Now that Morgantown City Council has decided to table its ordinance creating more oversight for the Morgantown Utility Board, we’d like to offer some suggestions before council takes it up again.
We do agree with city council that MUB needs greater oversight. As it has expanded beyond Morgantown’s borders, MUB seems to have gotten the idea that it need not be beholden to anyone. It has cooperated with municipal and county governments, there is no question about that — but it seems to have forgotten it is a subsidiary of Morgantown’s government and has instead acted as an entirely independent agent. While MUB’s founders may have wanted the utility to be separate from city politics, we doubt they intended for it to go rogue. And it has gone rogue on more than one occasion, failing to communicate effectively with government entities and impacted residents.
The most recent — and memorably egregious — example is the waterline work in White Park. The issue has since been (mostly) resolved, but the first BOPARC or the city heard about the waterline running through the city park was from concerned residents in 2019 when markings started appearing on trees, indicating which ones should be cut down.
Then there are, of course, the dozens of examples stretching back years of MUB tearing up a freshly paved street (not just in Morgantown) in order to service the lines beneath — and then not satisfactorily repairing the road when it was finished. Such incidents are not just a failure of communication but a waste of taxpayer dollars.
So Morgantown City Council is right to want more oversight over MUB — but the proposed ordinance as-is isn’t the best way.
As several councilors have pointed out, because MUB is still technically a city entity, then technically anything MUB owns, the city owns. So that part of the ordinance’s language can stay.
The $1 million threshold for a council veto, however, seems arbitrarily low. As the proposal is currently written, council would have the power to veto any MUB project over $1 million or that the council deems “outside the ordinary course of business.” Oversight is one thing, but creating an excessive amount of red tape is another. This part might also give council disproportionate authority over development happening beyond Morgantown’s limits.
Adding a city council member to MUB’s board, as well as adding the city manager as a non-voting member, is a good idea. However, it should go a step further: Keep the current make-up of five residents, but make two from outside the city instead of just allowing two to be from outside the city; add a councilor as a sixth voting member; and invite a county commissioner to join the board as the seventh voting member. (It could even go so far as to invite councilors from Morgantown’s neighboring municipalities, such as Star City, Westover, etc., to be voting or non-voting members of the board.)
This way, residents continue to have an active role in MUB’s management, the county has input in MUB’s work and it would fix the glaring communication issue between MUB and the City of Morgantown.