The Lansing Board of Water & Light fired its general manager today during a brief, hastily called meeting.
With little discussion, the BWL commission voted five to three to terminate J. Peter Lark’s contract.
Lark has been the focus of much of criticism of the utility’s response to a massive ice storm just before Christmas in 2013.
40,000 of the utility's customers lost electricity. Thousands were still without power more than a week later, as utility crews struggled to reconnect roughly 40% of the utility’s service area.
At the height of the power outage, Lark left town on a vacation to New York.
He returned quickly, but not quickly enough for many BWL customers who spent the holidays in the dark.
Several reviews of BWL's handling of the power outage cited the need for cultural changes in the organization.
David Price is the BWL board chairman. While not singling out anything specific, Price cited Lark’s handling of the power outage and his management since as reasons for his firing.
“In order to really to make the final step in righting this ship it was time for management to change,” says Price.
Lark sat impassively at a small table facing the board.
When he did get a chance to speak, Lark expressed surprise that he was losing his job.
“I am surprised and disappointed at the board’s sudden and unexpected unilateral decision to end my employment,” says Lark.
“Unexpected” may not be an entirely accurate word.
Board chairman David Price says he talked with Lark about the situation before Christmas. There have also been calls for Lark’s dismissal since the devastating ice storm power outage.
Lark attended the meeting with his attorney.
It may take some time before Lark’s final severance package is worked out. The cost of buying out his contract could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.