Truman PUC to be put up for vote

TRUMAN — Whether or not Truman’s public utilities commission should be abolished will be put to a public vote during a special election on August 13. The decision to hold an election comes from the city council who has talked at length about the decision and set the date of the election at a special meeting Wednesday night.

Members of the PUC are responsible for planning, organizing and managing all activities and operations of the Truman Public Utilities. The commissioner role is a voting, paid position with compensation set at $50.00 per meeting.

Three voting members make up the PUC: Kathy Hendrickson, Ron Kelley and Darla Wiederhoeft. The latter two joined just this year.

Until recently, there was no job description for members on the PUC.

“It’s my understanding that for years, there was an unwritten expectation as to what was expected of the commissioners. Ron Kelley ( a commissioner) had asked for a written job description,” said city administrator, Bethanie Ekstrom. The request led her to create the following description:

Some key responsibilities of the commissioners include: responsible for regulating the rates and services for the TPU, oversees and coordinates the operation of all departments, oversees preparation of the annual budget and responds to the concerns, issues, complaints and questions from the public and employees. Commissioners should also be competent and knowledgeable in one or more fields including energy, engineering, finance, management or any other field substantially related to the regulation of electric, water and wastewater utilities.

“A lot of people think that abolishing the PUC is getting rid of public utilities. I want to make it clear that it’s only abolishing the public utilities commission, Truman Public Utilities would still exist under the direction of the city council,” explained Ekstrom.

As Ekstrom has only been with the city for a year, she said it’s her understanding that problems came to the surface after a consultant for Truman Public Utilities made a presentation on repairs that were needed before the city council in 2016.

“The rates were increased at that time and the citizens were told that with the rate increases, the money would be used for repairs. However, repairs still haven’t been done and there’s really no money to do it,” Ekstrom said.

The PUC can’t go out and look for grants because of their bond rating so the city council is responsible for coming up with the money needed for repairs.

The council first discussed holding a special city election during the May 20 city council meeting.

“No matter what happens, it needs to be up to the pubic. We all work for the public… I don’t want it to be our decision and I don’t want it to be their decision, solely. But something needs to happen,” said council member Jake Ebert.

“I think it’s been troubling and disturbing, the things that have happened. Some of it is human error, some of it’s miscommunication and some of it’s been going on for a long time. I think if we consider absolving the PUC, it would be up to a city wide election,” said Mayor Lynn Brownlee.

“It’s no disrespect to anybody. It just seems we have a lot of difficult things going on,” Ebert added, going on to explain that there has been miscommunication and story changes.

Brownlee said that the city has been trying to be more involved with the PUC. This year, Ekstrom was appointed as the PUC liaison so she’s been attending the PUC meetings and bringing information back to the city council.

Hendrickson, both a city council member and member of the PUC, said, “I think some of it is there’s no respect for chain of command. Everybody who’s on it goes out and does their own thing in investigating issues, and that’s where so much confusion comes in.”

“It’s been over a year now since we started this whole process and it seems like we’re getting no where. We have meeting after meeting… it’s been frustrating. I know it’s not an easy job for those guys down there and I don’t look forward to taking on something like that but I think it is something we all need to have our hands in more,” council member Brandon Mosloski said.

Council member Brian Nickerson expressed concern that if the city council members are to take over control of the public utilities, it would require more of a time commitment from them and Nickerson said he’s not interested in putting in more time.

Brownlee pointed out that city council members are currently attending two meetings, their own as well as the PUC’s. However, if the city were to take leadership of TPU, they could just attend one meeting by merging agendas.

If the PUC is abolished, it’s the hope of the city council to have former PUC members advise them.

“We’re all in this. We need as much help as we can get to get through this,” said Mosloski.

During Wednesday’s special meeting, council members Ebert and Mosloski voted yes to the special election, along with Brownlee. Hendrickson abstained due to a conflict of interest and Nickerson voted no.

The vote will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 13 with one question on the ballot: “Shall the public utilities commission be abolished?” If the vote passes, the PUC would no longer be in existence and the five voting city council members will make decisions on behalf of the Truman Public Utilities. If it is not abolished, Truman Public Utilities will continue to operate under the direction of the three PUC members.

Brownlee said the plan is to have a town hall meeting prior to the election.

“Hopefully people will get educated and then vote accordingly,” Brownlee said.