Local group urging public utilities not be privatized


2/18/2016 – West Side Leader

To the editor:

We write in response to the Feb. 1, 2016, Blue Ribbon Task Force report.

We understand and commend the desire and need to have an outside ad hoc group assess the current conditions of the city and the present structure and policies of the city government, as well as offer recommendations for improvement.

There is much in the report with which we agree. Many of the challenges Akron faces are, as the report states, due to external political and economic conditions that are shared by other cities — namely deindustrialization, federal and state budget cuts and the recent economic recession.

We would point out that each of these realities has been caused in no small degree by the growing power and rights of business corporations and the super wealthy few. They’ve exerted political and economic influence over public policies and the economy in support of tax cuts, subsidies, perks, contracts and reductions of regulations, which have further consolidated their power and rights and increased their fortunes. The losers, of course, have been programs, policies and people in urban, rural and suburban areas, including Akron — specifically the poor, elderly, persons of color, working class and differently abled.

Not all of Akron’s current problems are due, however, to external factors. Some have been self-inflicted. The past decision by the administration to fight the [Environmental Protection Agency] over the city’s combined sewer overflow resulted in substantial federal dollars left on the table that now must come out of the pockets of Akron water and sewer customers.

The Task Force report asserts that “[T]he single largest challenge facing the City is its financial condition.” We agree. It’s appropriate, therefore, that many of its recommendations address ways to reduce costs or increase income.

Prior to listing any specific recommendations, the report wisely declares, “some of them will require further study; others will require additional resources (human and capital); and still others just may not work at this time.”

We respectfully offer that one of the recommendations in the later category, that “just may not work at this time,” that we believe should not work out ANY time is selling, leasing or transferring the city’s water and sewer system — a suggestion referenced on page 17.

Public utilities should remain public by the mere fact that to be more effective and efficient there should be one provider. Akron voters overwhelmingly approved in 2008 to keep the city’s public sewer system public  — under the control of We the People. Voters understood that to privatize/corporatize public utilities more often than not increases costs, reduces services and results in the lay-off of public employees. And in every single case, turning over a public asset to a for-profit corporation, especially if headquartered outside the community, state, if not country, significantly reduces public control — i.e. democracy.

We believe former [Cleveland] Mayor Tom Johnson, promoter of the public Cleveland electric power system, said it best more than a century ago: “I believe in the municipal ownership of all public service monopolies … for if you do not own them they will, in time, own you. They will rule your politics, corrupt your institutions and finally destroy your liberties.”

While ostensibly a public official, the emergency manager appointed by the Michigan governor to run the public water system in Flint, Michigan, was unaccountable and unelected. Running the public water system like a business is what led to the tragic poisoning of the residents of that city.

Our concluding message is simple, as reinforced by over 60 percent of Akron voters in 2008: Keep Public Utilities Public.

Thank you for your consideration.

John Fuller, clerk, Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee (AFSC); and Greg Coleridge, director, Northeast Ohio AFSC


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