Okay, here’s the scenario: Somewhere in a town probably deep down in the rural South, the politicians decide unceremoniously to dump part of the city’s utility system. The line given to the townsfolk is that the utility system is losing money. This issue of losses is hotly contested, but the town fathers are able to stall off an independent audit to determine if the utility is really losing money. The only daily newspaper in town is owned by basically the same group of people that run the town – they’re all good ol’ boys and girls – so it spouts a nearly constant stream of propaganda backing up whatever the town fathers say. Feeling secure, the politicians plow right ahead. There are some awkward questions, however.
Why, you ask yourself, would anyone want to buy a utility that’s losing money? So they can save the city some bucks and take the losses themselves? Surely, this is altruism’s finest hour! But then you see that the person buying the utility is one of the good ol’ folks group. Armed with this knowledge, you now assume the utility must be making money hand over fist! It’s a no-brainer. And that’s before they fire all the family wage job union workers currently working there and raise the rates sky-high. If it weren’t profitable, no one would want to buy it. The good ol’ boys and girls won’t waste money on unprofitable businesses. It’s just not done. And cooking the books to make it show a loss is so, so easy.
You remember the Dukes of Hazzard? This all sounds like something County Commissioner Boss Hogg would try to engineer, right? And it’s a given that everything Boss Hogg does profits himself or his friends. That’s just the way he rolls.
The problem is that it’s not Hazzard County, Georgia we’re talking about. It’s Tacoma, Washington.
The issue is the sale of the Click Network to Rainier Connect. And it is a sale: For all intents and purposes, a 40-year lease is exactly the same as a sale.
The most Hazzardish aspect of the Click saga is a sly move by our city council to declare Click “surplus.” In their wisdom from on high, our City fathers (and mothers) would have us think the sale of Click is much too weighty an issue to let the voters actually decide. Or conversely, they’re afraid people would vote their shady deal down. So they happily decided on the convenient fiction of the surplus declaration.
Nevermind that such declarations are usually used for vastly smaller sales, say, old trucks and computers that aren’t used anymore. Maybe a substation or something. What’s good enough for that stuff is good enough for a $200 million asset like Click. Sure thing.
Sadly, this minor contrivance is necessary because the Tacoma City Charter (Section 4.6) clearly states that before any TPU asset can be sold, leased or disposed of, there must first be a vote of the people authorizing such sale or lease.
In any normal functioning democracy, politicians would bend over backward to ensure the Democratic process is followed. Particularly where there’s a contentious issue like Click’s profitability. They would err on the side of inclusion and consensual decision-making. It is, after all, the people who are ultimately in charge.
But not in Tacoma, where Boss Hogg reigns supreme. In Tacoma, the politicians give the bum’s rush to the Democratic process, patting us on the head and telling us they know better. These issues are far too complicated for mere citizens to understand. Right?
Wrong! Clearly, the surplus declaration has been wholly manufactured to cheat Tacomans out of their right to vote on the issue.
What can we do about this? You can call or write your local council member and demand that a true independent audit of the finances of Click be made to determine its profitability. Then and only then, if the independent audit does determine Click is losing money, we must demand the sale of Click be put to a vote of the people before the council takes any action on a sale or lease. That’s the law in Tacoma.
This isn’t Hazzard County. Let’s not allow the politicians to run Tacoma like it is. Let’s tell Boss Hogg, “No!”
Michael Pellegrini is a Tacoma Longshoreman and writer.