The ordinance dissolving the Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) received unanimous approval from the city council on Tuesday evening. The dissolution fulfills a recommendation put forth by the state in a memorandum of understanding (MoU), conditions that came attached with $23 million in state aid, earlier in the year.
With the agency’s dissolution, the city’s public works department will now take over the functions of the agency, which included the upkeep of properties owned by the authority, like Overlook Park.
During the vote, council members were surprised to see almost no fight from the agency’s board. “I’m surprised that nobody’s here from the board to even talk about the MUA,” said Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman.
“I’m really shocked and surprised, at least have someone,” said Anthony Davis, 1st Ward councilman. “If you’re not going to fight for it, we’re not going to fight for it either.”
William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, said the agency’s chairman called him prior to the meeting to ask about the probability of the dissolution vote. “It seems like fait accompli,” said McKoy, after half of the council voted to dissolve the agency. “I told him he should nonetheless put his concerns in the record.”
McKoy mentioned Erik Lowe, the vice-chairman of the agency, who has been the lone voice against the dissolution. Lowe has repeatedly called on not just municipal officials, but state officials to re-consider. McKoy asked where the rest of the agency’s board was.
The agency’s demise stems from its funding of former mayor Jeffery Jones’ airfare to India. Lowe’s airfare was also paid by the agency.. Thomas Neff, director of local government services, during a hearing before the local finance board in August, cited the India trip as the main reason for seeking the agency’s dissolution.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, said the dissolution was one of the conditions for receiving the $23 million in state aid, suggesting the state had mandated the dissolution, rather than merely recommending it as Neff maintained during the August hearing.
“The corrective action we wanted could have been accomplished through reforming as opposed to dissolving the agency,” added McKoy.
As council members one by one voted in favor of dissolving the agency, which was established in June 29th, 1981, Lowe walked into the council chambers. “To the vice-chairman of the MUA who has just arrived, you’re about five minutes late, we closed the public hearing,” said Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman.
Tavarez cited the eight votes already cast in favor of dissolving the agency to avoid the cumbersome process of withdrawing votes to re-open the hearing in order to hear Lowe’s arguments against dissolution.
“My hope is that the MUA’s property is used properly,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman. Sayegh said the proper use of the agency’s property will enhance the Great Falls National Park.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be better or if it’s going to be worse, but I know it’s going to be a change,” said Tavarez.