Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

It’s time Antioch started using correct, honest figures for Measure C police staffing and funding

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

The City of Antioch’s 2016-2017 Measure C Annual Status Report

By Allen Payton, Publisher

The City of Antioch’s 2016-2017 Measure C Annual Status Report was recently received in the mail and I took the time to read it. Unfortunately, what I discovered was it provides false information to the public. Now, I don’t blame city staff. They’re merely reporting and acting on the direction of the city council. But, it’s the direction of the past mayor and city council which chose to play games and manipulate the police staffing numbers and budget to make things look better than they really are. So, it’s time the new mayor, mayor pro tem and council gave new direction to the city staff to use the correct and honest figures for Measure C.

Mayor and Council Promised 22 More Sworn Officers

Here are the facts, again. In the ballot argument for Measure C, signed by then-Mayor Wade Harper and the rest of the city council at that time, which included current Council Members Monica Wilson and Tony Tiscareno, it stated:

“A Yes on Measure C will allow us to immediately hire 22 new police officers, decreasing the time it takes to respond to 911 calls. It will also provide funds to reduce the number of gang-related homicides, assaults and robberies.

Our police force has dwindled from 126 officers four years ago to only 89 today. 911 response times have increased and violent crime is up 30%. We feel unsafe in our homes and are in constant fear of becoming victims of crime.”

We Had 89 Sworn Officers

The ballot argument concluded with and was signed by the following:

“Antioch needs funds now to lower crime and to cleanup dilapidated properties. Your voting Yes on Measure C will give us the financial boost we need to turn Antioch around. Thank you.

Sergeant Tom Fuhrmann, President, Antioch Police Officers’ Association; Brittney Gougeon, Founder, Take Back Antioch; Joyann Motts, President, Antioch Unified School Board; Hans Ho, Past Chair, Antioch Crime Prevention Commission/ Neighborhood Watch Coordinator; Antioch City Council; Wade Harper, Mayor of Antioch/ Retired Police Lieutenant”

They Owed Us 111 Total Sworn Officers

My math tells me that would bring the total to 111 sworn officers (89 + 22). The ballot was written and submitted in either July or August 2013 in time for the sample ballots to be printed and mailed to the voters. So we had 89 sworn officers on the force being paid for out of the budget before the funds from Measure C began to be collected.

Please read the entire ballot statement and arguments, here – http://www.smartvoter.org/2013/11/05/ca/cc/meas/C/.

They Chose to Use 82 Sworn Officers as the Base, Instead

However, by the time Measure C passed in November, the Antioch Police Department had lost seven more officers reducing the force to just 82 sworn officers. So, that was the figure the mayor and council at that time voted and gave direction to city staff to use as the base figure. Adding 22 more officers only gives we the taxpaying and voting public a total of 104 sworn officers – which is the figure the council and staff have accounted for in next year’s budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

That was wrong and dishonest of them to do, because the budget already included enough for 89 sworn officers and Measure C is supposed to pay for 22 “new officers” according to the ballot argument.

Council Member Lori Ogorchock was elected in November 2014 and Mayor Sean Wright and Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe were elected last November long after Measure C passed. But they all inherited the commitments and promises of the past council to give us the 22 additional officers from Measure C, on top of the 89 we had at the time the ballot argument was written and signed, and “immediately.”

Past Police Chief Allan Cantando and current Chief Tammany Brooks have said they’ve been doing everything they can to continue to add officers to the force and have hired 49 sworn police officers since the passage of Measure C, according to Brooks’ portion of the report. However, due to past council actions including the very rich 3% at age 50 retirement benefit – which was fortunately changed in 2012 for new hires – and due to other attrition, the department has lost 35 sworn officers during that time. That brings the total number of sworn officers to just 96. That was news to me as I was under the impression we had reached and remained at the 100-officer level.

They Owe Use 15 More Sworn Police Officers

That’s just seven more officers than the city had in 2013 when Measure C was placed on the ballot. Here we are over four years later, certainly not the “immediately” as the then-mayor and council promised us. The current council owes us another 15 sworn officers paid for by Measure C funds based on simple math of 111 – 96 = 15.

