ALBANY, Ga. — Albany City Commissioners debated last week how much authority any one person — the mayor or the general manager of the Albany, Water, Gas & Light Authority — has to refinance bonds or otherwise obligate the city to long-term debt.
What started as a rather mundane agenda item blossomed into a discussion over power as City Attorney Nathan Davis attempted to explain why the city needed to designate a signatory so that if WG&L’s recent agreement to join in a partnership with the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia for a project known as the Combined Cycle project.
In this project, MEAG participants share the cost of construction of a natural gas generating facility near Griffin. Partners in the project share the energy, revenues and debt associated with this facility.
Davis explained that after the deal was brokered, MEAG discovered that a piece of paperwork was missing from WG&L’s documents that essentially designates a person with the authority to sign off on refinancing the debt associated with the project if MEAG finds better interest rates.
Davis’ recommendation was to give WG&L General Manager Lemuel Edwards the authority to sign the necessary paperwork with the stipulation that Edwards keep the commission informed as to the various financial issues associated with the project.
That led to a discussion among the commissioners about whether that level of authority should rest with the general manager when they would essentially be able to make the city and thereby the taxpayers liable for a level of financial risk.
“I don’t think we need to give any one person the authority, albeit the mayor or the general manager, to obligate the city to hundreds of thousands of dollars or maybe even millions of dollars, when if defaulted on, could force us to raise taxes,” Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff said. “We only give the city manager permission to spend $40,000 or less without seeking permission.”
Ever the proponent of restricting WG&L’s autonmy, Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell was equally concerned about the city capitulating that much authority to the utility.
“MEAG needs to understand that the city of Albany is in control of WG&L not the general manager,” Postell said. “They’re trying to treat us like step-children.”
Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike expressed concern that the resolution before the commission appeared to give the general manager authority beyond merely signing documents related to this one project.
“It’s seems asinine to allow someone who isn’t with the city to have open-ended authority and put the taxpayers at risk,” Pike said.
John Vansant III, WG&L’s Finance Director, explained to the commission that the reason MEAG was asking for a signal signatory rather than to have the matter come before the commission for a vote is because the rates change frequently, often before the board would have an opportunity to meet.
“The window of time to take advantage of these kind of things is usually pretty small,” Vansant said. “That’s why it’s pretty typical for MEAG to want a signatory who has the authority to sign something immediately should a good rate come along.”
After prolonged discussion, the commission voted to table the matter until Tuesday’s night meeting to allow Davis to review the law and possibly draft an alternative ordinance that would allow the mayor to sign the documents rather than the general manager but only after receiving four votes from the commission.
In other business:
-- the commission received an update from the Georgia Tech Small Business Office.
-- The board heard from EDC President Ted Clem about the work of the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission.
-- The commission heard from former commissioner Henry Mathis who urged them to consider alternative pursuit methods for the police department in light of the death of Cpl. Terry Lewis-Flemming, including purchasing a pursuit helicopter and putting K-9 units on each shift.
-- The commission heard from planning staff and representatives of the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission who are recommending they extend the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ Opportunity Zone downtown so that new businesses can be eligible for state job tax credits.
-- The commission heard the alcohol license applications for the Harvey’s Supermarket at 325 North Slappey Boulevard for beer and wine; Top of the Line at 425 West Oglethorpe Boulevard for beer consumption; and for the Downtown Eatery & More at 701 North Jefferson Street for beer package sales.
-- The commission heard the recommendation from the city’s Community and Economic Development Staff to award a $79,549 lump-sum bid for loan servicing to AmeriNational Community Services, Inc., of Downey, Calif..
-- The commission considered a $65,694.78 bid for janitorial supplies from Copaco, Inc., of Columbus.