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City approves $1 million MEAG trust transfer

ALBANY -- A move to fund a secretarial position and two police cars using money paid by Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission rate payers was blocked by the Albany City Commission Tuesday after one commissioner accused another of circumventing the authority of the board to get the measure passed.

Monday, the Longterm Financial Planning Committee -- which consists for three members of the City Commission and two members of the board of WG&L -- voted unanimously (with one member absent) to recommend that the city pull $1.2 million out of a pool of funds set aside for long-term projects.

The money was largely requested by the WG&L board, which passed a resolution at its last meeting asking the LFPC for access to $1 million to fund what it said were emergency repairs of two elevators and a roof. Also included in the $1 million was $400,000 for bucket trucks for the utility.

The remaining $200,000 was requested on behalf of the city to fund a secretarial position and two police cars for the city's Gang Unit.

During discussion of the request, Mayor Pro Tem Christopher Pike said that a request for that kind of money on behalf of the City Commission should have come from the board itself and not from anyone associated with the board -- pointing to Commissioner and LFPC Chairman Tommie Postell, who introduced the item at Monday's meeting.

"That should have come before this commission first," Pike said. "The point that I'm making is that you circumvented this government body to make a request for funding without the knowledge of the commission."

Commissioner Jon Howard echoed Pike's sentiments about communications.

"We, as elected officials, have to do a better job of informing each other so we don't have to read about these things in the newspaper," Howard said.

Postell countered that supporting the gang unit was the commission's top priority as determined at the city retreat and that it had been discussed with APD Deputy Chief Nathaniel Clarke and Chief John Proctor, and that City Manager Alfred Lott had crunched the numbers.

"This is not about me," Postell said. "I have nothing to gain with this. I don't stand to get no money out of this. So if that's in anyone's heads right now, you can get that thought out."

Commissioner Dorothy Hubbard, who is also on the LFPC and who voted to make the recommendation for funding to the full City Commission, said that she has strong reservations about spending any of the money without certain guidelines being in place, but that WG&L officials had told her the alternative to getting the money from the committee was to raise rates.

"Now that puts us in a real tough position," Hubbard said. "In these hard times, I can't support anything that would suggest raising the rates, so that's why I voted for it. I couldn't vote to pass anything along to the rate payers."

Howard said spending the money without proper guidelines violates the commission's "fiduciary responsibility to the citizens."

"Unless we have guidelines in place, I just can't support it," Howard said.

Saying that he would like to see the request tabled, Commissioner Roger Marietta questioned the $1 million expense for WG&L, saying that the items that will be repaired didn't break overnight and that maybe WG&L should use its own portion of the money from MEAG to repair its equipment.

"On any given day, I'd be in favor of police cars and fixing a leaky roof, but I have a question about how they're managing their finances," Marietta said. "They're getting more than $200,000 a month from their own part of the MEAG split and if they saved part of that, it wouldn't be long before they could make the repairs themselves. ... I just don't believe this is an emergency."

In offering a motion to accept the request as it was submitted, Postell defended the legitimacy of the request from the LFPC.

"I'm not in favor of just dishing this money out," Postell said, "but if there is an emergency then we need to see to it."

After hearing Postell's motion, Pike offered a substitute motion granting WG&L's request for $1 million, but tabling the request for the money for gang unit until Proctor could make a presentation to the commission and guidelines could be established for the LFPC.

During discussion, Pike asked Mayor Willie Adams, who is also chairman of the WG&L Board, pointed questions about the process.

"Did Lemuel (Edwards, WG&L's general manager) bring this issue to you and the board?" Pike asked.

"Yes," Adams replied.

"Did the board discuss and vote on this?"

"Yes."

"Did they present this to the committee?"

"Yes."

With little other discussion, the commission voted on the motion which passed unanimously.

After the meeting, Pike explained his motion.

"I don't believe either of these requests that were made were emergencies, but WG&L at least went through the process and brought the issue to their board, who brought the issue to the committee," Pike said.

Postell said after the meeting that intent of the commission in forming the LFPC was to delegate authority to manage the $30 million that would be set aside for long range projects and that the commission should avoid meddling with the operations.

"Any guidelines should be done by the LFPC who make recommendations to the city," Postell said. "The city shouldn't dictate what projects the committee considers."

The LFPC, WG&L and the city will each receive one-third of the estimated $90 million in credits expected to be released by the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia to Albany over the next 10 years. The money was paid in expectation of deregulation of the electric industry, which never occurred.