Debbie Hickman
Special to The Gardner News
An ordinance tabled by the Gardner City Council October 21, by a 4-1 vote, would have changed the role of the EUB to an advisory capacity.
Councilman Heath Freeman stated that the ordinance in its current form needed review and more work sessions. He believed that the process to revise this ordinance was moving too quickly.
The EUB, which has operated since 2009, has built a 3 million dollar capital replacement reserve fund and a 3 million dollar operating reserve fund.  Almost since its inception, questions have swirled regarding whether the EUB operates as a free-standing board subject to its own governance and budget or as an appendage of the city, subject to the will of the council.
The original ordinance establishing the EUB, successful in its intent to have the electricity utility operate in an efficient, business-like manner, lent itself to vagueness concerning the board’s governance and whether it operated within the boundaries of Kansas statute.  Since the beginning, there have been struggles between the EUB and the council involving franchise fees, employee salaries and budgets.
From Council, page 1
The most recent discussion involved what city staff deemed a rate “overcharge” that they required the EUB pay back.  The EUB board, which had already set and approved its budget, had little notice of the change and objected.
The new ordinance would have established an advisory board of five volunteer members, all appointed by the mayor, with vacancies approved by the mayor and would have had “no actual or apparent authority or powers to take any legal action or create any binding legal obligations on behalf of the city”.
The board would have been subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act and would have been held in a location that could be videotaped and put on the city’s website.  Personnel policies and pay scales would have been set by the city council.
When asked, Ryan Denk, city attorney, mentioned several options the council could consider:  a commission could be formed, similar to how it is operating now but with limited authority; a BPU would be possible but a challenging way to go; or pursue home rule powers and authorize by charter ordinance or bring the utility back to city hall as a department of the city.
Council members have asked for a joint work session with the EUB Board be scheduled as soon as possible.