Danedri Thompson
An abrupt vote and adjournment of the city council meeting had council member Chris Morrow frustrated.
“So this is what you call transparency?” Morrow asked in the closing minutes of the Aug. 1 meeting.
Council members Larry Fotovich and Morrow voted against soliciting requests for proposals that would create public-private partnerships to manage the city’s water, wastewater and electric utilities.
Council members discussed the idea in May, but decided to wait to consider the 2012 budget was complete.
“The use of public-private partnerships is growing,” Mayor Dave Drovetta told the council. “Agreements span the spectrum of management to full privatization.”
The primary driver for most municipalities that enter such agreements is for their fiscal health, Drovetta explained.
“We’re not being forced into it,” Drovetta said.
But, much of the city’s maintenance needs for utility infrastructure has been deferred for several years.
“This type of agreement could alleviate this type of situation by providing funding,” he said.
Fotovich wondered where the idea initiated.
“The discussion occurred at the staff level, and I was involved,” Drovetta said.
Morrow also wanted to know why the idea was being brought to council now.
“The idea came up on the agenda, and it sounds like we just grabbed it out of thin air,” Morrow said.
He said partially privatizing the utilities is a big thing to do while the city is on the verge of hiring a new city administrator.
“I don’t understand what the big hurry was last spring, and I don’t understand what the big hurry is tonight,” Morrow said.
Drovetta said the question staff was attempting to answer with a possible public-private partnership was how to help the city’s budget.
Council member Kristina Harrison said where the idea came from isn’t important.
“If someone wants to bring forward an idea, we can all decipher for ourselves what’s B.S. and what isn’t,” she said.
She also advocated for considering a board of public utilities.
Fotovich said the premise behind a potential partnership is for the city to garner up-front capital.
“The asset would stay with the city,” Drovetta said. “The assumption is the collateralization of future revenue is what would be in the future $1, (a company) would give us 90 cents today.”
“So far, you haven’t sold me on why we’re even considering this,” Fotovich said. “I see no reason to invest time in this because there’s no way a third party can come in and add a layer of management and do it cheaper.”
Drovetta said, “so you’re a no,” and requested a motion on to seek proposals for a possible public-private partnership.
Council member Dennis Pugh made the motion and Harrison seconded. It carried with Fotovich and Morrow voting against it. Both expressed the desire to continue the discussion.
Immediately following the vote, Pugh moved to adjourn the meeting.
“Where’s the transparency here? That’s what I’d like to know,” Morrow said as members gathered their belongings.
In other business, council members:
• hosted a public hearing on the 2012 budget. No one addressed the council on the topic. Council is set to approve the 2012 budget at its next meeting on Aug. 14.
• authorized a $562,203 agreement with O’Donnell & Sons for upgrades to 183rd Street between Moonlight Road and Center Street.
• approved an agreement between the city of Gardner and Johnson County for improvements to 159th Street between west Celebration Park entrance and Gardner Road. Under the agreement, the city will pay approximately $50,000 for overlays to the road. The county will pay $300,000 on the project. Once it’s completed, the city will be responsible for future maintenance on the road.