The recent handling of electric power restoration after Hurricane Hermine put the City of Tallahassee electric utility in headlines throughout the state of Florida. And while the post hurricane analysis is not yet completed, one thing seems abundantly clear: the communications bureaucracy did not perform as well as it should have after the storm moved through Tallahassee.
The response to this event, coupled with a number of other factors, indicate to me that it is time for the people of Tallahassee to demand independent oversight of the electric utility.
Consider this, of the fifteen largest cities in the state of Florida, guess how many city managers are in charge of providing electric utility service? Just one. You got it, Tallahassee.
Eleven of the cities get their electric power from private utilities. Of the four remaining municipalities – Jacksonville, Orlando, Gainesville and Tallahassee, only Tallahassee places the responsibility for running the electric utility in the hands of the city manager.
A troublesome reality of the city manager model is the co-mingling of finances. In my view, the financial resources of a $300 million electric utility should not be controlled by the same person, the city manager, that is responsible for providing government services that include the animal shelter, garbage pick-up, public transportation and law enforcement.
When one of those government services comes up short, it is much too easy for the city manager to move money from the electric utility. For example, is it a coincidence that when the City of Tallahassee moved golf course operations under utility services, the finances of the golf operations improved?
And then there is the issue of 15,000 City of Tallahassee utility customers that live outside the city boundaries. These people are subject to policies and rates set by elected officials that they have no say in selecting. This is inherently unfair.
Electric power drives commerce and the provisions of this service cannot continue to be tied to a city bureaucracy that has too many distractions and too many competing responsibilities.
It is time for the business community to acknowledge that for the City of Tallahassee to become a more vibrant center of commerce, we must move toward a government model of electric utility service that is comparable to other communities in Florida.
The problem is the City of Tallahassee will not cooperate with this change. Just like the Independent Ethics Board that was voted in through a citizens referendum, it will take outside forces to develop a governance model that is more responsive to the needs of citizens and businesses in Leon County.
Despite this obstacle, it is time to begin the discussion.