When the Tacoma City Council voted Tuesday (Sept. 22) to keep utility director Bill Gaines last week, members referred to a work plan they laid out for his next two years.
But absent in the auditorium that night was an actual copy of the work plan for the Tacoma Public Utilities chief. Council members said after the meeting that they didn’t have a copy, either.
“I thought it was at the back table for the public to review,” Councilman David Boe said Thursday afternoon.
The News Tribune filed a records request for a copy after that Sept. 22 meeting. The city of Tacoma sent the document late the following day. It is now available here.
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Ironically, one work plan goal is to “increase visibility, accountability and transparency with the public.”
Several of the goals are aimed at improving the at-times strained relationship between the utilities and general government. Two years ago Gaines and the city manager clashed over whether a proposed utility-related tax would eventually cost utility customers. More recently, some council members have said they have struggled to get the information they want from Gaines on how to save Click, the city’s faltering cable TV and Internet system.
Under the work plan, Gaines must continue his monthly meetings with the mayor and TPU board chairman, and meet four times per year with a group consisting of a TPU board member and up to three City Council members from different subcommittees.
Gaines must also coordinate state and federal policy goals with that of city government, according to the work plan. It directs the TPU director to adopt the city’s strategic plans and values, including environmental, economic development, and equity and empowerment initiatives.
Voters decided last year to change the city charter to give the City Council the authority to keep or fire the utilities director every two years. This was the first year the council had that option.
To review Gaines, two council members and two members of the TPU board met for several weeks in closed sessions, as is allowed under state open meetings laws.
“I feel like this process has created better communication between the board and the council and the (TPU) director,” said TPU board chairman Bryan Flint, who was a member of the small group. “I think the work plan provides opportunities to continue that.”
Councilwoman Victoria Woodards, also on that committee, said the council’s goals for Gaines are different than the ones TPU will have for Gaines. His council goals focus on improving relationships with the council and the public.
“We had some great dialogue and I think that we have really outlined some ways some of our concerns can be addressed,” Woodards said Friday.