Morristown's city council has been stalled since last summer trying to appoint a new person the the board of the Morristown Utility Commission. The council deadlocked when the mayor tried to appoint someone to replace a MUC member, whose term was up and who has been on the board for over 3 decades. In desperation, the fractured council has now pushed a measure forward which would have two legislators, Sen. Steve Southerland and Rep. Don Miller, create a "private act" to change the nominating process to the board - a process set in place when local voters made the change by a referendum vote in 2001.
Sen. Southerland has said this will be resolved by the end of February, no problem.
That has set off a firestorm of debate, with many seeing the act as an "end-run around voters" and one which will be achieved with very little attention by media or awareness of city voters. So, members of the local citizens group, Citizens for Accountability, have sent a letter to Morristown voters and to the legislature's local government committee which says any change should go before voters via a referendum.
Here's the letter:
"Five City Councilmembers---Paul LeBel, Bob Garrett, Kay Senter, Chris Bivens, and Claude Jinks---have voted to cancel out the votes of the 3,202 people (72%) who voted “FOR” changes to the Morristown Utilities Commission in a 2001 REFERENDUM. MUC already controls three major funds of the City: the Power System, the Water System, and the Broadband/ FiberNet System. These five want to change the 2001 voter-approved process for appointing members to the MUC Board, and they want to give themselves authority to transfer the City sewer system to MUC ---all without a REFERENDUM.
In 2001, MUC supported and 72% of voters approved changes to MUC, including setting up a new appointment process for MUC Commissioners. The voter-approved appointment process provided that MUC would screen all candidates for the MUC Board, and then MUC would recommend three qualified people to the Mayor. The Mayor would select and present one of the MUC-provided names to council for approval or disapproval.
Over the next ten years, no council-member tried to change the selection process that the PEOPLE had overwhelmingly (72% approval) voted “FOR” in the 2001 REFERENDUM.
Now five councilmembers have decided that the 2001 voter-approved MUC selection process is not working and they want to change the appointment process-- without sending the proposed change back to the people in a REFERENDUM.
The five councilmembers think that one person should serve on MUC even beyond the 34 years that he has already served. And that person, George McGuffin, adamantly refuses to pull his name in order to clear the way for a new person to be appointed to MUC.
Instead of compromising and approving at least one of the ELEVEN different people nominated so far by the Mayor from the MUC list, these councilmembers have rejected all ELEVEN over the past seven months. Since they haven’t gotten their way, these five have voted to change the law and replace the current voter-approved law for appointing MUC Board members with a process that will allow the five to have total control. Plus, they are giving themselves authority to give the City sewer to MUC without a REFERENDUM.
Mayor Danny Thomas and Council-member Gene Brooks support putting the changes to a vote of the people in a REFERENDUM, but the other five refuse to allow the people to vote.
Sen. Steve Southerland and Rep. Don Miller are sponsoring the MUC appointment and sewer changes in the state legislature. Sen. Southerland and Rep. Miller have refused to amend the bill to let the people vote on these changes in a REFERENDUM.
When a major change to a Private Act is proposed—such as setting up a future sewer transfer—it should go before the people in a REFERENDUM.
When the people have already voted on something in a REFERENDUM—such as the MUC appointment process---any proposed change should go back to the people in a REFERENDUM.
Remember these elected officials who put issues on the ballot and ask you to get out and vote (REFERENDUM-2001) and who then turn around, ignore you, and decide that they will overturn your vote in 2012.
----Citizens for Accountability
With local utility revenues expected to hit the $100 million mark in 2012, whopping utility rate price increases ahead in 2012 for city residents due to critical repairs needed in the sewer system, decisions about who is charge of the city sewer system -- well, there's just heaps and heaps of questions about what's really going on and few answers.