Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fighting Back Against OPD

Last week, the Overton Power District showed their complete contempt for the people they are supposed to serve by unanimously approving a 4.5 percent rate increase, despite very vocal protests by Mesquite rate payers.  The increase comes on the heels of another $5 increase imposed last year. 
It's one of the downsides to allowing any monopoly to exist, even when it's supposedly a quasi-governmental agency.  In a lot of states, the monopoly is supposedly held in check by some form of Public Utility Commission, a state agency which has veto authority over rate increases.
Oddly enough, the Public Utility Commission of Nevada does not regulate OPD or the Virgin Valley Water District.  In fact, according to the PUCN website, the only entity regulated by this taxpayer-funded agency is Nevada Energy, a privately-owned power company.  It's typical government stupidity -- the bureaucrats telling private companies what they can and can't do, but allowing other government agencies like OPD to do whatever they like.
So OPD has given us the finger and told all of its ratepayers in Mesquite to go pound sand.  They did it with a tremendous amount of confidence, since they believe they're untouchable.  That arrogance is well-proved, as Mesquite has frequently been a do-nothing community that tends to quietly accept whatever screwing is doled out at any particular time.
But that was the old Mesquite.
As is to be expected from a collection of good old boys that is so far removed from the reality of the people they serve, they don't realize that this community has grown up and begun demanding better from their public servants, as exemplified by the much-improved VVWD and the highly responsive new Mesquite City Council.
Now OPD has made their decision.  The question remains: what are we going to do about it?
The answer: it's already started.
Thanks to the vigilance and determination of the Mesquite Citizen Journal, a pair of OPD's "good old boys" may be facing removal from the club.  Two of the members who pretended to represent Mesquite while quietly being repeatedly re-elected term after term have allegedly violated the state's term-limit law which says they can only serve 12 years.  According to a recent opinion by the state's lackluster Attorney General, one of the laziest and most unresponsive entities in Carson City (another housecleaning that's long overdue), the two board members appear to be in violation of the law and won't be eligible to continue after the first of the year.  OPD tried to play some games with the state law, and has been getting away with it because nobody was looking.  Now, they've got our attention.
Unfortunately, this won't even slow down the current administration, because the law says OPD's board gets to pick the two replacements for the departing yes-men.  Don't expect anything to change with those appointments, and be prepared to live with more of the same for the next two years.
But we don't have to wait.  Here are some things we can actually do to make OPD's life miserable.
Start Obtaining Electricity From Elsewhere - One of the funny things about OPD's defense of their rates is that they included a list of rates from other power companies.  Fortunately, one of the lowest rates on that list belongs to our next door neighbors, St. George's Dixie Escalante Power.  The company already serves Beaver Dam, Littlefield, and Scenic.  Just eight more miles of cable, and they could easily serve Mesquite.  It will require a political fight to make this happen, but it would absolutely be worth the ensuing blood on the floor.  This fight has to start with the Mesquite City Council making inquiries into how to make this happen.  There is where we need to focus our immediate attention.
Start Our Own Power Company - This isn't as far-fetched as it seems.  Caliente, a tiny little town of barely 1,000 people in Lincoln County, has their own electric company.  It would probably require an authorizing act from the Nevada State Legislature (which happens to meet again in just four months), and a lot of work by the citizens of Mesquite, but it is a long term solution that would put us squarely in the driver's seat of our own destiny.  It would also be a death blow to OPD, which would have to pay its bonds with money earned solely from the much-smaller and less affluent Moapa Valley.  Their bonds would crater, and you could probably see the smoke from their humiliating bankruptcy all the way in Mesquite.  Don't let the naysayers tell you this can't be done.  It can.
De-fang The Rate Increase By Conserving Electricity - This is hard for an avowed anti-environmentalist to write, but we can actually serve up a great big helping of "kiss my butt" by getting together as a community and collectively reducing power consumption in our valley.  By doing simple things like replacing incandescent bulbs with CFL bulbs, turning off lights and electric devices when not in use, and being more conscientious about our use of electricity, we could easily reduce our power consumption by 5% without feeling it.  This would offset the 4.5% increase.  If we really wanted to make a statement, we would hold a weekly protest called "No Power Hour."  During that designated hour, citizens would agree to turn off all their electric devices for one hour each week.  In addition to taking money out of the OPD coffers, it might also be fun to pretend we are like the pioneers who founded this community: devoid of any electricity.  We could have "No-Power Parties" by candlelight, with food cooked on a grill. 
