Ken Murray Opinion: Redding City Council Should Reflect Upon the Past Before Resurrecting Electric Utility Commission

Those who are not students of the past are often guilty of re-making the mistakes of their predecessors.  Such is the case with the current proposal by Redding City Council Member Patrick Jones to resurrect the Electric Utility Commission.  The Commission would be a non-elected advisory body to the City Council on matters regarding the Redding Electric Utility.

Many have jumped on board this train, including an editorial in the local newspaper, without understanding what happened in yesteryear.

In yesteryear there was an Electric Utility Commission consisting of non-elected members appointed by the Redding City Council. Its charter as an advisory body to the City Council expired in early 1994.  The Electric Utility Commission was discontinued because elected Council Members did not appreciate a non-elected advisory body publicly accusing Council Members of not conducting their business in the best interest of the utility or the community.  The Council Members decided enough was enough and disbanded the Electric Utility Commission.

In April of 1994, after the EUC was abolished, I was elected to the Redding City Council and appointed, by then Mayor Bob Anderson, as the council liaison to the Redding Electric Utility.  Two weeks into my new office the City of Redding was served with a stop work notice on the Clear Creek Rd. power plant and sued for $25 million dollars.  As the council liaison to REU it was my job to investigate and report to the council what had gone wrong and to recommend corrective steps to get the job up and running.  The upshot was that the contract disagreement was mediated, the contractor was fired and the city paid a settlement of $2 million dollars.  Attorney Dugan Barr and I were the City representatives to the mediation. New contractors then finished the project.

In the course of the investigation it was learned that the City Manager, Assistant City Manager and City Attorney had all known in the fall of 1993 that there were serious problems with the Clear Creek Road project.  They chose not to tell the council about these problems until after the city was sued.  Subsequently they each had their employment terminated by the council.

These things all happened when there was an Electric Utility Commission who supposedly were the inside watchdogs charged with advising the Council.  Unfortunately they were absent from any knowledge of what was really going on at Clear Creek Road.  This happened even though there were REU employees who did know we were in trouble and were reporting to upper management at City Hall.  So what good was a non-elected Electric Utility Commission?  What did they save us?  What did they prevent?

It appears the current Council will elect to study the possibility of resurrecting the Electric Utility Commission.  My suggestion is that staff resources should also be directed to the possibility of converting the City owned utility into a Public Utility District with an independent elected Board of Directors.  This would be similar to the Sacramento Public Utility District (SMUD) which is one of the largest municipal electric agencies in the state.  The advantages of separating REU from the City of Redding are several.  The largest advantage being that a Public Utility District with its own elected Board would be responsible for only one thing – providing service to its customers.

I don’t particularly agree with those who claim the City of Redding is treating the REU as a cash cow.  Separating the City and REU would end such claims and electing an independent board whose only concern is providing good service at low rates would go a long way toward restoring trust in the utility.

What I am suggesting can in fact be done.  It will be most interested to see if the City Council is willing to give such a proposal serious consideration.  If they do, the citizens of our community will be the winners.

Ken Murray lives in Redding and works at Redding Realty where he has been an agent for 37 years. He served two terms on the Redding City Council, 1994 to 1998, and 2004 to 2008. He has been active in many other service projects in Redding and was a talk radio host for more than 10 years focusing on local issues.

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