‘Conscience of community’ speaks out

Window

Opinion column

by Mary Rupert

Every now and then, you can hear the “conscience of the community” speaking out at a public meeting in Kansas City, Kansas.

Louise Lynch is one of the residents who might currently be termed the “conscience of the community.”

Right before the Unified Government Commissioners voted on the budget Sept. 15, Lynch spoke out, letting them know how mixed up and just plain wrong the priorities are in local government.

She told them she was tired of seeing the back-and-forth in the local government, then nothing gets done.

“We need our commissioners to do the job for everyone and not just your area,” she said.

Lynch has appeared at the Board of Public Utilities meetings numerous times previously to urge them to stop disconnecting electricity for nonpayment of bills. She also advocated for additions to the BPU’s list of customers with medical equipment. People who are on the medical list can get cut off for nonpayment, she said. She first started speaking out when serious medical conditions affected her family’s ability to work.

She appeared at the UG meeting Sept. 15 to urge commissioners to take action to help BPU customers.

While there was a time when a moratorium was in place on shutting off electricity for nonpayment, the local utility now has returned to shutoffs for nonpayment. Lynch stated that currently, some customers who have assistance applications pending before the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance program have had electricity cut off. The extra reconnection fees these residents are hit with could very well have been money that could have been used to help others, she pointed out.

Because of the efforts of Lynch and others including Ty Gorman, a community activist who has represented the Sierra Club, the BPU board decided to re-evaluate its shutoff policy. The board has not yet voted on it, but the latest version under discussion appeared to be somewhat similar to the old policy that was in place.

Gorman stated at the UG meeting Sept. 15 that there’s no reason to keep disconnecting electricity here, as federal legislation including the inflation reduction act and jobs act had a lot of funding available for utilities to repay costs and debt. Gorman urged the UG to get involved in this issue and make sure people are not being put in danger.

Later, after the meeting, Lynch questioned the UG Commission approving taking $105,000 out of the mayor’s-commission discretionary fund and moving it to a commission district line item, splitting the funds among each district, with individual commissioners deciding how to spend the funds.

She noted that Commissioner Andrew Davis, who made this motion, said at the meeting that the funds could be used for block parties in the districts. There wasn’t prior public discussion on this item.

“We don’t have transportation for the disabled and aged to go to medical appointments,” Lynch said. “We don’t have enough homeless shelters for the winter.”

Lynch said she has been told that eight of the commissioners will vote together and will not vote for anything the mayor wants.

“I am sick of watching meetings, constant fighting and nothing gets done,” Lynch said.

Lynch is correct. There is a split in the UG government. There’s also been a shuffle going on the past several years with the BPU saying it can’t do anything about the PILOT fee that the UG places on its bills, which is true. The UG, while holding some meetings, is not doing anything on these issues at budget time. In the meantime, nothing really changes. More shuffling happens when the UG Commission says it is not required by law to do an action. The BPU’s latest viewpoint is that they are running the utility like a business and can’t afford to forgo the extra disconnection fees they place on residents.

The commission and the mayor will need to work together, and with the BPU, to get some meaningful changes made that will end the cycle of victimizing lower-income residents with endless fees, driving them further into poverty.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottedaily.com.

To see earlier stories about utility disconnections, visit http://www.wyandottedaily.com/activists-ask-bpu-to-end-electricity-shutoffs/ or http://www.wyandottedaily.com/not-as-many-bpu-customers-signing-up-for-state-utility-assistance-as-may-be-eligible/.

One thought on “‘Conscience of community’ speaks out”

  1. Hi Mary, this is Commissioner Davis. I want to clarify that transportation is not an eligible use for community event funding for Commission Districts. (nor was it part of my request). I also want to note that as Commissioners we are asked to support community events like Juneteenth celebrations, Neighborhood cleanups, parades, etc. with very few resources to do so. As a commissioner who seeks to be active and visible to my district, well-resourced to do so. That was the purpose behind my request.

    The conversation about BPU and the UG is an important one to have that is far more costly than $105k. I stand willing to have these conversations around the relationship between BPU and the UG and have stayed consistent on this since I was elected. Our community does not have to choose between social cohesion through well-resourced events and a reasonable utility bill. We can do both. Trying to separate the two does nothing but causes further division.

    If anyone would like to see the full exchange regarding what I said on the community event fund for commission districts please start at 4:39:00 in the link below.

    https://youtu.be/PbjOWC4Au5U

    Thank you.

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