Recently current and former Shakopee Public Utility Commissioners and employees have banded together in a bid to preserve the current SPUC form of governance. As part of that effort, they have tried to paint the actions of the City as a “power grab,” a financial coup, a “political” action, or just simply “absurd.” In other words, don’t look at SPUC’s actions — look at the city instead.
However, the issue isn’t about the city but rather about the utility’s governance — or lack thereof. This is really a simple question of accountability.
Although water quality is one of many issues, it is an important one. SPUC’s 2018 Comprehensive Water Plan notes that, “some of the wells have a history of containing elevated concentrations of nitrate, radon, and radium 226/228. The increased concentrations are close to the NPDWR maximum contaminant levels and could have potential health risks associated with them.” Is it absurd that the City would want to hold SPUC accountable for failing to address these issues?
In 2003, SPUC raised their water connection charge over 263% from $567 per unit to $2,045, a move that was taken to fund two new water treatment plants. Is it unreasonable hold SPUC accountable for the lack of planning to provide those plants, or to account for the funds? Is it wrong to question how a $80,000 donated Splash Pad for kids could have a connection charge of $211,365?
The former Utility Manager's excessive and unlawful salary was a direct result of SPUC’s lack of accountability and oversight. It is interesting to note that the MN State Auditor called SPUC’s actions in trying to defend the manager’s actions “absurd and unreasonable.”
How about SPUC’s use of secret “Commissioner Only” meeting packets to hide important pay and financial information from the general public and their refusal to answer questions or provide public information? Political?
How about their lack of investment strategy that cost the utility $4 million in the last 10 years? Or how about the duplication of management that could save $1.75 million a year if merged with city staff?
Does its lack of customer service or need for modernization in its operations cause any concern?
The reality is that the unaccountable governmental bureaucracy that is the Shakopee Public Utilities Commission needs checks and balances. No governmental agency should be unaccountable. The unaccountable government here is SPUC. It is the structure of governance that is the issue.
The City Council tried for the last three years to address these issues and more through dialogue and openness. Yet there was nothing but stonewalling, misleading information and claims of “politics.” Are there “politics” in your award-winning sewers/streets, police force or parks? No. There is accountability and exceptional performance.
So, the next time you read about how this is a “city issue” be sure to ask the real hard questions about SPUC’s failures to clean their own house. Because regardless of the outcome of the vote, SPUC must become more transparent, more customer friendly, and more financially astute, with increased efficiencies and modernization. And yes, more of a partner with the City as opposed to an opponent.
Shakopee City Administrator