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UPDATE: Sparks fly among Whidbey PUD supporters
A few megawatts were added to the high-voltage sparks that are flying within the group that wants to form a public utilities district and take control of Puget Sound Energy’s territory on Whidbey Island.
The dispute between the former spokesman of “People For Yes on Whidbey PUD” and the remaining board ignited last weekend and continued this week.
While the campaign director of the group admitted Monday to being paid more than $6,000 by the Washington Public Utility District Association, Ed Jenkins, who was the spokesman for “People for Yes On Whidbey PUD,” maintains the actions were unethical.
The group trying to form a Whidbey-based power company released its communications director Saturday after he accused his organization’s leader, Dave Metheny, of secretly being on the payroll of a trade group that promotes public utility districts.
“People for Yes” is the group leading the effort to create a Whidbey Island-based public utility district that would take over the service territory of Puget Sound Energy, a Bellevue-based utility that supplies electricity to Whidbey and
1 million customers throughout Washington.
Jenkins sent out a press release Saturday claiming that volunteers were misled and that Metheny was a paid employee of the Washington Public Utilities District Association (WPUDA).
Jenkins said Metheny claimed to be running a grassroots campaign, but said he was actually an employee of the association and “secretly on their payroll.”
“When WPUDA realized they had to report his salary to the PDC (Washington Public Disclosure Commission), only then was it revealed to the board. When I personally found out, I immediately wanted to reveal this but was pressured by Steve Johnson, executive director of WPUDA, not to. Finally other issues convinced me that I must tell the truth,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins also apologized for misleading the public, and said the goal to create a Whidbey utility was a worthy one.
“I categorically state that I have great respect for every other person involved with this campaign. I believe that Dave Metheny was the only paid person involved. I must say that I do not think it was illegal to do this, only unethical and certainly not smart not to tell the rest of the volunteers,” Jenkins said.
Metheny said he is sorry for causing any damage to the campaign.
“I’m sick over this, hurting the PUD effort,” Metheny said.
Metheny admitted that he received three payments from the Washington Public Utility District Association between June and August.
Each time, he got roughly $2,000 and reimbursements for travel expenses, totaling more than $6,200.
He said he did not deliberately hurt the campaign, but added he was not aware of the ethical dilemma of being paid by the state association for PUDs.
“My relationship with them began last year. They connected me with different companies and experts,” Metheny explained.
Running the effort to create a local PUD took an enormous amount of time.
He did most of his work as a volunteer, but earlier this summer the circumstances changed.
“In June, I graduated from the paralegal program at Skagit Valley College. At that point I said I had to make some money,” he said.
The state association offered the stipend as pay for being a local liaison.
Metheny said he is aware of the ethical dilemma. But added that he should have made the payments public.
“Obviously, I cashed the check. I have a mortgage and an obligation to my wife and my cats and dogs here,” he said.
“In hindsight, it should have been brought forward earlier,” Metheny said.
Metheny said he was not sure yet if he would end his working relationship with the PUD state association.
But Metheny said the issue was blown out of proportion by Jenkins, their disgruntled ex-spokesman, after the group asked him to step down as the “People for Yes” communications director. Members of the group had issues “with the tone of communications,” Metheny recalled.
“He said, ‘Uhhm, OK’ and then went home and wrote the e-mail,” he said.
Metheny also said the local PUD supporters knew about his arrangement with the state association early on.
WPUDA officials said there was never anything secret about the deal.
Dean Boyer, the organization’s spokesman, said they paid Metheny to be a community contact for people who had questions about PUDs.
“When we began getting calls from folks on Whidbey Island about establishing a PUD, we ultimately agreed to pay Dave Metheny a small stipend to help us answer these questions on Whidbey Island,” Boyer said.
“He was paid to be a local source. This was entirely separate before the campaign was started.”
That is not exactly true, according to Metheny and the Public Disclosure Commission, however.