In addition to salving our wounded wallets, this would also create a severe problem for OPD.  With reduced revenue, they would be back to being unable to meet their debt obligations, which would cause them problems with their bondholders. 
The reduced income might force OPD to implement another round of increases, which would actually force more people to reduce their power use.  Which would force more rate increases.  Which would force more electric use cutbacks.  See where this is going?  OPD cannot win in this scenario, because their revenue will continue to go down, leading to defaults on the offending bonds which, according to the liars at OPD, caused this problem in the first place. 
This isn't just speculation.  A similar scenario has caused water utility defaults in other parts of the country.  Meanwhile, if we implement one of the other two suggestions of starting our own power company or joining Dixie Escalante, by the time OPD augers in, it will no longer be our problem.
Power Bill Boycott - A more militant option would be for citizens to decide as a group to stop paying their electric bills.  You want to hurt ANY group, even a quasi-public entity?  Cut off their cash flow.  Of course, they hold the upper hand because they could turn off the electricity of every protester.  There are legal ways to delay those actions, but they would only be putting off the inevitable.  However, if the community will was strong enough, this is certainly a courageous option that would make our Boston Tea Party forefathers proud.

These are just a few of the options available to us as citizens and rate payers.  Some would require sacrifice and hard work on the part of the people.  The real question comes down to this:
The Overton Power District board has abused their authority, botched their mandate, and are flipping the bird at all of us.
So what are we going to do about it?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Proud Of My Town After Popeye's Spinach

I am so proud of my town right now I could just bust.
There was a time when I felt the complete opposite.
I used to joke that the official bird of Mesquite was the ostrich, because so many of its citizens insisted in hiding their head in the sand, pretending everything was not only quite hunky but extremely dory.
Then in 2007, a large contingent of locals made a stand and joined together to protest the treatment of the Boy Scouts and their door-to-door canned food drive, which the city government at that time had banned with one of their idiotic new anti-business rules.
When the people showed up at the city council meeting with bags of canned goods in a "silent protest," they were stripped of their protest food at the door, muzzled by the mayor, and humiliated by the council for daring to speak out.
It was a long time before the people of Mesquite joined together again to take on the "powers that be." 
But with incredible courage, they did exactly that.
It started in 2010, when the corrupt and broken Virgin Valley Water District leadership was dismantled and replaced.
The people of this city came together again in 2011 and spoke in a united voice that rumbled with thunder and authority.  Not only did they throw out the offensive mayor, they served back a little of the 2007 humiliation when she received only 19 percent of the vote and was bounced from office during the city primaries.
Since then, it's as if the people of this community have reawakened, ripped open a can of Popeye's mythical spinach, and become energized by their own collective strength.
During the last two weeks, that vigor has been electric.
It begins with the outrage over the Overton Power District's proposed four percent rate increase.  Instead of just rolling over and accepting this most recent gouge, which has been the modus operandi of this community with every rate hike and new fee imposed by the city, the water district, and the power district over the last 10 years, the people have erupted in anger and protest.
A couple of weeks ago, people were lining up at a city council meeting to denounce the increase and demand that the Overton Power District hold a public hearing where people could speak their mind about this rail job.
A few days after that emotionally charged outpouring, the autonomous OPD board finally capitulated and agreed to hold that hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 12 at 6 p.m. in the Mesquite Council Chamber.  It's the first time in years the OPD has agreed to hold a meeting in Mesquite, instead habitually opting for the quieter and safely remote confines of their offices in Overton.
No matter how the issue turns out, it is a proud day for this community, because the people spoke up and insisted on being heard.
It's an even prouder day because the Mesquite City Council listened, and has taken the lead in doing the people's will and pushing back against OPD's move.
Then in the same week, news broke about the proposed plan by Mesa View Regional Hospital to close their labor and delivery department.  It would mean that mothers would no longer be able to have their babies delivered locally, and would have to brave a trip through The Gorge while in the throes of labor to have their children in St. George.  It is a slap in the face to the people of Mesquite who begged for and have supported this for-high-profit medical facility.  It's also a dastardly attempt to engender class warfare by pretending that the hospital needs to close the labor and delivery department used by young families in order to pursue an oncology department for the town's senior population.  The truth is that it doesn't have to be an "either/or" proposition.
