Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 20, 2013

Editorial: L&P must solicit bids for consultant contract

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — If Traverse City Light & Power could get savvy advice on how to maneuver its way through the next 10 or so years, that advice would be a bargain at twice the $60,000 quoted by a strategic planning firm.

Considering that the decisions the utility makes could result in millions being invested in energy generation, renewable energy and conservation, $60,000 is a pittance.

But just as important as the money is how the city-owned utility does business — a reality that Light & Power seems incapable of embracing.

New L&P executive director Tim Arends solicited the proposal from Hometown Connections, a firm that recently conducted an assessment of the utility’s management and operations.

That analysis was pretty much spot-on. But just about anybody could have figured out that the sniping and power struggles that have marked the relationship between the city commission and the Light & Power board over the years were the root cause of most of the utility’s problems.

So that doesn’t mean Hometown Connections knows it all and it doesn’t excuse Light & Power from not seeking bids from other firms. And there is zero justification for granting Hometown Connections — or any firm — the kind of open-ended clause like the one offered Hometown that would leave Light & Power on the hook for all travel and lodging expenses, whatever they may be.

That’s not how a public body does business. To properly serve the taxpayers, a public board or commission creates a bidding process that allows those representing the public to weigh bids and look for the best, most creative deals. And nobody (except maybe the Pentagon or the IRS) gets a blank check on hotel rooms, meals and airline tickets.

But that’s the way things have played out so far and why Light & Power again finds itself painted into a corner of its own making - and the public wondering what’s going on.

Arends is totally correct in wanting a series of planning sessions with the consultant instead of a one- or two-day exercise that does little more than lay out problems. But a good idea has come to grief, for now at least, over niggling Management 101 issues that should never be issues.

Seek bids. Say up front what you’ll pay for travel and lodging. And let the firms involved decide how much they want to charge you. Then decide.

Arends has said he’ll come back with a firmed-up proposal by the board’s June 25 meeting.

That’s a good start. But not as good as seeking bids with the costs, and expectations, clear from the start.