Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 21, 2012

Former utility head files notice to sue Traverse City

BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — The former head of Traverse City Light & Power has filed a notice he will sue the city and its utility for defamation and wrongful termination.

A divided TCL&P board fired Ed Rice as executive director on Oct. 23 in a contentious meeting where board members accused Rice of lying to them and misleading the board. Rice filed notice Wednesday with the city clerk of his intent to file a claim for injuries against the city, TCL&P, their boards, and individual board members.

Rice's attorney, Allen Anderson of Traverse City, said TCL&P board members did not treat Rice fairly and impugned his integrity when they fired him.

"It was a hack job," Anderson said. "The whole thing got picked up in the Chicago Tribune. Ed was getting calls from his friends in Chicago, ... and there was no reason for it."

Rice, 66, came to Traverse City following a 32-year career in management at Consumers Energy. He stepped in on an interim basis in April 2008 after the board forced out former director Richard Smith and the deputy director resigned two weeks later.

Pat McGuire, chairman of the TCL&P board, declined to comment because of the potential litigation.

McGuire accused Rice of not providing accurate information and suggested he had a personal feud against a neighboring utility.

City Commissioner Barbara Budros accused Rice of lying to her in a public meeting.

Board member Bob Spence said he couldn't trust anything Rice provided the board.

"I was quite upset the way they treated me and I was there doing the best I could for the utility," Rice said. "I fully understand I can be terminated, but it was the process. My reputation, my name and my character was impugned by the discussion that went on at that meeting."

Many of those comments under the law are considered defamation unless the board can prove they are true, Anderson said.

"Everyone is entitled to their good name and their good reputation just by being a person in the eyes of the law," Anderson said. "When you impugn their integrity intentionally, willfully, and maliciously, ... they have to prove it's truth."

Mayor Michael Estes said Rice brought the public confrontation on himself. Rice knew the board's performance review was not favorable.

"Mr. Rice had opportunities to step down, and I'm sorry, but all people aren't deserving of a new contract," Estes said. "Mr. Rice, in my opinion, wanted a fight, and I guess the board stood up to him and called his bluff."

Anderson called the review process a "gossip session" with a consultant who had no information about Rice's job description

TCL&P board members meet individually and privately with a consultant to discuss their opinion of Rice. The consultant than summarizes the interviews with a written report. The city follows a similar process.

TCL&P attorney Pete Doren said he hasn't received any facts regarding the claim but sees no basis for it at this point.

City Manager Ben Bifoss said the city will turn the matter over to its insurance carrier.