Lansing Council May Dissolve BWL Board

The Lansing City Council plans to vote on a recommendation to dissolve the Board of Commissioners of the Lansing Board of Water and Light.

A resolution to dissolve the BWL’s board and turn it into an “advisory” council is on the consent agenda at Monday’s meeting. While it could be moved and held up for a regular vote, the “consent agenda” is typically reserved for motions that need little or no debate.

That resolution spells out several reasons the council wants to take control from the BWL commissioners, who run the Lansing utility. Among them:

  • A pay raise given to then-General Manager J. Peter Lark shortly after the BWL board voted to raise electricity and water rates. The resolution called the raises “offensive, exorbitant, and out-of-touch with the economic reality facing the community at the time.”
  • The BWL board re-appointed Lark to his job in July, even after a controversy surrounding his handling of a December 2013 ice storm.
  • Some council members think the BWL board is not as accountable to the Lansing City Council as it should be.

The Board of Water and Light is a public utility. Members of the Board of Commissioners are currently appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council.

Lark and the Board of Water and Light came under fire at the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 for an ice storm that crippled the area and left some BWL customers in the dark for as long as 10 days. Lark was criticized for, among other things, making a trip to New York shortly after describing the ice storm as causing the worst outage in the city’s history.

The BWL and its leadership were criticized by many members of the community for their handling of the situation. Several investigations took place, including one by a special commission formed by Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and a second one by the Michigan Public Service Commission. The BWL also launched its own probe into what went wrong.

Lark and the BWL spent much of 2014 putting the many recommendations from all three investigations into effect.

The board, which publically supported Lark in the aftermath of the ice storm, reaffirmed their support for him during his review over the summer. That same board moved to terminate Lark in January because of his performance.

The board has come under fire for approving a contract for Lark that could mean a payment of almost $1,000,000. Lark and the board are currently negotiating a separation agreement.

The recommendation comes from the Lansing City Council’s Committee on Intergovernmental Relations. Jessica Yorko and Jody Washington also sit on the committee.

Boles tells 6 News that making the BWL board an advisory board is just one possibility.

“We’ve had a lot of suggestions,” she said. “Instead of dissolving the board of actually having the board be elected by the general public and ratepayers, so that’s also an option.”

“Where we’re headed, hopefully, will be whatever hybrid of the options that have been offered will be to ultimately get to a level of accountability and transparency and communication that is reasonable and respectful of our ratepayers as well as of the two entities (the mayor and the city council).”

A BWL board member tells 6 News made a similar point.

“But I can say I think this resolution is premature,” said BWL board member Dennis Louney. “I’ve had a chance to meet personally with councilwoman Boles and we had a real good dialogue on this and I think it’s going to continue,” Louney said. “I think she agrees this is sort of a starting point that they want to look at and get discussions going.”

In November, Lansing voters approved two changes to the city charter – one that would add non-voting members to the board to represent local governments in greater Lansing which are served by the BWL. They also gave Bernero powers to take over the BWL in an emergency.

It’s unclear how the Lansing City Council’s resolution might affect the move for regional representation, but a separate resolution approved by the Intergovernmental Relations suggests those local governments can still fill seats on the BWL board by July 1st.

Stay with 6 News for continuing coverage of the proposal, including our coverage of the city council’s meeting on Monday night.

 

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