Winston-Salem and Forsyth County will finally discuss the issue of accountability regarding the city-county utility commission.

The Journal summoned a couple of UNC academics to provide differing viewpoints:

There are pros and cons to having the members of the utility commission appointed, said Carl Stenberg, a professor of public administration and government at the University of North Carolina’s Institute of Government.

“On the pro side, the commission has to make hard decisions. But that could trigger a not-in-my-backyard response from residents. Because they do not have to worry about being elected, they can make those decisions based on the needs of the wider community,” Stenberg said.

The rationale, he said, is that questions regarding a city’s public water system and sewers require businesslike decisions and should be removed from the world of politics.

They should be looked at on the merits and from the standpoint of cost and distribution, he said.

“There is that distance factor, which to some people is a plus. To other people, they might say, ‘Well, these folks are too far removed … and it’s more than an arms-length relationship. They’re pretty much on their own, and because they aren’t elected, they’re less accountable for their decisions than the representatives serving on the city council,” Stenberg said.

…City resident Kenneth Pruitt, who was annexed in western Winston-Salem, has complained that the utility commission does not have his best interests in mind when considering how much he has to pay in a sewer assessment as a newly annexed resident…

..Pruitt said that because the commission is not accountable to voters, it has no interest in considering any kind of subsidy for people in his position.

And that’s a point of view that Milton Heath, a professor of public law and government at UNC’s Institute of Government, understands.

“If there’s a way to get somebody involved who for whatever reason sees themselves as speaking for the ratepayers, it just strikes me as a good idea,” Heath said. “If you don’t have that, then you’ve got a gap.”

I agree with Stenberg’s opinion that running water and sewer are businesslike decisions. But separating the process from politics is a perfect-world scenario, because nothing is more political than removing money from the taxpayers’ wallets.