The Albany City Commission made the right move yesterday. Yes, I actually typed those words. Don’t faint, because it’s true. It’s not a binding move, but it was still the right one. The City Commission needs to have more oversight on the doings of Water, Gas & Light. I know that WG&L employees aren’t happy about that. I’ve had more than one make their displeasure known to me, but what is right is right.
The truth is, WG&L does what it wants to do, while leaving the city on the hook for the bill. This was clear when they decided to purchase the Sun Trust building, letting the city commission know at the last possible minute. This was clear when they announced they needed money for the manufactured gas plant cleanup, again at the last minute. Yet again, it was clear when they announced they were selling their fiber optic division with no input from the city.
If WG&L were an independent, private operation, I’d say “more power to them” (no pun intended). They’re not. They’re an agency of the City of Albany. Ultimately, the city is liable for anything WG&L does. The City is ultimately on the hook, yet they’re not actually in control of anything.
I’ll be the first to admit that the most valid counter argument is that the City Commission hasn’t really shown much in the way of real leadership in this town as it is. The thing is, that’s our fault. We are the ones who vote for them. We are responsible for the fact that we’re not getting the leadership we want. We can change that.
With WG&L, we get no say. Our tax dollars back it up, but we have no say in the operation. Oh, there’s a WG&L Board, but how much do they really impact the operation of the utility? Some sources tell me it’s practically nil. Others say it’s a good bit. Who is right? Who knows, and that’s half the problem.
Private companies can keep secrets, because they are the ones who will ultimately pay the price of something goes wrong. WG&L is not a private company. If they want to be, then I say let them. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, they want to have their cake by being part of the City of Albany and enjoy the backing that gives them, while also being autonomous. Sorry folks, but that’s just not how things should be working here.
Now, a certain level of autonomy needs to remain in place. After all, if rate increases become political discussions, then they won’t increase as the market demands and we’ll be on the hook for the shortfall. I get that, and I agree it needs to remain separate from the city commission. However, there are a lot of business decision that have quite a few in this community scratching their heads, and that needs to end.
Here’s hoping that the commission continues along this path.