BWL Commissioners Back Lark

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Twelve days after a crippling ice storm, BWL Commissioner Vice-Chair Dennis M. Louney says the dust still hasn't settled.

"I thought we were prepared going into this and we had handled crises before, but obviously we hadn't," he said. "Our communication on this was unacceptable, so to me we need to fully evaluate one how we communicate better and two how to respond better when crises like these occur."

Louney's comments come less than 24 hours after General Manager J. Peter Lark -- whom the Board of Commissioners is responsible for hiring -- admitted he took a family trip to New York at the height of the outages. It was a decision Louney called "disappointing."

"Personally that was troubling because I felt that he should have been here," he said. "Whether his impact would have made a huge difference, just the perception of him being here is huge. I think you need your leaders with you. And while Peter was available by phone and he was working the entire time, I still think physically being here was needed."

Lark needs to be held accountable, Louney said, but that won't happen by firing him. Louney said Lark's track record over his six years as general manager warrants keeping his job.

Louney cited awards for reliability and service and a new cogeneration plant as "stellar" accomplishments on Lark's watch.

"I think Peter's done some great things here and I think he's helped us become a model for many other public utilities," Louney said. "Did he make mistakes during this crisis? Yes. But I don't think, looking at his body of work, he should be fired based on this one thing."

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero continued to stand by Lark, saying will be held accountable, though he called his leaving town "salt in the wound" of a power outage that approached a fortnight.

"Let me be clear: what happened was unacceptable and it will not stand and must not stand," Bernero said. "There has to be reforms and there will be. I just think Peter Lark ought to be given the opportunity to lead that reform effort."

Firing Lark would be premature, Bernero said, and he doesn't know how it would solve the problems raised by the storm response.

Louney agreed, saying Lark needs to help the board find ways to improve BWL's response with winter just beginning and more cold weather in the forecast.

"We need to know that Peter's going to have a plan for this sort of thing and I'm confident he will, but to not be prepared for these things I think was inexcusable," Louney said. "We need an interim plan. We can't wait. If there's an ice storm next week, how are we going to react?"

For some Lansing residents, many of whom were calling for Lark's resignation or firing early in the week, news of the New York City trip was the final straw.

"I think he could have postponed his trip and stayed here and monitored the situation," said Matt Martin, who is going on 12 days without power. "I think [Lark] needs to resign. I think it's unacceptable that this happened on his watch, that after 12 days I'm still without power. 3-5 days is acceptable. 12 days is not. And for them to think that based upon his track record that he should stay is not acceptable."

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