Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 24, 2010

TCL&P petition drive moves ahead


TRAVERSE CITY — A former mayor expects city voters will get a chance in November to decide whether Traverse City Light & Power officials must directly report to elected city leaders.

Margaret Dodd, who served as Traverse City's mayor from 2001 to 2003, is heading up a petition drive to put a city charter amendment before voters to put utility operations back under city commission control. Organizers launched the effort after widespread opposition surfaced surrounding the utility's plans to build a wood-burning biomass power plant and dissatisfaction with the public input process.

"We have all the signatures, but we're still collecting them," Dodd said.

This week Light & Power officials in effect shelved plans to build such a plant and said they would instead further investigate natural gas power generation. But that didn't deter Dodd.

"We don't trust them," she said.

A second petition would place another proposed charter amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot to give city residents a vote on Light & Power's biomass plans.

Dodd said Light & Power's abandonment of biomass means a more important goal is to bring the publicly owned utility back under direct city control, though the second petition to allow voters to decide on a biomass plant will move forward.

"To me, the main component of the petition is bringing them into the light," Dodd said. "I have always staunchly believed public business should be carried out in public."

The utility operates under its own seven-member board that includes two elected city commissioners. It once fell completely under the city's umbrella as a fully contained department.

Dodd needs 566 signatures for each proposal to get them on the ballot. That's about 5 percent of registered city voters.

Dodd hopes to collect at least 200 extra signatures on the petitions, in case some are disqualified.

"These are going to be among the most-scrutinized petitions the city has ever had," Dodd said.

The petitions will be submitted to the city clerk on Friday afternoon, she said.