A step in the right direction

Published 9:37 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gov. Tim Kaine reportedly signed into law Friday a bill that would overhaul the board that leads the troubled Southeastern Public Service Authority. The legislation means that SPSA’s current board of directors, which consists of an elected official from each member locality, would be replaced on Jan. 1 with citizens appointed by the governor.

The passage of the bill solidifies the need for change with the authority and offers some hope by removing elected officials who most likely didn’t want the burden or responsibility of serving on the board in the first place.

“I’m glad that he signed the bill,” said Delegate John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, who authored the bill. “SPSA has been a disaster for many years. This is going to require them to be very forthright and honest about how they do business.”

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Under the new law, each of SPSA’s eight member localities would submit the names of three prospective board members to the governor, who will choose one representative from each locality. The nominees must “possess general business knowledge, and shall not be elected officials.” Nominees selected by the governor will serve four-year terms and can serve for no more than two consecutive terms. Cosgrove said previous board members had “drawn the short straw with their city councils” and didn’t possess the know-how to govern the authority.

Replacing elected officials with citizens who have business “sense” sets the stage for transparency in SPSA business and offers encouragement that partisan decisions will be a thing of the past. In addition, having knowledgeable, experienced business professionals serving on the board should help steer the authority in a direction unlike its current path, or at least we hope so. It’s not clear if anything at this point can save the authority’s future.

Outsourcing is another stipulation. According to the bill, SPSA’s board “shall consider outsourcing any or all functions that may result in reduced costs to the authority, and the authority shall annually issue requests for proposals that potentially reduce the costs of any of its programs.”

The board also will need to approve spending on any items costing more than $30,000. The bill has the ingredients for success, assuming it’s not too late for action.