Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard is working to improve communications between city officials and officials with the city’s Water, Gas & Light Commission. WG&L transferred more than $13 million to the city’s general fund last year.
ALBANY, Ga. -- As Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard and the Albany City Commission consider ways to improve what they say is spotty communication and shore up inefficiencies that they say plague their relationship with the city's Water, Gas & Light Commission, WG&L General Manager Lem Edwards has a suggestion.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Edwards said.
Hubbard, who as mayor also serves as de facto chair of the Water, Gas & Light Board, said last week the City Commission has given her two months to make recommendations that will lead to a more open and efficient relationship with the utility. As that deadline approaches, she says she's been discouraged by the lack of dialogue from officials on both sides.
"So far, I feel that both sides have kind of dug in," she said. "I've asked everyone to put personal feelings aside and be open-minded, but I'm not seeing a lot of that right now. This can't be about personal feelings; it has to be about what's best for the city."
The ever-contentious relationship between the City Commission and WG&L has grown particularly strained in recent weeks, leading City Manager James Taylor to proclaim during the recent presentation of his five-year plan that "some individual or some organization that has a panoramic view and a real understanding of (WG&L) must be in place to assure that what is being done there is what's best for the city."
Taylor clarified that statement late last week, pointing out that he was not pushing to have "control" of the utility.
"This is by no means a 'power grab' on my part," Taylor said. "Lem and I are good friends, and I'm the first person to acknowledge the great job he's doing over there. My question, though, is can we find a way to do things better?
"Believe me, James Taylor is not looking for more work; I've got plenty to do. I just think we have to find a way to work together better. I believe this so strongly, if I'm the problem I'll get out of the way. Just give me 15 minutes and I'll be out of here. But we have to make changes, and nothing can be sacred. All sacred cows must be open to inspection and analysis."
Edwards, who has worked with the city of Albany since 1981 and has been WG&L's general manager since 1992, said he's confused by city officials' contention that there is a lack of communication between the two organizations.
"There's no miscommunication on this side," he said. "The WG&L board is appointed entirely by the City Commission and is chaired by the mayor, so if there is any miscommunication it's with their board. We send the city a financial statement and the minutes from our board meeting every month. And I don't mean we just send a copy to the city clerk. We make sure every commissioner is delivered his or her own copy.
"I'm just concerned that these complaints (about WG&L) are coming from people who have no idea what it takes to operate the largest municipally-owned utility in the state of Georgia. They know nothing about the underground steel gas lines, the meters, the telecommunications fiber, the 589 miles of above-ground power lines."
Edwards said he has a pretty good idea what's motivating city officials.
"It's about money ... it's always about money," he said. "We transfered more than $13 million to the city last year: 7 1/2 percent of all metered revenue (water, gas, electricity) and another 7 1/2 percent of all non-metered revenue (telecommunications). They put that money in their general fund so that they can say they're not going to raise taxes, and we catch it from ratepayers when we have to raise rates to balance our budget.
"This is all about money, and it's all about politics. There is an ongoing feud with Commissioners (Tommie) Postell and (Bob) Langstaff, and I don't understand why they want to take this over. They need to take better care of their business and keep politics out of the utilities."
It's that kind of personal back-and-forth that has Hubbard concerned.
"I'm not interested in anyone's personal issues; I'm interested in facts," she said. "It doesn't matter to me if this person doesn't like that person or if there are other personal things going on. I'm looking for facts that will help us move the city -- and WG&L -- forward. We both have been charged with doing what's best for the people of this city."
Hubbard said change is going to come. The question is, though, what kind of change will it be?
"I believe it's going to take some drastic changes," the mayor said. "At this point, I don't know what that change is. Will it be more involvement by city personnel or the WG&L general manager reporting directly to the city manager? I don't know right now, but at this point I'm open to anything that will help.
"I will say that I'm not interested in hearing 'That's the way it's always been done.' I believe that even when you're doing things well, that doesn't mean you can't do them better. That's what we've got to find: ways to do things better."