Stewart’s Blog: Focus on Electric Utility, Not Mayor Andrew Gillum

Stewart’s Blog: Focus on Electric Utility, Not Mayor Andrew Gillum

As a former consumer advocate who has testified before the Florida Public Service Commission in storm recovery cases involving private utilities, it is my view the post storm focus should be on the command structure of the City’s electric utility and not Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Sure, Gillum could have done a better job communicating with the citizenry, but the bottom line is the City electric utility management team failed him and others.

As many in the state-wide media have noted, Mayor Gillum does not have control over the operations of the electric utility.

On the Monday after the storm, Mayor Gillum, referencing the electric utility, said “…I don’t get to control what they do…”

Understood. But who is in control?

During a Tuesday meeting with City officials and Leon County Commissioners, Commissioner John Dailey said, “We need to know who’s in charge and who’s calling the shots.”

It is telling when an elected official, five days after a hurricane has left town, does not know who is calling the shots.

So, what is the problem?

In my view, the problem clearly resides with City Manager Rick Fernandez and his management team. Let me be clear, I am not talking about the front line workers who put in extra shifts to get the power up. No, I am talking about the management team that just received $900,000 in performance raises.

Consider this: I have reviewed the video of the meeting when the FP&L CEO, Mr. Silagy, offered the City of Tallahassee the help of 575 utility workers who were staged in Lake City last Friday. At the table were the City electric utility managers. When Mr. Silagy concluded his offer, Governor Scott tried to promote dialogue with City officials. Not a word of substance was spoken in response to FP&L’s offer by the City experts. Nothing.

Imagine for a moment if City Manager Rick Fernandez would have said, “Governor Scott, we appreciate FPL’s offer, but we do not have the manpower to manage such a work force. Do you have any ideas?”

Those two sentences would have changed everything.

Instead, hours passed, the Governor felt ignored, Gillum was left to wordsmith his response, and then the situation spiraled out of control.

So what is the solution?

The solution is rather simple and has been discussed for years, but repeatedly rejected by the City of Tallahassee.

TR will detail this solution in the coming days.

17 Responses to "Stewart’s Blog: Focus on Electric Utility, Not Mayor Andrew Gillum"

  1. Can’t people see that the city, the chamber of commerce, and the Democrat are running this community? The city manager gave all his buddies pay raises after they supported him for his promotion to the position without advertising the job. That’s called a payback.

  2. I believe there needs to be a sweep of new leadership regarding a county manager, city manager, and CDA Director.

    Clearly things are not working and they have failed us in infrastructure and public safety.

    The complacency feeds into the incompetency. Egregious wrongdoing and corruption is never questioned, investigated, and corrected…only everyone looks the other way, covers it up, makes excuses, or expends energy on ridiculous PR to fluff up the crisis of the week and to misdirect accountability and then, to attack victims (citizenry), i.e., the usual suspects having Gerald Ensley write incoherent diatribes. It is unconscionable that our local newspaper, The Tallahassee Democrat, feeds it and accommodates it at every turn. This is the culture that has evolved and must be corrected.

    Replacing a city manager who expends his time robbing the treasury to pay himself and cronies mega dollar pay increases because they deserve it then fails us in a public utility crisis is the first step to corrections. Also, why is the city manager taken in by the self proclaimed airport expert and promoter City Commissioner Scott Maddox, to go to New York to bring back nothing except bills for expensive dinners? Maddox has no authority or expertise in this area. We have an Airport Director. Let the airport director do his job and hire a PR firm if needed and stop the years of nonsense by Scott Maddox playing the one man airport authority. Perhaps, it is time to enact an actual legitimate Airport Authority to keep renegades from micromanaging areas where they have no expertise. This just shows you that Mr. Fernandez is unable to discern or prioritize. Just one example of many. Mr. Fernandez should have never allowed a trip to New York in the first place and he should have the leadership to tell Scott Maddox to get out of the airport affairs. Airlines are professional entities and they don’t respond to this sort of nonsense especially when they are dealing with a commissioner who does not even legitimately live in the district he serves. Airlines follow rules and are not guided by silly PR stunts. Again, hire a legitimate PR firm – not Scott Maddox. Why isn’t the Airport Director screaming for Scott Maddox to stay out of his business? It does not help that a county commissioner does not live in his district either. Nor does it help businesses that the Chamber of Commerce hires a shoplifter to represent Tallahassee/Leon County at the out of town Chamber event year after year. If Tallahassee wants to be a world class entity then substance and integrity must come before the usual suspects PR where they have managed to substitute PR for actual experience. It finally hit the fan and exposed the culture that has endangered this community. Again, start with an across the board change in leadership and vote smarter! Perhaps Parwaz Alam would be available.

      1. Maven, for us, my “basket of D’s” ends with a “t’s”, and isn’t socially acceptable to be printed here!

        Tallahassee has GOT to run these idiots out of town and get a respectable city manager in office, not some old crony! >:(

  3. I have a few questions: Would it be correct to assume the FPL help is not free – that the City would have to pay FPL employees salary, overtime, room & board, etc.? If the help does come at a cost, was the cost a factor in the City’s decision?

