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Pacific Power article lacks objective balance

letter to the editor of Herald and News by Ed Silling, Klamath Falls 1/21/15

followed by Pacific Power states case for lawsuits against city, H&N 1/20/15

Pacific Power sues (Klamath Falls) city. Eminent domain, public utility district at heart of lawsuit, H&N 1/17/15.

     The Oregon constitution not only grants communities the explicit right to form public utility districts, it also provides a blueprint for doing so. See ORS 261. The executives of Pacific Power surely know this, which makes their suit of the City of Klamath Falls merely a bullying tactic.

   The Herald and News coverage, Jan. 17, lacks journalistic professionalism. The alarmist headline in 63-point bold is followed by a subhead which summarizes the utility’s position, followed by the Pacific Power logo, under which is a link to the full text of the complaint. Anyone familiar with the trickery of persuasion will know that the following story is being framed to support PP’s position.  

   I don’t blame the reporter who probably tried to represent both sides fairly, as professional journalists are trained to do. But the edited version of the story is badly out of balance.

   The text survives at 17 column inches. General information accounts for about 6. Of the remaining 11, spokesmen for the corporate utility get 7.5 (including another heading ‘claiming’ that the city is violating the Oregon constitution) and spokespersons for the city get 3.5, a ratio of over 2-1 in the corporation’s favor.

   This lack of objectivity is a great disservice to the community.

Pacific Power states case for lawsuit against city

  Herald and News 1/20/15 by Holly Dillemuth
     One year after a failed effort by the city of Klamath Falls to form its own electric utility company, tensions remain high between city leaders and Pacific Power.

   Pacific Power filed a legal complaint against the city of Klamath Falls and Mayor Todd Kellstrom in the U.S. District Court in Medford Thursday, suing the city for passage of what they believe to be an illegal ordinance and a potential threat of future condemnation of property. The lawsuit stems from heightened concerns an ordinance passed by members of Klamath Falls City Council in December involves controversial terms, such as “condemnation,” that the company feels could rekindle the effort to form a municipal utility district (MUD).

   Representatives from Pacific Power stated the company’s case for legal action in a Herald and News Editorial Board meeting Monday afternoon.
Scott Bolton, vice president of community and government relations at Pacific Power, emphasized franchise agreements that lay out terms of use are generally routine.

   “It’s extremely rare we find ourselves in the situation where we’re actually going to federal court over an illegal ordinance,” Bolton said.

   “We believe we’ve had a step back with this franchise situation, which frankly has taken us completely by surprise.”

   A reference to condemnation used in city ordinance No. 14-12, consisting of language used since 1962, according to the city, still draws concern from Pacific Power.

   “This caught our eye, obviously, coming out of the MUD   campaign,” Bolton said.

   “Basically what this says is, we may condemn you, and if you do, you don’t get to claim any value for damage by our condemnation of your property. An interpretive dispute over what this language means … has turned into a major problem, we believe, for the city, and for our relationship as well.”

   Bolton acknowledged the city’s use of the language in past agreements, but said the company questions the reasoning for its use, especially one year after a MUD effort.

   “Whoever was my utility forefather in the past, who has signed these (agreements) between Pacific Power and the city, found this language acceptable,” Bolton said.  

   “Having just come out of the city’s actual attempt at having to, or at least explored condemnation,” he added, “I don’t even feel like it’s in our fiduciary powers to sign this.”

   Pacific Power’s one-year franchise agreement with the city expired Dec. 18, 2014, and discussions about negotiating a renewed agreement started in May, according to Bolton. Discussions about a negotiated agreement remained underway up until the night of Dec. 1, when council voted to approve the ordinance, according to Bolton.

   Todd Andres, regional community manager for Pacific Power in Klamath Falls, emphasized he read a statement to members of City Council Dec. 15, calling for a renegotiation.

   “Obviously we’re in some disagreement   with the city,” Andres said. “We’re doing things to protect our rights.”

   City of Klamath Falls leaders and members of city council have emphasized there is currently no effort to revisit the MUD concept. Members of council tabled the effort by the city to form an MUD in January 2014, and Kellstrom said council members lack the appetite to revisit the issue.

   Kellstrom has said he doesn’t want to “bind” future councils by eliminating language used in the city’s agreement with Pacific Power spanning more than 50 years.

   City Manager Nathan Cherpeski said Friday the city attorney was reviewing the legal complaint.




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