TBPC president orders halt to Tyee negotiations
WRANGELL — The president of the Thomas Bay Power Commission sent a letter this week to the chairman of the Southeast Alaska Power Agency ordering an end to negotiations for SEAPA to take over operations at the Tyee Lake Hydroelectric Project.
The letter claims those negotiations – borough manager Jeff Jabusch characterized them as discussions – are being conducted in violation of section 3.40.50 of Wrangell code and a “substantially identical ordinance of Petersburg,” according to the letter from TBPA president James Stough to SEAPA board chairman Robert Sivertsen.
“Under ordinance of both communities, the only entity authorized to discuss the dissolution of and subsequent disposition of TBPA is the Thomas Bay Power Commission,” the letter reads in part. “Therefore, cease and desist all negotiations between SEAPA and the Wrangell City Manager regarding Thomas Bay Power Commission and Thomas Bay Power Authority. Henceforth, any and all
communications regarding these matters are to be directed to me, the Thomas Bay Power Commission President, for Thomas Bay Power Commission review and possible action.”
The letter – written on Thomas Bay Power Authority letterhead – was drafted and sent under his own authority as Thomas Bay Power Authority President, and was an attempt to reclaim statutory authority for the commission which was being ignored in negotiations about the future of Tyee, Stough said.
“They’re (the borough assembly) starting negotiations to the city manager, which is absolutely wrong,” he said. “All I’m saying is get back on track. Include us in the doggone discussions.”
Stough has in the past said that the TBPA, which holds contracts with the unions representing current TBPA employees, is under the sole control of the commission, which has not been consulted in the negotiations.
Stough has also requested four legal questions be put to the Wrangell City attorney on behalf of the commission, a move he said was rejected by the borough assembly.
“The council said I had no authority to do that because it was above and beyond the normal operating budget of the attorney,” he said.
Petersburg and Wrangell would need to shut down the commission in order for any negotiations to be legal, Stough said.
“Get us back in the loop,” he said. “You’ve got union contracts. I’m pretty sure both councils — Wrangell and Petersburg — don’t wanna shut off the power. It goes back to city power and running on diesel. You gotta get the cart in the right spot here.”
Stough also claimed he supported – and voted for – a resolution calling for the beginning of negotiations on Dec. 10, 2013. Borough attendance records show Stough was absent at both a Dec. 3, 2013 special meeting in which a draft version of the resolution was presented and sent to Jabusch for revision, and the Dec. 10 meeting approving Jabusch’s revised version of the draft. Absent members – even those joining by teleconference, which Stough did not do – are not allowed to vote on motions.
“I voted for the resolution because the resolution is just asking and stating what Petersburg has done and what Wrangell has done,” he said. “It doesn’t say clearly in there that you can dismantle it.”
From the resolution: “The City and Borough of Wrangell Borough Assembly directs the Borough manager to enter into negotiations with SEAPA and the Petersburg Borough to develop a conversion plan to transfer the operation and maintenance of the Tyee Hydroelectric Facility to SEAPA and to bring back the plan to the respective boards for approval.”
In addition, it wasn’t immediately clear that the cease-and-desist letter was issued with the backing of the commission itself, which hasn’t met since late March and had no currently planned meetings until May, Stough said.
The first of the four legal questions Stough proposed for review reads:
“How can the TBPA Commission President negotiate for the Commission without explicit permission from the Commission, i.e. a motion to do so?”
The question later quotes from TBPA Policy: “Each Commissioner shall recognize that he has no authority outside of the commission meeting, except and unless he is specifically authorized or assigned a project with authority to act or speak for the commission.”
Several commissioners said they had received the letter, but hadn’t had time to read it. Commissioner Clay Hammer said the letter surprised him.
“I was not aware that he was writing it,” he said. “The commissioners weren’t even included in the CC string. We were not included in the loop. I was kind of caught by surprise. It makes it sound like it’s coming right from the commission.”
Stough’s position seemed to contradict the position illuminated by his earlier line of questioning, Hammer said.
Hammer declined to provide additional comment until the commission had met.
“I don’t know what to think of this,” he added.
The Tyee Lake project provides electrical power to both Petersburg and Wrangell. It is currently owned by SEAPA, with the TBPA acting as an operations and maintenance contractor for the Agency. The TBPC is a joint action agency, established by joint amendments to the charters of both boroughs, and tasked with overseeing the Authority. The Authority has been under fire in Petersburg. The borough assembly voted last year to withhold a portion of its portion of funding and requested that SEAPA take over operations and maintenance at Tyee. The Wrangell and Petersburg assemblies have since drafted and approve resolutions calling for their borough managers to call for SEAPA to put forward a plan to take it over.