Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Serves as a Career Ender for Local Incumbents

Elected officials serving on the CFPUA board have been voted out of office in the past 3 elections

Serving on the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is hazardous to your political health. Whether Republican or Democrat, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority seems to serve as the one common thread ending the political aspirations of incumbents seeking re-election.

The past 3 years have proven costly to elected officials appointed to the CFPUA Board. Former City Councilman Jim Quinn, former New Hanover County Commissioner Bill Caster, and now former City Councilman Ron Sparks all lost their bids for re-election. While they all have different backgrounds and political philosophies, they all sat on the CFPUA board and were subsequently removed from office.

Jim Quinn was the CFPUA’s first victim placing a distant 7th place in his reelection bid in 2009 Municipal election. Quinn was an outspoken proponent of the CFPUA and played an integral part in its creation in 2008. When the 2009 election rolled around voters had apparently had their fill of huge bills and rates that seemed to be spiraling out of control.

By the time the 2010 election occurred, voters had been subject to two years of CFPUA rate increases with no end in sight. To the dismay of many, the price some families were being charged for water had nearly tripled. CFPUA Board Member and County Commissioner Bill Caster lost a hotly contested re-election race where the CFPUA’s spending and rate increases were a central issue.

The CFPUA’s most recent casualty was City Councilman and CFPUA Board member Ron Sparks, who came in 4th place behind newcomer Neil Anderson in a race for 3 open seats. Sparks was an outspoken advocate for the Authority’s controversial tiered rate structure which targets larger families with higher water prices even while they are conserving water.

Fellow democrat and incumbent Laura Padgett was up for reelection as well, but skated back into office. While had both Padgett and Sparks had seen their share of controversy in office, Padgett distanced herself from the CFPUA.

More recent appointees to the CFPUA board, City Councilman Charlie Rivenbark and New Hanover County Commissioner Rick Catlin, likely have less to be worried about. Both ran on platforms calling for additional oversight and accountability for the Authority and have pushed to change the status quo.

With the CPFUA forecasting that spending and rates will continue to increase, we can be sure the controversial organization will continue to be a point of contention with voters for the foreseeable future.

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