Brook’s comment that “our net gain is currently 14,” is only correct when comparing it to what has happened “Since the passage of Measure C in 2013,” as the first sentence of his comments stated. It’s not correct when comparing that figure to how many officers we were actually promised if we passed Measure C.

Only seven of those 14 sworn officers are supposed to be paid for from Measure C funds and the fact is the city has only gained a net seven additional officers, not 14 from the revenue generated by the extra half-cent sales tax in Antioch.

It all goes back to the number of officers the budget was paying for at the time the ballot argument was written and signed, and the promise made which was 89.

The worst part is, even before they have given us the 22 additional officers, the previous mayor and council, of which Ogorchock was a part, voted unanimously to give pay raises to the police and the rest of the city staff totaling $9.2 million in contracts that run one year beyond the sunset of Measure C. (They did so on Election Night, by the way after it was too late for the voters to know what was in the pay and benefits packages before they voted). The additional half-cent sales tax only lasts until 2020. The contracts run through 2021. (See related articles, here and here)

Now They’re Asking for a One-Cent Sales Tax

Yet, now city staff is already asking for we the people to consider voting, not for a renewal of the half-cent sales tax, but an increase to a one-cent sales tax when Measure C expires. Among other questions about city services and issues facing our community, a recent phone survey, approved  by City Manager Ron Bernal and paid for out of his discretionary funds, asked residents if we would support that. The audacity to even us ask to consider supporting a renewal of the half-cent sales tax, much less doubling it, before fulfilling the promise and commitment made to we the people under Measure C and having spent $9.2 million on pay raises, seriously had me stunned.

They’ve Only Budgeted for 104 Sworn Officers

The last part of Chief Brooks final sentence in the report is correct: “As of June 30, 2017, $2,947,361 remains unspent pending allocation to enhancing Police and Code Enforcement services, as promised to voters.” At least he recognizes that a promise was made to the voters. But, I challenge the amount remaining unspent, since that figure should be much higher if the proper figure of 111 sworn officers was accounted for, not 103 currently and 104 in next year’s budget.

We just need the city council to remember what that promise actually was – 22 additional officers on top of the 89 sworn we already had – and ensure we are provided the 111 sworn officers Antioch needs to fight and bring down crime, which is supposed to be their highest priority. It’s time to put our money where their mouths are.

One Promise Broken, Another Can Still Be Kept

Obviously, they haven’t been able to keep the part of the promise of hiring the 22 additional officers “immediately”. But, the current city council can fulfill the promise of 111 total sworn officers as we are due, by giving new direction to staff to use the correct, honest figure of 89 sworn officers as the base not 82.

What’s that old saying – figures lie and liars figure? The figure of 82 sworn officers the city has been using since 2013 is just plain dishonest. I expect Mayor Wright, Mayor Pro Tem Thorpe and Council Member Ogorchock who were not part of the council that gave that misdirection to staff, to correct this and give new direction using 89 as the base figure. I would also hope that Council Members Wilson and Tiscareno would see the error of their ways and join them in correcting it.

We get enough of this statistical and fiscal game playing with our government and our money from Washington, DC and Sacramento, already. It should never be allowed at the local level. If the council and staff ever hope to see Measure C renewed, or much less doubled – which I seriously doubt will be supported (and we’ll see once the results of the recent survey are made public) – the council needs to correct this. Also, if Sgt. Tom Fuhrmann, Joy Motts and Hans Ho want to maintain their integrity, they will make sure the council does so, because they added their names and reputations to the ballot argument in which the promises were made to help ensure Measure C’s passage. So they all made that same promise.

Reopen Employee Contracts to Ensure Funding for 111 Officers

We the people need the council to not only start using the correct base of 89 sworn officer, we need one of the three current council members who voted for the pay raises last year to join Wright and Thorpe in reopening and renegotiating the city employee contracts. That is the only way to ensure there is enough money in the budget to pay for the 111 sworn officers we were promised.

Unfortunately, that still won’t get us to the 1.2 officers per 1,000 population level of 132 sworn police officers that we’ve been needing for the past 20 years. But, it will have to do, for now.

And the time to face the facts, take responsible action, be honest with we the people and address and fix these matters is now.

