This month I would like to start a conversation about quasi-public agencies and how they function. If you are not sure what a quasi-public agency is, look no further than Overton Power District (OPD).
Many of us who live here in Mesquite come from large cities where our public utility companies namely water, power and or gas are true public utilities, carefully regulated by Federal and State agencies with complete oversight of their operations. This is not the case in many rural areas like Mesquite. Our local utilities are referred to as quasi-public. Let me explain. The term quasi-public is sometimes applied to corporations, which are not strictly public in the sense of being organized for governmental purposes, but contribute to the welfare of the general public, mainly some type of utility. Citizens typically enjoy access to information on all types of public projects funded by taxpayer dollars. But when governments sell these assets or formal agreements with private partners or allow private corporations to form their own agreements, transparency advocates will tell you it often closes the door to accountability. There are numerous examples of embattled companies such as utilities blocking disclosure of records. Only 26 states provide any data at all for quasi-public agencies. If money were being badly spent, taxpayers wouldn’t know about it.
When a public utility wants to raise rates, fee structures, expand or whatever, they must present their case before the regulatory agency of their state for approval. This IS NOT the case with a quasi-public agency. If they want to give raises to employees. Change benefits, areas of service, etc., they need only to approve them internally. These issues will be discussed this week with the director of Overton Power and myself. Mesquite was indeed lucky no one died as a result of the longest local power outage remembered. Business in Mesquite suffered with no recourse or plausible explanation by the power company. So far they have offered no plan B to remedy future occurrences. We need answers and we need them soon. Had this event taken place in summer, people would have probably died and the financial losses to each of us could have been enormous.
There has to be viable solutions, but the utility company must provide them. We, as a city, have absolutely no control over a quasi-public agency. We cannot order them or turn to government for control or even answers to the problem. No, we cannot form our own utility company. We are at the mercy of the company, not the other way around. Lets hope we can get the needed cooperation from Overton Power and move towards a resolution of the issues the not only currently face us, but future issues as they come about.
We have met with other power companies with no positive results. I don’t believe anything will change without OPD’s total cooperation. I will update everyone as soon as my discussions with OPD are over with.