Lansing voters to decide if mayor should run BWL during emergencies

Aug 5, 2014

Lansing’s mayor may have real ‘power’ at his fingertips at times of emergency, if city voters agree in November.

Roughly 40% of Lansing Board of Water & Light customers lost power during the December, 2013 ice storm.   It took the utility ten days to get electricity restored to the vast majority of its customers.
Roughly 40% of Lansing Board of Water & Light customers lost power during the December, 2013 ice storm. It took the utility ten days to get electricity restored to the vast majority of its customers.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Tens of thousands of Lansing Board of Water and Light customers spent days in the dark last December after a major ice storm.   The utility’s leadership was heavily criticized for a disorganized response to the black out. 

BWL’s response to the storm and its aftermath were the subject of reviews by a panel appointed by Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, the state Public Service Commission and by the utility itself.

Among the dozens of recommendations was that Lansing’s mayor should have the option to take control of BWL at times of emergency to streamline the handling of a crisis.   That would require a change to the city charter.  Last night, the Lansing City Council approved putting the proposed charter change before city voters in November. 

A’Lynne Boles is the Lansing city council president.  

She says, even if voters reject the charter change in November, the BWL leadership question remains. 

“My question would still remain, "How would we streamline this process so that we don’t have some of the debacles we experienced?” asked Boles. 

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero (left) supported BWL General Manager Peter Lark during the power outage, but he now supports the proposal giving a mayor the power to assume control of the utility in an emergency.
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero (left) supported BWL General Manager Peter Lark during the power outage, but he now supports the proposal giving a mayor the power to assume control of the utility in an emergency.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Councilwoman Carol Wood says she expects some surrounding communities may worry about what priority Lansing’s mayor would have for their needs in an emergency.

“If you have the mayor garnering (BWL) and the resources out there does that mean whether I’ll get my needs done,” questioned Wood, “I think that’s a valid question.”

That question may partly be answered by another proposed charter change placed on the November ballot.

Lansing voters will also decide in November if they want to give neighboring communities seats on the BWL board.