Columns » As the Village Turns

As the Village Turns

Seventh time's the charm


Phil Tollefson, who initiated the Utilities Boards new - policy governance policy.
  • Phil Tollefson, who initiated the Utilities Boards new policy governance policy.

Three weeks ago, eight members of our esteemed City Council -- Dopey, Sneezy, Happy, Bashful, Doc, Sleepy, Grumpy and Lionel -- rolled out the welcome mat for city-owned utilities czar Phil Tollefson.

By "rolled out the welcome mat" I mean the eight council members laid down so Phil could wipe his feet on them.

As you might recall, last year Tollefson, our village guru in matters of electricity, gas and water, announced that his alleged bosses -- the City Council -- were idiots. He implied that the group, which doubles as our utilities board, was incapable of overseeing anyone as smart as he is and that basically they didn't know a toilet from a light bulb.

Which might explain why, each morning after breakfast, several of the council members routinely grab the sports section, run down the hall, go into the little room, squat down and burn themselves on a lamp.

Anyway, CEO Tollefson demanded a new set of bosses. Preferably people who had a better understanding of how a utilities company operates and, more importantly, people who had some experience in the area of tossing rose petals on the ground as the CEO passed by. Owning your own kneepads wouldn't hurt, either.

But somehow, in an unprecedented action, our City Council members mustered the courage to say no to Tollefson. He responded in a professional manner -- smiling, thanking them for their time and consideration and then sending bolts of lightning crackling from his fingertips and turning them all into frogs.

That was just a joke, of course. He turned Councilman Jerry Heimlicher into a goat.

Tollefson then went back to his office, where the flames of hell keep the temperature at a comfortable 9,000 degrees (although it's a dry heat) and began plotting his next move.

And on Jan. 19, at the Utilities Board meeting, the same council approved Tollefson's proposed changes to something called -- and only the government could come up with an actual name like this -- the "policy governance policy."

The revisions to this policy governance policy, which I love saying and have now repeated three times (if you count this one: policy governance policy), gave Tollefson and the Colorado Springs Utilities almost complete immunity from the council's oversight.

For the record, the revisions were approved by voice vote: seven "ribbets" and one "baaaaaa."

Today, because of the revisions, the policy governance policy, which in simple terms governs the policy of those who govern, as it relates to policies affecting the governed, contains such policies as actual policy BL-2: "Decisions or instructions of individual Board members, officers or committees are not binding on the CEO."

In addition, BL-2 states: "In the case of Board members or committees requesting information or assistance without Board authorization, CEO can refuse such requests that require, in the CEO's opinion, a material amount of staff time, or funds, or are disruptive."

(Related Policy BL-2a, the so-called "Braveheart" policy, states that should council members persist in such requests for information that may be "disruptive," Tollefson is hereby allowed to summon his legion of royal archers and instruct them to rain down upon council members tens of thousands of flaming arrows.)

Here's another actual revision, approved at the Jan. 19 meeting and labeled BL-3: "The Board as a body and the Board Members will never give instructions to persons who report directly or indirectly to the CEO. Also, the Board as a body and the Board Members will refrain from evaluating, either formally or informally, the overall job performance of any staff other than the CEO."

Translation: Despite the utilities being owned by the city, if one of Tollefson's highly paid executive assistants appears at a Utilities Board meeting dressed as, let's say, a donkey, and responds to a City Council member's questions by emitting loud "braaaay" sounds and drop-kicking the council member out of his or her seat, well, there's nothing anyone can do about it.

And actual policy BL-4, also approved at the Jan. 19 meeting says: "As long as the CEO makes any reasonable interpretation of the Board's (policies), the CEO is authorized to establish all further policies, make all decisions, take all actions, establish all practices and develop all activities."

If history is our guide, this will be followed by an invasion of Poland.

But my favorite part of the new policy governance policy (footnote: that's the fifth time I've written "policy governance policy ... oops, now it's six) concerns Tollefson's revisions to the policy governing the area he holds most dear: his paycheck.

From actual Policy BL-5: "In every case, the standard for compliance shall be any reasonable CEO interpretation of the Board policy being monitored."

This is reinforced by actual Policy EL-5, concerning CEO compensation and benefits, which will be monitored by an annual "internal" review by the Utilities Department.

In other words, Tollefson will be responsible for determining whether he has met his bonus pay guidelines -- guidelines that, by the way, he came up with.

We use the same system at the Independent. For example, I will now receive a $30,000 bonus because according to a benefit policy put into place by me -- and following a review of that policy, also by me -- this column has satisfied the bonus-pay criteria of containing the phrase "policy governance policy" seven times.


Listen to Rich Tosches Thursday mornings on KVUU FM 99.9.

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