Danedri Thompson
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Gardner’s Electric Utility Board (EUB) may continue to operate as it has in the past, despite concerns about the legality of its current structure.
City staff and the city attorney drafted an ordinance that would make the EUB more of an advisory board than an autonomous one, but city council members rejected the ordinance 3-2.
EUB members, including a member appointed by council during the same meeting, raised concerns about how the EUB’s massive reserve funds would be used by the city council, if the board were to become an advisory board.
“You are proclaiming for every voter, every ratepayer that it is your intention to co-mingle the funds raised through utility rates,” board president Eric Schultz told council members during public comment.
Council members debated several possible solutions to address concerns with the board’s structure during a Nov. 4 work session. Council members debated the merits of keeping things as they are; modifying the EUB ordinance so the board would operate as an independent board; modifying the EUB ordinance so the board would operate as an advisory board; dissolving the EUB and bringing the utility back under the city as a separate department similar to water and wastewater; establishing an elected board of public utilities (BPU) that would oversee all Gardner utilites; establishing a BPU that would be run as an independent, appointed board; or establishing a BPU that would operate as an advisory board.
During that meeting, council members appeared to reach a consensus in which the current board would serve in a more advisory function. However, council members rejected a proposed ordinance to do just that during the Nov. 18 council meeting.
Ryan Denk, city attorney, said there are several variances in the current ordinance that are at variance with state statute. For example, he explained per state law, the EUB should not have the authority to issue bonds.
“I dispute (Denk), because the board makes written request to the city council for issuance of bonds,” Shute said. “That’s not a variance. These are minor modifications that can be done under the auspice of the existing ordinance.”
Members Tory Roberts, Heath Freeman and Shute voted against adopting proposed changes to the EUB ordinance. Members Larry Fotovich and Kristina Harrison voted to approve changes.