Updated: August 24, 2012 at 12:00 am
Tempers are flaring among City Council members over the governance of Colorado Springs Utilities and the future of the Martin Drake Power Plant downtown.
Councilwoman Lisa Czelatdko dropped the F-bomb twice Friday in an email to Councilwoman Angela Dougan, and Councilman Bernie Herpin took a swipe at Dougan and Councilman Tim Leigh in an online post but then quickly edited his remarks.
The council, acting as the Utilities Board, has been engulfed in passionate discussions about the billion-dollar-plus city enterprise, and whether to decommission the aging coal-fired power plant.
Mayor Steve Bach, who has no oversight of Utilities, has inserted himself in all the debates, most recently when he repeated his call for the board to lead a community conversation about Utilities, including a study on whether to lease or sell its electric generating capacity.
On Wednesday, the board voted to hire a consultant to help with the governance issue. The board also decided to direct the city’s Utilities Policy Advisory Committee to research the financial impacts of leasing or selling the electric generating capacity and the benefits that peer utilities provide to their communities.
Discussions about the Drake power plant resurfaced Wednesday, too, with several speakers at the board meeting. They asked the board to reconsider its decision to move forward with plans to spend millions on emissions control technology without first studying decommissioning the plant. In July, the board voted 7-2 to go ahead and install the technology at Drake and wait to conduct the study in 2013.
Former Councilman Richard Skorman, a businessman who ran for mayor against Bach, called it “one of the worst decisions” from the board.
“There is no poorer decision in my mind that’s going to affect the community long-term than to say, ‘We don’t want to listen to what the community has to say.’ I’ll leave you at that and apologize for my passion and emotion,” Skorman said Wednesday.
Dougan and Councilwoman Brandy Williams had voted in July against moving forward with installing the Neumann Systems Group technology at Drake, and Leigh and Councilman Val Snider said they were willing to reconsider.
But they were in the minority on the nine-member board.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Leigh called for the board’s removal for its incompetence.
“It’s not that we’re not good people. It’s just that it’s a billion-dollar corporation,” he said.
Leigh’s remarks fueled growing tension among board members.
“I view our board and Council as very vulnerable right now, weak,” Czelatdko wrote in an email.
“It has not helped when some of my colleagues display difficulty in comprehending the material, admitted to not reading the materials, not attended meetings, and frequently switching their positions. I resent the appearance of being ‘incompetent’ and not committed to providing our ratepayers with stable, competent leadership,” she said.
Dougan fired back, telling Czelatdko to debate the facts and leave the personal attacks out.
“When you have to go down that route — it generally tells me you know you were wrong,” Dougan wrote. “Please next time when you write one of these letters — DO NOT speak as you are the CSU board — speak for yourself and only for yourself.”
Dougan’s email didn’t sit well with Czelatdko, who responded using her government email account.
“Almost every question you and Tim asked Wednesday was not new information being given to us,” Czelatdko wrote. “Start paying some (expletive) attention and stop participating in giving away our authority and making us look like (expletive) idiots!”
In an interview Friday, Czelatdko said the email was a private communication between her and a colleague.
“I don’t have a temper, but I get frustrated, especially when I know materials are being provided,” she said. “We’re being provided any amount of information that we ask for. I don’t like when it’s alleged that we’re being withheld information or the facts are not being given because that’s just not true.”
Herpin also expressed frustration over Leigh’s “incompetence” remark on Facebook.
Herpin listed his credentials, including a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and said he was qualified to understand the material provided by Utilities and make an informed decision.
“Perhaps a real estate agent or housewife might not feel competent to serve on the Board of Directors of CSU, in which case maybe they should consider resigning or abstaining from decisions,” he said in a reference to Leigh and Dougan, respectively.
Herpin quickly edited the post.
“Perhaps if a person doesn’t feel competent to serve on the Board of Directors of CSU, maybe they should consider resigning or abstaining from decisions,” he wrote in the toned-down version.
Contact Daniel Chacón: 476-1623
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