CARLTON FLETCHER: Ill-advised WG&L appointment comes back to bite city

OPINION: Resignation leaves utility board a member short again

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

You can’t always get what you want.

The Rolling Stones

A bad decision made by Albany City Commissioners in February — a precedent-setting bit of ill-advised governance — came home to roost this week when Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission board member Rashad Flournoy resigned from that body’s board.

Flournoy graciously bowed out when it became apparent his involvement with the utility commission would interfere with his position as a law enforcement instructor at Albany Technical College. Flournoy said he will maintain his position on the city’s Citizens Police Review Board, which, he noted, meets on an as-needed basis and usually after normal work hours.

The WG&L board meets twice a month, generally at 8:30 a.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month.

Flournoy’s resignation brings to an end a utility board tenure that was clouded in controversy from the start. City commissioners took three votes before breaking a 3-3 tie that developed when Flournoy and Robert “Bucky” Leach were initially nominated to serve on the WG&L board during a special called Jan. 13 meeting. The tie developed when Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard recused himself from voting because Flournoy is a relative.

The issue took a decidedly strange turn in late January when city officials discovered that Jay Sharpe had sent in paperwork to be considered for the vacant seat on the board, but his request had gotten buried in a spam folder and wasn’t discovered until after the deadline for turning in paperwork had passed. When Leach discovered that Sharpe was interested in the vacancy, he withdrew from the race.

When a second vote was called at the commission’s Jan. 28 meeting with Leach and Flournoy as the nominated candidates and Sharpe now thrown into the mix, Ward III Commissioner B.J. Fletcher asked to table the matter so that she could find out more about Sharpe. Her motion was approved, and the WG&L board held at four members.

However, at the Feb. 25 commission meeting, Howard decided to go ahead and cast the deciding vote on the matter, noting that City Attorney Nathan Davis had assured him it was “not illegal” for him to cast a ballot for a close relative since he would not “directly benefit” from the relative’s appointment.

When nominations were called for by Mayor Dorothy Hubbard at that commission meeting, Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell, having momentarily forgotten Flournoy’s name, nominated “that other person” after Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff nominated Sharpe.

Clearly little background research had been done on the candidates.

So, with Howard’s change of heart, Flournoy joined the WG&L board on Feb. 27. He attended four meetings before, essentially, being forced to resign. Had the commissioners who pushed for his appointment talked with him about WG&L’s and his work responsibilities, perhaps Flournoy would have realized the hardships that awaited him and he could have either, a) cleared blocks of time for commission meetings with his employer ahead of time or b) reconsidered his interest in the WG&L board.

By not discussing these potential roadblocks in advance, the City Commission did Flournoy — and the other members of the Water, Gas & Light Commission board — a disservice. And they proved once again that vital appointments based on personal or political favors are never a good idea.

Now the WG&L board, which is already in a state of flux because the city of Albany is exerting more authority over the utility, must operate a member and a voice short while the City Commission goes through the process of finding a replacement for Flournoy. Citizens, meanwhile, are left to wonder if their elected representatives will truly seek a qualified board member as a replacement, or if they’ll move down their list of friends, supporters and relatives to pay off the next political debt.