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Posts Tagged ‘Utility Advisory Committee’

By Daniel Mallove, Robert Bosserman and Randal Samstag

We are former members of the City’s Utility Advisory Committee (UAC). Dan was an original UAC appointee and served with Arlene Buetow for approximately 3 years, the last 6 months of which he was the UAC Chair. Randall served on the UAC with Arlene for almost 2 years and Bob for 1 year.

The UAC’s mission, as provided by city ordinance, is to advise the Council on utility matters. Despite its non-partisan and advisory status, Arlene came to the UAC with a single agenda – divestiture of the City’s Water Utility. She was outspoken in pursuing this agenda.

During Arlene’s time on the UAC, she was consistently divisive and non-collaborative. She worked behind the scenes to undermine committee members with whom she disagreed and, when her position was in the minority, she refused to accept the decision of the majority (all non-partisan professionals with engineering, financial, legal, or management utility experience). (more…)

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mad-men-elisabeth-moss-3_610The dustup over the keeping of minutes by city committees continues. On July 30, City Manager Doug Schulze sent an email to all city committees and commissions, passing on the advice from the city attorney that they are to conduct themselves as if the state Open Public Meetings Act applies to them. Staff will continue to provide the mandated public notice via the city’s website and distribution lists after receipt of an agenda from the committee chairs. Schulze reiterated current city policy on the taking of minutes, asking committee members take the minutes and provide a copy to the city staff for posting on the city website.

At the end of 2010, citizen committees and commissions were advised that, due to budget constraints, the city could not longer provide staff support for the taking of minutes.

Utility Advisory Committee (UAC) Chair Arlene Buetow responded to Schulze in two emails. The first email expressed disappointment that he had not said in his correspondence that this was a new interpretation of state law.

The second contained an ultimatum: either provide staff support for UAC minute-taking or she will cancel the upcoming UAC meeting.

Arlene Buetow’s emailing habits have already been covered here. But on the subject of minutes, there’s something to be said in her defense.

Women know how often eyes turn to them whenever minute-taking comes up at meetings. Men who might be enlightened and wonderful in other parts of their lives, suddenly come down with a Mad Men style sexism when there are secretarial duties at hand.

The UAC has five members: four men and Arlene Buetow. Come on men. Get off your hands and help her out. Here’s a helpful tip from a couple of male former UAC members who did manage to prepare minutes, while fully participating in meetings: (more…)

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Inflammatory emails released by the city pursuant to a Public Records Act request reveal behind-the-scenes strategizing and advocacy among some Utility Advisory Committee (UAC) members, frequent emails about city business from UAC Chair Arlene Buetow to certain council members’ personal email addresses, testy exchanges between Buetow and City Manager Doug Schulze, and scorching criticisms by Buetow of city staff, UAC colleagues and citizens with whom she did not agree.

Buetow assumed the chairmanship of the UAC in March of 2012 and is now running for Bainbridge city council.

Under her leadership, the UAC’s mission has expanded well beyond the scope of the city’s UAC ordinance. She regularly emailed council persons Sarah Blossom, Steven Bonkowski, David Ward and/or Debbi Lester at their personal email addresses, with extensive comments on utility issues. Those four council persons often vote as a bloc on a variety of contested issues. When they were running for council, Ward, Blossom and Bonkowski were critical of the city’s management of utilities. Their candidacies were supported by the Ratepayers Alliance, a group that sued the city in 2009 over utility issues. Sally Adams, secretary of the Ratepayers Alliance, was occasionally included as a recipient of Buetow emails.

Except for routine matters like scheduling and a thank-you note to Anne Blair, Ms. Buetow did not include council persons Bob Scales, Kirsten Hytopoulos or Anne Blair in the emails produced to me.  (more…)

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On June 5, after an extended break from blogging, I attended a city council meeting to hear discussion about a proposed agreement with Kitsap Public Utility District to manage the city’s water utility. Along with others in council chambers, I watched in disbelief as council member Steven Bonkowski jettisoned the agenda item we’d come to hear and instead made his own presentation about the utility. Although City Manager Doug Schulze was scheduled to discuss the contract, Bonkowski would not allow him to speak to the issues or defend himself from critical remarks Bonkowski made about his work.

Because the unorthodox maneuvering seemed orchestrated with several council colleagues ahead of time, I was curious about the preparation that had gone into Mr. Bonkowski’s presentation. I was particularly interested in the input he had received from the city’s Utility Advisory Committee (UAC). I went to the city’s website to look at UAC minutes, and learned that none had been submitted since October of 2012. As a result, I made requests under the state’s Public Records Act for documents relating to the city’s utilities and the UAC. As the city began producing installments of responsive records, I realized some council persons were receiving a lot (so far, over a hundred) of emails about city business at their private email addresses. I also saw that UAC Chair Arlene Buetow was the author of many of those off-the-grid emails.

