‘Trust us’ is not enough
There are at least two things that stand out about the proposed $1 billion sale of Anchorage’s Municipal Light & Power utility to the Chugach Electric Association: the secrecy involved in initial talks and reducing the vote required for passage from 60 percent to 50 percent.
It is unsettling that the city and Chugach were in talks for weeks, if not months or longer, while other utilities and interested buyers who signed on late were given no real attention.
It is bothersome how the city went about hooking up with Chugach. There were no requests for proposals; no bid requests, no bids, no nothing. Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and the Assembly decided it was time to sell ML&P and they started a secret process to do so. The public was kept in the dark until Dec. 21, when Berkowitz announced the sale. The city’s ML&P Commission was not even told until the day before.
Sale proponents say the due diligence and public hearings and detailed information that should have been public already – and would have been with a proper bidding process – will be forthcoming after the election in which, with only a 50 percent vote, a sale is approved. They seem to be saying, “Trust us.”
Cutting the supermajority required in the charter for selling a utility is a bad idea. That 60 percent vote requirement for the city’s utilities, we will wager, was adopted to ensure a bare majority could not sell off valuable city property on a political whim.
What is perhaps most distressing is how the proposed vote percentage change is being sold. Proponents, with straight faces, will tell you it is not really an amendment to the city charter. Their stance is: We are not really amending a previous section of the charter; we are creating a new section of the charter. We are, one assemblyman says, creating “new law.”
In our view, sales of public property should be open to the public, from the beginning to the end. If that is required to buy or sell a case of toilet paper it should be required for the $1 billion sale of ML&P. There should be requests for proposals and bids and open and frank discussions long before anybody is asked to vote on anything. And hedging the bet by reducing the voting percentage needed and hiding behind semantics does nothing to make us believe there is not something amiss in all this. “Trust us,” falls short.
But it is not up to us. Voters, we suppose, will decide in the upcoming balloting whether they want to be left out in the dark.