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Thursday, January 9,2014

Change in governance?

by Andy Balaskovitz
While a majority of BWL’s customers are in the city of Lansing, the utility’s title may be a slight misnomer. It provides water or electricity (or both) to East Lansing, DeWitt and nine townships, including Delta, Lansing Meridian and Delhi.

Because of that, calls for a governing body to include these customers are growing.

Yet some officials interviewed for this story are hesitant to call for a change in the BWL’s board structure.

The board comprises eight members appointed by Lansing’s mayor and confirmed by the Council. Like the Council, it’s made up of representatives from each of Lansing’s four wards as well as four at-large members. But restructuring that would require a change in the City Charter, which would be put to Lansing voters. Speaking on “City Pulse Newsmakers” last week (which is available to view at lansingcitypulse.com), Lark sees “probably positives and negatives of that.”

At this point, Wood said she wouldn’t support a Charter amendment because “it’s a public utility owned by the residents of the city of Lansing.” However, she does support an advisory board made up of representatives outside of Lansing.

Perhaps, though, such a move would decrease speculation that Lansing’s mayor can simply stack the board in his political favor.

Former Mayor David Hollister downplays the idea, suggesting that the mayor could do that for any board, whether he appoints members to a fire, police or planning board.

“He’s going to have influence over the board, but I don’t think he particularly dictates to the board they must do this or do that,” Hollister said. “I think he would have subtle ways to send them a message.” For instance, he said, calling for a higher payment in lieu of taxes.

But he thinks it would be a good idea to change the Charter. “That board has always been considered a plum kind of appointment.”

As one of 54 public speakers at a special board meeting Tuesday night, Delta Township Supervisor Ken Fletcher asked BWL commissioners for such representation.

“Find a way to have a long-term structure in place so those voices (from outside) are either included on this board or some other citizens panel,” he said.

BWL board members Anthony McCloud and Sandra Zerkle said they wouldn’t oppose adding representation from outside communities.

Louney agrees with Fletcher, suggesting two additional members to represent the Meridian Township/East Lansing area and another to represent Delta Township.

“In any governing situation, you should have representation for people who are provided services or affected,” he said.

Long-term, outside representation relates to short-term calls for an independent, ex ternal review of BWL’s restoration efforts.

“The fact that they weren’t as prepared as they could have been, with a weak response initially in the first couple days, it kind of underestimated the severity,” Hollister said. The former mayor called for a thorough and objective review.

“In order for the mayor to restore confidence, you’ve gotta have a thorough investigation with no holes,” he said.

Those calling for an outside review seem to agree it should include utility experts, citizens, elected officials or community leaders, or all of the above. It appears one is coming.

While giving a presentation to the board Tuesday night, Lark said the internal review process is underway and a report should materialize in February.

“I expect very shortly an announcement of an independent investigation and study of our response,” he told commissioners.

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