PUEBLO- When Jim Sharp got a phone call last week, he noticed the area code matched his own- from the Los Angeles area.
Initially, he thought it might be someone trying to sell him something, but he answered it anyway.
“I wound up being very happy that I took the call,” said Sharp, and as it turned out the call was asking him questions about the service of Black Hills Energy. Living in Pueblo, he’s one of their customers and he knows people working on a campaign for a ballot issue to bring a publicly owned utility to Pueblo.
Sharp says the caller asked him about his political affiliation, taxation, and municipalization. Then towards the end of the call, the poller asked him to rank on a scale of 1-5 how much he trusts certain elected officials and groups in Pueblo.
“At the time I think the thing that was most surprising was Pueblo’s Energy Future being the very first one that she asked how I would rate it for trustworthiness, partly because I’m pretty familiar with that group, but also just I wasn’t aware that it would necessarily be a group that was high on everyone’s radar,” said Sharp.
News5 obtained a recording of a poll someone in Pueblo received, where the questions matched up, although the order of the groups and elected leaders asked was in a different order. The poller asked in the recording “On a scale of 1-5 with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest please tell me how much you would trust what each of the following people or organizations have to say about the city of Pueblo taking over and running the electric system.”
Among the elected officials named Mayor Nick Gradisar, State Representative Daneya Esgar, and State Senator Leroy Garcia. Other groups asked in the poll included Pueblo’s Energy Future, local firefighters, the
Pueblo Chieftain, an unnamed CSU Pueblo professor of business/economics, Pueblo City Water Board, and Black Hills Energy.
“We are taking the time to make sure that we are advocating for transparency and looking out for ratepayers,” Garcia said. An interim committee with the state legislature is in the works to take a closer look at investor-owned utilities such as Black Hills Energy.
State Representative Daneya Esgar says several constituents reached out to her about the poll “it wasn’t necessarily anything I took personal but the fact that they want to know who in the community people trust when it comes to talking about them and their practices I found that to be an interesting thing to be polling.”
“Tactics like what they’re doing now and applying trustworthiness with different groups in this community that are grassroots really is disingenuous,” Garcia said.
News5 reached out to Black Hills Energy, they said they asked Fredrick Polls, the group conducted the poll not to give them the answers to how participants ranked the trustworthiness of Esgar and Garcia.
Black Hills Energy sent the following statement to News5 about the poll.
Black Hills Energy has been conducting telephone polling of City of Pueblo residents as part of our ongoing effort to listen and to identify community needs and priorities. We’ve sought input from our Pueblo customers for many years through customer satisfaction surveys, so seeking customer input is nothing new. Our current polling seeks feedback on our service from Pueblo residents and also asks about issues of interest to the community, including municipalization. The City of Pueblo has conducted its own research on municipalization as well and has used survey findings as part of its PR campaign.
“A utility company, especially an investor-owned utility is a business, what they choose to do is proprietary I find it odd that they think that they need to poll the community to know how the community feels about them,” said Esgar.