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Antioch School Board president responds to criticism of district schools

Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Dear Editor:

If Antioch had a dime for every time it has been bashed, our streets would be paved with gold. Inarguably, our schools take a disproportionate share of that thrashing.

I am the first to admit that Antioch schools have their set of pressing concerns, particularly on what I call the ‘Big Three’: parental engagement, student motivation and behavior, and state proficiency on test scores, especially math. Let’s review.

If you can’t get Mohammed to the mountain, you bring the mountain to Mohammed.  Without parental support education is an uphill climb so we need creatively expand even more our already concerted efforts to get mom and dad involved, be it thru home visits, Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) meetings, social media or parenting skill workshops.

As to behavior, after several years of dramatic decline, suspensions are, perplexingly, up 16% this school year. We are working double time to address this.

With math, that’s an area where we need a radical departure in approach. Our 20% proficiency rate is simply unacceptable.

It takes a new seed to develop a new crop. We need ever-bolder actions, aggressive interventions and individuated, pull-out instruction to overcome this perennial thorn on a core skill.

That said, on our weaknesses, we can’t completely ignore social context. Some sample facts: from 2000 to 2012 the city’s violent crime rate doubled; our number of English language learners tripled; the number of homeless, public school students increased from 382 in 2011 to 706 in 2014; the number of students residing in group homes rose 144% in the past six years; 40% of district students live in homes without secure parental employment; 1 out of 5 students had suicidal ideation; 1 in 5 students reported prescription drug usage.

Sadly, we haven’t even touched on the distressing subjects of broken homes, latch-key kids, parental abuse, transiency, the epidemic of attention deficit syndrome; societal permissiveness, the erosion of public civility; the seduction of electronic gadgetry, etc.

Amidst the societal chaos, though, our educators seek solutions, not excuses, and do their best, against great odds.  Day in and day out much good goes unheralded.

  • We can celebrate Antioch’s graduation rate soaring above state average.  Its’ 6.3% increase last year was one of the highest California increases in the State.
  • Dozier-Libbey Medical School has been honored as a California Distinguished School and Deer Valley High as an Honor Roll School.
  • The Antioch School Board, Chamber of Commerce, Planning Commission and City Council all approved Rocketship, a third Antioch public charter school. to be housed in a 14,5 million dollar state-of-the-art, zero net energy campus off 18th Street. The school underscores our openness and community richness in recognizing many unique seats at the table; traditional, private, alternate, charter and home study schools.
  • Unquestionably, Antioch is known as a trailblazer in linked learning with real-life career paths in law, the medical field, engineering, green energy, digital arts, business, research and the performing arts with GPA, attendance and graduation rates prosper.
  • Music is back, alive and well, with 1300+ students involved at the elementary level, allowing a pipeline tor the higher grades and a great outlet for creativity, self-esteem and brain development.
  • The number of students taking Advanced Placement exams has grown 71.6% over the past 5 years.
  • The number of U.C.-system qualified graduates rose 6.9% over the last 5 years and more of our high school students are now co-enrolling at community college, gaining credits and exposure.
  • Counselors, for the first time, are present in all of our schools, from elementary to high.  Not long ago we had no counselors. Now our ratio of counselors to students is one of the highest in the state and at 500 to one double the California average of 1,000 to 1.
  • In a recent LCAP funding evaluation the State determined that Antioch met or exceeded expectations in eight of nine categories. (To little surprise, we fell short on math in grades 3-8),

This letter, then, hopefully. demonstrates that we have a mixed bag with ample good, bad and, yes, sometimes ugly; but while we squarely face our undeniable flaws we don’t have to dwell on challenges alone.   We can also acknowledge and build upon successes.

Each of us can do our bit by involved parenting, by having high expectations of our children and schools, perhaps by civic volunteering, joining PTA, or tutoring. Yes, there is considerable work to be done for Antioch to become the destination city many of us dream of it being. To that end, we must honestly self-reflect and then roll up our collective sleeves and become part of the solution and not the problem.

