Would eliminate City Council oversight Electric board to pursue autonomy

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

By DONNA FARLEY

Staff Writer

An autonomous city electric board would look similar to the independent board which runs Poplar Bluff's parks department, according utilities Director Bill Bach.

The board would be able to make decisions without city council oversight, but its members would continue to be appointed by the city, Bach explained Monday during a Municipal Utilities Advisory Board meeting.

City manager Heath Kaplan and board members agreed in December to begin looking at ways to create a self-governing board for the city's electric company, all of which is contingent on city council approval.

Original discussions included creating an elected board.

An attorney has advised the board would continue to be appointed under Missouri statutes for a city the size of Poplar Bluff, Bach said. The city would still own the electric department assets, he said.

"He (the attorney) thought it would be easy to change whatever needed to be changed," Bach said, adding he will take the matter to the city council if the board approves.

Board members agreed they would like to move forward.

"I do think it would be easier for the council," Bach said during the discussion. "It (the electric department) should be run as a business, and not with political involvement."

The current board has four members and an alternate appointed by the council, as well as a city council representative, Peter Tinsley. The autonomous board would have four appointed members.

Tinsley questioned if the city would still own the utility, although the council would have no control over the electric board's decisions.

Bach confirmed that was true, adding the park board is the same.

The electric department has more assets, though, Tinsley said.

Chairman Tucker Davis asked what would be the downside of proceeding.

"I don't know that there is any," Bach said.

Tinsley expressed concern an autonomous board would raise rates for factories, and cause a loss of businesses for the city.

The council could do that as well, countered board member Charles Moffitt.

"We could go through some decisions at the council level that were probably not good decisions and those decisions were political decisions," Bach said.

The cities of Sikeston and Springfield have similar autonomous boards that could be used as a model for this process, Bach said.

A four-member board would be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council, according to the statute, he said.

The question of an autonomous board was raised after discussions with Kaplan at previous advisory board meetings concerning the city's electric rates and merging electric funds with other city accounts.

Kaplan said in November he believed residential rates need to increase and recommended a new rate study be conducted. The council voted previously to move forward with the study.

The move to merge funds was halted while the board and city discuss creating an autonomous board.

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