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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12 Responses

  1. James Montgomery James Montgomery says:

    Thank you for your perspective, Ken. Your well-informed insights should be considered by the Council before it makes it's decision. Hope they are listening, whether they like your perspective or not.

  2. Avatar Don Demsher says:

    Ken makes some excellent points that should be considered. REU has served the city well for over a half century and can continue to do so with good management . However a different governance structure might provide the central focus that would eliminate at least some of the conflicts and accuasations of REU revenue being used to support non REU activities. As a former Councilman for the City of Redding I am very much aware of the great contributuon that public power has made to the Redding citizens through low rates and reliable service .

  3. Avatar Doug Bennett says:

    Ken Murray was instrumental in setting up the current system, I believe. I didn't know the entire history (and probably still don't), but just looking at the structure of our city government and knowing the pro-corporate/privatization model the council and staff serves; I doubt making the REU any more separate/privatized will help ratepayers or citizens of Redding. Both the staff and the corporations they serve: Big League Dreams, Turtle Bay, the Redding Library, etc. have no interest in serving the people of Redding. That is the problem, regardless of what form REU takes or what advisory council they create. Our city government is corrupt and serves the pro-business Reaganesque philosophy that believes in transferring wealth to corporate and wealthy elites. We need to fire half of the staff and gets some politicians in office that can get out of that neoliberal/neoconservative box they are in when making decisions that effect the citizens and our local economy. The rest of this is re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

  4. Avatar david kerr says:

    The newspaper's comments are more of a liability than an asset to the paper and the community. It is not surprising that Mr. Murray did not submit this as an op ed in the paper. Why subject yourself to those nasty comments? Fortunately, a more civil discussion is possible at Anewscafe.com.

  5. Avatar John Dixon says:

    The City of Redding will never allow REU to operate independently. Losing the opportunity to avail themselves of funding options does not sit well with the Council nor City Staff.

    Ken is a slightly biased reporter of history having participated in creating the paradigm that so poorly serves us at the present.

    Generally speaking independent oversight committees either appointed or elected give Council an opportunity to avoid making the decisions they were elected to make. The citizens of Redding need to become better informed and selective of the characters they elect to endorse City Staff wants and claims of need.

  6. Avatar Ken Murray says:

    Oops! The Electric Utility Commission was disbanded four months after I took office because it cost $66,000 per year to operate. Sorry for the misstatement.

  7. Avatar pmarshall says:

    Yes, I love it! I thik Ken has some good ideas, and are worthy of trial. I don't think all politicians are "crooks", althought, at times, I wonder. Give and take is important.

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