0

City officials want better communications with WG&L

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 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."

Comments

bigbob 1 year, 10 months ago

In other words city official want to get their paws on WG&L bank account.

1

dingleberry 1 year, 10 months ago

Edwards is correct--it's all about the money, it's always about the money. When WG&L provides 16% percent of the general fund revenue, even more than the sales tax, it is "big game" for the commission. Obviously, if the commission were to get easier access to this funds source, their job would be easier since it is hard times that make managers and politicians work. But wouldn't It be nice to see the commission take a more active role in looking for cuts in city expenditures rather than looking for sources of income?

Property tax, 26% of the general fund's revenue, cannot be tapped without answering to the citizens on each increase. But, control of utility fees, a non-tax tax, provides a renewable funds source spread over a larger base, including the non-profits, and will bring less grief. So, don't be surprised when this happens--sooner rather than later.

1

whattheheck 1 year, 10 months ago

In the eyes of the commission, WG&L customers are thousands of teats on a cash cow waiting to be milked--often if possible. lol

1

LoneCycler 1 year, 10 months ago

Lem Edwards is correct. The commissioners have no idea what it takes to operate utilities; they just want to get their hands on the money. For the mayor to say there will be “drastic” changes at WG&L even though she doesn’t know what they will be illustrates how clueless they all are. We need more demolition projects or social proclamation ceremonies to keep her occupied and prevent raising the cost of living for Albany citizens. Somebody think of something quickly.

1

Abytaxpayer 1 year, 10 months ago

“There is an ongoing feud with Commissioners Postell and Langstaff, and I don't understand why they want to take this over. They need to take better care of their business”. Question asked and question answered! The City commission has no idea how to SUCCESSFULLY run a business much less a city, therefore when they see a successful operation making money (WG&L) they move to take it over. Easier to steal than build. Hey here’s another winning idea, the City takes over WG&L and puts Commissioner Pike in charge. Now that would be "drastic"

"We both have been charged with doing what's best for the people of this city." If that is truly the case then let Lem run the city again! Lem runs a Successful company and Commissioners run ………well they have run us into the ground while running up taxes.... So who is successful and who is power hunger?

1

Kay523 1 year, 10 months ago

Lem Edwards was the City manager when Cutliff Grove was first approved. If JD Sumner was around, this would be a different story. I don't think this is an accurate story - its one sided and slanted.

0

howsad 1 year, 10 months ago

How sad...come on Ms Mayor...how about a little leadership on the WG&l issue. Afterall, you are the Mayor. Afterall, you are the Chairwoman of the WG&L Board. If the status quo... your complete lack of action and not even a suggestion is the best you have to offer...then you are merely a useless figurehead drawing a paycheck at taxpayer expense. How sad...

0

Sign in to comment