Independence, Mo., Council Takes Heat for Smart Meter Vote

A 3-3 vote stalled the smart meters, and now citizens of Independence, Missouri, are petitioning to have the matter put on a ballot and to recall Mayor Eileen Weir over the issue.

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(TNS) — While some citizens try to petition for putting digital smart meters on the ballot, one Independence City Council member tried Monday evening to bypass the wait for that petition.

In a packed meeting in which many citizens aired their continued displeasure about the city's pending decision to install advanced metering infrastructure – or AMI, popularly known as smart meters – for city utilities Tom Van Camp moved to have the council decide for itself to put the matter on the Aug. 6 ballot. The resolution failed on a 3-3 vote, with Council Member Karen DeLuccie abstaining.

Van Camp was supported by Mike Huff, who seconded the motion, and John Perkins, whose switched vote from no to yes on the Core & Main contract for smart meters helped lead to some citizen outcry. In addition to smart meters, a petition has also been started to recall Mayor Eileen Weir.

Weir and Council Members Curt Dougherty and Scott Roberson, all of whom voted for the Core & Main contract April 1, voted no Monday. DeLuccie's abstention matched her decision from last week regarding the council's resolution to postpone completing the Core & Main contract. She said she wasn't going to vote on an item that, like the April 1 contract vote, had not been on the agenda, and the council ultimately voted 4-2 to hold off on completing the contract pending the petition's outcome.

Citizens have until May 6 to gather valid signatures from the 5 percent of the city's registered voters – well above 3,000 – to possibly put something on the Aug. 6 ballot for voters to decide whether to proceed on smart meters. A recall attempt for Weir requires 8 percent.

In his motion to put smart meters on the ballot, Van Camp said the council's April 1 vote, while legal, has "placed a shadow over the matter."

"We had a chance to take this to the people," he said later. "I believe that this petition will do that. Keep fighting the good fight."

Citizen Brenda J. Perry said that with its vote for smart meters, the council "unwittingly awakened a sleeping giant" and that a "very, very large number of people" don't want smart meters and don't believe they will save money – as analysts have predicted they will.

Perry also dismissed the reason that neighboring utilities like Kansas City already have smart meters.

"Quit worrying about keeping up with the Joneses," she said. "By flipping the results of your vote, you flopped politically."

Several other citizens brought up concerns expressed more than a year ago when the council considered previous smart meter votes – health issues caused by radiowave transmissions, fires from faulty technology, privacy and selling information to third parties.

"Your vote says you don't care (about those issues)," Erin Talcott said.

Jason White of the citizens group Indy Energy, which has supported implementing smart meters, noted that legitimate health organizations had studied smart meters and not found a direct connection to health issues and smart meters haven't caused a "conflagration" of fires. In addition, studies have only shown the chance for possible rate decreases due to long-term cost savings, not rate increases, he said.

Regardless, White said, the council could quell any fears by offering an honest opt-out policy that doesn't charge ratepayers extra.

"I encourage you to help my neighbors feel more comfortable by giving out a liberal opt-out," he said, adding that he believes 85 percent of ratepayers want to benefit from smart meters.

City Manager Zach Walker said staff was crafting an opt-out policy for smart meters that would "strip back" of many restrictions, as he believed that to be the council's wish, he said.

Essentially, he said, it would come down to "Do want it or not."

When some in the crowd murmured against White and called that he was done with his time limit, Weir banged her gavel for order and then called a five-minute recess. She later said citizens speaking up over others would be subject to removal by police and noted that the council had changed rules last year to allow citizens to speak without signing up prior to the meeting.

"You owe each other the courtesy of being quiet while somebody else speaks," Weir said.

Citizen Lucy Young later blurted out regarding Roberson's decision to vote against Van Camp's resolution, calling him an "unethical council member" before leaving the room.

"Come and get me, Chief," she said. "I'll walk out with you."

©2019 The Examiner, Independence, Mo. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.