Engage D2: Regarding my concerns with The Brattle Group analysis of the Renewable Denton Plan; Taxes, Fees, and Budget to be voted on

It is a big day at city hall on Tuesday, September 19th and it all begins at 11:30AM.  City council work session and regular session agendas can be accessed by [CLICKING HERE].

Of note we will be discussing, and later voting on, the tax rates, fees, and the 2017 budget.

*Also of note, council is slated to vote on approval for the land acquisition, design, and engines for the Denton Energy Center.  The Denton Energy Center (DEC) is a component of the Renewable Denton Plan.  We were scheduled to vote on this last week but I raised concerns about the manner in which The Brattle Group was selected to Study, Review, and Evaluate the recommendations from DME regarding the Renewable Denton Plan, as well as concerns as to how this analysis was conducted.  During the work session this Tuesday council will be discussing those concerns.  Below please find details on my concerns and how they developed.
HOW AND WHY DID I COME ACROSS THESE EMAILS? 

  1. Without council approval, the Brattle Group was paid $45,000 more than the $150,000 council approved for their work to Study, Review, and Evaluate the Renewable Denton Plan
  2. As somebody who aims to be a good steward of tax-payer dollars I wanted to understand why we paid this additional $45,000 to Brattle
  3. Questions I had for staff and legal about why we paid this extra $45,000 were not getting clear answers so, as a matter of due diligence, I began requesting staff communications regarding Brattle and their work for us.

 

HOW DID MY CONCERNS DEVELOP?

  1. I began to search for the answer to my $45,000 question.  While I have not found a clear answer for why we paid Brattle $45,000 more than council approved for the study, I did start to see some communications that did not sit right with me.  Over time as I was reviewing these communications looking for my answer, more and more concerns built up.
  2. What began to not set right with me was the nature of relationship, and timeline of that relationship, that was evident between DME and the Brattle Group who was hired as a consultant brought in to Study, Review, and Evaluate the Renewable Denton Plan – per council direction.
  3. I reviewed the council work session from January 26, 2016 where we decided to pursue a consultant to provide a third party independent analysis of the Renewable Denton Plan.  While not everyone wanted a consultant brought in for this purpose we seemed to come together around the ideas of:
    • Bringing a consultant in to remedy the sense of public distrust around this issue.  To bring back a spirit of collaboration.  Bring the community back together.
    • Bring the council back together for the benefit of the citizens of Denton and its future.
    • An independent analysis to look at our plan and tell us if there are any flaws?  If so what?  Can we do better? How might we do better?
    • That this was a very large and impactful investment.  That there was no disrespect to staff intended in council’s desire to have the Renewable Denton Plan verified.  We just want assurance because we – council – are not experts.
    • That we wanted to understand the reality of alternatives in the marketplace.
  4. What I was seeing in staff communications with Brattle alarmed me because it was showing me that the relationship between DME staff and Brattle was cozy. And it revealed that Brattle has taken an active role – dating back to at least 2012 – advocating for the use of Wartsila natural gas fired engines for electricity production on behalf of Wartsila, at Wartsila conferences.   Year after year the Brattle Group speaks at Wartsila’s conference advocating for the use of Wartsila engines in configurations very similar to the Denton Energy Center.  It is literally spelled out in their presentation, which we have a copy of.  There is nothing wrong in and of itself for Brattle to advocate for Wartsila.  That is their choice and that is their business.  But we should have identified this conflict of interest before we hired Brattle to independently Study, Review, and Evaluate the Renewable Denton Plan.  With this track record there is no way that this consultant should have been considered – there was an inherent conflict of interest issue. This would be like telling your doctor that you want a second opinion and then going to the same doctor for that second opinion.

 

I HAVE 9 SPECIFIC CONCERNS THAT BY NOW HAVE BEEN SHARED WITH COUNCIL, AND STAFF.  [CLICK HERE] to read those concerns.

 

WHY DID I SHARE THESE EMAILS WITH THE PUBLIC? DID I SHARE CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION?

