Jan. 2 2014 12:00 AM

BWL GM on lark in NYC during storm

BWL General Manager J. Peter Lark in New York City with family around Christmas.
Thursday, Jan. 2 — In the middle of the ice storm that left 40,000 Lansing Board of Water and Light customers without power, General Manager J. Peter Lark took off for New York City to spend two days with his wife and son.

Lark, in a hastily arranged news conference Thursday afternoon, acknowledged that this was a “a very bad mistake.”

“In hindsight, it is now clear that my trip to New York was the wrong decision at the wrong time.” He left Lansing mid-day on Dec. 23 and returned by the afternoon of Dec. 25.

Lark said he recognizes that his actions did not meet the expectations of either BWL’s customers or its employees. “For that I am very, very sorry.”

“If I had it to do over again, and if I knew then that power outages would continue for so many more days, I would not have made the same choice.” He said he thought the power outages would be substantially resolved by Christmas.

His apology and news conference was prompted by a family photo taken in New York City and posted to his wife’s Facebook page.

Lark insisted that his New York trip in no way affected the efforts to restore power to the 20,000 or so customers without power in the run up to Christmas and that he was in continual contact with staff in Lansing.

He said that BWL Board Chairwoman Sandra Zerkle knew that he was out of town and that he was communicating with Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero during his time in New York. But Lark wasn’t able to say whether the mayor knew he wasn't in Lansing.

Addressing an undercurrent of discontent with his actions and the slowness of the recovery effort, Lark deflected any suggestion that he should resign.

“The answer is no,” he said. “There is a lot of work to do in implementing the changes necessary to bring BWL’s technology into the 21st Century.”

Lark retains the confidence of Bernero, who today in an interview with City Pulse defended Lark’s leadership while acknowledging that leaving Lansing as he did and when he did was a very poor decision.

Lark also commented on BWL’s work policies during the ice storm emergency and indicated that there was no penalty imposed on workers who took time off during the holidays. He said employees on vacation weren't required to report for work, although he acknowledged that some reported voluntarily.

He said did not expect his actions to affect his relationship with BWL workers. The news conference was packed with BWL employees, many of them managers, who applauded their boss as he left the conference room at the utility’s REO Town facility.