    I’ve heard the City overcharges us on our electricity rates to funnel the overage back into City coffers. If FPL help came at a price, was it declined because the City had other plans for these funds?

    (If the help is free, then these questions would not apply)

  4. @Over the Crying, what drives me absolutely insane about people like you in this city is comparing Hermein to bigger storms. Hurricane Wilma was a Category 5 hurricane! It tore roofs off houses, threw trailers around like baseballs. Hurricane Kate was a Category 3! Stop it!!! Hermein came through fastest than they thought. Dropped some water but not as much as was thought. This was not a major storm PERIOD! A week without power is a failure and questions need to be answered. Stop calling it a major storm, it wasn’t. I’m from South Fl. I’ve seen major storms including Wilma and Andrew. You make yourself and this entire look silly.

    1. True, Tallahassee didn’t experience a hurricane recently. But, as non hurricane storms go, this was about as major as they get. Signed, Tampa Joe

  5. If the Mayor has no responsibility then what purpose does he serve?

    Lets instead elect a Queen of the Cotillion Ball every year and let her represent the City at parades and such.

    A mayor without accountability is yet another useless pud on the payroll.

  6. I wish people in Tallahassee understood the damage that hurricanes do. When south Florida went well over two weeks without power after Hurricane Wilma, and nobody was ready to burn everything to the ground. Tallahassee, with all of its trees and canopy roads we love so dearly, was back up in about a week. Why do we allow our terrible governor to spread rumors and slander. Why is nobody talking about FPL offering their 575 men after the city had trained the other 8 power companies that they were now accompanying out to fix peoples’ power. The communication between local government and the public was the biggest thing that needed fixing, and that’s only because rumors spread like wildfire.

      1. True, this most definitely was NOT a hurricane, just a severe subtropical storm. Hurricane Kate, which struck Tallahassee 31 years ago was just a mild hurricane and put Tally out of commission for much longer. Tallahassee is blessed, in that it is largely protected from the strongest storm winds due to its location. That being true, we still should be better prepared for the rare, but eventual, bad storms. Each citizen need to better prepare himself for the inevitable power shortage by investing in a dependable gas or propane generator. They can be obtained for anywhere from $300 to $3,000 and should be considered a necessary household utility. Furthermore, since we all know with certainty, that a bad storm is just a matter of time, everyone needs to make sure that they have at least several weeks worth of essentials on hand. Mental preparation is also important. Knowing an inconvenient situation is inevitable, and getting ready for it, allows one to survive it with the minimum trouble and to be grateful that the situation wasn’t worse.

  7. The key fact emerging from this storm aftermath is that Tallahassee’s government and utility management structure was tested – and they failed. From all indications by media outside our city, Tallahassee embarrassed itself (and continues to do so) before the entire state of FL and the Governor’s office, and not for the “reasons” that Gerald Ensley’s poisonous ramblings suggest.
    While the rest of FL recovered and resumed normal life after the storm, Tallahassee fumbled and fumed in the heat and the dark and pointed fingers at everything except itself. Not a good advertisement, to put it mildly. After this debacle, we undoubtedly got crossed off the list of any companies considering relocation here, as well as any people who may have considered making Tallahassee their future home. Damage done, too late to change that.
    As Steve says, I’m not criticizing the power crew workers and other support staff that worked around the clock, they deserve thanks and respect for their efforts. It’s the city leadership and utility management structure that failed in making strategic and wise use of the personnel and equipment thay had available. To compound the problems, they were incompetent or outright purposeful in refusing additional help and/or requesting outside resources from FPL and the Governor.
    The time has come for independent oversight to step in and manage Tallahassee’s utility – inarguably it doesn’t function well enough as it’s presently managed. Hopefully the Governor will appoint state resources to take professional control of the utility.
    While we’re at it, let’s also have an outside-managed, intensive examination of Tallahassee’s city government and why it seems unable to cope with anything well except the persistent upward amount of salaries and taxes it grants itself without justification.

  8. Chicago lecturing us on how to fix gun violence is like Hillary Clinton lecturing the middle class on how the big, bad 1% is hurting them while she wears a $12,000 coat.

  9. I am eight days into this … Still no power.. Had to to remove a large tree from across out road. City tree folks couldn’t do it cause it was on the dead power line, electrical couldn’t work with it because the big tree. Government is bloated and ineffectual. Like sending 55 people To Boulder Co. To see what they are doing
    Right and immulating them. A search on the internet quickly shows demograpics, education and their city being a resort destination, it was all a waste of money. Then we hire a Chicago group to lecture us on “Gun Violence”… For 100s of thousands of dollars. Oh, yeah we’ll cross that bridge to the Edison when we get to it.

  10. Agree. I also call into question Leon County’s EM Director. He is the direct link between any municipality in this county and the State Emergency Response Team! Why did he not step up to intermediate??? As a former PIO for ESF14 in the State EOC, I know for a fact that energy and utility officials in ESF12 would have coordinated help to the city’s befuddled leadership. You can find my related blog post here:

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