Walter Ruehlig

President, Antioch School Board

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Guest Commentary: Dawn of a new day for the Antioch animal shelter

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

Editor:

Antioch animals deserved better and now we at Antioch Animals Deserve Better are delighted to say things really are getting better at Antioch Animal Services!  It is the product of determination, tough decisions, and a lot of hard work.  And while there is more to do, progress at the shelter is significant, real, and continues in the right direction!

We would like to extend our enormous appreciation to Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) for their expert guidance and willingness to step in to help Antioch, as well as coordinating with Maddie’s Fund for much needed funds to help the Shelter (thanks to you too, Maddie’s).

We would also like to express our gratitude to the Antioch City Council and the Mayor for their support of the Shelter and partnership with ARF.  And let us not forget the Shelter staff, volunteers, and rescue groups who stepped up to embrace change and are helping the animals through it all.

We want to especially thank and acknowledge Antioch’s new Police Chief Tammany Brooks for taking a real interest in the Shelter, educating himself about Animal Sheltering, and taking a no nonsense, open, and honest approach. The community sees your true leadership in many areas and it is making a difference.

And lastly, we want to thank all of you who supported the cause for the animals and positive change at the shelter.  Please see the recent GoFundMe update below from the incredible attorney whose generous pro bono work helped us. We have donated 100% of the funds to ARF towards their work at the Antioch Shelter.

Many positive changes are taking hold and good things are happening.

Kim Charef

Antioch

Antioch Animals Deserve Better

** GO FUND ME UPDATE **

Posted on Antioch Animals Deserve Better Facebook page 10-17-17 by Nancy Powell, Esq.

OVERALL SUCCESS – FUNDS TO ARF

ARF was brought in by the City of Antioch last fall and they have worked, guided and contributed mightily toward improving the Antioch Animal Shelter. It was through the pressure put on the Antioch City Council and the Council’s knowledge that folks like you demanded change that ARF got involved, so you can take credit with ARF for making things happen.

The Shelter is now working under different key individuals, is working to get a vet tech and a veterinarian to work there, has revised how often and when veterinary care is sought for the animals, has improved procedures and at the very basic level is a cleaner, nicer place to be stuck if you are an animal. ARF is continuing to work and guide the Shelter on issues that still need attention.

We demanded changes and the City got ARF involved. We were poised to go back into litigation mode if we did not see progress.

We believe that the funds that were donated to the GoFundMe campaign are no longer needed for litigation and should go to ARF to be used to further their great efforts in improving the Shelter. Therefore, the full amount collected in the GoFundMe campaign of $1,745 is being sent to ARF for this purpose. As long as the City continues to follow the guidance provided by ARF, things can only get better. If anything changes, we will update you.

Thank you for your support. It made a huge difference for the animals and the community.

Nancy V. Powell, Esq.

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Writer says Frazier again gets ‘F’ on taxes

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Editor:

You can thank Assemblyman Jim Frazier for that pain at the pump you’re feeling now that gas is an extra 12 cents per gallon.

Frazier and his fellow Democrats in Sacramento raised taxes $52 billion annually, including a 12 cents/gallon gas tax hike, 20 cents/gallon diesel gas tax hike and a $25-$175 vehicle fee increase. The average household will be paying an extra $600 a year.

Frazier not only voted for the tax-hike legislation, but sponsored his own version of the tax-hike bill, Assembly Bill 1. So it’s no surprise that Frazier once again received an “F” on his legislative report card from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. He voted in favor of taxpayer interests only 16 percent of the time on 22 tax bills in 2017.

This makes the fifth year in a row that Frazier, whose campaign slogan is “People before politics,” has received an “F” from HJTA for putting politics before people when it comes to their taxes.

Unfortunately, Frazier is not alone – a record 79 legislators flunked the tax scorecard. “By approving major new burdens on middle class taxpayers, the current crop of Sacramento lawmakers is exhibiting an outright hostility to the taxpayers who pay the state’s bills,” said HJTA President Jon Coupal.

How bad is the hostility? State lawmakers this year proposed $373.4 billion in higher annual taxes and fees, according to the California Tax Foundation. That’s nearly $200 billion more than the total taxes and fees annually collected by state government.

When will it end? Only when taxpayers decide they’ve had enough and stop sending taxaholics like Frazier to represent them in Sacramento.

