Opinion

Like the old saying says, ‘If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ | GUEST VIEWPOINT

BY BOB FORTNER

Last year’s council “fixed” the water utility problems — high rates were reduced to those proposed by the KPUD, overhead was reduced and a trial period was established. The Utility Advisory Committee would review operational data quarterly and report to Council in June 2013.

Without waiting for or seeking operating data, Council members Steve Bonkowski, David Ward and Sarah Blossom with the support of Mayor Debbi Lester are pursuing early re-engagement with KPUD regarding management or ownership of the city’s water utility.

Using five years of financial reports, Bonkowski alludes to data on the other city utilities compared with water to support his contention that all is not right with utility management and therefore the early re-engagement is justified.

Perhaps in his relative newness here, he fails to factor in that the previous finance director was dismissed in August 2010 after six years of fiscal obfuscation which contributed to our near bankruptcy. Bonkowski may have found what he believes are discrepancies or a “straw man” to justify divestiture.

Basing the reengagement decision on an analysis of those records, without a previous examination of current data, seems inconsistent with his experience in the business world.

Morgan Smith, interim city manager, pointed out that the only variable in the water utility financial picture is the amount of reserves, since the rates and staffing are fixed.

It was the belief of the Utility Advisory Committee minority group, which included Councilman Ward, that the city would not be able to operate without using those reserves, but the current finance director confirms the reserves are untouched for operations.

In things political, sometimes “straw men” are created in order to pursue political goals. With all that is at stake for the entire island with divestiture, one would hope for a more reasoned, fact-based assessment, not the insertion of a straw man to justify a decision with many ramifications beyond the usage charges.

Is pressure from the Ratepayers Alliance (a small group suing the city over utility management that has lost on almost every claim) a factor in the efforts for the transfer?

If so, is this pressure intended to also aid in their recovery of legal costs denied them by Kitsap County Superior Court last year?

Notably the KPUD Water Utility Management Proposal to the UAC last year proposed much higher water rates if they were managers, as opposed to being owners.

Since the RPA was mostly concerned over rates, does this unintended consequence mean the only option that satisfies the alliance is divestiture?

One of the subtexts of these proceedings suggests a concerted effort to discredit the current director of public works. Is this a sub-rosa expectation for having the new manager dismiss him since RCW 35.18.110 specifically prevents council interference in manager duties? In the past few weeks he has been publicly excoriated over road repairs followed with this week’s forwarding of next year’s road budget to Kitsap County for “review” and a Request for Proposal for management of the water utility prepared by these same (and non-expert) members.

According to Mayor Lester this document would be sent to public works and the attorney after council approval.

These efforts send a clear signal to city manager candidates that these council members do not subscribe to the statutory laws or the governance manual pertaining to council/manager form of government since they continue to assume legal, management and technical roles that are under the control of the city manager, not the council.

The problem lies not with city administration and staff, but with these members of council who do not understand the fundamental importance of trust and respect in the workings of community governance. That is what needs fixing!

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