Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 17, 2010

Some question Chamber's stance on L&P


TRAVERSE CITY — The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce publicly opposes Proposal 1, but some questioned that stance in light of payments from Traverse City Light & Power to a chamber department.

The chamber in September issued a press release that stated its opposition to city commission control of Light & Power. Chamber officials contend the utility's structure shouldn't be revamped on a citizen vote alone, and said the move could cause uncertainty in customers' rates.

But Grand Traverse County Commissioner Ross Richardson, a supporter of Proposal 1, publicly questioned the chamber's stance. The Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation, a division of the chamber, receives $25,000 a year from Light & Power for economic development in the Light & Power service area.

Richardson admonished the chamber for weighing in, and suggested in a letter to a local publication that the Light & Power payments are "a bit of a conflict." Former Mayor Margaret Dodd, who launched Proposal 1, also questioned the payments.

Chamber President and CEO Doug Luciani refuted suggestions that the chamber took the stance because of the money.

"It's absolutely not true," Luciani said. "There's no relation between one and the other."

Light & Power made the first payment to the chamber as part of its 2008-09 budget, and again for 2009-10, for a total of $50,000. Richardson said he just wanted to make sure residents are aware of the payments.

"I don't necessarily believe that their position is based on the $25,000 [annually]," he told a Record-Eagle reporter. "I'm not sure it's a quid pro quo."

Doug DeYoung, the chamber's director of government relations, serves as record keeper for a committee created on Sept. 28 to oppose Proposal 1. The group, dubbed "Citizens for a Secure Energy Future," is comprised of about 10 area individuals with differing reasons for opposing the proposal, DeYoung said.

Traverse City Downtown Development Authority board member T. Michael Jackson, Michigan Land Use Institute policy specialist Brian Beauchamp, and former Traverse City Commissioner Scott Hardy are among the committee's members.

DeYoung said his involvement is separate from his role with the chamber, through the chamber is listed on filing paperwork as the group's address because it's a "central location."

Light & Power board Chairman Mike Coco filed to start a similar group, but withdrew about a week before the other group launched. He said he realized it might be questionable if the Light & Power board chairman formed a political committee, but said he didn't do anything to spur the other group's creation.

Citizens for a Secure Energy Future raised about $2,600 through donations and will soon begin distributing 3,000 fliers and 500 signs in opposition to Proposal 1, DeYoung said. The chamber donated $1,000 to the group.

Jackson, the group's spokesman, didn't return a call for comment.