Dave Roberts

Oakley

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Writer supports Antioch school district spending $75K on public relations

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Dear Editor:

As a lifelong resident of Antioch and product of AUSD I find the past few days befuddling. It seems most people see that there is and are problems within our school district. Each person has their own solution which probably hits closest to home for them. Truth be told, there are many issues within our School District that needs to be addressed. So the crux of the matter comes down to this….which do we address first and where can we get the best bang for our buck.

Yes, spending up to $75K sounds like a lot of money especially if it is in one of our own personal bank accounts. When compared to a budget of $266 million, it is approximately 0.028% of the budget. Then, take into account that around 50% of the school districts have public relations persons allocated in their budgets that run on average of $180,000 per annum once all taxes and benefits are accounted for. In my simple math that I try to live by it appears they are getting the same function for $0.41 on the dollar. As a resident and person with children in the school district this is exactly the kind of forward thinking I want to see from the people in charge of the money.

As far as my understanding with this and I could be wrong – it happens – the purpose and target audience is not the general public but the actual parents and students. This is to let them know what positive items as well as events are coming to their school, adjacent schools in the district and what is to come as events and timelines. There are roughly 17,000 students which in turn makes roughly 34,000 parents (once again simple math) for an aggregate of 51,000 people. This brings the amount being spent to roughly $1.47 per student and parent. For me as an involved parent I see this as a good investment to be informed what is going on with my child’s school as well as other schools in the district, because the bad items are all over social media and easy to find.

Then I step back and think, what if I was one of the parents that has to commute 1.5 hours to work each day or has to work two jobs to make ends meet, then the $1.47 per person seems to be almost nothing to be informed as to what is going on in the school district. With that said by doing the same math the district has around $15,647 to spend per student per year in totality. This $1.47 would represent 0.009% of that money. In my opinion for AUSD to spend this per year is money well spent.

As I stated in the beginning yes, there are many issues to be addressed and there are many ways to address them. This is just one. I see this as an investment in pride in the school and its students while informing the parents. It is like anything. If all you are told is negative comments, then you have a negative opinion or mindset. When the positive is added to the negative at least a true perspective is able to be held. This is not a cure or fix. It is a beginning to curing the plethora of issues that face every school district.

Kenny Turnage

Antioch

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Writer says AUSD declares war on press, public

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Editor:

AUSD is one of the worst performing school districts in the county if not the state. But rather than devote $75,000 to improving performance, it’s wasting it on a doomed-to-fail, lipstick-on-a-pig propaganda effort to pull the wool over parents’ and taxpayers’ eyes about how great things are going.

It’s particularly ironic that one of those chosen to put a happy face on the district, Mike Burkholder, has a history of divisiveness, hostility and negativity toward critics, journalists and politicians in his online postings.

For example, here’s what he posted on a Facebook site called “Boycott the Contra Costa Times” about an East Bay Times reporter (https://www.facebook.com/pg/Boycott-the-Contra-Costa-Times-121667354561835/community/?ref=page_internal): “You can now add Rowena Coetsee to the list of reporters not to speak with. ECCFPD Should Boycott Rowena Coetsee Immediately I am not one to call on boycotts very often, but I have had enough of Rowena Coetsee’s bad reporting in Oakley and now it’s carried over to the ECCFPD today as she broke the cardinal sin of jou… BURKFOROAKLEY.WORDPRESS.COM

Burkholder also has numerous postings vilifying East Bay Times columnist Dan Borenstein because Borenstein has been critical of excessive pension benefits for firefighters. Burkholder also participated in a boycott of an Antioch Herald AUSD candidates forum.

By hiring Burkholder as a press representative for the school district, AUSD has declared war on the East Bay Times, the Antioch Herald and the press in general — and by extension the public that they are seeking to objectively inform about their government.

Dave Roberts

Oakley

Roberts periodically reports for the Herald.

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Writers concerned about $75,000 of school funds spent to improve AUSD public image

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Editor:

Following is a letter sent to Antioch Unified School District Superintendent Stephanie Anello last week:

Dear Superintendent Anello,

We respectfully disagree with your proposal of spending $75,000.00 school funds, as well as the “yes” votes of Trustees Gibson-Gray, Hack, and Ruehlig on this matter.