Instead of just "taking it," which is the way it used to be done in Mesquite, a large contingent of angry citizens are standing up and shouting "no!" 
Best of all, this vocal and angry group is being led by local mothers, usually the quietest and least political segment of any population.
Within days of the announcement, a new Facebook group of protesters has swelled to more than 600 members.  And they aren't just complaining online.  The group has mobilized, printed T-shirts, distributed thousands of flyers, and has made solid plans to make a limited but visible appearance at tonight's city council meeting, and promises to make a much bigger showing in a few weeks when the council tackles the issue of signing off on the hospital's plan.
The message is clear, and I couldn't be prouder of my community:
Mesquite has found its voice, and its citizens will no longer sit idly by while corrupt elected officials and soulless, distant corporations make their nefarious plans to abuse and run roughshod over the people of this community.
We are no longer ostriches.  We are no longer sheep.
We are the people of Mesquite.  And we will not go quietly into that good night.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Mesa View Considering Anti-Family Move

Word has hit the street that Mesa View Regional Hospital is planning to close their labor and delivery department. 
While the move won't be as visible to visitors as an abandoned casino or a shuttered business on Mesquite Blvd., its effect will be far more devastating.
The old business catchphrase is "if you're not growing, you're dying."  If Mesquite is no longer offering a way to care for newborns, eliminating a means by which to grow our town, what are we doing?
That's right.  Dying.
Sadly, we once again have no one to blame but ourselves, going back to the last decade when our town was so desperately trying to woo a hospital here.
Over the last century, a lot of community hospitals were started by exactly that -- the community.  Not-for-profit hospitals have often been created to serve a town's needs.  Founded and guided by board members made up of local residents and funded by local citizens, the hospitals were answerable to the people in that town.
Unfortunately, we took a shortcut back in 2002.  We chose to get on our hands and knees and beg a for-profit organization to build here.  And we've been at their mercy ever since.
For starters, an enormous number of retirees in Mesquite have a Medicare HMO called "Senior Dimensions."  However, the "powers that be" who control Mesa View have chosen to ignore the community's need and refuse to accept that insurance.
Now Community Health Systems, the company out of Franklin, Tenn. which bought the hospital from Triad a few years ago, is poised to tell hundreds of families in Mesquite to go to Utah to birth their babies.
If this was a not-for-profit hospital owned and controlled by the community, it's an unlikely stance.
But woulda-coulda-shoulda.  It is what it is. 
And what it is, is shameful.
Get used to it, because this is medical care in the 21st century.  It's not about what's best for a struggling town or its inhabitants; it's not about providing the best care possible; it's not about healing the sick and treating the injured; it's not about protecting life.
It's about money.  Nothing else.  You don't like that?  Tough!
That isn't the position of those guardian angels in white who punch a clock every day -- the nurses and front line staff who actually provide service to the patients.  Those people care deeply, and provide the service that wins awards every year.  But to the actual owners of the hospital, those awards are nothing but cheap helium to inflate their marketing balloons and stamp across their advertisements.
Ironically, the ongoing bad decisions made by the hospital's owners are what have run off patients and forced potential customers who have the luxury of choice to go to St. George or Las Vegas for their care.  Mesquite's hospital has become notorious for their bad decisions, including a reputation for outrageous prices; the replacement of an extremely popular Senior Circle administrator with an extraordinarily unpopular former mayor; their refusal to accept the retired sector's most popular insurance; and the wrong-headed moves that have resulted in the loss of truly caring doctors like ear, nose, and throat specialist Dr. Alan Jones, family practitioner Dr. Paul Havens, urologist Dr. Orrenzo Snyder, and perhaps one of the most beloved of all, OB/GYN specialist Dr. Edward Ofori.  The out-of-state management is "managing" to alienate the very community it is supposed to be serving.
