Mayor Val Tollefson is frustrated.
He said as much at this week’s council meeting, as the council was on the verge of voting to suspend consideration of a proposal to create a municipal power company by a takeover of Puget Sound Energy’s infrastructure on the island.
Tollefson offered this scolding, aimed at “people that are against this because of the dishonesty of government and the inability of the people that are elected by you or that are coming to work here every day, working hard to do a job for you. To claim that they are a bunch of crooks and not working in your best interests, is a very disheartening thing for somebody who offers himself to public service. And it should be disheartening to those of you that are out there that know better.”
We need to call a time-out here.
Yes, there are some people on Bainbridge who — time and again — level baseless accusations of what they see as misdeeds springing from city hall. But let’s be clear here: The failure of islanders to rally around the idea of a city-run power company cannot be blamed on the few scattered insults that flew over the past two years.
Many islanders, and we put ourselves in this camp, raised valid concerns about the city’s ability to run an electric power company.
That’s not a personal insult, that’s fair criticism. And it’s based largely on the city’s not-so-recent past history of the management of its existing utilities, with a history of sky-high rates, inadequate oversight and broken sewer pipes polluting Eagle Harbor. (How ironic it’s been, in recent weeks, for some supporters of an island power utility to claim the city’s utility management problems are ancient history from years past, while simultaneously ripping PSE’s own performance during the same time frame.) Adding to the concern: the city’s lack of experience in running an electric utility and a future that would surely be reliant on high-priced, off-island consultants to keep the lights on.
We also need to remind the mayor that people who spoke out against a city power utility were repeatedly subject to personal attacks from supporters of an island power company.
Anyone who raised a concern or opposing view was publicly painted as a PSE shill or lackey, and accused of being on the power company’s payroll. Or misinformed or uneducated about the PSE takeover and what it could mean for Bainbridge.
Sadly, those type of attacks continued at this week’s council meeting.
The city power company idea did not fail because a majority of islanders think city hall is filled with “crooks,” or because we’re all too stupid to realize what a great thing a city power utility would be.
It failed on its own merits; its risks, versus its rewards. And that was enough.