Mayor’s appointments to LES board concern some council members

Margaret Reist – Dec 18, 2022 Updated Dec 19, 2022 – for Lincoln Journal Star

My cmnt: Here we have our Lib mayor, Gaylor Baird, from Portland, Or., spreading the climate change (formerly global warming) gospel to the LES board. Decarbonization is not a proper goal for energy producing entities. The Co2 we have been adding to the atmosphere has caused record crop production since Co2 is plant food.

At least one Lincoln City Council member sees the mayor’s appointment of three new members to the Lincoln Electric System board as an attempt to stack the board with members who will help push her climate resiliency priorities.

“I’ll be voting against the nominees,” said Councilman Richard Meginnis. “It’s not personal. It’s really against the LES board being used as an activist group. There’s no diversity among them. No diversity of thought.”

Members of the LES Board are appointed by the mayor for up to three three-year terms, and it’s typically routine business for the council to approve them.

But the decision by the mayor not to reappoint DaNay Kalkowski, an attorney who works on development issues and who is currently chairman of the LES board, bothered more than one council member.

“I was disappointed that DaNay Kalkowski was not given another term as is customary because I think DaNay did a fantastic job,” said Councilwoman Jane Raybould. “She represents the development community and she’s such a knowledgeable person. She’s always been incredibly professional and well informed and well prepared.”

Other members, who won’t necessarily vote against the nominees, say they are concerned about the lack of diversity of thought on the board.

The council will vote on four LES board appointments Monday, including three new members and one reappointment. They include:

* Kate Bolz, Nebraska state director of USDA Rural Development, who previously was the mayor’s economic development policy advisor and a state senator;

* Martha Durr, professor of climatology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, state climatologist and director of UNL’s Nebraska State Climate Office; former director of the High Plains Regional Climate Center and an applied climatologist for the Alaska Climate Research Center;

* Eric Schafer, president of Telesis, the umbrella company for Data Security, Lazlos, Empyrean Brewing Co., Telesis Holding and Avert Vertical Cultivations. Telesis owns the most geothermal wells and solar panels in the state, and LES was instrumental in helping the company achieve that, according to a news release from the city;

* Karen Griffin, a geologist and former vice president and groundwater technical leader for Olsson, who the mayor is recommending for reappointment.

The new members will replace Layne Sup, who has served three terms, Kalkowski, who served two terms, and Kim Morrow, who was appointed by Gaylor Baird to replace Rebecca Lai, a UNL associate chemistry professor who served one term.

Morrow, who worked for the Verdis Group, which helps companies realize sustainability goals, and was a climate change resource specialist at UNL, resigned because the mayor hired her earlier last month as her chief sustainability officer.

A history of board member tenure from LES shows many members serve more than one term and in recent history – the last 15 years or so – many served all three terms. 

Meginnis said the LES board is designed to manage LES finances, property, personnel and equipment, not to push an agenda.

“I’m just worried this is not good for the city of Lincoln or LES ratepayers,” he said. “It’s basically a clear takeover of the board by people who believe in decarbonization.”

Meginnis said he isn’t opposed to the LES decarbonization goal, but he thinks certain groups don’t think their goals aren’t aggressive enough.

LES’s goal is to reach net decarbonization by 2040.

If it becomes a political rather than management board, there could be turnover every time there’s a new mayor, he said.

Jennifer Williams, the mayor’s chief of staff, said the mayor wants to diversify the experience of all boards and she disagrees with Meginnis. Other board members have been replaced and no council members expressed concerns, she said.

“I think the mayor would look at the expertise the three candidates bring to the board and thinks they will be great board members,” she said. “I disagree with the councilman’s assumption there is some effort to create a board that would undermine the efficient an effective work of LES.”

Council Chairwoman Tammy Ward, who was on the LES board until she was elected to the council, said she has similar concerns as Meginnis, and was upset she did not learn from the mayor’s office that Kalkowski was not being reappointed.

“It’s better government when we surround ourselves with people who have different points of view,” she said. “I think we’re better policymakers when we surround ourselves with different views.”

City Councilman James Michael Bowers said he supports the appointments and has no concerns, while other council members, who said they are either planning to vote to approve the appointments or are likely to do so, said they also worried about a lack of diversity of thought on the board.

“I think the appointments do indicate a preference to have individuals serve on the LES board who are focused on decarbonization,” said Councilman Tom Beckius. “The primary concern I have is a balance between decarbonization and the impact that process may have on ratepayers.”

Councilwoman Sändra Washington said she doesn’t have the same depth of concern as some other members but she does think creating diverse boards is important and diversity of opinion is as important as racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and geographic diversity.

She’s not completely satisfied that’s happening, but believes they are qualified and said she will vote to approve the appointments.

The city and LES board have decarbonization goals and while she wouldn’t advocate appointing climate change deniers, there are different opinions about how to reach those goals, she said.

Councilman Bennie Shobe said he expressed his concerns about the lack of racial and ethnic diversity, as well as diversity of thought, when her office told them about the appointments.

“I will vote for them,” he said. “I think they have the long-term interests of Lincoln in mind but I also think we should add more voices to the table.”

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