Independent Review of Lansing Board of Water & Light


Mayor Nathan Triplett, City of East Lansing
Mayor Virgil Bernero, City of Lansing
State Senator Gretchen Whitmer
State Representative Sam Singh
East Lansing City Council

Dear Elected Officials:

I am writing to formally file a complaint about the Lansing Board of Water and Light (LBWL), the public electricity utility servicing the City of East Lansing. I will briefly share my personal grievances with the LBWL, then follow it with specific requests.

Before I list my grievances, I want to note that I am very appreciative of the many work crews from across Michigan, the Midwest, and Northeast who did work in the very cold weather to restore power. The work on the front lines was and is critical to the quality of lives of those of us living in the affected area. Furthermore, I appreciate the significance of this recent storm, and the intense difficulty in responding because of the unique nature of ice and cold and its impact on the LBWL’s utility infrastructure. However, though the conditions were severe, LBWL may have achieved a more timely and positive response through better planning, accountability, and decision-making.

Grievances:

My grievances with the LBWL reflect those of the tens of thousands affected by the recent power outage. I am a homeowner living at Turtlecreek Circle in East Lansing, Michigan. I was affected by the recent storm, losing power (and heat) the evening of December 21, 2013. The complete lack of responsiveness of repair efforts by LBWL was intensely frustrating. The lack of responsiveness included, in particular, no status report of current and future repair efforts, lack of mapping the restoration process, and an inability for me to directly connect with LBWL officials about repair status. Furthermore, any emergency response plan, including decisions to restore power, were never publicized. Although the LBWL provided minimal responses via Facebook beginning on Christmas Day, this responsiveness lacked coordination, was inconsistent, and was untimely.

In addition, I believe it is unconscionable, unethical, and irresponsible for LBWL general manager to leave his employment for vacation during the most significant weather crisis in the utility’s history, particularly while tens of thousands of LBWL customers froze or were forced to seek shelter.

Request:

My request is to create an investigative board of citizens from the city of East Lansing in order to enhance accountability of electrical utility service and provide better future service to the community. Those serving on the board would be citizens willing to review the response to the crisis that affected the city of East Lansing during the holiday season 2013. This investigation must be accountable and transparent in an effort to positively impact the future utility service of the region. Any investigation which may have a reasonable perception of a conflict of interest would render any investigative board questionable, and it would be a waste of time and resources.

Therefore, this review must be independent of the LBWL and the city of Lansing, but must must also be fully supported by these entities, as well as publicly elected officials and the city staff of East Lansing. Expenses for this review must be compensated as necessary by public entities and the LBWL in order to fully and completely accomplish its necessary objectives. Any and all materials and documents (including e-mails and other communications) should be provided willingly by LBWL staff, board, and officials of the city of Lansing in order to provide a comprehensive review.

The review is to include:

1. A recommendation of whether or not it is in the best interest of East Lansing citizens and the city of East Lansing for its electric utility service to be serviced by the Lansing Board of Water & Light, or another service, such as Consumers Energy or DTE Energy. The investigative board will create its own process used to make this decision; and, such a decision must be independent of elected officials and of any individual who may have a relationship with the LBWL deemed a conflict of interest;

2. An analysis of the complete decision-making process by the current leaders of the LBWL leading up to, during, and in response to the crisis. Such a review would include successes and limitations both leading up to and in response to the crisis, including the number of crews compared to other utility providers of comparable size;

3. A deliberation of how the city of East Lansing can be better served by its public utilities, most notably:

3a. A review of the current governing process of the LBWL with respect to its board of directors, how the process allows for responsiveness to multiple communities it serves, and the extent of appropriate accountability of the current board from and
to its service areas;

3b. A comparison of publicly-operated utilities in Michigan in an effort to determine the most efficient, equitable, and greatest foresight for future operations affecting its customers in a crisis, including a review of cost to consumers and services provided;

4. An investigation of audits and other analyses of the LBWL, most particularly:

4a. the extent to which audits appropriately reviewed and responded to accountability of the board of directors and of leaders of LBWL;

4b. the extent to which audits reviewed potential communication deficiences in the occurrence of a crisis;

4c. the extent to which audits reviewed the effectivenss and efficiency of the governance process of the LBWL;

4d. the extent to which audits reviewed the compensation of the General Manager and
Communications Director, including reimbursements for travel and other expenses;

5. A thorough review of the communications process of LBWL, to include:

5a. a review of how LBWL communications services proactively attempted to respond to consumer needs before the recent crisis;

5b. how current technology can (and should) be used proactively to respond to customer inquiries;

5c. how online mapping, interactive social media, and other uses of current technology should have been used to better identify and inform consumer needs (and why they were not used) on a real-time basis, including in a crisis;

6. A recommendation of the future employment status of both the General Manager and Communications Director of the LBWL, namely the extent to which each adequately prepared for AND responded in the best interest of East Lansing citizens with respect to their capacities.

Thank you for your time and your consideration. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

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