BWL Watch

By Andy Balaskovitz and RJ Wolcott

Suit possible to force disclosure of general manager’s communications Columnist Steve Miller writes for MLive this week that “an unnamed local media outlet is in initial talks to file a legal action” against the BWL to force it to turn over records as requested under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Quoting prominent First Amendment attorney Herschel Fink, who has represented the Lansing State Journal and the Detroit Free Press over open records disputes, Miller reports that Fink is “familiar with the situation and I think there may be some action filed.”

The BWL has denied requests from several media agencies looking for communication between BWL General Manager J.

Peter Lark and employees, contractors and government officials. Specifically, the BWL has claimed that text messages are exempt from the law, while emails between Lark and other officials were deleted.

“I don’t know how they can conceivably say that text messages are not part of the act,” Fink told Miller. “A public body only gets away with this unless they are sued, and that’s the approach so many bodies have taken over the last five to 10 years, particularly with the traditional media being financially challenged. They assume they won’t get sued as it’s too expensive.”

— RJ Wolcott and Andy Balaskovitz

CRT moves forward Following a trio of public hearings last week, the nine-member Community Review Team will move forward with its outside investigation of the BWL’s handling of the December ice storm.

Fewer than 50 people attended each of the meetings, some of whom are still venting about their experience, others who are suggesting the panel look into collective bargaining agreements that may have hindered the utility’s response times.

But the team has also requested an extensive list of documents from the utility and plans to soon interview top BWL officials as well as outside experts. Panel Chairman Michael C.H. McDaniel plans to issue a set of recommendations by March 31.

— Andy Balaskovitz

New House bill offers Michigan electric energy choice Michigan residents fed up with their electricity providers may soon be able to choose who keeps the lights on.

The Michigan Electric Customer Freedom Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, would remove restrictions on energy choice. Since 2008, only 10 percent of customers within the state were able to choose where their electricity came from, at a cost of more than $3 billion to the rest of consumers, according to Shirkey.

WLNS-TV produced a report last week focusing on the issue, which comes over a month since the widespread ice storm outages and outcry by some in the community openly calling for the option to switch from the Board of Water and Light to Consumers Energy.

As it stands, 90 percent of residents are locked into their utility

provider based on the Michigan electric grid, meaning dissatisfied customers often have no alternative. More than 11,000 customers are in line for energy choice statewide, according to Shirkey.

From 2008 to 2012, Michigan residents saw a 27.2 percent increase in their electric bills, while nationwide electricity rates actually decreased by .9 percent. Those that were able to choose their electric utility over the same period saved more than $350 million compared to those on the grid, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

— RJ Wolcott