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Stipends to head of Whidbey PUD drive being investigated by state
A complaint filed by the group running the anti-PUD effort on Whidbey Island is being looked into by the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, the agency confirmed Monday.
“Puget Sound Energy has filed two complaints that we are investigating,” commission spokeswoman Lori Anderson said in an e-mail.
“One alleges that the Washington Association of Public Utility Districts (WPUDA) is a public agency and has used public facilities to support a ballot measure,” she wrote.
The other complaint alleges that the Skagit County PUD used public facilities to support its ballot measure.
The complaints were filed by Strategies 360 on behalf of Puget Sound Energy, which is fighting a proposal to create a public utility district to take over electrical service on the island.
“WPUDA has not been playing fair and the Public Disclosure Commission has chosen to pursue the investigations,” said Karen Waters, senior vice president of communications for Strategies 360.
The Stategies 360 complaint said Dave Metheny, head of “People for Yes on Whidbey PUD,” was paid $2,000 per month since June without disclosing it to the public or even the other campaign staff.
At the time, Dean Boyer, WPUDA spokesman, said Metheny was paid to be a liaison because there was no existing PUD and no one else on the island to get the facts out about what a public utility district is and how it’s set up.
WPUDA is a trade organization representing the interests of public utility districts throughout the state.
Boyer said there was no attempt to conceal the payments, and they were reported to the PDC when required.
In August, Metheny acknoledged that he received three payments of $2,000 each from WPUDA between June and August, plus travel reimbursement, for a total of $6,200.
He said then that the PUD group’s board of directors knew about the arrangement, and that there was never an attempt at secrecy.
Metheny, in an e-mail Tuesday, said: “The PDC complaint is an attempt by PSE to distract the voters from the real issues and has nothing to do with our LOCAL grassroots campaign.
“The main claim in the PDC complaint by PSE is that WPUDA is a public agency and is therefore prohibited from directly participating in a political campaign,” he said, adding: “Case law and federal regulations suggest that the claim will not be upheld.
“And if it is, then they will need to decide if they are going to apply their decision retroactively. Currently, it is not against PDC regulations for WPUDA to participate in the PUD campaign.”
“People for Yes” is 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.
Metheny’s stipend from the WPUDA came to light in mid-August, when the group’s communications director, Ed Jenkins, sent out an e-mail to the media accusing Metheny of misleading volunteers and hiding the fact that he was being paid.
Jenkins said at the time that Metheny claimed to be running a grassroots campaign, but was actually an employee of the association and “secretly on their payroll.”
Metheny said Jenkins sent his e-mail after the board had dismissed Jenkins because it was unhappy with the tone of his communications.
In August, Jenkins also apologized for misleading the public, and said the goal to create a Whidbey utility was a worthy one which he would continue to support.
On Nov. 4, Whidbey Island voters will be asked to approve the establishment of a public utility district and to select three commissioners to oversee it.
Initial tax revenue would be used for a thorough study to determine if the establishment of a PUD is feasible.
“People For Yes” has said it will cost $57 million for the takeover of Puget Sound Energy’s assets.
It said an initial property tax increase of between $2.57 and $5.78 for a $300,000 house would get the PUD going, and that customers eventually would see a 20-percent reduction in their electric bills.
Puget Sound Energy and its consultants, in a spirited and well-financed counter-campaign, have said that the takeover could cost between $130 million and $200 million and could lead to 20-percent higher rates.
Roy Jacobson can be reached at 221-5300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.