Utility committee meeting falls apart
by Eddie Burkhalter
May 13, 2013 | 4750 views |  0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PIEDMONT — A Piedmont utility committee meeting fizzled before it could begin Monday, after committee chairman Frank Cobb left the room, objecting, he said, to a discussion going on among local landlords there.

Cobb said he called the meeting so that the three-member committee could discuss, among other things, a policy change that would require city utility accounts for renters to be listed under their landlord’s name.

They were also to talk about another idea to increase renters’ utility hookup fees from $250 to $565, a move utility manager Casey Ponder said would lower the amount of write-offs from unpaid bills.

Ponder said last year the city saw a loss of around $150,000 from unpaid utility bills, about 93 percent from renters, he said. He said he had hoped to discuss those changes with the committee Monday.

But around eight local landlords were in attendance Monday, and before the meeting was to begin at 12:30 p.m. the group started discussing other matters involving utilities and renters.

“What you’re discussing needs to be held in an open forum with all council members,” Cobb said moments after the meeting was to begin. Cobb then adjourned the meeting, which was open to the public and proper notice posted at City Hall and with the press.

“No landlords can be here?” asked local landlord Robbie Schoonhoven.

“This is a work meeting. We’re not even discussing policies. We’re just looking at policies and making suggestions,” Cobb replied.

When reached by phone after the meeting, Cobb said that he did not think the meeting should have been public because a quorum of council members weren’t present.

“There wasn’t a quorum,” Cobb said.

When a reporter explained that a quorum was reached with two of three committee members present, and according to state law the meeting must be open to the public, Cobb said “I read the law but ... I called a meeting to discuss, we had some issues that the committee needed to listen to from the department heads.”

When asked if he would rather discuss the issues behind closed doors and with no landlords present, Cobb said no.

“I had no idea that somebody had called every landlord in Piedmont to show up for this committee meeting,” Cobb said.

The Utility Committee, made up of Cobb and councilmen Kenny Kelley and Ben Keller, does not hold regularly scheduled meetings.

Keller arrived moments after Cobb left, thereby making a quorum, but none of the proposed changes were discussed and attendees began leaving shortly afterward.

Speaking after the meeting, Ponder said he was awaiting a ruling from city attorney Ron Allen on the legality of requiring renters’ city-operated utility accounts to be established in their landlords’ name.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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