EPB Board Nominations
Council ousts Lee
By Sam Terry
Jobe Publishing, Inc.
By a majority of 8-4, the Glasgow City Council rejected Mayor Dick Doty’s nomination to reappoint Jim Lee to the Glasgow Electric Plant Board’s board of directors. It is Doty’s responsibility to nominate members to city boards and commissions which are then voted upon by the full council. Doty nominated Lee for reappointment at the December 12th council meeting but the nomination was tabled until January.
Lee has served on the EPB board since February 11, 2013 and his term expires January 31. As a board member, Lee and his fellow board members have been scrutinized for much of the last year after the EPB’s Infotricity rate structure was called into question by numerous EPB customers and city leaders.
During the meeting Monday night, Council member Jake Dickinson moved to take two nominations to the EPB board off the table. During discussion Council member Brad Groce asked how council members could make an informed decision if they had not spoken with Lee about his service on the board or attended an EPB board meeting. That question got numerous and varied responses.
Dickinson stated that he had called Lee to discuss his concerns about the EPB and that Lee refused to return his call. Council member Wendell Honeycutt said Lee was a fine person and one of his neighbors but Lee “has lost the faith of what I would consider a significant portion of the population of Glasgow – significant enough that it matters and I will be voting no.”
Council member Patrick Gaunce asked, “What would be specific that he’s done that would warrant taking him off?” Dickinson responded that the EPB’s mission statement called for the agency to improve the quality of living in Glasgow. “I think he’s failed to do that. I think he’s been negligent in his duties and I think the others have failed as well.”
Gaunce pressed for specifics examples to which Dickinson responded, “I don’t think the quality of living has been improved for all the people in Glasgow and many are suffering because of this rate, based on the people that have called me.” Dickinson said he estimated 60-percent of Glasgow residents had been negatively affected by the Infotricity rate. That point brought numerous comments about how that number was determined and if EPB could provide exact numbers of customers whose bills had increased under the new rate.
Council member Gary Oliver asked if Groce and Gaunce were customers of EPB. In both cases they replied that their home was serviced by Farmers RECC while their businesses were serviced by Glasgow EPB. Oliver added that Lee was expected to build a home located in FRECC service area. “You all aren’t even in the game as far as your residential bill is concerned.”
Council member Chasity Lowery took issue with the Oliver’s statement, stating that she believed council members were to serve small businesses in Glasgow as well as the citizens. Lowery questioned the claim that Lee and other board members had been negligent. Specifically, she said the board had responded to the community’s concerns and offered an alternate rate design to Infotricity, which Lee had voted for.
Prompted by a question from Dickinson, Lowery said she had requested a sampling of bills from the EPB, with the customer’s permission, and had studied those bills. “I would say that 60 percent – 6 of the 10 bills I reviewed – were less. Those that were higher, the highest increase was $8.” Dickinson said he had reviewed around 6 bills and they were all higher.
In response to a question comparing FRECC and Glasgow EPB, Oliver responded that FRECC has the same ability to gather information as EPB but did not utilize it for billing purposes. He added that FRECC offers its customers the option of being billed for their exact usage but no one had signed up for it.
Gaunce questioned if EPB customers with higher bills under Infotricity or the alternate rate were paying for more than the kilowatt hours they used. Doty explained that with the EPB Infotricity rate, customers are accurately charged for the electricity they use. “Each and every consumer is paying for exactly what they are using,” Doty said.
Council member Marna Kirkpatrick stated that in her meetings with EPB and FRECC, she had come to believe there was no way for the average citizen to understand when they could use appliances without increasing their utility bill. She added that there are employees of both organizations who don’t understand the workings of rate design. The difference between the two utility companies, according to Kirkpatrick, is “Billy Ray has made this mandatory. It was not an option.”
Dickinson interjected that regardless of the discussion, there were EPB customers who are suffering because of Infotricity. Gaunce countered that he believed it was the responsibility of community leaders to help those in need, not the Glasgow EPB.
Gaunce said once again he was trying to understand “what Jim Lee had to do to get kicked off the board.” Honeycutt responded, “Their failure to act is a big problem for me. We had seven months of people saying ‘help me’ and nothing happened. What we got was ‘these rates are mathematically correct, you just don’t understand.’ That’s what we got from the EPB board. The night that we were going to take a vote to replace the whole EPB board – the afternoon of that night – is when they voted to come up with an alternate rate. They did not have one at that time, they just voted to develop one. To me, their failure to act is what made him [Lee] and the whole board lose the confidence of the citizens.”
Gaunce asked, regarding future reappointments to the board, if they were going to be replaced as punishment for the 7 months of waiting to create an alternate rate. Honeycutt said he didn’t consider it a punishment but the board had lost the confidence of the community over their failure to respond to their concerns.
Council member Freddie Norris added that the plea for change was from the people and the council should listen to the constituents.
Further dissention erupted when the roll call vote began and Honeycutt stopping the voting to ask if it was ethical for Council member James “Happy” Neal to vote on Lee’s reappointment since he was an employee of T.J. Samson Community where Lee is an administrator for planning and development. Neal maintained that he is a long-term employee of the hospital and Lee has only been employed there a few months and there was no conflict of interest.
The final vote tally was 8 against and 4 in favor of the mayor’s nomination. Those voting against Lee were Council members Dickinson, Hammer, Harris, Honeycutt, Kirkpatrick, Norris, Oliver, and Witcher. Those voting in favor of the reappointment were Council members Gaunce, Groce, Lowery, and Neal.
A second nomination, also to the Glasgow EPB board of directors, was taken off the table. Doty had nominated Council member Freddie Norris to be the council’s representative on the EPB board. With virtually no discussion, the council voted 11-1 in favor of the appointment with Norris casting the lone dissenting vote.
Dickinson requested City Attorney Rich Alexander prepare three municipal orders removing the remaining Glasgow EPB board members – Cheryl Berry Ambach, Jeff Harned, and Norma Redford – for the January 24 meeting. He asked Mayor Doty to inform the individuals of the orders and invite them to the council meeting to defend themselves.
Lowery commented on Dickinson’s directive that she believed it was wrong to vote individuals out of the positions without hearing both sides of the story. She put all of the council on the spot by asking for a show of hands regarding how many had attended an EPB meeting to see first-hand the other side of the issue. Only a few revealed they had attended an EPB board meeting.
Gaunce asked what Dickinson expected or wanted to happen with the EPB. Dickinson responded, “Get rid of the Infotricity rate and possibly make some personnel changes.”
The Glasgow City Council will meet on Monday, January 23 at 7 p.m.