Emotions ran high at Monday evening’s Shakopee Public Utilities Commission meeting, when Mayor Bill Mars, who served on the commission for 10 years, approached the commission in attempts to ease tensions between the two public entities. The utilities commission aired bottled-up anger toward Mars, his council and city staff, claiming the city has spread false truths about SPUC’s transparency.
The tension comes in the wake of development delays for Shakopee’s newest restaurant, the Copper Pint — which was nearly derailed by a $250,000 water capacity charge — and the donated Lions Park splash pad, which was projected to bring a $211,000 water capacity charge before SPUC voted to waive it.
On June 7, City Administrator Bill Reynolds wrote a letter to SPUC (that he says included council input and direction) with several questions about its transparency and water rates, which he said every developer in Shakopee has complained about at some point.
At a June 17 SPUC meeting, the utilities commission passed a motion to receive Reynolds’ letter without any further action.
SPUC has been accused by residents and city staff in the past of not being transparent. At the July 2 city council meeting, Reynolds spoke about transparency issues with the utilities commission.
“I can tell you… (SPUC) is not a transparent organization,” Reynolds said. “Residents are pretty smart. They can judge it for themselves if they don’t see transparency.”
Shakopee resident Kayden Fox started an online petition June 26 to bring SPUC back under the jurisdiction of the city. The petition reads, “Due to lack of transparency and oversight, the people of Shakopee request the Shakopee City Council hold a vote to return control of Shakopee’s utilities to the Shakopee City Council.”
At Monday’s SPUC meeting, Mars requested the commission reevaluate its motion to table Reynolds’ letter. The utilities commission met Mars with some frustration, claiming that as a former commissioner, he should have refuted the city’s claims that SPUC lacked transparency.
“This whisper campaign that we’re not transparent… that we’re unregulated. That’s like saying the city of Shakopee is ungoverned,” SPUC Commissioner Matthew Meyer said, his voice shaking. “We are the regulators. You (Mars) were a regulator for 10 years. So why is city staff saying this is an unregulated utility? I take it personally… So if I hear one more time from anybody that we’re unregulated, I’m going to explode.”
The commission passed a unanimous motion to answer the questions in Reynold’s letter that pertain to the last 10 years.
“We do projects 30, 40, 50 years out,” Terry Joos, the commission president, said. “We don't have time to look into what's happened in the past. We have to look into the future.”
SPUC Commissioner Deb Amundson said when Reynolds was quoted in the Valley News for saying “We’ve been SPUC’d” in early June to describe the splash pad water charges, she was deeply concerned.
“I went to a party, and somebody used that term just as a matter of speaking. I don't know that people appreciate how much that hurts people who work for this utility,” Amundson said. “And I was waiting for some kind of admonishment from the city council saying that wasn't appropriate, but never heard anything.”
Mars did not offer an apology, but proposed a solution.
“We'll work on the rhetoric on the city side, and we'll hope for the same on this side,” he said. “We'll try to put together a meeting so we can work to find a strong partner and collaborative. Because we're really all in this together.”