Mayor Bernero proposes new changes to BWL
A week before his State of the City address, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero proposed controversial changes to the Board of Water and Light, which is still undergoing structural revision following the botched handling of last power outages in December 2012. Among his list of ideas was the weakening of the Board to an advisory role, or even selling the utility company altogether. In his Address, the mayor backed down, reports Steven Reed of the Lansing State Journal.
Bernero’s speech included a “won’t-do” list which took both the sale of the company and the weakening of its directing board off the list, although he says it was not the public opinion that led him to change his mind. Along with his “won’t-do” list, Bernero offered three new changes to the charter, including a prohibition on “excessive” severance payment, clarification on BWL accountability, and the creation of a new appointed inspector general to serve the customers. The mayor indicated that, with the release of J. Peter Lark as General Manager, he is ready to see the Board “change the recipe.”
Steven Reed of LSJ spoke with union representatives and state lawmakers who expressed concern over the proposed inspector general position. A representative of BWL workers, Bob Byrnes says that such a position may weaken the Board of Commissioners. State Rep. Sam Singh is wary of a political bureaucracy might hinder the independence of the BWL. According to Bernero’s proposal, the inspector general would be “super-commissioner” accountable to the mayor and would have no regulatory authority.
In response to Bernero’s suggested revisions to the Board of Water and Light over the past few weeks, union members and retired employees purchased an advertisement in the Lansing State Journal urging the mayor to “stop the power grab.” Robert McCann, spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ local chapter argues that ratepayers deserve a “chance to weigh in. In 2014 Lansing voters opted for more public representation within the BWL. McCann says that the mayors proposal is the opposite of what the voters wanted.