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Meanderings by Ann: Transparency?

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jeddle View Drop Down
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Joined: Sep 08 2014
Location: Coleman, TX
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    Posted: May 08 2015 at 10:13am
I am posting the email I sent to Mr. Catoe with copies to council and the new webmaster/Municipal Judge, FYI.

Congrats on preparation of a new web site. I assume it is still under construction as much of the information available on other city web sites and on our old web site is not yet available on this new site. In particular, I was very disappointed to see that the Minutes have been removed. I feel that posted Minutes are critical to providing readily accessible information to citizens, and it is definitely an easy step toward the city showing a willingness to provide transparency in government.

As everyone knows, transparency in government is an issue around here as it should be, and a web site with as much public information as possible is a great tool for providing transparency. In addition to Minutes, many cities post check registers, monthly cash reports, audits, etc. Coleman seems to bend over backward to keep as much information as possible difficult to access. (Please see for what other cities see fit to share online. I could list many city web sites as well.)

I wanted to access the city's web site for the record in Minutes I mentioned at last night's city council meeting and found that I would have to go to the City Secretary's office. That visit would require that I search through the Minutes by hand not knowing for sure what date I would be looking for, as opposed to doing an online search for the topic. Perhaps the web site is still under construction, but I saw no mention of "coming soon." 

The Minutes I am looking for contain my request that the city ask for an independent consultant's analysis of what the financial possibilities would be to fund city services if the city elected to sell the MOU, or even offer Choice which it could vote to do under state law while keeping the AEPEP contract in place. 

As one citizen said last night, other towns manage to provide city services without what amounts to padding our kWh electric rate to generate a source of revenue to fund city services: police, fire, streets, parks, etc. So where are the studies and/or inquiries that have been made that would give our council some ideas on what could be workable in Coleman since they obviously work in other small towns? Do we have to reinvent the wheel?

As opposed to your statement that council did not approve my request, it is my recollection that council did approve my request for a consultant study to assess how a town can function without a Municipally Owned Utility. However, when you asked for a bid on this study, Geoffrey Gay was the only "bid" received. Mr. Gay showed up to make his speech at the library where he proceeded to reiterate the city's position that the city has no viable choice except to ride out the AEPEP contract. #1 Mr. Gay is hardly an "independent" consultant since he has been involved in this same electricity issue for years.  #2 The RFP language was not responsive to the request I had made to council for an independent consultant's analysis to provide the city with options on how they could fund non-revenue producing services without relying on an inflated electric rate. 

I do not accept that riding out this contract is our only option. However, since it appears council is not going to make the effort to find out what alternatives are available, I can only assume the cycle will continue and the upcoming budget that you, as city manager, are obligated to prepare, will again have to rely on inflated electricity rates to generate the revenue necessary to fund city services. And council will then be able to continue to argue the only argument it ever has: "Where will we get the money to provide city services if we don't pad the electric rate to get that revenue?" Council, of course, doesn't use the word "pad," but that it is what it amounts to. Some reliance on utility income is typical and acceptable, but not enough padding to run the city. That is not acceptable, and, surely, there can be no doubt that is what the citizens of this town are saying. 

Aside from my question on the elimination of Minutes from this new web site, what are you, as city manager, and what are you, council, as elected representatives of this community, doing to eliminate this ongoing reliance on electricity revenue to fund city services? When will padding our electric rate end as long as we have a Municipally Owned Utility (MOU) and you have the easy opportunity to add whatever you need to the electric rate regardless of who the wholesale provider is and regardless of how much it costs you to purchase this electricity? 

It is my opinion that the AEPEP contract is not the culprit here. I am, frankly, not all that concerned with the confidentiality clauses in the AEPEP contract that seem to be the big issue with some. I would expect that other electricity wholesalers have the same confidentiality clauses. It's legal and there's nothing we can do about it, especially when an unappointed group of 8 go to Austin to denounce the effort made by our State representative to "do something about it." 

What I am concerned with is the seeming total lack of action by you, as city manager, to come up with alternatives to electric rate padding to fund city services. I am just as concerned, if not more so, that our elected representatives, knowing this is a major drawback to living and doing business in Coleman and a major concern of the citizens of Coleman, seem so clueless and unwilling to insist that you take action to get us out of this unhealthy cycle of budget reliance on electricity revenue. That reliance is only possible as long as you continue to choose to operate a MOU. It's quite obvious that the main reason, if not the only reason, you and council object to divesting the city of this MOU is that you would have to make some hard management and possibly some unpopular management decisions if you didn't have this MOU, which allows you to add whatever you want to the electricity rate to keep that revenue rolling in.  

Please investigate what can be done differently. If you don't want to take the word of citizens who have made a study of alternatives, then, for pete's sake, hire your own studies, discuss it at open council meetings, then post the results of these discussions in the Minutes on your web site. But, please, don't just sit there with disgusted looks on your faces when citizens dare to show up and ask for something besides the status quo. 

Jo Ann Eddleman
Citizen of Coleman

P.S. Received word from the webmaster after this post that the Minutes will be included on the web site. 

Edited by jeddle - May 08 2015 at 10:51am
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Nancy View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Nancy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 08 2015 at 8:20pm
As we speak, the minutes for 2015 are available and there is a note that minutes for 2014 will soon be available. 
There is no mention of additional archived minutes from previous years.  As I recall, prior to the "unfortunate incident" regarding the city's website, minutes as far back as 2009 were accessible. 
Budget information is limited to a summary page for each of the same two years and, similarly, I soon no mention of additional archived information.
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