Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 28, 2013

Forum: Utility decision matters to citizens


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — By Kate Madigan

The attitude toward public input displayed by some city leaders and some Traverse City Light & Power officials in the Record-Eagle’s Feb. 24 recent article “Scuffle over how utility will select next leader” was troubling.

Light & Power is a publicly owned utility and must include public input into the important process of choosing its next executive director. Public input is critical to finding a candidate who has the qualities necessary to effectively lead the utility, and especially to build public support for the new leader.

L&P itself sent out a press release requesting citizen input into this process, and most of the board members do a commendable job engaging with the public and including public comments at meetings.

So it was surprising to read about city officials criticizing an organization and citizens for engaging in the process. There is absolutely nothing wrong with an advocacy group like the Michigan Land Use Institute and residents of Traverse City contacting public officials, advocating for an open and wide search, and looking for the best possible candidate. In fact, L&P and the mayor should encourage this kind of involvement. This is how the process is supposed to work.

I also wrote a letter to the L&P board earlier this month outlining the qualities the next executive director should have and asking that they post the job to make sure we hire the best possible candidate. As I said in my letter and public comment Tuesday night, energy is critically important and filling the executive director position will have implications for our region and our state for years to come.

Leading a utility is not what it was a decade ago. Today, wind generation is cheaper than new coal generation, and energy efficiency beats all generation dollar for dollar at less than 1.6 cents/kWh.

Meanwhile the cost of coal-fired electricity continues to increase, and the health impacts of coal-fired pollution costs Michigan citizens more than $1.5 billion each year. Many communities are moving towards clean energy and finding it keeps energy rates low and boosts the economy.

This is why L&P is hearing from residents about clean energy. If we want L&P to continue to thrive, we need to find an executive director who understands this and who can lead our utility into this new reality.

The real question the Record-Eagle should be asking is why there is so much backlash from the mayor and some L&P board members when citizens and public interest groups engage in the process?

This decision affects all of us, and if L&P and the mayor are truly serving our city they need to be encouraging more public input, rather than trying to stifle it.

About the author: Kate Madigan is the Northern Michigan Advocate for the Michigan Environmental Council and a Traverse City Light & Power ratepayer.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.