PWC to City: Thanks, But We Will Take Our Chances with

the Legislature

In a time when respect and belief in the ability of our nation’s legislative bodies to operate is at an all-time low, PWC is banking that the legislature will use common sense in sorting out the difficulties between the City of Fayetteville and PWC.

01-21-15-pub-notes.gifOn Oct. 16, 2014, PWC filed a petition asking the courts to “issue a declaratory ruling that clarifies its duties and responsibilities. The goal of the filing is to eliminate any confusion and uncertainty regarding the way PWC currently operates and to provide clear direction about how it should operate in the future.” This request came on the heels of a report filed by the city’s consultant Davenport/Lawrence, which indicated that PWC was operating outside its scope and its accountability to the City of Fayetteville.

PWC officials quickly answered the consultant’s charges, and followed up with the court filing. Neither the city nor PWC wants an extended court battle, which will ultimately impact the citizens of Fayetteville and PWC customers. To that end, in mid-December both agreed to mediation, which has been ongoing. At that time, Mike Lailler, chairman of the city-appointed PWC Commission noted in a statement to the media, “Our goal from the beginning has been to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the PWC commissioners. That can be accomplished through mediation or through legislative action without the need for a lengthy court proceeding.”

Last week, mediation appeared to have come to an impasse when Lailler released a statement that had to make city staff and councilmen a little jumpy. In his statement (below), Lailler and PWC take the nuclear action that the city has been trying to desperately avoid: They gave the problem to the N.C. General Assembly.

From the get go, the city has been averse to involving the legislature in the fight between itself and PWC. When the legislature opens up the PWC Charter for consideration and clarification, it could go bad, very bad for the city — and the city knows this. PWC has been lauded nationwide as a prime example of efficiency and as an example of how a public utility should operate. We can’t say the same of the city.

Cumberland County’s legislative delegation is prepared to take up this problem, and PWC is more than ready to let them do so; the city, not so much. This is what the PWC Commission had to say about moving the dispute into the legislature’s court:

“From the beginning, PWC Commissioners have sought to clarify the roles and responsibilities outlined by the N.C. General Assembly in the original charter. The legislature intentionally created a separate, independent board to manage the utility and that model has worked well for the City of Fayetteville and PWC customers since 1905.

The City Council’s suggested revisions would radically alter PWC’s governance model. They would make PWC just another department of the city under the full control and authority of the City Manager and allow the City Council to remove Commissioners at will. That would limit the role of PWC Commissioners to that of an advisory board. These changes would also allow politics to have greater influence in PWC operations by making Commissioners subject to changing political winds.

Specifically, these changes would likely disrupt the Commissioner’s extended tenure of up to 12 years. PWC oversees $1.1 Billion in assets and spends approximately $1 Million per day to provide electric, water and wastewater treatment to this community. To effectively manage such a valuable and complex organization that regularly makes decisions with consequences far into the future requires an experienced and stable group of Commissioners that think strategically and long-term.

At a time when technology and alternative energy sources are rapidly changing, and when quality and competitive utility services are a core component to our economic environment, such a radical change in the governance of PWC, we feel, would be a mistake. We feel it would be in the city’s best interest to have a stable utility not subject to rapidly changing political environments.

We trust in the wisdom of our legislative delegation and will let them determine whether to reverse 110 years of successful operating practices or maintain the current structure with the clarifications set forth by the commissioners.”

This could get worse before it gets better. Hold onto your hats, it’s going to get dicey.

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