Friday, November 29, 2013

Catching Up: PSB Communications Policy

Read the history of the gag rule

I last wrote about the PSB's gag rule communications policy here. David Crowder reported about the contentious November meeting of the PSB in an El Paso Inc. story. I was at that meeting and spoke out against the gag rule communications policy reminding board members that it sprang from the failure of Dr. Shoephoerster to get approval of a water project at UTEP - a project that would have been funded by ratepayers. Shoephoerster called my allegation "untruthful" but the facts speak for themselves. I also took Bob Andron, EPWU attorney, to task for taking the communications policy into the closed doors of executive session in the beginning. (Shouldn't the PSB have their own attorney?)

Mayor Leeser again saved the day and the matter was kicked into a committee. 

The Chair has called a meeting of the Public Service Board Gag Rule Communications Committee to be held on Monday, December 2, 2013, at 1:30 p.m. at the El Paso Water Utilities Public Service Board Meeting Room, 1154 Hawkins Boulevard, El Paso, Texas. This is a public meeting. I might just wear a gag when I attend.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

No to the Gag Rule. Freedom of the press is absolutely critical to democracy and an informed electorate. In my opinion, PSB members must be able to talk to anyone, including the press at any time. Ideally, the press and the person interviewed should make it clear if they represent themselves of speak for an institution or organization.

I fully support the “water project at UTEP” and am sorry it is linked to the “gag rule” here. El Paso, PSB, UTEP, and all of us should take every opportunity to emphasize water issues. Building a reclaimed water facility at UTEP is a GOOD idea. It is progressive in that it will increase UTEP students’ and the public’s interest in reclaimed water issues. We need to move towards toilet-to-tap and the first step is to get people thinking about how to do it.

judy

Jim Tolbert said...

Judy - emphasizing water issues is good. However, there are rules that restrict utilities from making contributions and that is what this was. UTEP could have the project for an additional $400,000 - but they wanted you and me and all ratepayers to subsidize this. Moreover, the equipment that was proposed for this project has been described by a water engineer as Third World and outdated. Wouldn't it be better for the engineer students (under Dean Shoephoerster also Chair of the PSB) to use cutting edge technology. In addition, the current re-landscaping of the campus will lead to a zero need for irrigation in time. How better to emphasize water issues than rainwater capture and Green Infrastructure/Low Impact Development - something every home and business in the city should be using. Finally, it was the sneaky way that this project was pushed - behind the scenes, closed door wheeling and dealing. Again, it is against the rules for a contribution from the utility which this clearly was and it was done without any public vetting except when it was shoved upon us. When it failed, the Dean of Engineering/Chair of the PSB reacted by wanting to issue a new communications policy which is really a gag order. The hope is that another board member more sensitive to public vetting wouldn't begin discussing a matter with the press thus opening those closed doors. What is further reprehensible is that the EPWU Attorney, Bob Andron, used his privilege as attorney to move the matter of a communication policy into executive session. As a policy decision, it belonged in public.