Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 29, 2010

Forum: More power to the people


---- — In July, Traverse City voters enthusiastically signed petitions to return Traverse City Light & Power to public accountability, allowing voters to make decisions on constructing or acquiring power generation facilities. Thanks to Michigan Citizens for Energy, the Economy and Environment for promoting the petitions, the many people who volunteered to circulate them and the hundreds who clamored to sign them, both proposals will be on November's ballot.

Some people question whether city commissioners have the expertise to make Light & Power decisions. This bewilders me, as knowledge of electricity production, intelligence, or good judgment are not required for either the Light & Power board, or the city commission.

If Proposal 1 passes, a director will still lead TCL&P. The board will continue to research and discuss each issue, but the process will take place in the Governmental Center and will be broadcast on public television. An additional level of scrutiny will occur when the city commission receives the board's advisory input, discusses each issue and hears public comment before voting. This will end forever the pointless, up-or-down budget vote that is currently the city commission's only choice.

If Proposal 1 passes, people will be allowed to ask questions and will receive answers. I still question why the number of TCL&P employees increased so greatly when the removal of the coal plant and the dams resulted in fewer responsibilities; why neither the director nor the board thought a tall biomass plant could be a problem on an airport flight path; how they can now state that the public opposes locally generated, clean, renewable energy; why a high-level Light & Power job was advertised in the Holland Sentinel newspaper and not the Record-Eagle; why some board members were provided with $800 Ipads; why bad decisions resulted in hiring ever more public relations people to "sell" them to the public instead of openly re-evaluating them; why Light & Power makes charitable donations instead of lowering the rate for its customers, who can then make their own donations — or even purchase necessities.

If Proposal 1 passes, however, it would end 30 years of Light & Power empire building. The Chamber of Commerce tried to help by contriving irrational arguments that state, but don't explain why, electricity will cost more and business growth stop if Light & Power returns to being a city department.

Both groups should be above such irrational fear mongering. The cost of electricity is decided by contract. Either in a fit of pique the TCL&P board will sign a bad contract or the city commission for some unknown reason will vote for a bad one. Either is probably illegal. Other cities whose power department is not separate don't have these troubles. Why should we?

Making TCL&P accountable to its customers will end the arrogant and inept behavior that has characterized it in the past and has reflected so badly on our city. By voting "yes" on proposals 1 and 2 in November, we can truly return the power to the people.

About the author: Margaret Dodd is a former Traverse City mayor and a member of Michigan Citizens for Energy, the Economy and Environment.

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

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