Editorial: Wrong to pick on PUD’s citizen board

Posted 1/30/18

Allison Arthur began her Jan. 10 editorial rightly by praising the citizens of this county who donate their time and energy on advisory boards to work through some of the thornier issues facing our …

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Editorial: Wrong to pick on PUD’s citizen board

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Allison Arthur began her Jan. 10 editorial rightly by praising the citizens of this county who donate their time and energy on advisory boards to work through some of the thornier issues facing our public institutions. Unfortunately, the rest of the editorial wrongly blames one particular group of citizens for the enactment of a public plan the advisors had little to no control over.

The [Public Utility District’s] nine-member volunteer citizen advisory board (CAB) studied AMI, or smart meters, for three and a half years before advising the PUD board in 2016 that the meters were both beneficial to the utility and safe for its customers. They also warned, correctly, that AMI, or smart meters, would be controversial with some members of the public.

The CAB was not, however, tasked with originating or implementing a plan to educate and/or sell the public on the meters. That is the job of PUD board and staff, who are either elected or paid to do it. If Ms. Arthur is truly concerned with holding accountable those responsible for, as she says, “the train going off the track,” in regards to a discussion of new electrical meters, it would have been well within her rights to directly criticize the PUD’s board and staff in this editorial.

Curiously, Ms. Arthur does mention both a former board and staff member by name, but seems to absolve them of fault, choosing instead to cherry-pick quotes from CAB members without attribution, creating a kind of conspiratorial air around what are rather informal proceedings conducted by concerned citizens donating their time on behalf of the entire community. CAB meetings are open to the public, and the recordings of the meetings are posted on the PUD’s website. There is nothing conspiratorial about them.

Fanning the flames of the meter debate has likely been good business for The Leader. The editor may have been doing her job to attract eyeballs with her editorial, but pinning the PUD’s meter debate problems on the CAB is wrongheaded. And the accusations that the PUD’s CAB does not ask tough questions nor take their jobs seriously are simply untrue, as well as discouraging. Please pick your targets more wisely next time, Ms. Arthur.

We need more citizen advisers in this county, not less.

Will O’Donnell is communication manager for Jefferson County Public Utility. He also served as manager of the Jefferson County Farmers Market.

Editor’s response: PUD communications manager Will O’Donnell is correct. The PUD board and employees are probably more to blame than the citizen advisory board, a group of all men who voted unanimously to recommend approval of smart meters to the all-male board of commissioners even though both the citizen advisory board and commissioners knew smart meters were controversial and that multiple issues likely were to rise once the public caught wind of it.

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