Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission General Manager Lemuel Edwards explains the organizational structure of the utility to the Albany City Commission.
ALBANY, Ga. — ALBANY — After a lengthy meeting with Water, Gas & Light Commission General Manager Lem Edwards Tuesday, some members of the Albany City Commission are considering restructuring the utility so that the utility’s general manager reports directly to the city manager.
Legally, WG&L is a municipal utility, owned by the taxpayers of Albany but operated mostly by Edwards, who was hired by the WG&L Board of Trustees. That board is made up of political appointees of the Albany City Commission and the mayor of the city of Albany.
In some ways, WG&L operates much like a city department, such as the city having liabilities for any lawsuits. But in other ways the utility stands as an autonomous entity complete with its own finance, risk managment and human resources department.
It’s a convoluted knot the City Commission appears eager to untangle.
Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff, whose father served as WG&L’s regulatory attorney until his death two years ago, put it simply to Edwards Tuesday morning.
“How would you feel if you reported to the city manager?” Langstaff asked.
“Our positions are equal and always have been,” Edwards replied. “There are two appointees — one runs the utility and one runs the city.”
In addition to concerns over duplication of services, commissioners expressed concerns over liabilities that the utility may have but could ultimately be passed on to the city, like the cleanup of a decades-old manufactured gas plant near Society Avenue that could cost between $2 million and $10 million.
“If the citizens of this community are going to be on the hook for something or could potentially be on the hook for something, then we need to know about it as soon as possible so we can take steps to deal with it,” Langstaff said. “They (WG&L) knew about it for decades, and we found out about it accidentally a few years ago.”
That plant was used up until the 1940s, when it was shut down. Edwards said that since he joined WG&L in 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency had instructed WG&L not to disturb the site. But in recent years, EPA has changed its mind and is now ordering that the site be cleaned up.
Edwards said he intends to ask the board that governs the Longterm Financial Planning Fund to pay for the cleanup Friday.
Langstaff also said he’s concerned about the legal liability that WG&L had placed on the city by offering merit pay increases while the city of Albany itself doesn’t have a merit pay program in place for its employees.
Edwards attempted to justify the merit raise policy by saying that the department has lost many highly trained employees over the last few years and that merit increases and cost-of-living adjustments help keep them in Albany.
Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said the commission would deliberate on the information presented Tuesday and discuss it more at a future work session.