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City, MUB quiet on proposed changes to Article 169

MORGANTOWN — One of the major points of contention regarding Morgantown City Council’s proposed changes to the Morgantown Utility Board (Article 169) was a change to the utility’s board of directors, whereby one of the five seats would be reserved for a city council member.

Despite the fact that the changes were never adopted, or even voted on, that’s occurred. Ordinance or no, council can appoint who it sees fit to that board.

On Nov. 15 the body appointed its 6th Ward representative, Dave Harshbarger, to the MUB Board of Directors. He sat for his first meeting on Dec. 13.

So is that the end of the Article 169 discussion? What about the other changes proposed in the ordinance?

The Dominion Post reached out to both MUB and the city in recent weeks requesting an update on where things stand on the issue. The city didn’t respond. MUB Spokesman Chris Dale said he wasn’t able to comment.

What we do know is that the matter hasn’t been discussed publicly since Oct. 4, when council voted 4-3 to table the issue on first reading.

Article 169 does not appear on council’s Jan. 17 agenda.

By way of background:

On Sept. 27, as part of a committee of the whole session held at the West Virginia Botanic Garden, Morgantown City Council rolled out a series of proposed changes to Article 169 of city code pertaining to the utility board.

It was controversial.

MUB immediately came out against the changes, as did the Monongalia County Commission.

There were two primary sticking points.

The first was the change to the utility’s board of directors reserving one of the five seats for a member of city council and adding the city manager as a sixth, non-voting member.

The second was a provision that would require the approval from city council for MUB construction projects over $1 million or deemed by council to be “outside the ordinary course of business.” This got the county’s attention as a majority of not only MUB customers but nearly all the new development is taking place outside city boundaries. 

On Oct. 4, a 4-3 vote of city council tabled the matter on first reading in order to meet with MUB and sort out issues including the reasoning behind the $1 million threshold and exactly what constituted “the ordinary course of business.”

Councilors Joe Abu-Ghannam, Ixya Vega, Brian Butcher and Deputy Mayor Danielle Trumble voted in favor of delaying the matter. Mayor Jenny Selin and councilors Harshbarger and Bill Kawecki voted in the minority.

On Oct. 17, Morgantown City Council and the utility’s board of directors met in closed session with Evan Hansen serving as a third-party facilitator.

On Nov. 9, the groups once again gathered behind closed doors with assistance from Hansen.

On Nov. 10, following a MUB meeting in which the utility rolled out its months-long flood control study, J.T. Straface announced that after 22 years on the utility’s board, and the last 13 as chairman, he was not being reappointed by council.

On Nov. 15, city council appointed Harshbarger to that seat.

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