In an article published in the Tuesday edition of The Chronicle, Lewis County Public Utility District (PUD) commissioner candidates Kevin Emerson and Mike Hadaller were profiled and asked questions concerning their campaign goals, what drove them to run and why they were the better option for PUD commissioner compared to their opponent.
Emerson was interviewed over the phone while Hadaller declined a phone call interview and requested email questions, so out of fairness to Emerson the same questions have now been emailed to him and this article will feature only the responses to the questions.
There was also a factual error in which The Chronicle incorrectly stated that Emerson was part of Lewis County Water District 5 board when he was actually part of District 2. Additionally, contrary to the original story, Emerson has not stated he would lower power bills by purchasing new power sources or that the county should be less dependent on Tacoma Power, but rather Bonneville Power.
What would you tell prospective voters your qualifications are as to why you should be commissioner?
Emerson: First of all, I am excited to share that our campaign to stop the extreme rate increases has already proven to be a great success. For the last six months we have been a megaphone for the voice of the people and the PUD has heard our voice. They just recently voted to keep the rates stable for the next two years. I am so thankful to everyone who has been a part of this successful campaign.
The primary reason I decided to run for the PUD commissioner position was to stop the excessive rate increases. I believe strongly that with my experience as a local business owner and my previous experience as a commissioner in two other commissioner positions, I would be an effective advocate for the customers of the PUD. The primary business of the PUD is the equivalent of a construction company. I would be a good fit as I am a construction contractor. I’m also a good fit because I am a construction consultant. I review millions of dollars worth of construction budgets every month. The PUD has multiple budgets that total 93 million dollars annually. Lastly, the PUD is a government agency. I have experience with that as well. My opponent does not.
I served on the board of the Lewis County Water District #2, and on the board of the Onalaska Fire Department. In both of these scenarios I entered these departments during their most difficult times and when the community confidence was at an all time low. But in both cases our board of commissioners made the right decisions that brought these agencies from their lowest point to their highest in less than three years.
Hadaller: My name is Michael Hadaller but most people call me Mike. My current business is Mike’s Stump Busters providing property clearing and development work. Before Stump Busters I successfully ran Mike Hadaller Trucking for fifteen years. I know what it takes to find and keep good employees, meet a payroll and change with the times. I have real life experience in what it takes to manage a business and satisfy customers.
The first question asked by The Chronicle states that my opponent is using his experience in public office as making him better qualified to be a PUD commissioner.
My experience is in small private sector business where every dollar spent really counts on the bottom line. I know firsthand that customer service is a number one priority and the company’s employees must work hard to be paid well.
Both candidates have stated they intend to reduce PUD spending so the next question posed was where they intended to make cuts and what their main goal would be as a PUD commissioner.
Emerson: The challenges at the PUD are many, but the issue that is on the minds of most people is the dramatic rate increases, and it should be. I have diligently researched the issue. The PUD has increased its spending by more than 30% in just five years, from $70 million annually to $93 million. This has been caused by multiple factors. One alleged factor is an inefficient use of funds. Municipal monopolies are not known for their frugality. Without market competition, the only safeguard against overspending is us. The Commissioners must challenge the managers to be more efficient and provide a budget that does not increase the rates.
This is almost the exact issue we had in Onalaska at the Lewis County Water District #2. We saw rate increases by more than 30% over a four year period at the Onalaska Water District. This red flag motivated me to run for that position. In less than three years our board corrected mismanagement practices, paid off a massive debt that was the equivalent of our entire annual budget, brought all aspects of our agency into compliance with the State, and lowered the utility rates by 7%. This is the kind of success I want to bring to the PUD.
If I am successful at reducing the spending of the PUD as to produce a surplus, my experience in previous commissioner positions has proven that I would be an advocate for giving the savings back to the customers by lowering utility rates. I am the only candidate with a proven record of fiscal responsibility and actually lower utility rates.
