Sunday, August 15, 2010

WATCHDOG Group Calls for Cape Fear Public Utility Authority to Televise its Meetings

In light of recent events, board should make transparency a priority

During the public comment portion of Wednesday’s Cape Fear Public Utility Authority board meeting a formal request was made for the CFPUA to televise its board meetings.

The presentation made three specific requests: That audio recordings of all past CFPUA board meeting be made available online, that CFPUA begin filming and broadcasting meetings, and that meeting videos with associated meeting documents be made available on line.

The presentation cited several reasons that the authority should film its meetings. The first reason was that the CFPUA written minutes were subjective and contained errors. The presentation went on to point out errors and omissions in existing CFPUA meeting records. It also highlighted cases where customer concerns expressed during the public speaking portion were relegated to one sentence, but appearing in the same minutes was a whole paragraph written about an award given to the board chair.

Secondly the presentation pointed out that the two bodies that created the CFPUA, the Wilmington city council and New Hanover County Commission, both film and broadcast their meetings, and that the CFPUA should be held to the same standard. It recommended using the Wilmington City Council website as a model for posting videos and meeting documents.

Finally the presentation explained that as a result of the creation of the CFPUA we find ourselves being ruled by a government corporation; an appointed board with the power of elected officials. With the creation of these authorities, the state legislature has essentially allowed for the birth of an unregulated spending monster, obligating citizens of New Hanover county to hundred of millions of dollars in debt.

Under the guise of “it’s broken and we have to fix it,” there is virtually no spending the CFPUA can’t justify. According to 2010 data from the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority spends more money than 70% of the counties in the state of North Carolina. Board member and County Commissioner Bobby Greer has stated in the past that the board has to quit spending so much money.

CFPUA minutes show that in February of 2010 there was some discussion regarding broadcasting authority meetings. Several members were in favor of the idea at that time. Former board member Kathryn Johnston stated that transparency and openness was a concern. Six months later it is evident that this is not a priority and there has been little progress toward that end.

Citizens can hold city council and the county commission accountable at the ballot box. They can not do the same with the appointed members of the CFPUA board, regardless of the public’s dissatisfaction with their direction. This authority is an unelected, unaccountable, government body. It represents a fundamental change in how we are governed and is truly taxation without representation.

The CFPUA should be held to the highest standard of openness and transparency and this board should willingly offer video recordings of their meetings, including meeting documents, available on line for the public’s review.