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Keep an eye on WG&L

By   /   August 8, 2012  /   Comments Off

Last week, word surfaced that Water, Gas & Light wanted money from the City of Albany, in particular from the Long Range Financial Planning fund, to help pay for the cleanup of an old manufactured gas plant that used to provide power to the city.  Over the past few years, more and more of these sites – and the remnants that are allegedly toxic to some degree – have had government officials require cleanup efforts.  So why didn’t WG&L see this coming?

Officials at WG&L have been blissfully clueless, apparently believing that this site would somehow escape scrutiny.  They have failed to plan properly, and now they want money from a fund that received a third of the MEAG money.  In yesterday’s city commission meeting, commissioner Bob Langstaff outlined an idea to use those funds for a “deal closing” fund that would ostensibly be used to help lure industry to Albany instead.  Honestly, that’s a much better use for the funds than to funnel them into an entity that seems to believe they exist outside of governmental boundaries.

WG&L is a special case.  Many see it as an independent entity.  However, that was a recent case.  For most of the utility’s existence, it answered to the city commission just like the police department, the fire department, Parks & Recreation, and any other body in Albany does.  However, in the 1970’s, that began to change.  WG&L became a behemoth that answered to no one.

At yesterday’s meeting, commissioner Tommie Postell recounted a story of an official stating that he would work with city manager James Taylor, but not with any future manager.  Postell was understandably incensed.  After all, as Postell argued, where does any employee get off telling those he’s supposed to answer to what he will and won’t do?

The truth of the matter is, it’s time that WG&L gets reigned in.  There is no reason for the autonomy that WG&L seems to enjoy.  While they are clearly the best positioned to made decisions on rates and things of that nature, they are still a part of the City of Albany, and our leaders have an obligation to the taxpayers to make sure things are managed properly.

With that in mind, it is the editorial position of The Albany Journal to support commissioner Langstaff’s proposal that WG&L’s general manager be hired and fired by the city manager, and that the city commission have to approve the utility’s annual budget.  We elect our commissioners, in part, to hold city departments accountable.  WG&L is one that isn’t, and that desperately needs to change.

If James Taylor is able to hire and fire the general manager, then it becomes clear who that general manager answers to.  There would be no discussion of who he will and won’t work with, it will simply be what it is.  One must work with their supervisor after all, and that should cut down on much of the drama on that front.

By the commission approving the budget, our elected officials can provide proper oversight by insuring that best practices are being used.  Perhaps WG&L should look at self insuring like the city does, or perhaps not.  It should clearly be a matter for our elected officials to decide.

I support commissioner Langstaff’s position, and it is my hope that the rest of the commission will as well.  It’s ridiculous that things were allowed to get like they currently are.  It would be even more ridiculous to allow them to continue.

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