Who governs public power?

Public power relies on local decision-making, but who ultimately makes big choices for these community-owned entities are the members of the utility’s board. Who these community members are and how they are selected as board members differs from utility to utility.

Most public power utilities are owned by a city or town. Some, such as public utility districts or irrigation districts, are owned by the state (7%). These are typically larger utilities that serve a whole county or broad region of a state.

 

City council

Independent board

Who manages?

56% are managed by the city or town council

(Smaller utilities tend to be directly governed by a city council)

44% have an independent board

Elected or appointed?

Elected

Twice as likely to be appointed than elected

(Most often, members are appointed by the mayor (54%) and must be approved by the city council (86%))

Who is chair?

66% have the mayor serve as chair

86% name their own chair

How long do board members serve?

68% serve 4-year terms

46% serve for 5+ years

What decisions do governing boards make?

Chart indicating rates

Setting rates

Check mark

Approving the utility budget

Check and pen

Confirming management salaries

Contract review

Authorizing power purchase agreements

Charts

Establishing targets

Bank

Issuing bonds

84% of board and council members get paid for this work.

Median pay is

  • $1,800 for council members
  • $1,300 for appointed board members
  • $4,000 for elected board members

Who decides if the utility remains public power?

About half (56%) of governing boards can vote to sell the utility, whereas 44% require a voter referendum to sell.

About 10% of utilities have a separate advisory council comprised of community members that weigh in on utility issues and present community concerns. Larger utilities tend to have these councils.

 

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