't being provided.

Fortunately, that wasn't how most council representatives acted. Most were respectful, or at least silent.

I asked Cotterill and the council representatives how exactly the utility sale and the influx of money will be handled in City-County proposals. The answer I got was much different than the definitive answer I got from At-Large Councilor Angela Rivera. Cotterill seemed to be saying that the Council can modify the proposal, but that the vote on the MOU that Prposal 131-2010 is right now will be the only vote. He also said that the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission does not have the ability to modify line-by-line the utility sale, but can just approve it or not approve it.

This was an informative meeting, but I still have a few more questions to ask. I can't quite support this just yet, especially since the process seems to be so uncertain.

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