A report on Traverse City Light and Power that rightly blames political conflicts as the biggest single cause of the public utility’s “disarray” isn’t going to be worth a whit without a good-faith effort on the part of the city commission and the Light & Power board to take the report’s findings seriously and act accordingly.
Acting accordingly, in this case, is going to mean putting the good of city taxpayers and the utility’s future ahead of agendas on both sides. That’s a lot to ask, and more than a long line of city commissioners and board members have managed to pull off in the past.
The report from Hometown Connections, a subsidiary of the American Public Power Association, correctly said the biggest issues facing the city-owned electric utility have not been about money or its executive director but the “highly visible struggles for control of the utility’s direction.”
That’s spot on. For years, the Light & Power board took on a more and more independent role that culminated in a years-long struggle over a plan to build as many as three local biomass-fueled power plants. That effort never got enthusiastic city commission support and came to grief in the face of strong public opposition.
It all underlined the disconnect between the city, the public and the Light & Power board. While the issue of the moment was the biomass plant, what was really at stake was Light & Power’s overall direction and who made that decision.
In recent years, the city commission has chafed at what it sees as inefficiencies at the utility, including what some commissioners think is a bloated, overpaid hierarchy. It hasn’t helped that Light & Power has continued to make noises about creating its own power-generation capability without first talking about the issue with city residents, the people who actually own the place.