About 80 citizens attended last night’s public meeting with Mississippi Public Service Commission Chairman Brandon Presley, who began by saying that Clarksdale Public Utilities belongs to the people of Clarksdale. Although his office has no regulatory authority over municipally-owned utilities, he did say citizens with a grievance of at least $2,500 over two years can cause a Public Service Commission investigation. CPU General Manager Curtis Boschert told those in attendance that he’s only been on the job a month, but in response to a question from George Fields of the Concerned Citizens of Clarksdale group he said that the utility has heard their concerns and is working on them.
The following are observations and opinions of ClarksdaleNews:
• Officials that attended the meeting were County Supervisor Derrell Washington, State Representative Orlando Paden, CPU General Manager Curtis Boschert, Mayor Chuck Espy and aforementioned PSC Chairman Presley.
• The Concerned Citizens did not reach out to Chairman Presley, and according to their spokesperson Ray Sykes, they did not ask the mayor to do so. However, Chairman Presley being here was a good call, and it is quite possible that some good will evolve out of this situation to help our citizens with their absolutely legitimate concerns.
• It is essential that the Concerned Citizens leaders identify as many citizens as possible that have records of their billing issues that amount to at least $2,500 in total, and that these records do not span more than two years. Each must fill out the appropriate form and submit them to the appropriate PSC authorities.
• Much, though not all of the billing issues facing our citizens evolved out of the new AMI meters. PSC Chairman Presley acknowledged that they have experienced issues with these meters, and that issues with them have been investigated. It is possible our meters are set up and calibrated properly, just as it is possible that adjustments could be necessary. A PSC investigation may be the quickest means of finding relief for our citizens should any problems be found, which is why the point above about citizens that qualify for PSC consideration is so critical.
• Chairman Presley also said the only other public recourse for their concerns is with the City of Clarksdale (and therefore with the Mayor and Commissioners they elect). He added that the “City under law can remove the CPU Board” at any time. This is where politics, personalities and “Clarksdale turf” enters the picture. It gets funky here, and stuck in the middle of this muck are our people who have understandable trouble with paying high utility bills. The following points somewhat addresses how we got into, and what it might take to get out of this ‘political turf’ mess.
• The Mayor has twice tried to remove the CPU Board. Once was shortly after entering office, which he acknowledged in last nights meeting. Letters of termination were sent out, but the Mayor last night said “CPU refused.” ClarksdaleNews was at an earlier City Board meeting where Commissioner Willie Turner, Jr. made a motion for termination of the CPU Board, and that motion was not met with a second, and therefore the motion passed.
• The Mayor more recently demanded that the CPU Board meet with the City Board (this was previously reported by ClarksdaleNews). This was during the beginning of the CPU investigation of into the “CPU 3.” The CPU Board chose not to appear at the City’s demand, and instead meet that demand with a Federal lawsuit against the City (a copy of that lawsuit was also previously provided by ClarksdaleNews). That lawsuit was quickly settled by the City the following day. (The following day the City Attorney announced her resignation, which may or may not have had anything to do with these matters. We simply do not know.) ClarksdaleNews has not seen a copy of that settlement, but off-the-record comments from some have had led to an assumption that part of the settlement included language that the city would no longer try to fire the CPU Board over this particular CPU 3 matter. Most all of said discussion and settlement was covered in executive session, and it is also assumed off-record that the lone dissenting vote to this transaction may have been Clarksdale Commissioner Ken Murphey. If the settlement document were provided, any mistaken assumptions here would certainly be cleared up.
• Both of these two different interactions between the City and the CPU Board have certainly led to fixed positions. Walls are up, communication is way down, and entrenched positions on both sides are understandable, and unfortunate. In the meantime, one woman who was at the meeting last night has had four electricity bills in a row that total more than $1,600, and she simply can not afford the power that runs her house.
• In addition to frequent off-the-record discussions with some of the City Commissioners about CPU matters, ClarksdaleNews also has similar discussions with some CPU Board members as well. Both sides have valid positions and points of view. And both have certainly heard the Concerned Citizens, and are making singular motions to fix the problem. ClarksdaleNews wonders if that might be more effective if both the City and CPU might find a way to surrender together… and join our citizens to find a winning side?