Smart meters for Independence utilities are now in a holding pattern.
A City Council majority voted Monday to postpone the contract with Core & Main to install Advanced Metering Infrastructure – or AMI, popularly known as smart meters – pending the outcome of a citizen petition to thwart that action.
A council majority had voted 4-3 last week to go with the Core & Main contract for smart meters – the revote had not been on the agenda and was brought up at the meeting – reversing 5-2 decisions from the week before that turned down contracts from Core & Main and Honeywell. The ensuing outrage from citizens opposed to digital smart meters in general, upset about how the vote took place, or both, led to an initiative petition taken out Friday.
Citizens have until May 6 to gather valid signatures from the 5 percent of the city's registered voters – well above 3,000 – to hopefully put something on the August ballot for voters to decide whether or not to proceed.
Council Member Tom Van Camp, who introduced the resolution to put things on hold, voted yes along with Mike Huff, John Perkins and Mayor Eileen Weir. Curt Dougherty and Scott Roberson noted no, and Karen DeLuccie abstained.
Van Camp, Huff and DeLuccie, the three no votes last week, had delivered a letter to Weir requesting the same action.
“I think it's a reasonable knowing that they have a legitimate petition,” Weir said after the meeting, essentially echoing a comment Perkins made before the vote. “This is going to be complicated.”
Weir, Perkins, Dougherty and Roberson voted for the Core & Main contract last week. Roberson and Weir had voted for Core & Main two weeks ago; Dougherty had voted for Honeywell then but brought up the re-vote after discussing the matter with Roberson; and Perkins said he went with Core & Main after giving the matter further scrutiny.
In making the motion, Van Camp said he believed it would be “unfair to the vendor, the staff and especially the people” to proceed with the smart-meter contract pending the petition's outcome.
City Manager Zach Walker confirmed the city would not finalize the Core & Main contract at least until after May 6.
“We were working on updating the contract anyways, making modifications, and we may be able to prepare some things and just not sign it,” he said.
DeLuccie's abstention came after some Q&A with City Counselor Shannon Marcano about whether last week's vote had been valid. Marcano said it was allowed under the council's rules and procedures that the council votes on and are not covered in the City Charter. While DeLuccie agreed with the motion, she said later she wasn't going to vote on an item that, like last week, had not been on the agenda.
The vote took place at the end of a study session, in which the council heard several sales tax oversight reports and the results of an evaluation of options to replace Blue Valley as a power source. Normally a sparsely attended meeting, the citizens instead packed the council chambers Monday, several of them holding various signs against smart meters and last week's vote.
Citizen Brenda J. Perry was one of a handful who also help up a sandal – something she said people were encouraged to do to symbolize the “flip-flop” vote by some council members. Citizen Lucy Young also briefly left 30 coins at Roberson's spot at the dais. Outside some citizens collected signatures on the petitions against AMI and to recall Mayor Weir – the latter of which also started Friday.
“That's their right, and they got a petition,” Weir said about the recall effort, which requires 8 percent under the same circumstances as the ballot initiative petition.
Looming along with the smart meter controversy is how to replace Blue Valley's power capacity and presumably close the aging and inefficient plant, as well as the cost of service and electric rate studies.
Walker said the cost-of-service study, which had been scheduled for completion late last year along with the energy master plan, should come before the Public Utilities Advisory Board and then the City Council in the next two months. The rate study would follow a few months after that.