I wrote in a previous post about the records I’d received to that point. I’ve also written a piece for Inside Bainbridge, which I’ve posted on Bainbridge Notebook as well. Last week, I posted an article about advice concerning the state Open Public Meetings Act, given at the July 24 council meeting by Interim city attorney Jim Haney.

Contrary to accusations by Buetow supporters, I did not make these records requests to dig up unflattering information on Arlene Buetow, who is currently a Central Ward candidate for city council.

Unfortunately, that is what I found.

Reading these emails has made me heart sick. They reflect a persistent disrespect and hostility toward city staff, citizen volunteers, council persons, the city, the democratic process and even, horrifyingly, the recently deceased.

Some emails reveal violations of city policy and ordinances, if not state law. Others indicate a practice by some of our leaders of communicating privately on important city issues, cutting out the public, and council persons or committee members with whom they do not agree. Most land in a gray area—offensive but not necessarily unethical or illegal. (more…)

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Responding to recent council attention on whether the state’s open government laws apply to private email activity by council as well as to the actions of members of city committees and commissions, Interim city attorney Jim Haney made a presentation last night to the full council on the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).

Haney has said he will talk about the Public Records Act (PRA) at a meeting at the end of August. The OPMA and the PRA are separate, but related, state statutes. The OPMA requires that government business be conducted in public, and sets forth standards and requirements for public meetings, as well as fines for officials who do not comply.

The PRA provides that most records created or used in the conduct of government are public records and must be produced to any member of the public who asks.

In recent weeks, several members of the public–including me–have made requests under the PRA for public documents, which perhaps has drawn attention to some questionable open government practices by city officials and committee members.

Utility Advisory Committee chair Arlene Buetow, for example, has taken the position the the UAC is not subject to the OPMA. In an email to council member Sarah Blossom dated May 22, 2013, Buetow wrote, “The UAC was previously told we were not subject to the open public meeting act based on the following logic”, and attached a 1991 opinion from the Washington Attorney General’s office. According to Attorney General Open Government Ombudsman Tim Ford, the courts have expanded the reach of the OPMA in the twenty years since that opinion was issued. (more…)

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The following article of mine was published by Inside Bainbridge on July 18, 2013. I am re-publishing it here to have it archived on my blog.

Documents released by the city pursuant to a public records request reveal that Arlene Buetow, Central Ward City Council candidate, lobbied four members of the Council at their private e-mail addresses on behalf of her homeowners’ association. Shortly after she sent three e-mails to the four requesting an exemption from the city’s business licensing requirements, Councilmember Dave Ward made a motion to do just that at a regularly scheduled council meeting.

On April 14, Buetow sent an e-mail to the personal e-mail addresses of Councilmembers Steven Bonkowski, Sarah Blossom, Debbi Lester, and Ward—who constitute a quorum of the Council—attaching a memo explaining her objections to a recently adopted ordinance that included homeowners’ associations among those entities that must obtain a business license. Buetow, who identified herself as president of the Tiffany Meadows Homeowners’ Association, said the license requirement subjected homeowners’ associations (HOAs) to “superfluous and unnecessary staff review.” She argued that the Council never meant to include HOAs in its ordinance.

On April 15, she sent another message to the four Councilmembers at their personal e-mails, writing, “Dave Ward asked me to provide details on the timing of this Ordinance through Council and how that relates to the Notice being sent out to the ‘affected parties.’” She attached portions of previous Council minutes at which the licensing provisions were considered and adopted.

Although I submitted a Public Records Act request for Councilmembers’ e-mail records, as of July 17 I had received no records showing how Ward communicated his request to Buetow. In fact, I have not received any e-mails from Bonkowski, Lester, or Ward on the topic of the HOA business licensing provision. (more…)

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By Bob Fortner

Last year’s Council “fixed” the water utility problems…high rates were reduced to those proposed by the KPUD, overhead was reduced and a trial period was established. The Utility Advisory Committee would review operational data quarterly and report to Council in June 2013.

Without waiting for or seeking operating data, Council members Bonkowski, Ward and Blossom with the support of Mayor Lester are pursuing early re-engagement with KPUD regarding management or ownership of the City’s Water Utility. Using 5 years of financial reports, Bonkowski alludes to data on the other city utilities compared with water to support his contention that all is not right with utility management and therefore the early re-engagement is justified.

Perhaps in his relative newness here, he fails to factor in that the previous Finance Director was dismissed in August of 2010 after 6 years of fiscal obfuscation which contributed to our near bankruptcy. Bonkowski may have found what he believes are discrepancies or a “straw man” to justify divestiture. Basing the reengagement decision on an analysis of those records, without a previous examination of current data, seems inconsistent with his experience in the business world. (more…)

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