Lansing Voters to Decide BWL Changes

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Lansing, Mich. (WILX) Lansing voters will have the opportunity to amend the city's charter and amend the way the Board of Water and Light conducts itself this November.

The Lansing City Council voted unanimously during a special session to let the people decide on whether or not to allow for regional representation and whether or not to let Mayor Virg Bernero take executive authority during a declared emergency.

Both are recommendations given to BWL by a Community Review Team and the Public Service Commission during their analyses of the utility's response to a December ice storm that left some people powerless for nearly two weeks.

The two issues will be separate on the ballot.

Regional Representation

Under the first charter amendment, the BWL's board of commissioners would expand to gave surrounding cities and townships -- who also get their power from BWL -- to have a seat at the table.

"The people in those townships that are using BWL power and paying for it, I believe they certainly should have a right to have a representative," said Mary Ann Prince, who spoke during the public comment portion of Monday's meeting. "However I do believe that representative should have a right to vote on that board, the same as the first eight do."

The amendment allows East Lansing and Delta Township to have at-large seats at BWL. An additional seat will represent Meridian, Lansing, DeWitt and Delhi townships.

Councilmember Carol Wood said it was a "good start," but she also wants to see those communities eventually have a vote.

But Councilmember Jody Washington called the plan a "great compromise," saying just having a voice is "huge."

"We are the ones that provide the services," she said. "It's a Lansing utility."

Mayoral Executive Authority

The second amendment to the charter would allow the mayor of Lansing to take control during any declared emergency -- not necessarily just an ice storm. Executive Assistant Randy Hannan says it will give the mayor the ability to marshal all the resources he or she may need to adequately respond, including managing personnel, supplies and equipment.

The December ice storm was not a declared an emergency.

During public comment, some people expressed doubts that Mayor Virg Bernero was the right man to take control of an emergency situation.

"Somebody needs to step up, that's true," said Bob Gray. "But I don't have that faith in the mayor. Our mayor is the one who appointed Mr. Lark to the position that he's in. This man should've took note of everything."

Councilmember Carol Wood also expressed her doubts that mayoral control was the right way to go about things.

"We're paying the general manager a great deal of money to manage the Board of Water and Light and at this point, what we're now saying is the mayor would handle that situation," she said. "Why would we continue to pay the general manager what we're paying them if they're not going to handle things during an emergency?"

Councilmember Washington says she can see both sides, which is why she voted to let the people decide.

"I certainly understand the concerns and trepidation that some folks may have and letting the mayor have such power over such a large area in the city," she said. "A lot of folks are not on board with this out in the public, some people are. So this is one I'm very happy to put to the voters."

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