My Turn " Truckee PUD: scapegoating and blame
In the past few weeks the dynamics at Truckee’s public utility district have escalated to a crisis point.
The beginning of this meltdown came at the board meeting three or four weeks ago when the board dissolved into extreme disarray, complete with blame, criticism, name-calling and hostile defensiveness. No one on the board would or could listen to one another and, in spite of a valiant effort by the board president, the chaos ran rampant. It was truly a tragic comedy.
As the result of that chaotic meeting, the board subsequently adopted a code of conduct for its meetings. In the meeting of Friday April 13, manifestation of this code was not evident. The disarray among the board continued. Deepening the crisis is the recent resignation by the general manager. This threw gasoline onto the flames of scapegoating, blame and criticism.
In a recent edition of the Sierra Sun (April 13), district Director Ron Hemig indirectly accused directors Sutton and Thomason of causing the general manager’s resignation due to their dissident behavior and attitudes. There was also a letter read at the meeting on Friday April 13 from Jim Maass, a very long-time former director. In the letter, Mr. Maass made the same accusations as Mr. Hemig. It is also believed that Sutton and Thomason are getting pressured to resign.
While there are numerous directions I could take from here, I wish to focus on the dynamic regarding open and free discourse, which is a basic tenet of our society. In our open, democratic society we have the right to express our opinions, ideas and beliefs. And we have the obligation to hear from others whose opinions may differ widely from ours, and to respect them for their views.
Without this we do not have a democracy but, instead, a dictatorship. When others are criticized for their views, punished for expressing them and squashed from their right to appropriate self- expression, we are in big trouble.
I have attended many district board meetings. The dynamics on the board are quite consistent. There are three board members who consistently go along with what is presented by the manager and two members who question the “company line.” While I would deem these differences as necessary and important, allowing for a wide range of perspectives to be examined and included, such is not the case on this board. Board members over-talk one another, don’t listen to one another, attempt to shut one another down, become defensive and digress into off-agenda subjects.
This dynamic is particularly evident between Mr. Hemig and Mrs. Sutton. While both these members are quite knowledgeable and have much wisdom to offer, their dynamics render them more of a liability than an asset. They have each been on the board for at least 20 years, and thus have a long history in their interactions. Any attempts at order and decorum are squashed. (And they wonder why their meetings run so long.)
Added to the disarray within the board is the dynamic of public input. Public presenters are allowed to ramble on with no time limits. While most public input is courteously heard, there is also the not-infrequent defensive reactivity from a board member. And, particularly more recently, members of the public have resorted to blame and name-calling of staff and board members.
Finally, there is some evidence indicating that within the utility district’s staff, going against the company line is punished.
I have attended many Truckee Town Council meetings including a recent Council-Planning Commission joint workshop on Planned Community 3. As in all things, there was a wide array of ideas and opinions presented and verbalized at that meeting. There is a wide array of opinion among board members. The president was in clear control of the meeting and moved it along efficiently. All presenters were heard without defensive reactions, time limits for presenters were adhered to and board members and members of staff listened courteously and gave their input concisely and without verbal reaction of others. I certainly felt emotionally safe and listened to.
The utility district also is dealing with big issues, no bigger or smaller than those of the town. It is tragic that the climate at the district is one of a significantly dysfunctional family. It is clear to me that the dysfunction must be treated and remedied, and that has to happen before the district can regain its proper service to the community.
It may require a moratorium on dealing with issues until this is resolved. Resolution may require intensive treatment or removal of members of the family, replacing them with fresh faces and a new start.
Either way, it just cannot continue in the manner that it has.