After Sandy, finally time to shake up LIPA

A LIPA worker repairs an electric line in

A LIPA worker repairs an electric line in Ronkonkoma. (Nov. 11, 2012) (Credit: Ed Betz)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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Announcements Tuesday of a top-level LIPA resignation and creation of a state commission to investigate storm response seemed almost too conveniently timed.

Both seemed geared more toward satisfying the legions of frustrated, angry customers screaming for answers, rather than swiftly getting to what went so horribly wrong and why.

Although Michael Hervey's decision to resign as chief operating officer of the Long Island Power Authority became public Tuesday, he'd made his intention known several months ago.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's move to investigate how New York State's public utilities have handled major storms appears to be one more sidestep away from acknowledging his share of blame in the matter.

Together, Tuesday's revelations amount to more smoke than substance.

But something significant, nonetheless, is happening.

According to a Newsday report, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has issued subpoenas to LIPA and Con Edison, which supplies power in New York City. Schneiderman has launched a wide-ranging investigation into how LIPA and Con Ed handled storm preparations, maintenance and recovery matters.

He's also looking at how both communicate with customers.

Cuomo decided to convene a Moreland Commission, a rarely used investigative panel that can issue subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify. He last used the Moreland Act to have Inspector General Ellen Biben investigate the dysfunctional Nassau County Police lab.

But Schneiderman's got the advantage: As the state's top law enforcement official, he has the authority to prosecute and penalize as the result of his investigations.

Cuomo and his commission do not.

Rather than join the finger-pointing, Schneiderman wants to determine whether LIPA and Con Ed provide safe, adequate and reliable power -- and whether they provide adequate service during severe storms, sources told Newsday.

LIPA's problems are far deeper and reach back beyond Cuomo, or Hervey's tenure as LIPA acting head for two years.

The authority, and by extension quality of the region's utility infrastructure and service, has been ignored for years. It also has been the subject of several critical reports.

Cuomo already has asked for other investigations of LIPA. Last year, he asked the state inspector general to investigate the authority. He's also asked the Public Service Commission for a management audit. Neither agency has released its findings.

Earlier this year, the governor also expressed his desire to significantly reduce LIPA's current role. He doesn't want it to manage electric service. He wants it to return to its original mission of advocating on behalf of Long Island for better service and lower rates.

But now there's an urgency, born of suffering, anger and disgust in the aftermath of Sandy.

Shake 'em up, Schneiderman. It's long, long past time.