Public hearing on privately owned public utility
On Aug. 1, I attended a public hearing regarding Council Member Cam Gordon’s “Resolution to Allow Citizens to Vote on the Fall Ballot to Allow Citizens to Empower the City Council to Analyze Whether Municipal Power would be Good for the Citizens of Minneapolis.” Following is my assessment of the biased, slanted and staged proceeding of this hearing of the resolution.
When I got to City Hall to sign up to testify, there was a large contingent of NSP/Xcel (and some Center Point) people, including execs and other partners. Many wore stickers that said, “Why Mess With Success?”. The utility’s message was, “Everything is fine, nothing needs to change.”
A whole section of the hearing room was reserved for NSP/Xcel, Center Point and their supporters. No section was reserved for Citizens.
NSP/Xcel and Center Point were each given 10 minutes to present their case against the resolution. No one for the resolution was given presentation time.
Speakers were allowed three minutes each. I was No. 5. Nearly all the early speakers were against the resolution and came from the obvious utility group.
Even though the privately-owned utilities had 10 minutes each to present their case, they also sent up their clique of opposition speakers and shills to drown out the voices of the resolution supporters. This was a corporate power play.
Most disappointing were the trade unions, both union leaders and members speaking against the resolution. None of the union speakers seem to have understood the resolution as clarified at the beginning of the hearing by the City Legal Council and by Chair Betsy Hodges. Why were they testifying if they did not understand what was being proposed?
The unions spoke as if going Muni would be the end of the union jobs. These were ridiculous statements. The city would need the same workers that NSP/Xcel uses now. Union members also expressed concern about the city spending billions of dollars, yet these same unions cried and pleaded at the city and state for $2 billion for a Vikings stadium. Now they are concerned about spending?
The erroneous statements as to what the resolution really was were not corrected by the chair, Betsy Hodges [mayoral candidate] nor any council member.
Shouldn’t someone correct speakers who are mischaracterizing the resolution in question? This misinformed the public about the resolution being considered.
Those for the resolution made a number of great statements, with excellent points. However they were drowned out by an organized and orchestrated hype by NSP/Xcel. And who paid for it? Who paid for the advance, one-sided PR blitz by the utilities? Was it from the 10% utility profits, or the rate-payers?
It should be noted that the infrastructure for gas and electricity is not paid for by these private corporations. They raise the money and decide what to spend it on, but WE THE RATE-PAYERS PAY FOR ALL OF IT, including profits, overhead, maintenance and executive salaries. State law has rules in place as to how infrastructure is to be valued if a city decides to go to municipal power. Though the Minnesota State Legislature has in recent times included some onerous restrictions. For example, cities have to pay the utilities for lost revenue.
Finally, many praised NSP for how quickly they responded to the recent storm outage. However, the 2,000 cities across the country with municipal power have fewer outages and restore power more quickly when one occurs. Furthermore, the hearing did not discuss that in 1965 the Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution for NSP to move as soon as possible to bury all power lines in the city.
If NSP had done this, storm outages, including the recent one, would have been greatly reduced. NSP instead contended they were regulated by the state and not the city, and they never did the work.
The media coverage of this hearing and issue has been primarily biased and misleading. The Strib and Pioneer Press are clearly in the corporate utility corner. MinnPost’s Karen Boros is equally slanted to the utilities or just missed the story completely.
They all reported overwhelming opposition at the hearing. Was this because of the orchestration of the event by the utilities? No mention was made that the city had shunted people off to other rooms, claiming a fire marshal’s safety concern.
Did anyone survey those overflow rooms? I expect they were filled with supporters. We may never know, but it is irresponsible for the reporters to have not looked deeper into what was really going on before making their claim of overwhelming opposition.
Clearly NSP/Xcel is afraid of a credible study being done. Do they know the people of Minneapolis would see that they would be better off with municipal power? Do our mayor and City Council support the powerful private utilities or the citizens and tax payers of Minneapolis? In our One Party, top-down DFL-controlled town, I fear the interests of the public will be denied with the help of our failing media outlets.