Hadaller: The Chronicle’s second question says my opponent is aiming to cut down spending to pass savings on to customers. What’s missing is any real plan. Most of the PUD budget is used paying the Bonneville Power Administration.
The only meaningful area for savings is employee costs. When Gary Kalich and Dave Muller were managers of the PUD, department heads did more than manage. If elected, my interest would be to join with current commissioner, Michael Kelly, who has endorsed me, to review the cost of management. I think this is the most likely source of saving money without affecting customer service.
Aside from your main goal, what are some of the other issues you hope to address if elected, and what are some of the current problems that drove you to decide to run in the first place?
Emerson: My number one goal was to stop the excessive rate increases. I am so excited that this goal has already been accomplished through our campaign efforts. There are other goals that I believe the citizens of our great county would like to see accomplished. I want to see the value of honoring our seniors expressed at our PUD.
That is why I am calling for putting our seniors first under our low income assistance program. Also, I will join in with the PUD’s current effort to help remedy the lack of broadband to our rural areas. And finally, as I have communicated from the beginning of my campaign, I have a long term goal of helping to lead Lewis County to what I call electrical independence where we own the power needed to serve our great county.
We currently rely on the federal government to provide our power at rates they set for us. Allowing Bonneville Power Administration to control out rates is a bad long term business model. Owning our power will put us in position to better control our cost and customer rates. Power ownership is the direction we need to go. I am so thankful for some of the previous commissioners that we’ve had at the PUD. Former Commissioners James Hubenthal, John Kostick and Leonard Allen were on the board in the 90s when the Cowlitz Falls project was constructed. They put us in position to own a third of the power needed to serve our county by 2032. In 2032 our contract with Bonneville expires. I hope to be on the board so I can ensure that the honorable vision of these men is brought to fruition.
Hadaller: In addition to taking a closer look at PUD management costs, I would pursue obtaining complete ownership of the Cowlitz Falls Dam when it comes up for re-licensing in 2032. The PUD missed the opportunity to control our own energy future decades ago when they allowed Tacoma Power to put Mayfield and Riffe Lake dams in on the Cowlitz River.
Now we get a second chance. I believe water availability and reasonably priced energy will be the keys to our future economic success. Our PUD should be focused on meeting tomorrow’s needs at the least possible cost. If it does, we will all prosper.
What is the main reason you think makes you the best candidate to vote for as opposed to your opponent?
Emerson: In short, we should vote for the candidate that we trust to govern on behalf of “The People.” The primary mistake that representatives make is they forget who they represent. When this happens they tend towards governing the people on behalf of the agency, rather than governing the agency on behalf of the people.
A vote for me is a vote for the candidate who has proven to be transparent and trustworthy. I am the only candidate with a proven record of governing on behalf of the people. I am the only candidate with a proven record of correcting mismanagement practices and fiscal responsibility. And, I am the only candidate with a proven record of actually lowering utility rates.
A vote for my opponent is a vote for uncertainty and secrecy. My opponent has no experience with any of the pertinent issues concerning the PUD. The only experience my opponent has given us to judge are his actions during this election cycle. He has claimed that he wants to “hold the PUD accountable for transparency,” all the while keeping his own campaign finances secret. He kept these public records secret until someone rightfully complained and the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) forced him to provide his records.
He has accused the whistle-blowers of false allegations and mudslinging, but I’ve seen the (PDC) complaint and his response on the PDC’s website. He states that he knew that the law requires him to report if he spends more than $5,000. His excuse for not reporting was that he did not know he had spent nearly $20,000. This does not reflect someone who is transparent nor fiscally responsible, and is not the actions of a candidate who can be trusted to govern on behalf of the people.
Hadaller: My main interest is in serving the public in ways that will enhance their everyday lives through affordable, reliable electricity rates. Working together with PUD Commissioner Michael Kelly, I think we can make Lewis County a more attractive and affordable place to live and do business. PUD costs and services are a very important part of meeting that goal.