Traverse City Record-Eagle

Region

October 25, 2012

Utility director's firing wasn't a surprise

TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Light & Power officials showed no surprise over Executive Director Ed Rice's abrupt ouster, likely because a board representative had already tried to negotiate his resignation.

At least three of the seven TCLP board members knew negotiations with Rice over his departure had taken place on Oct. 19, days before Tuesday's meeting when the board voted 4 to 3 to terminate Rice.

City Commissioner Jim Carruthers said he heard chatter last week that a motion to fire Rice would arise at the Tuesday meeting, and a fellow commissioner, Barbara Budros, confirmed it to him when they spoke Monday. Carruthers and Budros both also serve as TCLP board members.

But officials said no deliberations occurred prior to Tuesday's vote that might violate state open meetings laws.

"There was definitely no conspiracy, no collaboration, none of that," said Patrick McGuire, TCLP board chairman. "This has been building up."

TCLP board members hired outside help to evaluate Rice's job performance. Early this month that consultant, Mary Grover, interviewed each board member and they reported having lost trust in Rice.

McGuire and Grover subsequently invited Rice to a meeting, Rice said. McGuire told him he received poor evaluations and he offered Rice an opportunity to resign.

"I was surprised," Rice said. "I don't know if he was acting on behalf of the board or on behalf of himself to bring the topic up."

Rice met Oct. 19 with McGuire and TCLP board attorney Peter Doren to negotiate a settlement. McGuire consulted with Budros and TCLP board member John Taylor by phone during negotiations about what the board might accept. McGuire declined to discuss details of the negotiations other than to say they couldn't strike a deal.

Carruthers and Budros said Rice wanted two years of severance pay.

The board offered Rice four months' pay, but wanted him to sign a letter in which he agreed to stay mum about TCLP and its board, Rice said.

"What most upset some people on the board was they wanted me to go into closed session to air all this stuff privately, then reach the same conclusion, but not let the public hear their comments," Rice said. "It was disappointing to me that they tried to pressure me to do that."

Rice said he will seek a lawyer to address public comments made by some TCLP board members, including accusations that Rice repeatedly lied to the board.

"I was personally offended by being called a liar. It affected my integrity," Rice said. "If they wanted to exercise the termination, they could have done it in one sentence. They didn't need to defame me."

Budros, who on Tuesday accused Rice of lying to the board, didn't back down on Wednesday. She cited a February board meeting, during which Rice said he didn't talk to Cherryland Electric Cooperative about sharing a substation and cited technical reasons why it couldn't happen.

Budros said documents showed he had discussed the matter with Cherryland and the technical claims were false. She cited another instance when she alleged Rice said no money existed in a budget for energy efficiency, but it turned out the fund held $200,000.

"I have seen it on every issue where Ed has made a decision and someone is questioning it," Budros said. "He gets very evasive with the board.

"Repeatedly, meeting after meeting, it was like pulling teeth to get information and then later I would find out it's not accurate," she said.

McGuire said Rice let his personal preferences influence the type of information he presented to the board. Members increasingly questioned his credibility.

Rice denied that preferences or biases influenced his recommendations.

"We would look at engineering options and come up with what we believed were the best solutions for the situation," Rice said. "There was no hidden agenda. "œ

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