Jan. 13 2015 12:00 AM

Lark ousted as BWL general manager in sudden special meeting



TUESDAY, JAN. 13 — Embattled General Manager Peter Lark was terminated as general
manager of the Lansing Board of Water & Light Tuesday night in a special
meeting, six months after the Board of Commissioners reappointed him with a
positive performance review.


The eight-member board voted 5-3 to terminate Lark “for cause,”
but it did not cite specifics. The meeting lasted only about 30 minutes.peterlark1.jpg


The motion to terminate Lark was made by Commissioner Dennis
Louney. Voting to terminate him were Louney, Chairman David Price, Anthony
McCloud, Anthony Mullen and Cynthia Ward. Voting against termination were Sandra Zerkle, Margaret Bossenbery and
Tracy Thomas.


The meeting at the BWL’s depot building on Washington Avenue
was standing-room-only with more than 70 in attendance.peterlark2.jpg


In July, despite calls for Lark’s
dismissal because of BWL’s performance during the December 2013 ice storm,
commissioners voted to reappoint Lark for another year under the terms of his
existing five-year contract, which expires June 30, 2018. Between his $258,502
salary and deferred compensation, his pay for 2014 totaled more than $300,000.


Termination
for cause in Lark’s contract calls for six months’ salary to be paid, along
with payment for health care and other incidentals.


After the meeting,
Lansing City Councilwoman Carol Wood, who had called for Lark to be fired last
year, declared: “This is the board that has said he was doing a good job. Did
the light bulb just suddenly go on?”


Commissioner Sandra Zerkle asked if the meeting could be
in closed session since it was a personnel issue.


Lark said, “I would absolutely prefer this to take place
in open session.”


Louney’s motion was to terminate Lark “for cause for failure to
render and perform services to the employer according to his obligations under
his designated employment agreement.”


His motion also instructed the board’s attorney to negotiate
the details of the termination and to appoint Richard Peffley as interim
director and general manager. Peffley is executive director of operations.


“I am surprised and disappointed at the board’s sudden and
unexpected unilateral decision to end my employment,” Lark told the board after
the vote. “I have had absolutely no formal indication or notification from the
board of any cause for my dismissal. Nor can I think of anything that would
have contributed to the board’s actions today after all the progress which has
been made during the last 12 months …. I look forward to full resolution of
this matter as outlined in the contract.”peterlark3.jpg


All last year after the ice storm Mayor Virg Bernero supported
Lark remaining as general manager. Bernero did not attend the meeting. He
released a statement Monday that he had lost confidence in Lark’s leadership of
the BWL. “It’s time to turn the page,” Bernero said in the statement.


Councilwoman Jody Washington attended the meeting and said
the board of commissioners “owed” the city and customers reasons for the
termination.


“This board lacks
leadership, lacks transparency,” Washington said. “I wonder what’s going on.
This makes our city look really bad.”
Zerkle voted not to
terminate Lark. She argued for paying for the full contract.


“I want to remind us it’s going to cost us a lot of money
to take care of this,” she said. ”Some of us have no positive reasons why Mr.
Lark should be let go.”


In December 2014 an ice storm caused outages of more than
40,000 customers over the Christmas holiday season. Many called for Lark’s
ouster, criticizing him leaving for New York City on Dec. 22 at the height of
the crisis; for deleting internal emails that documented his communications
about the restoration process; and for the utility’s overall lack of
communication with the public and perceived lack of empathy.