CSU should follow Memorial’s fate

Filed under: Opinion,Print | Tags:

Just as the recalcitrant Memorial CEO Larry McEvoy, thought his ideas were the only ones worth listening to and never expected his imperial visions to evaporate before his very eyes, so Colorado Springs Utilities CEO, Jerry Forte, may be dreaming that his empire is beyond reproach. Wake up and smell the coffee!

With public scrutiny now finally at professional levels, as the city has enlisted expert lawyers to negotiate on its behalf the transfer of Memorial to University of Colorado Hospital, it has become clear that leasing the hospital is the right choice among many others that were available. We, as a city, can have our cake and eat it, too: enjoy the benefits of a first-class health care service (underwritten in part by the billionaire Anschutz) without liabilities and an incompetent leadership team and supervisory board.

If we were worried about what to do with Memorial (around $600 million enterprise), why aren’t we worried about what to do with CSU (around $1.1 billion enterprise)? Despite the recommendation to install an independent board, this monolith has got to go!

Just as Memorial was run by a provincial leadership that scared us into thinking increased health-care costs would ruin the hospital and leave us without proper care, so does CSU pretend that its leadership, and even ownership, can never be different from what it is.

Why not put CSU out to bids and see what happens? By now even our confused Council can figure out how to handle such an offering, with all the legal guidelines that have been set in place for MHS to solicit bidders. There are companies out there, from Xcel on one extreme of the private spectrum, to RISI on the other extreme of non-profit regional utilities, who might be interested.

Yes, we need to set a task-force and finesse the nuances of negotiations; yes, we need to have people with integrity serving on it for the right reason; and yes, we need to see that our future liabilities regarding pollution and any toxic waste associated with any of the power plants will be cared for by the new owners.

So, what’s holding us back? Is it a bureaucracy that fears losing its grip on wages and benefits, pensions and other perks? It can’t be that petty. Or is it? What is so special about a municipality that owns its utilities if rates go up while services decrease? What’s so special about CSU that warrants keeping it city owned?

Perhaps it’s a lethal combination of pride, tradition and inertia, lethal because it has no warrant, no rationale. Until we try to sell CSU we wouldn’t know if we can get a deal better than the one we currently have. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes. Our local rates are definitely higher than those offered by Xcel Energy in Denver and in Summit County, as local citizens who have second homes report. So, this argument doesn’t hold.

The big management questions about CSU haven’t been answered yet. Who oversees this huge organization? What is the competence of top management at CSU? Is its CEO qualified and up to the task (still waiting to see his resume)? Rumor has it that he won’t just retire, but has another job waiting for him (with whom?). Will an “independent advisory board” make any difference, as long as legally oversight responsibilities remain with Council?

There are other big operational questions that need to be answered as well. Why is CSU still using coal, an energy source that might be cheap up front but very expensive in terms of pollution and EPA guidelines that must be adhered to? Is the so-called Neumann solution for filtering after burning coal not backwards (more on that in a later column).

Shouldn’t we worry about replacing coal with gas or biofuels and then not have to deal with this kind of pollution at all? Are we stuck using 20th century equipment in the 21st?

Likewise, one wonders if all the resources available to operators, like CSU, have been exhausted. Given the global economy (see my last column), has CSU consulted all potential solutions to providing energy for the future?

For example, regardless of alternative energy sources, have equipment efficiencies been considered? We have Sturman Industries up the pass in Woodland Park: can they help make the equipment 10-30 percent more efficient as they have done for major trucking companies?

Should we have one centralized source of energy with an expensive grid and potential for failure? This is where national security concerns (of sabotage) merge with the concerns of the Sierra Club (of ecological preservation).

Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS who is praying CSU doesn’t turn off service to his buildings. He can be reached at rsassower@gmail.com See previous articles at sassower.blogspot.com