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WG&L board members question method of insurance approval

ALBANY — With the city of Albany’s charter change that officially made the Water, Gas & Light Commission a department of the city government, WG&L staff and personnel have been required to adjust to a new world order.

Action taken at WG&L’s board meeting Thursday morning left some members of that board questioning their place in the “new” utility authority.

After city of Albany Risk Manager Veronica Wright gave the board an update on a new general liability, property and casualty, and auto liability insurance policy that was brokered through the city’s insurance broker, the McCart Group, rather than former WG&L broker, Doherty, Duggan & Rouse, board members Chad Warbington and Bob Hutchinson questioned the manner in which the information was presented.

Wright said the new policy would double WG&L’s umbrella coverage from $25 million to $50 million and come with a price tag almost $100,000 less than the utility’s former policy. When Warbington asked when the policy would go into effect, Wright said it went into effect on April 1.

“If this is the way the process will continue, what’s the purpose of this board?” Warbington asked. “If these decisions have already been made at the corporate level before they’re even presented to us, what do we do?

“We had no preparation for this and no input. I mean, if we voted this down, what would they do? It seems like this is a decision that was already made.”

Water, Gas & Light interim General Manager Tom Berry called the insurance decision an “anomaly,” and said after the meeting that while he knew discussions were ongoing, he did not see a copy of the insurance agreement presented to the board until the day before.

“From my conversations with (City Manager) James (Taylor), going forward I believe there will be more conversation (with WG&L board members),” Berry said. “I think this is one of those issues that had to be taken care of immediately.”

WG&L Attorney Sam Engram said a “misconception” has long existed as to the independent authority of the utility because it had been allowed to operate independently for years.

“All authority of the Water, Gas & Light Commission is delegated by the city of Albany,” Engram said. “We’ve been treated as a separate entity, but we’re not. The only way this body will ever become a separate entity is through the state General Assembly.”

Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, who also serves as chair of the WG&L board, said the utility is “waiting for direction” from Taylor and Berry as the city works to implement charter change with the utility. But Hutchinson said the lack of communication with city officials has left matters with the utility unsettled.

“We’re not asking to be an independent authority,” Hutchinson said. “But if we don’t have the authority to work with the city manager on issues that apply to Water, Gas & Light, this is just a waste of our time. We need to put down our concerns in written form and discuss them with the folks across the street face-to-face.”