Service Advisory Board tighter than a clamshell

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve sought to learn more about the Service Advisory Board which is a semi-autonomous board comprised of officials from CW’s suburban community-customers such as Brownsburg and Zionsville.  From the beginning it has been an exercise in frustration.   

The Board is chaired by David George, a long time Fishers town councilor and real estate developer. Mr. George initially attempted to discourage me from attending the meetings, but could not actually prevent me from attending.  He was advised by Citizens Water’s legal counsel that the SAB is a public entity and thus subject to the public access laws (open door and public records disclosure), but that has not stopped him from giving me a very chilly reception.

I’ve attended two SAB meetings, and Mr. George has not welcomed or recognized the sole public visitor nor has he invited Public Comments, as is de rigeur for the agendas of the Citizens Energy and Water Boards of Directors meetings, its Technical Advisory Group, and other committees.

Recently Mr. George has been unresponsive to my several requests for the list of the SAB’s goals for 2014.  He and the board’s administrative coordinator, DLZ of Indiana, has been advised that the draft meeting minutes are, by an official advisory opinion of the Indiana Public Access Counselor in 1998, disclosable public records, but he remains unresponsive, i.e. he has not approved their disclosure after nearly a month (my initial request was June 6th). 

The SAB’s meetings and projects are supported by an annual $150,000 payment from Citizens Water.  Citizens Water has assured me that the neither the SAB nor its contractor DLZ (a principal proponent of the planned dam) perform any water supply planning for central Indiana.  Yet DLZ is the principal contractor for the dam feasibility studies. And of course the dam proponents have claimed that a future water deficit in central Indiana is the main purpose of the dam.

In this observers’ opinion, the SAB’s process is only nominally Public.  Its access to process and public records seems like trying to pry open a clenched clam shell.  It also projects an anti-public attitude.

Mr. George has chaired the board for a good many years and has definite reluctant if not oppositional feelings about making the process open and transparent.  If he can’t be persuaded to open it up, perhaps it’s time for a change in chairman.  As was glaringly revealed a couple years ago in Indianapolis, sometimes the long-time chairmen of committees (e.g. the Board of Zoning Appeals) become highly entrenched and opinionated and overtly hostile to the public they are supposed to be serving, and seek to control the entire board.  This is very dysfunctional.

In addition, it’s time for the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to evaluate the utility and effectiveness of the SAB.  The IURC has required that the SAB process be continued when Citizens Energy took over from the City and its water contractor Veolia, and it has required Citizen’s ratepayers to pick up the annual SAB tab.  Are we the ratepayers receiving  fair value for this expense?   Based on my experience, the SAB’s performance and effectiveness should be formally reviewed or audited by an independent entity.

Clarke Kahlo

 

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