We thank you for trying to use school money “wisely” and for your work on attempting to get our school district on track.

My husband and I have been AUSD parents since 2005, we’re appreciative that our children have access to quality education. All teachers we’ve encountered, dating from 2005 to today are intelligent and caring with a strong will to see their students succeed.

It’s our observation that our wonderful teachers aren’t provided the full support they need. We, parents/guardians, district leaders and staff must fulfill our obligations, so our teachers can focus on teaching. We feel the demands placed on them are unfair and unrealistic. We are asking too much – that they uphold rigorous instruction; that they provide peer-like support; that they nurture their classroom like a household; that they become counselors and therapists … all of which we expect them to do equally and simultaneously. In addition, it’s important to note that Students’ familial background plays a major role on behavior and academic performance which further amplifies the demand on our teachers.

The troubles of our district aren’t its negative image, it’s the crumbling support from district leadership to teachers which then dominos to students-parents/guardians. Such discord creates negative narrative that spreads in the community and beyond. Chasing a positive image through social media will not solve the problem. The problem is what’s causing the negative image in the first place.

We urge you to kindly reconsider the allocation of the $75,000.00 amount, please if it’s not too late.

Here are some thoughts we had, but we’re sure our community also has pertinent suggestions on how $75,000.00 of school funds can be better utilized within our schools.

  1. Hiring a well-established firm to survey the needs of our teacher through anonymous polling.

1a. Pouring attention and continuing / building genuine collaboration toward a resolution.

  1. Offering a bonus to a current district office employee serving within the public relations department to manage photo and media updates.
  2. Offering parenting support to parents/guardians by a licensed mental health and family professional.
  3. Increasing teachers’ stipend and/or giving year-end bonus.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

April Ussam-Lemmons

Joshua Lemmons

Antioch

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Writer opposes community choice energy, warns people to not be fooled

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

Editor:

Don’t be fooled by “green energy” or “renewable energy” groups like Marin Clean Energy and others. It’s simple economics. When you add “middle men” in to the mix, you add additional costs because you’ve not created any more customers nor produced any electricity. Not only that but their “Renewable Energy Credit” system is deceiving. Get the facts. It’s not easy but here it is. These are the facts.

Community Choice Aggregates (CCA’S) including Marin Clean Energy (MCE) are unwilling OR unable to sign the Power Purchase Agreements necessary to generate the renewable power needed by the State to reach our Renewable Portfolio Standards goals (RPS).  In fact, there are currently several solar projects that have been fully approved, permitted (with Project Labor Agreements (PLA’s)) that have not begun construction because nobody is signing the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).  PG&E and the other Utilities, including public utilities like SMUD, have already bought all the power they need to meet the 2020 requirement of 33% RPS.

But the CCAs are NOT signing these agreements.

If we don’t build these projects now, as a State, we lose the benefit of the Federal tax credits (set to reduce to 10% in 2019) which means power costs go up.  It also means that MCE rates will go up noticeably while PG&E’s will remain moderate because of all the cheap long-term contracts they have signed the last 5 years.  MCE signed some of these, but the term is 3-5 years, not 15-20.

There was also a big conversation at the California Energy Commission about the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment (PCIA*), which is the cost sharing mechanism that the CCAs are supposed to pay to compensate PG&E for the power PG&E bought under long term contracts for its customers that the CCAs have stolen.  Everybody, including the President of the CPUC, acknowledged that this PCIA is not accurately apportioning that cost.  PG&E showed that MCE is paying only 65% of what it owes every month.  That means you and I are subsidizing MCE customers.

*The PCIA ensures that the customers who remain with the utility do not end up taking on the long-term financial obligations the utility incurred on behalf of now-departed customers. Examples of such financial obligations include utility expenditures to build power plants and, more commonly, long-term power purchase contracts with independent power producers.

MCE and the other CCAs will have significantly higher rates (as much as 25%) than there rates today.  This means some customers will leave and threaten the ability of CCAs to operate.  Plus, their promises of cleaner energy are being proven false.

Michael DuPray

Oakley

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