Even in the cold-blooded world of uncaring insurance companies and autonomous healthcare corporations, it's still a bad idea to go out of your way to offend your customers.  Instead of cutting an extremely valuable service like labor and delivery because (they claim) it isn't making money, maybe they should look at everything else they've done to leave such a bad taste in everyone's mouth in their short time in the Virgin Valley, a declining reputation that will continue to cost them money.
This time, they may have gone too far.
In the "old Mesquite," people wouldn't have raised a peep.
But in the last two years, the citizens of this community have found their voice, and learned how to use it.
The people have said "enough is enough" and cleaned house at the Virgin Valley Water District, then went on a voting rampage and cleared the decks at City Hall, running off the kind of people who used to tell us that their actions were "for our own good," and that we better like it or else.
Today we have a city council that is far more attuned to the public sentiment, and has proven to be responsive to the will of the people.  And the people are speaking out about this.
A very vocal group of local citizens has taken to the internet to scream in outrage at this travesty, threatening letter-writing campaigns, relentless petitioning of their elected officials, and even pickets.
Who are these politically rabid left-wing and right-wing extremists and rabble rousers?
This valiant collection of women who have been quietly raising their children are noisily coming together on Facebook and on the newspaper comment boards to express their anger over the potential elimination of this critical service, and the cavalier treatment of a heroic doctor who has saved the lives of numerous newborns over the years.
And that is the stomach-turning difference between doctors and soulless medical corporations: Physicians take an oath to heal the sick, even the sick who are poor and on Medicaid.  Healthcare companies only promise to generate dividends for their stockholders.
If Community Health Systems wants to show that they're different; to repair the rift with a community that once loved and embraced this hospital; and to prove that for-profit hospitals can be about more than money; this is their chance.
Otherwise they can live with a new award and title: Nevada's Anti-Family Hospital.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Ironies Of Labor Day

Labor Day is one of the great American ironies.
It is a day to celebrate and honor hard-working Americans, particularly union workers, and has been since 1894.
And we celebrate all that hard work…by not working.
Most Americans have the day off.
But before you fire up that grill and barbeque some brats, burgers, and dogs, take a moment to consider what the day means.
The holiday was started in 1882 as “a day off for the working citizens” by the Central Labor Union of New York City.
The CLU later broke up into individual unions, then came together again as what we today know as the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization, or more simply the AFL-CIO.
Labor Day back then began with street parades and festivals filled with pro-union messages and speeches.
Congress adopted it as an official federal holiday in 1894.
Today, it’s basically just a day off work.
Of course there are some businesses that will be open.
It’s actually another of the ironies.
In those companies where front-line employees (even union employees) have to show up and open the doors on this day, you’ll often find the non-union bosses, managers, and owners taking the day off.
In some parts of the country, it’s the last chance to travel with the family before the start of school.
And while meteorologists, calendar makers, and Mother Earth herself all disagree, most acknowledge it as the end of summer.
Another irony of the day is the fact that unions, which were created to help people join together in a show of unity and strength, have become something of a political divider.
There are a number of people in the U.S. who fervently oppose unions as a concept.
It’s ironic that those who are anti-union won’t let their philosophical stance stop them from taking the day off for a holiday that was founded to celebrate unions.
It’s also a sort of irony that most people in the United States of America do not belong to a labor union, but the word “union” is a derivative of the word “united”.
In fact, the U.S. Constitution begins with the line “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…”
In Nevada, unions aren’t as strong as in other states, mostly because it is a “right to work” state.
In “right to work” states, you cannot force someone to join a union in order to get a particular job.
In other states, in order to get hired for certain jobs with certain companies, you must be a member of the union.
There aren’t a lot of unions in Mesquite.
While unions have become common in the gaming and hospitality industries in Las Vegas, Mesquite’s casino employees are not part of any union.
Most City employees are also union members, as are most teachers.
The best known local “union” is probably the Mesquite Police Officers Association.
It’s just one more irony that many members of Mesquite’s most visible union will not have Labor Day off, as police officers continue to patrol and protect the city while the rest of us relax.
So enjoy your day off.
In between flipping burgers, be sure to give a thought to the hard working Americans who helped make this country great.
Especially union workers.
After all, without unions, most of us would probably be reading this article today on our computers at work.
Have a safe and enjoyable holiday.

(This article was originally published in the Mesquite Local News on Sept. 1, 2008.)