Is it "lights out" for WG&L? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Is it "lights out" for WG&L?

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August 24, 2006

Albany - There's a move to do away with Albany Water Gas and Light. The city has drafted an ordinance calling for its dissolution. That means the city would take control of WG&L and it's enormous reserve fund.

The Mayor and Commissioners would be in charge of the money and the day to day operations. When we first showed WG&L Commissioner Tommy Chatmon a copy of the drafted proposal, he calwed it 'a bombshell.'  "Well, it's a surprise. This is the first time I've seen this document."

A document that would take the power of operations away from the general manager, WG&L commissioners and give it to the city of Albany. City Attorney Nathan Davis says, "It would put the WG&L operation inside the city, formally, because it appears Water, Gas and Light has informally tried to maintain a separate identity status for a long time."

Chatmon says he believes the separation was necessary and beneficial. "My belief is that, Water, Gas and Light Commission was set up, at least in part as a separate entity to insulate it from the dynamics of the body politic."

WG&L employees are paid on a different schedule than city employees, receive bonuses at different times, the utility has a separate logo, and there's a separate bank account that holds a lot of money, millions, that could be used to help run the city.

"There would be substantial cash flow and the $64 question is, how do you use it? You have the flexibility of making those type decisions. Do you plow it back into roads, do you reduce rates, what happens with it?" asks Davis.

But what happens with the drafted proposal is now perhaps the real question. The issue has not even been placed on an agenda. We weren't able to contact the mayor and the one Commissioner we reached, Bo Dorough, didn't want to talk about it.

Chatmon says he hopes a joint commission meeting is held before that takes place, so the two bodies can discuss it openly. He says, "This is obviously, potentially, a very serious situation and I think it's something that requires deep thought and communication between both bodies and other parties that are stake holders."

To find out who at the end of the day, will hold the power.

Nathan Davis would not say which commissioner asked him to draft the proposal or if commissioners had discussed the subject in executive session. Once the proposed ordinance is put on the agenda, commissioners would have to have two readings before they could vote on it.

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