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It is back to the drawing board for review of Los Alamos County Charter sections that relate to the Department of Public Utilities.
Tuesday, the county council approved a new five person committee to review DPU’s oversight and accountability to council, whether it would be possible and advisable for profits to be returned to DPU, possibly for use by other utilities, and whether to incorporate additional utilities into DPU’s responsibilities.
The previous council rejected the Charter Review Committee’s recommendation for oversight and accountability, which would have allowed council to remove any or all board members without cause by a supermajority of 5-2. The previous council agreed that councilors must have more oversight, since they bear ultimate liability for DPU’s actions, and proposed appointing an ad hoc committee to study the issue.
The CRC made no recommendations regarding the issue of returning profits to the DPU. Those profits are currently directed to the general fund. In view of its recent approval of a significant sewer rate increase to pay for infrastructure, council wants to explore other alternatives, such as using profits from one utility to subsidize costs in another. The current charter prohibits that.
The CRC recommended that a public vote be required to add another utility to DPU, but council wants to study the issue in more depth, especially as an option for a proposed community broadband network comes under review.
Councilor Rick Reiss was against the formation of a new committee, and made a motion to hold a public hearing on the previous recommendations brought before council. The motion failed due to lack of a second.
Councilor Frances Berting and Council Chair Geoff Rodgers argued against the motion.
Berting noted that removing the entire board would not resolve a liability issue but simply leave the county without a Board of Public Utilities.
“Having a fresh set of eyes, people who are experienced with structure and who have structured and restructured organizations is really what we need. I think the need for this committee is real and strategic,” Berting said.
“I agree with Councilor Reiss that a lot of work was done,” Rodgers said. “But the committee themselves could not agree on a solution. What they brought to council was a consensus and not a unanimously recommended approach to this. So since, in practice, the old charter is working right now, we have the luxury of time to go back and take a really hard look at this.”
The previous council recommended that the ad hoc committee have of one DPU representative (board Chair David Powell will fill that spot) and one council representative. Councilor Steve Girrens volunteered and was unanimously approved for that. Council also had to select three members of the public: one with management experience, one with accounting experience and one member from the public at large.
Councilor Pete Sheehey made a motion to vote on each of those positions separately, but did not receive a second.
Council received letters of interest from Edward Birnbaum, Kirk Christensen, Robert Gibson, Randall Kanzleiter, Matthew Miles, Susan O’Leary, and Leslie Olsher. Council voted for Birnbaum, Christensen and O’Leary to serve on the committee, with Reiss abstaining.
The committee is to return to council with its findings and recommendations within six months.