Members of the Thomas Bay Power Authority Commission met for their regular meeting on Wednesday, May 15 to discuss possible conflicts of interest within the organization.
TBPA Commissioner and Petersburg Municipal Power and Light Superintendent Joe Nelson brought commission policies to light in regard to these conflicts.
“Our commission policy states that no one on the commission can hold a direct interest in a contract of a business providing service for us,” Nelson read. “In the past when we had Pac Wing and Sunrise flying for us, the commission kind of looked the other way. Now that there is only one entity, I think it needs to be addressed or at least recognized.”
Another TBPA Commissioner, Dave Galla, is the co-owner of Sunrise Aviation, which provides transportation for employees working the Tyee Lake Hydroelectric project.
“When any issue dealing with contracts between the commission and Sunrise come to the table I always abstain from the vote,” Galla stated. “I stay out of the negotiations completely as a commissioner and there hasn’t been a problem with it.”
The wording of the TBPA Commission Policy states that commissioners and employees are prohibited from acquiring or having a financial interest in any property that Thomas Bay Power Authority acquires or has a direct or financial interest in a major supplier, contractor, consultant or other entity with which TBPA does business.
“I think it is stated quite plain,” Nelson stated. “This is not just a recommendation, but a prohibition.”
Galla has served as a commissioner for TBPA for the last 14 years and became co-owner of Sunrise nearly a decade ago.
“There have to be exceptions and exclusions because of the circumstances and it has never been an issue until now,” Galla said. “This should have been brought up when I became the co-owner of the business. I believe the timing on this issue is really strange.”
Nelson explained that the commission policies were updated in Jan 2013.
“I really don’t know what the policy said previously, but in the purest sense, if it is a prohibition, which is what it seems to be, Dave would either have to resign from the commission or give up the contract,” Nelson said. “I think, more practically, that we need to recognize that it is here and there should be some official recognition that it is a problem and if the commission chooses to ignore it then I think that needs to be in the form of a vote or at least something that memorializes it. This has gone ignored for several years and I am not suggesting any form of action I am just bringing it to everyone’s attention.”
Galla explained that the same problem could more than likely be found in all aspects of Borough and City governments.
“If you really want to get down and dirty about it and start looking at the Borough Assembly members and all the vendors and contractors that do business, you are going to find a whole lot of people that are in the middle of perceived conflicts that really aren’t conflicts but are stated in policies,” Galla stated. “In a small community this type of thing is unavoidable. We have always and will continue to provide safe and reliable transportation service for Tyee and this is just really funny timing that it would come up in the midst of all the other issues.”
The commissioners agreed to table this issue until the full commission members could be present and they have an opportunity to read the previous policies.
Another conflict of interest was brought to the table regarding the Wrangell and Petersburg Power and Light Superintendents sitting on the commission.
TBPA Commissioner Warren Edgely explained that he felt it was a conflict of interest for the electrical superintendents to be members of the commission because they are paid.
“The ordinance states that all of the members will serve in an unpaid capacity,” Edgely stated.
Nelson explained that he could not disagree with the facts brought by Edgely because, as he sat in the meeting, he was essentially being paid.
“I am on the commission as part of the Borough code,” Nelson stated. “The appropriate plan of action would be to take this issue to the Assembly and have them change that code. It isn’t something that we can change at the commission level.”
Wrangell Power and Light Superintendent and TBPA Commissioner Clay Hammer stated that the code was the same for his position on the commission as well.
“This is something that we will have to take to the respective Assemblies,” Hammer stated.
Galla explained that he saw several conflicts in this area.
“These two electrical superintendents sit on the TBPA Commission, but also sit on the board of SEAPA,” Galla stated. “Are they looking out for SEAPA, Petersburg, Wrangell or TBPA? What hat are they wearing when they are doing business?”
When asked, Wrangell Borough Manager Tim Rooney said he sees no issue in Hammer sitting on the commission while acting as Wrangell’s electrical chief.
“I do not believe there is a conflict of interest,” Rooney said. “He doesn’t receive any financial gain from serving on the Thomas Bay Power Authority board or with SEAPA.”
Petersburg’s Borough Manager, Steve Giesbrecht, also weighed in on the question of a perceived conflict of interest.
“There are people who do probably see a conflict,” Giesbrecht added. “I personally do not. I’ve met Clay a few times, I know Joe pretty well, and I’ve also met with Andy Donato from Ketchikan. I think they are all very capable individuals who are serving in those roles. I can see, though, how the public can look at this and say that operations people have one thing in mind while the board members might look at things differently.”
The commissioners decided to table the issue as well until the July meeting when all members could be present.