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Deregulation, Vision 20/20 ...City Council, CU board discuss common interests

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

City Council and the Board of Public Utilities scheduled a three-hour July 16 meeting to discuss topics of common interest, such as deregulation of the electric industry and how City Utilities fits into the city's Vision 20/20 plan.

"Several people had the idea, and we came to the conclusion that it was time we as a council brought CU into our philosophy," said Councilman Conrad Griggs.

The meeting was not for the purpose of making policy or taking action on the agenda items, but rather for open discussion, both Griggs and Councilwoman Teri Hacker agreed.

"I hope we can get a lot of good dialogue going and get ourselves aware of what the other is working on," Hacker said before the meeting. (The Business Journal's deadline prohibited reporting on the actual meeting, which was scheduled after press time.)

Early discussions about the meeting prompted concerns over whether CU staff members should attend the meeting. Mayor Lee Gannaway said the concern was that some board members are intimidated by members of the CU staff.

"Our goal was to have more open discussion and there was a concern that it might become more presentation-like if staff was involved," Gannaway said.

Robert Roundtree, CU's general manager, said the talk of intimidation was "political gamesmanship."

"I hope that everyone realizes the seriousness of these discussions and that decisions are not made in a political gamesmanship type atmosphere," Roundtree said.

Staff members were allowed to be present at the meeting, but the discussion was among City Council and board members. The primary topic board members and council members alike were concerned with was deregulation of the electric industry.

"It is my hope that we can really talk about what is going on in our industry with regard to deregulation right now," said Sharon Faulkner, board member, prior to the meeting.

The topic of deregulation was to comprise a major portion of the meeting's agenda.

"Nothing we can say or do will affect the ultimate coming of deregulation. CU says they are prepared for competition, and that is good," Gannaway said.

Roundtree said his hope was for a "level playing field" for all utility companies that will be competing in the electric industry.

"If we're going to have competition in our market, then I hope that CU will also be able to compete," Roundtree said.

His concerns are shared by members of the board, including Randy Ebrite, who worries that "we might have more incidents like what happened with House Bill 620," he said.

House Bill 620 was a bill passed in the Missouri legislature that limited the types of telecommunications services a municipally owned utility like CU could offer.

"I just hope that we are given the same opportunities to compete as the other companies that are going to be out there competing against us," Ebrite said.

Though the board has not been very involved in the Vision 20/20 process, Faulkner said she was looking forward to determining how the utility could fit into it.

"I am excited about how we will fit into the city's future, and I hope we can learn more about that process," Faulkner said.

Hacker said she hoped to generate some discussion about "undergrounding" burying CU's lines in town.

"I have always thought this was an important issue for our city. I hope we can get an undergrounding plan under way," Hacker said.

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