When Sacramento area residents get upset about their energy bills, they have an option not available to people in most other areas they can vote for someone new to set their rates.
Voters will get that option next month when they fill a vacancy on the board of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in District 5. The seven-member board sets policies and rates and selects a general manager to run the utility.
Michael Picker, Sam Palko and Ben Phillips are running to replace Rob Kerth, who is running for City Council. All three candidates stress the importance of keeping rates low as SMUD continues to grow and change.
Where they most disagree is who has the best background for the job.
Picker says he has the most relevant experience among the candidates. He served as chief of staff for former Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna Jr. in the 1990s, and for the last three years has served as a senior adviser to Govs. Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger on renewable energy.
"I want to continue to make Sacramento a great place to live," Picker said.
Palko and Phillips say they have better connections to the community than Picker, and that matters when changing how consumers use energy is more important than ever.
Palko has worked as a teacher, a real estate agent and as a community activist. She serves on community boards in midtown. "I am running for the board because I want to really engage customers," she said.
She wants parents to work with children to find ways to reduce energy consumption, such as hanging clothes instead of using a dryer.
Phillips also emphasizes his experience as an activist. In addition to working in banking and telecommunications, Phillips serves on boards for the Sacramento Rainbow Chamber of Commerce and the Sacramento Gay and Lesbian Center.
Originally from the Philippines, Phillips said he is strongly attuned to the needs of immigrants, and thinks SMUD could do a better job reaching out to some communities.
For instance, while the utility provides a lot of helpful information on its web site in Spanish and English, information should come in other languages, such as Cantonese and Hmong, he said.
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