“I’m concerned. Not just as an employee, but as a citizen.” Those were the words uttered to Mayor Dorothy Hubbard by an Water, Gas & Light employee recently. I happened to be standing right there, which is how I overheard it. What she was talking about was obvious. Apparently, many of WG&L’s employees are concerned about commissioner Bob Langstaff’s efforts to bring WG&L under the city manager’s office.
I sincerely hope this employee was able to articulate just why WG&L actually needs such autonomy, because no one has been able to tell me why.
However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that there is a very real reason for autonomy. I’m fully capable of believing that there is. If there is though, then perhaps WG&L should get out of government completely and become a private organization.
Government is a tricky thing. It has the capability of doing good things or horrible things. However, one thing that is most important for any governmental entity is oversight. With WG&L, the people have practically none.
You see, there is a WG&L board, and city commissioners appoint that board, but then there is practically nothing. To remove a commissioner, it takes a two-third approval by the city commission. No other entity requires that level of approval…and on an ethics board, it would make sense.
WG&L employees are rallying to support their employer. They can claim they are doing this as citizens, but are they? I’m not saying they’re lying, but instead I think their perspective is skewed. It’s not unlike an employee of the Department of Defense arguing that defense cuts are bad. You never know if it’s what they really believe or whether there’s some kind of concern for their job, even if it’s on the subconscious level.
So far, no one has been able to articulate a good reason why WG&L enjoys such autonomy, but the Albany Police Department shouldn’t. After all, police autonomy makes a lot more sense to me than a utility.
If autonomy matters so much to WG&L, then maybe they should petition the city to become a privately owned entity. Then, they would be free from much of the oversight many in the community feel is essential for good government. A private entity shouldn’t have to answer to the city commission or the city manager. They would be free to operate as they see fit and allow high level employees to spend two and a half days of working time dealing with a fossil that has no bearing on WG&L’s mission, as at least one employee reportedly as. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to run to the city for money when they want it, despite having sufficient funds for a Christmas parade.
WG&L needs to decide what it really wants. If it wants autonomy, then perhaps going private makes more sense. If it wants to stay part of the city, then they need to quit complaining and learn to operate under the constraints and standards that every other department in the City of Albany operates under.