A Crank’s Opinion
The current environment at Clarksdale Public Utilities may just be an opportunity to come up with a better functioning, more customer oriented Municipal Enterprise. That’s what CPU is … a municipal enterprise … owned by the citizens of Clarksdale to help improve the quality of life for our citizens and create another cash stream to support the conduct of services through City government.
That being said, my experience of doing business with CPU started when I was trying to move here 10 years ago. I was to come into town over a weekend and wanted utilities to the house I had purchased to be working when I arrived. ATMOS and CableOne were eager to accommodate my needs, but not CPU. They insisted that I must show up, in person, at their offices, pay a deposit, etc. and I could not simply fax papers and forward deposit funds. It took an intervention from then mayor Henry Espy to get anything to happen and even then numerous hoops through which we had to jump were required. Not a customer friendly environment.
To this day, the Board refuses to cooperate with Industrial Development, the City or anyone else with incentives to attract businesses to our area and, while customer service has been improving during the past year, CPU is still the worst to do business with for many of our residents.
So … the three problems I just outlined are: Customer Service; Involvement in activities to Improve the economy and quality of life for our residents; contribution to the financial viability of our City.
What has stood in the way is the CPU Board and the agenda driven guidance of legal counsel. Corporate cultures start at the top and employees reflect that posture.
It is easy to torture the language of statutes to cause them to be used to prohibit action or promote an agenda, but it is even easier to properly apply law to its’ intended purpose. This is the primary rub. Any Attorney Generals’ Opinions can be manipulated for an intended response based on the way the question is worded. Anyone worth their salt knows this. In the end however, it is only an opinion and does not carry the force of law.
End that game.
My experience of the last two managers at CPU is that they come into their position with a sense of cooperation and optimism. That attitude is slowly destroyed by what each of them termed as a hostile environment and the negative corporate culture embraced by the Board, filters through the staff and comes out as open hostility even in the community.
Since most of the Board was replaced not long ago, but the new management has expressed the same concerns of the previous, one has to ask, “What are the common factors (or people) before the current Board and after.
I have no dog in this hunt (pun intended) because I no longer work for the City, but I do have a sense of fairness and justice that compels me to voice my opinion.
I think that CPU needs to:
- Make customer service and customer awareness the most important part of their corporate culture.
- Create an employee manual of realistic job descriptions that allows motivated employees to use personal initiative in the operation of the utility and in support of the community.
- Correct the dialog as well as the accounting so that the financial position is open and transparent to the stakeholders (citizens)
- Establish a consistent program of transferring funds to the City for the general welfare while continuing to retain sufficient, but reasonable, reserves against emergency.
- Develop a policy and incentives to assist in the recruitment and development of a business and industrial base to build an economy that will also allow the utility to grow.
- Participate in the pursuit of a better quality of life through supporting projects and efforts that enhance opportunities and/or experiences of and for our community.
- Own that CPU is a municipal enterprise
Now … are these things too much to ask? The most successful communities in the country who own their own utilities employ these principles. Clarksdale deserves no less.
Mac Crank … and I approved this message.