No Action Taken at Oct. 26 Meeting Crowd Turns Out to Tell Mayor: ‘Do Not Eliminate BPW Board’
Mayor Scott Kudrna’s proposal to repeal an ordinance calling for the establishment of the Board of Public Works Board of Directors drew most of an estimated 100 people who attended the Oct. 26 Auburn City Council meeting.
The council chambers were full and a number of people stood and sat in the hallway outside of the chambers to hear what was being said and to offer comments of their own.
Mayor Kudrna’s proposed ordinance called for the repeal of Auburn City Code of Ordinances Section No. 32.06, the repeal of Auburn Ordinance No. 3-99, and to remove the five member board of directors of the Board of Public Works.
The BPW Board of Directors consists of Dick Hahn, Jr. as chairman; Mark Kubik, vice chairman; Doug Glenn, secretary; Dan Snyder, acting secretary; and Rich Wilson; board member.
During the recognition of visitors portion of the meeting it became apparent that most of the guests that evening were interested in the proposed elimination of the BPW Board and the decision was made to address that agenda item early on, rather than later on in the agenda when it was actually scheduled.
Mayor’s Opening Remarks
Kudrna’s opening comments focused on his desire to always strive to improve the Auburn community while serving as its mayor. He said he believes that returning the authority originally given to form the BPW Board back to the citizen-elected council would be beneficial in several ways. Among those ways which Kudrna listed as possible benefits from the change were:
Potential efficiencies in operation, i.e. one audit, payroll, elimination of board fees, etc. (The city would enlist professionals to help identify strengths and weaknesses of both entities and provide suggestions to improve).
The resources of the city would be managed by the council, which is elected by the voters.
The mayor said he believes it makes sense to have one entity that considers not only the rates, but also the impact they will have on Auburn’s residents.
Kudrna added that he would only support this consolidation if the utility continued to operate with the current employees. He said he believes Auburn has a very talented, hard working group of employees. The mayor said he tried to address their [the employee’s] concerns of losing their jobs the week before.
Kudrna said he was very disheartened with the wild speculation and rumors that questioned his motives and integrity. He stated that he had spoken with council members, the utility manager and BPW board members to discuss the issue and answer any questions which they had.
The mayor said he asked to have the elimination of the utility board be included on the Oct. 26 agenda because another item of business that night was consideration of the 2012 BPW Budget.
He also referenced a flier which had been circulating around the community which raised several questions related to what might happen should the City Council be allowed to assume control of the utility.
The Discussion Begins
Among the first persons to speak was Councilman Frank Critser, who indicated he had studied the subject at length in the short time which he had been aware of the issue. Critser said the keys to successfully operating city government include keeping lines of communication open, honesty, integrity and personal accountability. He mentioned that the mayor had been speaking with representatives with the Nebraska Public Power District and people not involved in the meetings weren’t apprised of what was being discussed.
Kudrna replied that he had visited with representatives with NPPD, but he went on to add that such talks routinely take place and are only natural with so many of the utility’s employees residing in Auburn and Nemaha County.
Councilman Chris Erickson asked what the expense would be in having an independent audit conducted.
Lonnie Swanson with the Village of Johnson said, “There is no better utility than the BPW as far as we are concerned.”
Marvin Caspers also commented that the BPW service can’t be beat.
Mark Kubik, BPW Board VP, stated his opinion that the elimination of the utility board might just be a step in the process towards hiring a city administrator and he wondered if money might be pulled out of the utility’s reserves for such purposes as economic development.
Denice Rathbone said the BPW Board members receive minimal compensation for their service.
Betty Filbrandt, who retired after a lengthy career with the BPW, said utilities are big business and the BPW represents the ratepayers and not just citizens of Auburn.
Kudrna acknowledged that there hadn’t been any prior public discussions involving possibly eliminating the BPW Board and it was placed on that meeting’s agenda to draw input from the public.
As the ordinance calls for keeping the City of Auburn’s and the Board of Public Works’ funds separate, the question was raised as to how the monies would remain separate and not be used for purposes other than the original intent.
Dottie Holliday stated her agreement with Al Witte and his opinion that repealing the ordinance wasn’t in the city’s best interests that night.
Mary Michel said, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it!”
Deb Kubik said you could unintentionally hurt the business appearance of your community if people believe there are jobs which will be eliminated. “You need to have a better system of communication,” she said.
Tim Collin asked each city council member if they believed that they have the experience to make decisions which would be asked of a BPW Board member. Most expressed a confidence that they would eventually become more knowledgeable and able to make more informed decisions.
Board Chairman Hahn said, “The Board of Public Works is a family. This is evidenced by their representation at tonight’s meeting.”
Larry Draper told the mayor that the city should do a better job of informing the public on such critical issues.
Councilman Critser said, “The BPW Board does its homework. We need to do the same.”
After nearly an hour of discussion a vote was taken calling for the item to be stricken from the agenda. That vote passed 5-1, with Katy Billings dissenting. This action allowed those who wanted to leave at that time to do so and not worry about action being taken later on in the meeting when the matter was listed on the agenda.