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Monday, January 7, 2008

Fifty Years Ago Today

In a regular meeting of the Glasgow Common Council on January 7, 1958, City Ordinance #811 was passed unanimously. That ordinance created the Electric Plant Board of the City of Glasgow, but that was far from the end of the story.

While it was fairly easy for the City Council to create a new board and appoint some folks to fill it (initially it was Irby Lee Redford, Dr. William H. Bryant, J.B. Galloway, Luther Wells, and Dr. Lynn Mayfield), actually purchasing the facilities of Kentucky Utilities (KU) who was the incumbent electric utility in Glasgow at the time, was much more difficult. The voters of Glasgow had to decide the matter, and, as those of you old enough to remember will attest, that process was so controversial and hotly debated that it made our recent “moist” vote seem no more complicated than the question of “plain or extra crispy” at the KFC drive-though window by comparison. The question, posed during the height of the cold war and the creeping socialism paranoia of the late 50's, was whether the EPB, an arm of local government, should condemn the facilities of a private company and take them over to be operated by the new municipal entity, the Glasgow EPB. That question, painted on the canvas of 1959, was quite controversial!

The first time the issue was placed on the ballot, it was voted down by a very thin margin. Still, the local folks who felt it clearly would benefit the city of Glasgow in the long run if they owned their essential infrastructure, like the electric power network, refused to accept defeat. They placed the question on the ballot again the very next year and this time it passed, by a similarly razor-thin margin. But, again, that was far from the end of the story.

Once the results of the election were validated, the long process began of determining the value of the existing KU system. That required a lot of time in court, but finally a price was set, the EPB arranged to borrow the money, and the deal was done. The EPB officially opened its doors for business in January 1, 1962. But, still again, even that was not the end of the story.

The forty six years since the EPB actually opened for business have also had their share of drama, even though things were basically peaceful until 1987 when we opened discussions about enhancing our electric network with a broadband network capable of adding cable television, real-time electric power data, computer networking (just because no one had heard of the internet in 1987), and telephone service to our menu of services. Many of you will remember our decision to build a broadband network and to compete with the incumbent cable television and telephone companies and those of you who remember our creation in 1958 probably think that the latter decision was very similar to the initial one - and you would be correct. Still, even after fifty years of hard work by local folks determined to provide better services to the people of Glasgow than what we could expect from a private company, more interested in making distant stockholders happy than local customers, our story is still not at an end.

The beautiful thing about our fifty-year story is that it reinforces the belief that, even in a world where it appears that corporations have annexed our state and federal governments and that we are left helpless to get anything done that does not meet with the approval of the rich and powerful corporations that call the cadence by which our elected representatives march, a few folks with a big idea in a small community can bring their idea to fruition. Fifty years ago there were certainly those who proclaimed that a local government had no business trying to operate such a complicated and expensive network. There were also certainly rich and powerful corporations of the day trying to smash the idea with their wealth and influence. Now that is a story that is still not at an end as well . . . but, at least here in Glasgow at the EPB, we are still carrying the battle to them! With your continued support, this battle will continue for the next fifty years.