SEAPA board fields transparency concerns
A debate over the openness of records in the possession of the Southeast Alaska Power Agency – along with discussion over the noticing, intent and necessity of an executive session to seek requests for power and energy from across the region – were two of the highlights of a special meeting of the SEAPA Board of Directors on Jan. 17 in Ketchikan.
During the opening of the meeting, the board allowed for comment from the public and media who were listening in on the meeting via teleconference. At that point, Matt Lichtenstein, the news director at Petersburg’s KFSK FM, said he was having difficulty getting information from the agency.
“KFSK and other Coast Alaska radio stations have had a long history of covering Southeast power issues and, in general, our experience is that officials with SEAPA, and before that, the Four Dam Pool power agency have always been open and helpful,” Lichtenstein said. “However, I’m concerned about some difficulty I have been having on a particular issue that came up this week. I called earlier this week to ask about the subject of your executive session announcement… I feel at the very least it should have been more specific in what the immediate financial concern was that justified a closed session.”
Lichtenstein then informed the board that he contacted SEAPA chief Trey Acteson for insight on the matter and requested a copy of the agency’s bylaws.
“Long story short, I was told that SEAPA was not a public agency and does not make these materials available,” said Lichenstein.
The Wrangell Sentinel also sought information from SEAPA in the days before the meeting specifically related to access to the board packets used by members of the organization and Acteson.
In a brief phone conversation, Acteson curtly refused to provide documentation related to the meeting aside from the published agenda.
“We are not a public entity and therefore not subject to disclosure requirements,” Acteson told the Sentinel on Wednesday, Jan. 16. “So, we won’t be providing you with those documents because we don’t have to.”
Wrangell Vice Mayor Bill Privett said he disagrees with the idea that SEAPA is not a public agency and believes that its functionality should be open and transparent.
“Quite frankly, I have heard this before and I don’t concur with that viewpoint,” Privett said. “SEAPA was formed by the public entities of Wrangell, Petersburg and Ketchikan. That, in my opinion, makes them a part of the public process and we joined the organization as a group. I’m not an attorney, but as far as I am concerned they have to abide by state law regarding disclosure.”
A debate over whether SEAPA would adopt a Mission Statement was also held during the meeting. That discussion was put off until the March agenda of the agency.
The new mission statement would read, “SEAPA’S mission is to provide the lowest wholesale power rate consistent with sound utility planning and business practices. We exist for the long-term benefit of our member utilities and the rate payers, providing unified regional leadership for project development and prudent management of our interconnected power system.”
The board also approved contracts for the purchase of an excavator, new junction boxes and consulting services. The next meeting of the group will tentatively take place in Wrangell in March.