Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 22, 2010

Forum: 'Power to the people' not true


---- — "Power to the people," the mantra for the proponents of Traverse City Proposals 1 and 2, is not true. It has already done the opposite of what it claims, creating two classes of customers just by being a ballot issue: those who have a vote and those who don't.

Everyone deserves a vote, but 25 percent of Traverse City Light & Power customers do not live inside the city limits. In fact, 34 percent of the total electricity distributed by TCL&P goes to customers living in parts of five surrounding townships, but their influence suddenly doesn't count.

The number of disenfranchised customers rises considerably when you count the numerous business owners inside the city limits who reside outside; sorry, no vote for them either. This "power to the people" scheme has aspects you weren't told about. Two sets of ratepayers: some can vote but many cannot. That alone is enough to reject these proposals, but there are more reasons (statistics from a Freedom of Information request).

On Nov. 2, you (some of you anyway) have a choice. Keep what was wise to do 30 years ago, and has shown it still is today, or burden an already too-busy city commission, manager, and treasurer to take control of TCLP's management and budget (which is three times size of the city's budget).

A "yes" vote forces those most skilled, experienced and in tune with the big picture to hand over the reins of TCL&P to the city commission; expecting them to be up to speed regarding how to manage, plan, finance, engineer, administrate, hold public meetings, etc. for TCL&P, in addition to all they do as commissioners.

This makes absolutely no sense.

TCL&P has always provided accountability, transparency and public comment input as prescribed by law. While biomass discussions began more than eight years ago, some got involved late in the game, tensions ensued and people disagreed. That happens. We disagree sometimes, but when name calling and false characterizations take center stage ("bums," "liars," "you can't trust them," "they're operating in a vacuum"), serious debate of the issues is impossible.

TCL&P was even vilified for being charitable.

Traverse City carefully drafted Chapter 18 of the city charter between 1977 and 1979, addressing the complexities of safely managing and operating a public utility, and the long-range strategic planning necessary to ensure stability with the aspects you care most about: 1) fast response to power outages; 2) reliable overall service; and 3) low rates.

" Knowledge of electricity production, intelligence, or good judgment are not required for either the Light & Power board or the city commission," Proposal 1 author Margaret Dodd wrote in a Sept. 29 Record-Eagle forum.

Snide remarks about your electric utility is not the guidance you want rewriting your charter.

Reject the hype and hypocrisy of Proposals 1 and 2 by voting "no." Keep it away from the political wind vane.

Your "no" vote is critically important and the sensible choice, as it retains the influence of all users equally.

About the author: Bradford A. Purcell has lived in Traverse City for 35 years. He is an electric systems operator for Traverse City Light & Power, having been with the utility for 30 years.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing Please include biographical information and a photo.