Here we go again. Fayetteville, hold on to your wallets. Fayetteville's Public Works Commission, our Hometown Utility that provides water, electricity and sewer services to about one-third of the Cumberland County population, is again the proverbial Holy Grail of efficient revenue-producing utilities.
Our city leadership is intrigued at the thought and prospect of looting and pillaging its coffers with the assistance of Bernhard Capital Partners of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a private equity management company with NO track record in successful utility management.
Yet, they scour North Carolina for municipalities that are incredibly desperate for money or overly staffed with fiscally ignorant and incompetent leadership. This being the case, no wonder Bernhard has planted themselves firmly in Fayetteville with their rapacious sights set on our Hometown Utility.
I'm just an average Fayetteville resident. I don't fully understand the complicated and complex negotiations that go into making up multi-million dollar transactions like this; however, I can recognize the elements of a potential ruse.
The Bernhard Capital group has all the signs that shout out, "DANGER, WILL ROBINSON, DANGER!!!" Let's hope our city officials hear that precautionary warning because selling PWC could have them dancing with the devil and living with a poor and costly decision for the next three decades.
Yes, all the signs are there: Unpublicized meetings with Fayetteville city officials, the restrictive non-disclosure agreements Bernhard makes everyone sign, promises of utility rate reductions and ratepayer rebates, financial contributions to local and state politicians, the hiring of a local law firm and out of town PR firm, appearances on local radio shows expounding on the benefits of such a deal, and the promise of relocating the Bernhard headquarters in Fayetteville with additional pledges of many more Bernhard companies to follow suit. Wow! Those are the kind of enticements a city and economic development office can really get their arms around. Right?
One central question remains, and it's the hardest one to answer and always seems to come back and haunt the negotiations. That is: Why would the city of Fayetteville sell a utility asset organization that leads the state and nation in low equable utility rates, profitability, customer service, community responsiveness, and is an award-winning model of effective and efficient corporate management, proficiency and fiscal responsibility?
Good question, huh? Well, I'm sure many of you can answer that question in one word: Greed. In two words: Immense greed! Unfortunately, the attributes PWC seems to enjoy the city of Fayetteville has found to be elusive to them. Significantly, over the past decade. If you need evidence, look no further than services provided by City Hall.
Look at our elevated crime rate, the filth, and litter that carpets our streets, the hordes of homeless panhandlers menacing our businesses, destroying our property, defecating in our storefronts, and running off our customers. And, when it comes to fiscal responsibility, Fayetteville taxpayers need only to look across the street from City Hall at our new parking deck we paid PCH $18 million to build. Of course, it came in years past due and millions of dollars over budget. Recently, our Mayor and City Council then paid PCH another $500K of taxpayer money for a practically useless concrete corner in the same building. Incredible.
Again, I'm a taxpaying citizen, not a rocket scientist, but is this the responsible leadership you would entrust to negotiate the sale of one of our most valuable assets? I think not. With Bernhard's track record of having No Track Record in utility management, placing hundreds of millions of dollars in their hands would be the height of irresponsibility and recklessness.
I hope that the Fayetteville community speaks up loud and clear on this issue before we get stuck with another PCH parking deck fiasco. Only this costly mistake is guaranteed to be around, haunting us for thirty years. Everyone must demand answers from Mitch Colvin and their ONE Fayetteville City Council member.
Ask why they would consider selling such a valuable asset like PWC when it is recognized as one of the most well-managed, profitable and responsive utilities in the nation. Not to mention having the lowest consumer utility rates in the state.Fayetteville needs to ask that question before it is too late.
Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.