Lincoln’s far-reaching efforts to advance environmentally friendly policies have placed the city an enviable position as arguably Nebraska’s greenest community.
But the city’s ongoing campaign to be stewards of the planet, noble as it is, must be balanced with City Hall’s role as stewards of public funds – and the accountability that goes along with that position.
As such, the Lincoln City Council’s vote Monday to pump the brakes on the proposed 15-year contract with an environmental savings company, or ESCO, was the right call. Many valid concerns still languish about the specifics of what this agreement would entail, so progressing too quickly could be pricey.
One prime example of this arises in the contract process, as currently written.
The proposed resolution, which council members agreed to shelve for six weeks, would have granted the mayor’s office permission to authorize the ESCO contracts without bringing them before the council. An amendment offered in response would require all such contracts to be approved by the council, providing another layer of transparency and accountability.
That has the potential of bypassing the Purchasing Department’s established rules, which are public to help ensure backroom deals from benefiting friends and family of elected officials and taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
With the large price tag on these projects, a poor decision may be costly. Accordingly, the procedure to bring them to fruition must be as transparent as possible – and it isn’t thus far.
But that’s not all. Other valid concerns expressed Monday about when the council would have a say on the projects, the cost of packaging projects together, the length of payback periods and further worries make it evident that more clarity is needed before Lincoln proceeds with this concept.
The idea behind approving a contract with an ESCO comes from guaranteeing savings on the energy costs of major renovations. The first proposal, for instance, would replace 26,977 Lincoln street lights with LED fixtures. If the agreed-upon savings don’t materialize, the company is on the hook to pay the city the difference.
Is this deep in the weeds? Absolutely. But government, particularly given the wide range of services it’s expected to provide at the lowest conceivable cost, often must operate at such a granular level.
No doubt, the ESCO model represents a new one for Lincoln. Whether it’s the best option for the city’s admirable sustainability goals, however, is yet to be determined.
Again, the end is worthwhile, but the means by which it’s achieved matter, too. Pressing pause to iron out these details, in hopes of providing the best proposal both for the environment and Lincoln residents, is the responsible choice.