Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

January 3, 2013

Do we ever consider our customers?

MT. VERNON — Editor:

Your newspaper carried a story about Monday’s Rend Lake Conservancy District board meeting in which board member Jim Rippy supposedly insulted the general manager and most of the board members with a statement he had made during a debate about the need for water rate increases.

Frustrated over the board’s insistence on raising water rates when he felt no increase was needed, he simply said in a slightly testy way, “Do we ever consider our customers?” The story also correctly reported, “Other members of the board voiced their disapproval with the comment.”

Now I fail to see how any board member or anyone else could be insulted by his comment. If anyone is so thin skinned to be offended by such an innocuous statement, he or she should not be serving on a public board.

A board is a critical part of any organization. It is a place where individual members come together to establish policy. Each member must be allowed to probe, to challenge, and to question other members. It is in this way that better decisions are made. Moreover, it gives transparency to their actions.

I suspect that some board members were uncomfortable in answering such a question. To avoid it, they feigned to be insulted. This is a common tactic to dodge questions.

There are larger and underlying concerns to this story than whether one is offended by a statement made by a fellow board member, and it was these concerns that prompted Mr. Rippy to ask the simple question, and it is these issues that prompt me to defend Mr. Rippy in this matter.

The underlying concerns go to the fundamental way in which district services (water, recreation and sewer) are financed. I have heard Rippy say it many times, “We raise water rates we don’t need, we levy property taxes we don’t need and we borrow money we don’t need.”

I have had many conversations with Mr. Rippy since we first joined the board in 2005. Although I have not always agreed with him on all issues facing the district, I believe I understand his thoughts in these matters and concur with them. We view district finances in a different way than the general manager and Franklin County board members.

This is the source of his frustration and it is driven by his desire to give something back to our customers and taxpayers. Moreover, it is fueled by the knowledge there is not much that can be done about it with Franklin County controlling the board and on financial issues always voting in a block. Our only hope to prevail in the matters of district finances is to continue to bring pressure on board members by speaking out in public. Hence, this is the reason I write this letter and is the reason for his question, “Do we ever consider our customers?”

Jere Shaw

Mt. Vernon

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