STPUD board member lands on hot seat
August 13, 2008
South Tahoe Public Utility District board member Ernie Claudio came under fire from other board members during a workshop Tuesday.
The workshop was “held to discuss and define the roles and responsibilities of the board, including communications, relationships, culture and goals,” according to the agenda for the workshop.
Among the criticism was Claudio’s communications with the public through the Tahoe Daily Tribune – including a May 20 guest column. In the column, Claudio calls for a rate freeze to help individuals and businesses who are struggling to survive in a tough economy.
Claudio called the contents of the column “controversy” to get people involved in discussions at the district, but the opinion piece was classified as “misinformation” by board member Jim Jones and “lies” by board member Dale Rise.
On May 28, the utility district board approved a 4 percent rate increase by a 4-1 vote, with Claudio casting the dissenting vote. The “no” vote was necessary to represent those utility district customers who opposed a rate increase, Claudio said.
“With the regulations that are piling up on this community, they have a heavy load,” Claudio said Tuesday. “I think my job is to lighten that load.”
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But board members see both the guest column and vote on the rate increase as more of a re-election bid than an informed decision.
Voters selected Claudio last November to serve the remaining two years of the term vacated by Kathleen Farrell.
Although rate increases may be unpopular, they often are necessary to maintain the district’s level of service, and Claudio would be remiss not to see that, Jones said.
“We’ve got to go ahead and do the right thing,” Jones said Tuesday, noting he was “bothered” by Claudio’s use of the Tribune to step out in front of the board.
“Don’t use the newspaper to do your politicking,” Jones said.
Claudio’s column could be misunderstood as a communication from the entire board, Jones said.
“At least I agree with Ernie that communications are important,” Jones said. “I just don’t agree with how he does it.”
Claudio was surprised by the focus of discussion at the workshop and said he would prefer board members talk to him individually when issues arise, rather than in a setting similar to Tuesday’s workshop.
“My name wasn’t on (the agenda), and I seem to be a big part of it,” Claudio said. “Let’s go forward from here on a positive note.”
Following the meeting, Claudio said he “definitely” would like to continue expressing his views through letters to the Tribune, but added he would try to keep the focus on highlighting positive activities at the district that often go unnoticed.