New Tulare Board of Public Utilities Settles In

Tulare again has a full Board of Public Utilities (BPU), and it’s already at work.

Thomas Griesbach, with the unanimous support of the City Council, now fills the final seat on the five-member BPU. The BPU oversees waste removal and treatment, as well as awarding multi-million-dollar contracts with the city’s energy producing partners, a subject it will take up when it next meets on May 4.

The new appointments were necessary after the removal of two former members of the BPU, Ed Henry and Lee Brehm. The remaining three members resigned, two in protest, and one, James Pennington, so the Council could reappoint him if he was still welcome. None of the current council members voted for Pennington’s original appointment six months before his resignation.

The current Council OK’d Pennington’s appointment, and at the first meeting of the new BPU on April 20, he was chosen president of the board. Serving as vice president is Howard Stroman. The other BPU members are Erica Cubas, Gregory Blevins and Griesbach, who was appointed apart from his fellow board members at an April 18 meeting of the Council.

Some Experience

Gsriesbach, who has managed Lampe Lumber for the past 26 years, also has experience as the volunteer general manager of the Ponderosa Community Services District, a small utilities and roads district in that small mountain community. He also served as president of the Lumber Merchants of California-Nevada, as well as in a slew of other volunteer positions.

“If you want to do any complaining, you’ve got to do the jobs you might be able to do,” he said.

His prior experience includes working with large federally-funded projects for the Ponderosa District. However, experience with utility districts is not a requirement for BPU volunteers, Mayor Carlton Jones said.

“I believe in all our people in our city,” he said. “I believe that everyone that comes has the talent, because the only talent you really have to have for these types of positions are willingness to serve and commitment to learn.”

Diversity, New Faces and Colony Energy

Too much experience might, in fact, be a reason for the Council to pass a volunteer over for a spot on a board or commission. Councilman Jose Sigala, who cited a need for more diversity on the BPU as his motive for voting to remove Henry and Brehm, also said former members of the BPU had been there too long.

“At the last council meeting, there were a lot of negative comments from folks that obviously didn’t believe in them (the new BPU),” Sigala said. “I just want to let you know I understand it’s a high learning curve for a lot of folks, and I am excited about them learning. You can’t learn if someone sits on the same seat for 15-20 years.”

Jones cited a lack of communication on the part of the former BPU for his wanting a reorganization, and he took particular issue with its refusal to reconsider a deal with Colony Energy Partners to generate fuel from waste collected by the city. At its first meeting, the new BPU directed staff to place a discussion of the Colony deal on the agenda for its May 4 meeting.

A closed session is scheduled to talk over the possibility of litigation regarding the city’s property lease with Colony, as well as the city’s negotiations with the company regarding its proposal to turn Tulare’s solid waste in bio-diesel.

Police Oversight

At the same April 18 meeting, the Council also appointed Chris Soria and Dick Johnson to seats on the city’s Citizen Complaint Police Review Board (CCPRB). Johnson was a member of the BPU until he resigned following the removal of Henry and Brehm. There was no discussion by the Council regarding either appointment.

The CCPRB is tasked with reviewing the Tulare Police Department’s internal investigation of complaints against its officers. It meets at 5:30pm on the second Tuesday of each month at City Hall, 411 E. Kern Avenue.

At the BPU’s next meeting, 3pm on May 4, commissioners will discuss changing the time of meetings to the evening, as well as holding some of its meetings at other locations around the city. It currently meets in the Council Chambers, 411 N. M Street.

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