The Las Cruces City Council voted 4-2 Monday to indefinitely table the El Paso Electric Company franchise agreement even though Councilor Nathan Small who made the motion to indefinitely table the item, fully understood the implications of his action that this would lead to having to renegotiate.
Let me state that I was appointed by City Council to serve on the AdHoc Committee to provide direction on the agreement. The AdHoc Committee worked for over 5-months to provide subsitive and innovative ideas which were never included in the franchise's before.
The Franchise Agreement was the result of long and hard negotiations by the City's negotiating teams that went beyond the traditional Franchise issues and included the following unique provisions:
1. The Franchise would establish a unique "rental of right-of-way" calculation instead of the flat 2% flat fee. This could have raised additional revenue for the City and help the City with a more predictable income stream.
2. Involve the City in El Paso' Electric Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) process and long term planning.
3. Establish a Joint Committee between the City of Las Cruces and El Paso Electric to review and discuss technological advances, plans for transmission corridors, prototype rate design, energy conservation and education and other issues that might arise during the term of the agreement.
4. Provide priorities for "critical" infra-structure to be targeted if there is a wide spread and lengthy power outage.
These are just to name a few of the unique changes in the agreement.
What is so disturbing to me and others is that Councilors Nathan Small,Sharon Thomas and Dolores Archuleta, and Mayor Ken Miyagishima - who was quoted in the Las Cruces Sun-News prior to Monday's meeting that he would "recommend a vote to table of the agreement" voted to indefinitely postpone a council decision on a franchise agreement with the utility. Councilors Miguel Silva and Gil Jones voted against the motion to table, and Councilor Dolores Connor, whose husband works for El Paso Electric, abstained.
I believe that in making his decision via the media, the Mayor, sent a clear message to the Council of his decision to table the issue, thereby raising a legal question if this constitutes a "rolling poll" in an indirect mannner.
Mayor stated that while he was pleased with many of the issues worked out in the proposed agreement, he was concerned that the City's ability to take advantage of purchase-power agreements was not included.
"This is leverage, plain and simple. It's all we've got," the Mayor stated directly to me when presenting my comments to Council. He continued, "It would be irresponsible not to investigate it (purchase-power agreements). ...We owe it to our residents to take the time and examine all of the opportunities."
Mayor Miyagashima stated that there could be possible substantial savings to the City and customers if the City and El Paso Electric could develop purchase power agreements. Currently the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission (PRC) is reviewing the matter and will determine if State laws allows or prohibits such agreements.
Mayor Miyagashima expressed that he was confident that the process would not take more than six months.
However, City Attorney Fermin Rubio, and City Clerk Esther Martinez told the council that an indefinite table can only last as long as the current council remains in office. Municipal elections for three of the seven council seats will be conducted Nov. 3, and any pending action by the current council would only be allowed until Nov. 16, when a new council begins it duties.
"Anything after that would have to be introduced as a completely new matter," said Martinez, referring to Nov. 16.
State Senator Steve Fischmann said, "I believe what we have now doesn't quite get us there," referring to the Franchise Agreement. "This is a good chance to take six months, (and) reach a good agreement. I don't think we're sacrificing anything."
However, Dan Townsend, a fellow member of the AdHoc Committee disagreed with the proposal to table the matter and with Fischmanns arguments.
As stated in the Las Cruces Sun-News by Steve Ramirez in this morning edition he quoting me..."Winter is coming and we don't know how long the PRC is going to take," Camunez said. "Delaying this may hurt the citizens. They (El Paso Electric) have acted in good faith and we (the city) have acted in good faith. We need to go in the right direction."
Dan Townsend added, "I'm afraid some of the objections are peripheral items that do not belong in the franchise agreement." Dan further stated that this could hurt the City economically. "I really think a delay is not in the public interest," Dan concluded.
What does City Councils actions mean for the Citizens of Las Cruces:
1. If no formal action is taken by the second meeting in November, when a new Council will be seated, the franchise agreement would have to be reintroduced.
2. El Paso Electric could seek to have a franchise agreement renegotiated with the City.
3. A majority of the council appears to want more clarification about purchase power agreements before deciding on a franchise agreement. Only the NM Public Regulations Commission (PRC)can provide guidance and legal clarification.
4. The city will continue to operate on a month-to-month agreement with El Paso Electric for at least the next two years or as defined by state statute or legal rulings (Moongate Water Case).
In conclusion, the City Council appointments committees, boards, adhoc committees, etc. however, they won't take there recommendations from this groups, which include City Councilors and decide to make up their own rules as they go along. This is unacceptable. There were 9 open meetings of the AdHoc Committee for public input, however only one member of the public attended most of the meetings. It was not until the June public meeting to present the Franchise Agreement for public review, did detractors appear and participated in my opinion in "grandstanding" tactics. My question to them "Why wait until the last minute.?" The AdHoc Committee would have been willing to work and address, if possible, some of their issues and concerns.
I now question the effective of City Boards, Committees, etc. and the need to waste citizen's time and staff resources on acts of futility if Council doesn't take direction and guidance from it's own Citizens.
I feel that a tremendous about of time, human resources and staff resources to have Council table and important issue as utility issues is very troubling and should raise some serious questions about the motivations of the majority of City Council.
Weren't they elected the "represent" all the citizens of Las Cruces, not just a small vocal minority as we see they do on a regular basis?
I just hope that we haven't lost the wonderful provisions that we were able to add to the unique Franchise Agreement with El Paso Electric Company.
Come November 4th with Municipal Elections, maybe we can use the ballot box to make some clear changes.