Lark’s missing emails: Same blind approach at BWL

By Mickey Hirten

There is no reason to doubt Lansing Board of Water and Light general manager J. Peter Lark when he says he deletes emails because that’s what he does.

The practice mirrors his performance and that of the utility in anticipating what needs to be done — a strong disaster and communications plan — and more important, what happens later.

Lark’s clumsy escape to New York for a quick vacation with his family while tens of thousands of his customers were without power was a public relations disaster and one that was easy to foresee.

Whether it affected how quickly the BWL could restore power — and it probably didn’t — isn’t really the issue. For Lark, it’s not having the foresight to know what in hindsight was a very bad idea.

Deleting his emails reflects the same blind approach.

Here is what Lark told Lansing State Journal reporter Steve Reed: “While I sent or received emails during the ice storm outage, I followed my career-long practice of retaining emails for the duration of their useful value.”

Wrong again. How could anyone think that the ice storm and its consequences was business as usual?

Clearly these emails would have been useful to the citizens’ committee’s investigation. Chairman Mike McDaniel feels that BWL’s response to records has been incomplete. And it’s the same with BWL’s internal investigation. The problems and issues raised during this difficult time for Lansing’s power company and Lark’s response could have illustrated what went right and what went wrong in the management chain of command.

These are the dual issues that McDaniel’s group is tackling. He said in an interview with City Pulse that disaster planning entails two tracks: operational and managerial. How were decisions made? What were the lines of communication? How was information handled? Lark’s correspondence could have helped the citizens’ committee sort out these issues.

More to the point, the emails could help Lark make his case that even while in New York he was thoroughly engaged in BWL business. Stacks of emails detailing the large and small issues he fielded during his absence certainly would strengthen his claim that his trip was really a working vacation.

There is, of course, a more self-serving view of Lark’s deleted emails: that this “past practice” is a convenient way to cover his tracks.

Some of the correspondence between Lark and others during the ice storm cleanup is emerging. Cynthia M. Ward, a BWL commissioner, has released emails that she and Lark shared during the recovery period.

Fielding a query from a Ridgeline Drive neighbor still without power on Dec. 29, Ward asked Lark to “please have someone confirm restoration this location.”

Lark responded “will do” and 45 minutes later in another email wrote “a spotter is on his/her way to examine damage.”

Another email in the chain originated inside BWL, informing Lark that “the next crew out will cover this request.” Lark sent this along to Ward with the comment, “Hopes this update helps.” Certainly it helped Ward and her neighbor.

%u2028This hands-on involvement by Lark cuts two ways. It shows the level of smallissue detail that he juggled during the crisis but it also highlights favorable treatment allotted some during the utility’s communications meltdown.

Regular customers were frustrated by the BWL’s inability to respond to basic questions about power restoration. But a commissioner’s request was handled quickly and professionally. It’s naïve to think that relationships don’t matter, especially a request from one of your bosses — Commissioner Ward.

But was this one of many requests Lark handled for insiders? If so, it wouldn’t look good. And what else wouldn’t look good? Deleted emails take that issue off the table, at least until other correspondence surfaces.

But good or bad, the emails clearly offer some insight into what was happening with the big boss during the storm cleanup. And that’s important. They do have “useful value.”