Albany - Water, Gas and Light is owned by the city of Albany, but city commissioners haven't had much say about what happens at the utility, and they haven't been informed of key issues the way they want to be.
On Thursday, the two boards met to work on improving communication and answering questions that could affect you. City leaders and WG&L leaders work directly across the street from each another. The utility is part of the city Government, yet the two organizations simply aren't keeping in touch.
City Commissioner Bob Langstaff, Jr. says, "If I ask a question of the utility manager, I need an answer."
City commissioners and staff claim they can't get the answers they need from WG&L, so today the two commissions met to sort through some of those issues. City commissioner Bob Langstaff prepared 119 questions for WG&L. One of them, why Benchmark studies that had been completed over the past four years hadn't been distributed to board members.
Actually, before today, the WG&L board, didn't even know about the studies. Langstaff says, "Things like where they're losing money, how much bad debt they have, how much they are paying their people."
WG&L General Manager Lem Edwards said he would make sure board members received copies of those studies immediately. Another question--Whether staffing levels are too high. Another MEAG utility in Marietta has more customers but uses fewer employees. Langstaff says, "The communication gap between the city and WG&L has been building for as long as I remember."
Here's an example of that gap: Remember last December when the Christmas lights went up and people wanted to know where the "Merry Christmas" went? Well, city manager Alfred Lott sent a letter to Lemuel Edwards requesting a response on December 30th of 2005. He got a verbal one, on Thursday, but never in writing. Edwards says, he's working to open the lines of communication.
"Communication wise," he says ,"I think that can be improved and probably will be improved."
Here's another major issue that both commissions are asking questions about: What will be done the $60 Million of MEAG money that is coming back to Albany? And why didn't the commissioners know about it? Langstaff says, "$60 Million, a contingent asset. It doesn't appear that anybody on the WG&L board had any idea that it was sitting out there. The board members didn't know it." Edwards says, "Talk between two commissions, to make that decision."
Both commissions seemed to agree on this--that they have to work together in order to benefit the citizens they serve. Edwards says, "We're going to have to work as a team."
As far as the answers to all of those questions, WG&L is taking them to their employees and plan to prepare detailed responses for both boards. The commissions plan to meet again in February to review the answers to those questions and discuss in more detail what will happen with MEAG bond money when it starts being released in 2009.