Traverse City Record-Eagle

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February 24, 2013

Scuffle over how utility will select next leader

TRAVERSE CITY — A behind-the-scenes scuffle has erupted over how Traverse City Light & Power will search for and select its next leader.

On one side is the Michigan Land Use Institute, a local nonprofit agency that advocates for renewable energy as a preferred alternative to fossil fuels use. MLUI consistently lobbies against coal-burning electricity generation plants, and generally favors alternatives such as wind and solar energy, when possible.

Several city officials occupy the other side of the ring. They chafe at what they contend is MLUI's overreaching effort to influence the process to fill the spot atop the city-owned utility vacated in October, when Light & Power officials fired executive director Ed Rice.

Light & Power board members said they've been peppered with email and other similarly worded contacts from citizens whose theme -- do a broad search, start it immediately, and look for someone with experience and knowledge in renewable energy and energy efficiency and conservation -- echoes statements voiced by MLUI leaders.

"They say publicly they want an open process and a national search, but privately they tell you who they want you to pick," said city Commissioner Barbara Budros, a member of the Light & Power board. "I don't mind them expressing their opinion, but the constant lobbying and working behind the scenes to get somebody in with their particular agenda I find a little disconcerting."

"I don't need the MLUI telling us who the next executive director is going to be," she said.

Jim Carruthers, the other city commissioner on the Light & Power board, also said he believes MLUI has its own candidates in line for the job.

Hans Voss, MLUI's executive director, shared his views about the search in a letter to the utility, a Forum in the Record-Eagle, and in an appearance before the utility board on Feb. 19. Voss said MLUI officials encouraged people with concerns about the utility's future to let their opinions be known.

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