A couple of points
Voters are being asked to approve the sale of the city’s Municipal Light & Power utility to the Chugach Electric Association, and, at the same time, OK a change to the city charter to cut the number of votes necessary for the sale. The secrecy surrounding the proposed deal is stirring pushback.
A couple of things stand out. During this week’s Town Hall on the issue, Lee Thibert, the chief executive of Chugach, promised efficiency, eschewed any notion of a monopoly being created and assured everybody the sale is only one step in a lengthy public process.
Then he said: “It’s not about selling the utility to get the highest value. It’s about creating one utility.”
Huh? The anticipated sale is one of the, perhaps the, largest single sales in Alaska history and we are not about getting the “highest value?”
A large swath of Anchorage is served by Chugach, an electric cooperative owned by its members. ML&P is owned by residents of Anchorage, many of whom are Chugach members. In effect, we are being asked to sell our utility to ourselves which presents a dilemma. Does the Chugach in us want a lower price? Does the ML&P in us want a higher price? Who decides? How?
That is why this entire process should be wide open to the public. It has not been and there has been darned little public scrutiny of the sale, except for a Goldman Sachs study commissioned by the Assembly that was kept secret until the Anchorage Daily News blasted it loose. There was no bid process, no requests for proposals, no adherence to procurement rules needed even to buy toilet paper. Five other entities sent letters of interest, but were brushed off.
The secrecy is egregious enough that Judy Brady, the chair of the ML&P advisory commission, resigned in protest.
Another thing that jumps out in all of this is Municipal Manager Bill Falsey’’s dismissal of objections to the sale process.
”If I cannot persuade you the process we used is good, look at the deal on the merits,” he said. “We haven’t heard a substantive objection to the merits of the deal.”
No objection? The public does not know enough of the process details to be able to weigh its merits. Who knows what has been said or promised so far? How is Chugach going to pay for the deal? What are the unions getting? And the questions go on and on.
The public has been kept in the dark for most of this and the Chugach and the city’s attitude, we have have mentioned before, seems to be: Trust us. It is hard under the circumstances. Trust comes from transparency.
Chugach has launched a $245,000 advertising campaign to persuade Anchorage voters the sale is a good thing. It may be, but it is the target of public skepticism not because of its merits, but because of the secrecy surrounding how we got to this point.
We hope the campaign is a good one. Chugach and the city will need it.