Utility Board election redux
Ballots for the Utility District Commission Election were mailed out to the island’s ratepayers on Monday, Sept. 25.
The election, a do-over of a previous election plagued by flaws and irregularities that ended after some public complaints about the process at a Town Council meeting on Aug. 24, will elect a five-member Board of Utility Commissioners to set the mission and policy for the island’s utility district.
Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick said, “We had some fabulous volunteers come to Town Hall this morning (Sept. 25) to stuff the envelopes. Pat Queally, Pat Tengwall, Sue Torrey, Greta Heinz, and Tracy Fredericks pitched in and many hands made light work.”
Fitzpatrick wants voters to know which ballots they should cast and return. “Vote the new pink ballot, the old green ballots are void and were not counted,” she said. “You may remove the top of the ballot where your name appears. If you are designating a voter, return the top with your ballot. In either case, we will remove your name before ballots are counted by teams of volunteers on October 24th.”
The New Shoreham Clerk’s Office said the election’s voting period will run from Monday, Oct. 2 to Wednesday, Oct. 18. Voters should place their ballots in the mail by, or on, Oct. 18. Ballots will be counted at Town Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 3:30 p.m. The Board of Utility Commissioners candidates are Mary Jane Balser, Christine Grele, Barbara MacMullan, Sean McGarry, Pete McNerney, Bill Penn, John “Jack” Savoie, and Everett Shorey.
Regarding the election, Block Island Power Company President Jeffery Wright said, “I am so pleased to get the creation of the Block Island Utility District back on track. It was a minor setback for the Utility District timeline, but the most important thing is to get this off on the right foot.”
“Creating the Block Island Utility District is such a great step forward for the Island and its energy future,” Wright told The Times. “It would be a shame to tarnish that great goal with anything other than a fair election process. I have encouraged everyone I meet to vote, and run, for the Board of Commissioners, to be a part of creating something great. I will continue to do so. An engaged customer base is so important to making the new company great and so far we are off to a great start.”
As for the revised list of account holders, something a few protestors argued for at the Town Council’s meeting on August 24, Wright said, “There was a lot of work by a lot of volunteers that led to a list that I believe is as accurate as it can be. It was a good opportunity for our customers to update the account information and for us to clean up our customer list. I really commend the Town Hall staff and the volunteers from the Board of Canvassers who helped get the ballots out to the right people.”
“The most important work was done by the ratepayers,” said Fitzpatrick. “Last month’s bill from the Block Island Power Company included a reminder for everyone to check their billing information with BIPCo. Our starting point was the BIPCo billing list updated by the customers. Under the legislation, a qualified elector has an active account, but no qualified elector shall have more than one vote.”
Fitzpatrick said, “To turn a good billing list into the Utility Commission Election ballot list, we split and reconfigured the name field to alphabetize the accounts. Alphabetizing was not a function needed by BIPCo, but it was essential to eliminating duplicates. Volunteers from the Board of Canvassers: Heather Russo, Sue Torrey, Marguerite Donnelly and Greta Heinz, Millie McGinnes, Jeff Wright, and Tracy Fredericks and I went through the active accounts and eliminated duplicates in order to limit qualified electors to one ballot.”
Fitzpatrick encourages voters to “keep the end game in sight. This will be the first ratepayer-elected Board of Utility Commissioners on the island. Talk to the candidates.”
“The Utility District will be governed by its customers and in my opinion, it doesn’t get any more pure than that,” noted Wright. “The Utility District’s mission will be written by the new Board of Commissioners who will then set policies to enable us to best serve the island. Everyone will have a voice, our Board of Commissioners meetings will be open and the Utility District will be an open book.”