ALBANY, Ga. -- For Ward II Albany City Commissioner Ivey Hines, the perceived power struggle between the commission and the city's Water, Gas & Light Commission is not the real issue when it comes to a hazardous waste cleanup that could end up costing taxpayers as much as $9 million.
Ultimate responsibility for working out a payment plan to cover the cost of the state Environmental Protection Division-ordered cleanup of a decommissioned manufactured gas plant, Hines said at a commission work session Tuesday, lies with the City Commission.
"We can talk around this, back and forth, all we want, but this is this table's bill," Hines said during a discussion of WG&L's request that $750,000 in exploratory digging at the site be split 50-50 between the two entities. "Whether it's $750,000 now, $2 million later or $8 million down the road, this is ours. We need to swallow that."
Hines' comments were part of a spirited discussion during which Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard had to gavel down Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell for the second week in a row, and Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike laid out a plan for the city to have a greater hand in the utility's operations.
"All this ego stuff is irrelevent," Pike said. "We need to stop dancing around this thing. Because the truth is, the Water, Gas & Light Commission does not own anything. Every truck, shovel, light pole ... everything they use belongs to the city and, ultimately, to the taxpayers. WG&L is, in essence, an enterprise fund for the city, and any movement of funds (from WG&L to the city) is a transfer.
"They refer to (citizens) as ratepayers and we call them taxpayers, but the people of this city are who we all are responsible to. At the end of the day, none of this stuff belongs to any of us. It belongs to the people."
Pike offered a motion that would give the city manager authority to manage the cleanup utilizing all city and WG&L resources. That motion passed with a 5-1 vote. Postell voted against it.
Water, Gas & Light officials had sought half of the estimated $750,000 needed for exploratory digging at the Front Street site. The utility and city officials had argued over responsibility for funding the cleanup of the plant that was used from 1912 to 1948 to create energy from coal and oil.
Postell chastised WG&L officials for keeping the commission in the dark about the particulars of the cleanup until it became apparent the cost would be significant.
"No one at this table knew you were spending money on that plant," the Ward VI commissioner said to utility Assistant General Manager Keith Goodin. "Keeping things away from us is a problem. You looked at us as a stepchild, telling us what you wanted us to do. You hid factors from us. According to this city's charter, we should have been part of this process all along."
Postell later responded to Hines' comments about responsibility for the cleanup.
"We don't get what we're supposed to get from over there now," Postell said. "This is larger than giving them money. If we put them under city management, then we can hold them to the fire. They keep raping the money, and we need to give them direction to eliminate this problem.
"My God, we already know the extravagance they work under. We need a safety net so we're not left in a cesspool. I don't believe the city gives them money to have extravagant salaries and transportation. They've got five people with vehicles ..."
Hubbard told Postell he'd strayed from the agenda, but he persisted.
"This is about the agenda," he said. "It's about Water, Gas & Light refusing to do what they've been told to do."
Taylor said after the meeting he's ready to work with Goodin and other WG&L officials to come up with a financial plan of attack at the site.
"I'm waiting to get the (commission's) directive in writing, but it's my impression that the commissioners are asking me to review (WG&L's) cleanup plan and then come up with a way to utilize city and WG&L resources to fund the plan," Taylor said after the meeting. "It's a big undertaking, and I'm smart enough to know I can't do it all. It will take both sides working together to pull this off.
"I think the commission wants assurances, and I plan to work with Mr. Goodin and other WG&L officials to come up with a workable plan. I think we can all work together, and the city just wants somebody from this side of the house at the table."
Also at the meeting, the commission approved the rescheduling of planned meetings in December and January. The board will hold its work session on Dec. 11 and its business meeting Dec. 18. It also rescheduled its first 2013 work session for Jan. 8.
Taylor also sought, and the board approved, a measure to move the night business meeting each month from 8 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Ward 1 Commissioner Jon Howard had suggested holding the business meetings during morning hours, but commissioners rejected that suggestion.