Wednesday, November 14, 2012

MSD Merger Presentation

11/14/2012 12:00p

The MSD presentation was fairly uneventful. You got a taste of it from the livetweets of David Forbes. But for some reason Forbes missed most of the meeting. We'll see what he writes up for the paper. He wasn't taking any notes. His "livetweets" were published on Mountain Xpress website the next day. The WLOS camera crew left early and I saw no other reporters. Board member Al Root was absent. Jerry Vehaun of Woodfin served as Chairman Pro Tem.

The presentation reiterated key points from the draft study. It was mainly all good news: better services, lower costs, better staff compensation packages, lower water rates, adequate debt service, etc. I was very impressed at the 5 and 10 year projections.

One thing struck me as peculiar is that people, especially Manheimer, were using terms like "potential merger" and "if the General Assembly chooses to do this" and so on.

I noticed at the end of the slide show a mention of a lease option with the city and I wondered why they were still talking about that.

During public comment, Barry Summers spend about 15 minutes at the podium after stating that he would make his comments brief. Summers complained that there is no hard information about the cost of a lease option or compensation. Mr. Aceto engaged Summers and kept him at the podium "if a lease option looks viable, we will address it" and asking him "what have we left out?" and "have we gone about this wrong?" and "if there are lingering questions, what are they?" Summers essentially had no quarrel with the study, the presentation, the methodology, the findings, or the numbers. Later that day on the Pete Kaliner radio show, Summers called in (28:42) to say that he had been dishonest in his praise of the study and told Kaliner that the whole thing was wrong.

After it appeared that Summers was completely out of gas I stood up and asked, "Isn't the lease option now off the table since the special election?" Mr. Aceto pushed back in his rocking executive chair, looked up at me and said, "That's a good question." Neither him nor anyone else responded to my question. However, Summers interjected that he could answer that question, saying, "the referendum only applied to the water distribution system and not the reservoirs." And that was the end of public comment.

[NOTE: David Forbes did not tweet my question to the board and it was omitted from the formal write-up on the meeting that Forbes published 11/15/2012 later on the Mountain Xpress website.]

Photo: Mountain Xpress

Recall the original language of the referendum from 8/14/2012 when the referendum resolution was passed:
“Shall the City of Asheville undertake the sale or lease of its water treatment system and water distribution system, including the reservoirs, watershed lands, water lines, pump stations, storage tanks and other facilities used by the City of Asheville for the treatment and distribution of water?”
It's hard to imagine a water distribution system with no source. I would contend that a "system" is inclusive of all essential elements that contribute to its functionality. This fact is recognized in the original referendum language. The language was simplified for the sake of voter comprehension and not to change its intent.
City Council meeting on water referendum
Video: 8/14/2012

Hunt: "I have a slight variation on the language if council is willing to consider. I don't think any of it is substantive:

Shall the City of Asheville undertake the sale or lease of its water treatment system and water distribution system, including the reservoirs, watershed lands, water lines, pump stations, customer service functions, storage tanks and other facilities used by the City of Asheville for the safe treatment and distribution of water to the community?”

Bellamy: "I think it's too long. I think it should say, "Shall the City of Asheville undertake the sale or lease of its water treatment system and water distribution system" Period. Because I think it's kind of a given what the other things are. And we want people not to get lost..And if we get too lost in describing what our system is, people won't take the time, spend as much time on it, and it's an easy YES or NO answer. Do we want to sell it or not."
Here, Bellamy is clearly stating that what is meant by the original language of the referendum is a reference to the whole system and not some of its parts. She acknowledges that the simplified language does not change the definition of the water system and that it should be "understood" by the voter that the referendum is making reference to all of the system's parts taken as a whole, which naturally would include watersheds and reservoirs as pointed out by Hunt.

11/14/2012 2:00p

Mr. Aceto introduced a discussion under New Business regarding the possibility of having staff explore the possibility of drafting proposal language to address the possibility of a lease option as part of a possible water system merger.

Most every board member equivocated and said they had no opinion. Bill Stanley said that the folks in Raleigh are more powerful since the election and that they should avoid making our legislators any madder than they are now. He said that the General Assembly has mandated that local government effect a merger or they will do it for us and we probably don't want them to do it for us so let's get a lease option proposal in place. Glenn Kelly, Biltmore Forest, stated that he's heard some folks claim that there is some kind of "carve out" for the reservoirs but he just doesn't see it. If there were a carve out, General Assembly would explicitly have said so. Someone said that he would be remaining objective; whatever we have to do, we'll do it, whatever that means.

Esther Manheimer made a motion to have staff create proposal language to address a possible lease in the event of a possible merger, up to and including a possible position statement against the merger if they conclude that "it just doesn't make sense." The motion was seconded by Stanley and was passed unanimously.

It seems odd that a board member would direct staff to develop a possible policy position that sounds strikingly similar to the board member's stated position.

Bear in mind that opposition to the water merger has strangely evolved over the last several months. The evolution of a shibboleth: First, the water merger was declared to be a bad deal because it was just plain ole THEFT. Then it was a bad deal because it was a SEIZURE by a bully. Then it was a bad deal because it might lead to PRIVATIZATION. Then is was a bad deal because it would mean JOB LOSSES for city employees. Then it was a bad deal because it would be COSTLY to ratepayers. Then it was a bad deal because there was NO DEFINED COMPENSATION for the city. Then it was a bad deal because NO DEFINED LEASE OPTION being considered in the studies.

Now that the special election is over and a majority of citizens have voted no on a referendum that is binding only for the City of Asheville, there is now no lease option possible. This is a consequence of city council and the local progressive politburo urging people to VOTE NO on the lease option contained in the referendum in order to "gauge the mood of the people" regarding the inevitable water system merger.

Well, opponents of the merger now know the mood of the people and the consequences of their ill-considered political kabuki theater.


Merger would cost customers money
Mark Barrett | Asheville Citizen-Times | Oct. 27, 2012

Report: MSD, water merger could save millions
John Boyle | Asheville Citizen-Times | Nov 12, 2012

Voters: No change to Asheville water
Mark Barrett | Asheville Citizen-Times | Nov 7, 2012

Pete Kaliner Show
11/13/21 Hour 3, Topic: MSD merger
Audio 16:02

Legislative Research Committee Report
Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System
April 19, 2012