Public Comment at BWL Board Meeting Dominated By Employees

Lansing Board of Water & Light's General Manager J. Peter Lark looks on Monday night during public comment at city council's special meeting.
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It was a five hour meeting with more than three hours of that used for public comment.

The BWL Board of Commissioner's special meeting Tuesday night called to address the utility's lackluster response following last month's ice storms and subsequent power outages was dominated by BWL employees praising the company.

Customers were invited to the open meeting as commissioners expressed wanting the opportunity to hear from frustrated customers during public comment.

Instead however, of the roughly 50 individuals who spoke, the majority were employees of Board of Water and Light and many expressed their support of embattled general manager J. Peter Lark, who came under fire last week after news broke he had been out of town on vacation during the height of the power outages in Mid-Michigan.

"From day one Mr. Lark has always sought new horizons and the best interests for our customers," said one speaker.

"This ice storm created an enormous amount of damage.. and trying to blame any one person for its hardships seems quite pointless and unwarranted," said another BWL employee.

For the handful of actual BWL customers who did get to speak, many expressed their frustration with the situation.

"Unfortunately this whole thing has turned out to be a poorly orchestrated PR stunt," said one customer

Meanwhile, Lark announcing at the start of the meeting big changes in store for the utility in the wake of what he said were "hard lessons" learned following last month's storms.

The changes include the hiring of more line workers and dispatchers immediately, while tripling the number of line crews it would have in an emergency, along with looking into hiring a firm to answer customer calls during "catastrophic" outages.

"Unfortunately it took that (storm) to bring it to the forefront and say okay we do need to make some changes," said Sandra Zerkle, chair of the commission.

BWL will also have an online outage map available to its customers by next week and will be giving customers who went 120 hours without power a $25 credit and an additional $5 for every 24 hours after the initial 120 hours

The announcements, however, perhaps a bit overshadowed by a meeting customers felt was little more than a backhanded PR move.

"It really felt like tonight was stacked," said Lansing resident Julie Powers. "We had so many employees up and very few folks in the community were able to speak, I just really don't think this is enough yet."

The utility is also planning to hold three 'community forums' beginning next week to hear from customers with times and locations yet to be announced.

The utility also recently posted an opening for a new social media manager they are looking to hire.

A final review of the crisis will be announced by mid-February, however while several commissioners, customers, and other officials have called for an outside independent review into the utility, it is still unclear if or when that will be happening.

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