Thoughts on Transparency

In trying to research the whole Electric City Power/Highwood Generating Station issue, I was struck by the lack of hard, financial and organizational information available on the web.

For example, the Electric City Power's Board of Directors' minutes are available online here. But in reading them, one is left with a sort of vague sense that the 'whole story' is missing. While matters are discussed, often the minutes reflect only the most general analysis of what's really going on.

For example, in their November 2006 minutes, the Executive Director of Electric City Power, Coleen Balzarini, discussed proposed legislation. The minutes state: "Balzarini then gave a recap of the City’s legislative efforts this year and advised the board that the City would be entering bill draft requests to the Montana Legislature soon to advance its legislative interests." Well, what does that mean? What are the "legislative interests" of Electric City Power.

One detractor has suggested in comments on the Great Falls Tribune site (scroll down), that, despite our City Commission's assurance to the contrary, the City seeks to capture us all as customers: "[T]he City denies that it has any intention of making Electric City Public Power (ECP) the "default supplier" for people living in Great Falls. Sen. Joe Tropila would no doubt be surprised at this, since he is carrying a bill for the City which would do precisely that." (I intend to write more about this issue later.)

Does the City plan to offer legislation requiring us to buy our power from Electric City Power? They tried this once before. If this is one of the "legislative interests" of Electric City Power, why is it being kept secret?

Further, in one of the comments to an earlier post, Anonymous indicates difficulty obtaining information from Ms. Balzarini. Why? Given the relative access of the internet, shouldn't all of the relevant documents be available for review? Where are the financial statements of SME and ECP? Where are the agreements between the City of Great Falls, ECP and SME? Why are they not all online?

If you go to the City's website, you can catch a link to some basic information about the Electric City Power Board of Directors, as well as links to minutes (not updated yet with the December minutes) and a link to the SME site. As noted earlier, the minutes are somewhat vague and conclusory.

The SME site has some good information linked about the project, but the financial stuff is missing. I have to admit, I don't understand much of the science. But I do understand tax dollars, and I am somewhat concerned that there does not seem to be much transparency about where, exactly, all the money is going.

We're in the process of trying to obtain all of the source documentation, but in the meantime feel free to call Ms. Balzarini and urge her to start putting this stuff online!

Coleen Balzarini (406) 455-8423

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