“People For Yes on Whidbey PUD” filed as a political committee in April and therefore became subject to Public Disclosure Commission regulations at that time. The payments to Metheny didn’t start until earlier this summer.
Campaign finance records on file with the state for “People for Yes” do not list Metheny as receiving a salary.
“Once the campaign became organized we went to the Public Disclosure Commission,” Boyer said. “We were told we needed to report it. We are in the process of doing that.”
No secret money
Boyer said records will soon reflect the salary paid to Metheny.
“The amended reports will indicate additional contributions to ‘People For Yes on Whidbey Island’ of $5,566. This reflects not only the stipend paid to Dave Metheny, but also some WPUDA staff time involved in supporting the campaign that we are reporting as an in-kind contribution,” he said.
The August payment to Metheny, which was $2,000, will not be immediately included.
So far, campaign records show a single contribution from the Washington Public Utilities District Association for $6,475 that was received on Aug. 20.
Boyer said that money was a separate cash contribution to the campaign.
“It’s earmarked for newspaper ads,” he said.
Johnson, the association’s executive director, was not available for comment because he is on vacation. Boyer defended his boss and said none of the contributions were meant to be kept secret.
“There was nothing ever secret about this,” Boyer said.
He also said he doesn’t think there is anything wrong with having a paid local liaison.
“I would like to point out, frankly, PSE is paying many full-time community relations managers,” Boyer added.
Dispute drags on
Meanwhile, “People For Yes on Whidbey PUD” continue to distance themselves from Jenkins
On Monday, Jenkins announced in a statement that he will continue the push for a local PUD on his own.
Bob Kuehn, the treasurer of “People for Yes on Whidbey PUD” countered with an e-mail to the press calling Jenkins’
Kuehn wrote in his statement that Jenkins was officially removed from his position as campaign director of the organization on Aug. 23.
“Mr. Jenkins appears to be disgruntled and emotional at this time,” Kuehn said in an e-mail to reporters Monday.
Jenkins countered with his own statement Monday that said he may have jumped the gun when he complained about payments to the “People for Yes” campaign by the WPUDA. But Jenkins added that the PUD group had misled the public about its grassroots effort.
“After consulting with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission this morning, it appears that nothing outright illegal was done, and I want to make that clear,” Jenkins said.
“It is not clear at this point when we/they must report the salary paid to Metheny. WPUDA’s reporting is their concern. My strong feeling still is, legal or not, that a large lobbying organization like WPUDA has no right to unduly attempt to further its own agenda at our expense,” he added.
Jenkins added that it didn’t matter if rules were broken or not. The actions weren’t in the spirit of the grassroots effort to gain local control of Whidbey’s energy supply.
“It is not right, and Whidbey should be angry, legal or not,” he said.
He also said he resigned, even though the group had announced a day earlier that he had been “removed.”
Jenkins vowed to continue his fight for a local PUD.
“I am not interested in anything other than getting electrical independence for our island,” he said. “I do not have career plans out of this, as Dave Metheny has told me he does.
“That was my motive in putting in 12-hour days, seven days a week for our PUD. That is why I am so angry about our efforts being fractured by WPUDA.
I hope a few will join me in making sure that does not happen,” Jenkins added.
Georgia Gardner, one of the South End candidates for PUD commissioners, downplayed the incident.
“I suspect that some very passionate and hard workers have had a disagreement about procedures and tempers flared,” she said. “But that is just my guess.”
She said the incident will not hurt the effort.
“This argument about the format of the forums has very little meaning in the long run. We’ll get the information to the public one way or another,” Gardener added.
“No one really has any control over the eventual formation of a PUD, if indeed one is formed, except the commissioners and the public,” she said. “All of us involved would like to see the ballot measure pass so that we can pursue it to the point it becomes apparent we should go ahead or give it up.”
Also running for South End PUD commissioner is David Arnold of Clinton. Dan Schlangen of Clinton, who also filed, plans to withdraw because he accepted a job that requires more time and traveling. He said he will support Gardner.
Record writer Brian Kelly contributed to this report.