Another example why LIPA needs new leaders

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Protestors rally against LIPA outside National Grid in Protestors rally against LIPA outside National Grid in Hicksville. (Nov. 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has

The Long Island Power Authority needs new leadership.

Now.

Yes, there are multiple ongoing investigations to determine what went awry with customer service in superstorm Sandy.

There are separate assessments of the authority and how it does its job.

And Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo seems to be considering several ideas, including severing the authority -- which manages the region's electric service -- from the for-profit utility, National Grid, that actually does the work.

Perhaps those discussions will morph into discussions of whether LIPA should evolve into a full-blown, municipal electric power company itself, or something else.

Hold all the investigations, hearings, brainstorming sessions and anything anyone else wants to tee up as the region continues wending its way back through Sandy's destruction.

None of that, however, negates the urgency of replacing LIPA's leadership, which remains wildly out of touch with its customers.

On Friday, the authority's board -- which is missing one-third of its full complement because of vacancies -- met for the first time since Sandy.

The public meeting announcement noted: NO PUBLIC COMMENT WILL BE TAKEN.

Yes, the board was expected to adjourn quickly into executive session to consider how to replace Michael Hervey, the chief operating officer, who announced last week that he was stepping down.

But really.

National Grid began locking the front door of its Hicksville headquarters on the second day of the power outage. And this was during a time when customers -- hundreds of thousands of them -- couldn't get a LIPA representative on the telephone, much less determine when their electricity would be turned on.

Why not, during the public portion of a public board meeting, listen to a few customers?

On Friday, Wayne Hall, Hempstead Village's mayor, said he'd received a special number to call LIPA during and after Sandy. He said he couldn't get anyone on the phone.

When he did, the LIPA representative told him not to call that number again, Hall said. "Why did they give me the number in the first place?" Hall said after a panel discussion at a Vision Long Island conference on Friday.

That sort of exchange appeared typical for some other municipal officials and for LIPA customers as well. It speaks to a lack of trust in LIPA that current leadership probably will never bridge.

Add to that an even more damaging lack of confidence because of the confusion and numbing delay in restoring electricity.

The authority acknowledges, for instance, that it could not manage the army of workers flooding the region after Sandy.

Equally troubling is that officials placed the blame on contractor National Grid, rather than accepting responsibility.

What happens when there's another storm?

Long Islanders need electricity and assurances that the lights will stay on even as LIPA works through its troubles. But the process of restoring confidence and trust in LIPA must start now.

While LIPA trustees met Friday to begin the process of hiring two top executives, the authority urgently needs new leadership on all levels. That's something Cuomo can, and should not wait to, get done.

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