  1. First and foremost the city government belongs to the citizens of Denton.  If you want to review the communications in questions you can access them in this article [CLICK HERE].
  2. If there is going to be a public discussion on the concerns that I brought to the table last week the public has a right to know what we know regarding public information and to be a part of the discussion if they so choose.
  3. On August 25, 2016, I asked our city manager and Mayor if the communications that I received that were not bundled as confidential were public information.  City manager Martin confirmed to me in writing that they were indeed public information.

 

I HAVE HEARD IT SUGGESTED BY SOME ON COUNCIL THAT I DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW CONSULTANTS WORK.  

  1. My husband has over a decade of experience as a public sector consultant.  While this in no way qualifies me as an expert on consultant relationships I do think I have picked a few things up around the dinner table.
  2. I know enough to understand that it is disturbing to see a consultant that we hired to independently Study, Evaluate, and Review the Renewable Denton Plan hand over an incomplete draft of their final report to our staff and extend the offer to QUOTE “INCORPORATE ANY INTERIM SUGGESTIONS YOU MIGHT HAVE.”  I do not know if staff took Brattle up on the offer.  But the fact that this consultant made such an offer tells me everything I need to know about the independence and objectivity of the work.  This independent review appears to have been taken as a collaboration.  Somewhere along the way we must have given staff and this consultant the wrong impression about the purpose of this study commissioned by council.
  3. It is equally disturbing to see the independent consultant that we hired to Study, Evaluate, and Review the Renewable Denton Plan to find themselves QUOTE “Building out the rationale behind DME’s needs.”  Brattle was not supposed to be building out the rationale for DME’s needs.  Brattle was supposed to be independently Studying, Evaluating, and Reviewing the rationale behind DME’s recommended plan. Again, somewhere along the way we must have given staff and this consultant the wrong impression about the purpose of this study commissioned by council.

I take no joy in bringing these concerns forward.  It has weighed heavy on me.  It has had negative health impacts on me.  I struggled more than I should have in coming forward with these concerns because they have to do with part of the Renewable Denton Plan, which we as a council already approved.  Yes, I fought very hard against the Renewable Denton Plan.   I have probably been overly sensitive that my actions in raising these concerns would make it appear that I was stalling something that was already approved.   But this really bothers me.  And very recent serious issues brought to light in multiple other departments across the city only heightened my concerns.  I don’t see that this was the objective third party analysis that I thought we signed off on as a council to Study, Review, and Evaluate the Renewable Denton Plan.  It bothers me because we appear to have chosen to hire a firm that also serves as an advocate for the product we were eventually going to buy as part of the Denton Energy Center – Wartsila engines – to assure us that we should buy with confidence. It bothers me because it feels like we wasted taxpayer money to placate a handful of council people (of which I was one) that were demanding an independent evaluation of the Renewable Denton Plan before moving forward.  I can’t speak for my fellow council members, but I know that is not what I signed off for. Most importantly, I do not think this is what our citizens should expect from their government… its not what they signed off for.  Maybe I am wrong.  Maybe I am right. My concerns are plainly stated and will be discussed by council during Tuesday’s work session.
Citizens now have access to many – by no means all – of the public communication records that I have had access to. Decide if this is what you signed off for when we agreed to have a consultant independently Study, Review, and Evaluate the Renewable Denton Plan.If you knew then that the study would be conducted in this way would your position have been the same as it is now?Or would you have insisted on something more objective when it came to verifying a $250,000,000 investment that – for good or for bad – will have a decades-long impact on our community?

Asking for a third party Study, Review, and Evaluation of the Renewable Denton Plan was absolutely the right thing to do.But if the right thing is done the wrong way then no good purpose is served.

I am not holding my breath that this will in any way keep the Renewable Denton Plan from being fully executed on Tuesday night.But I do hold hope that council will reevaluate the way we select and work with consultants in situations like this and receive information from staff in the future.

As always please let me know if you have any questions, comments, concerns or ideas.

Your humble representative,

Keely G. Briggs
Council Member – District 2
(e) keely.briggs@cityofdenton.com
(m) 940.453.8377

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