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LIPA's customer-satisfaction rating drops again

PSEG-Long Island trucks in Hicksville on Jan. 1,

PSEG-Long Island trucks in Hicksville on Jan. 1, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The Long Island Power Authority, already ranked last among the nation's largest utilities in satisfaction by business customers, dropped more points from its score before turning over the reins to PSEG Long Island in January.

In a J.D. Power survey, completed in December and released this month, LIPA scored 525 points of a possible 1,000 for 2013 -- the lowest of the 93 large U.S. utilities in the survey. The year before LIPA scored 540 points.

The 2013 drop came even as 79 utilities in the survey saw improvements, J.D Power said.

PSE&G, the sister company of PSEG Long Island, moved up three places on the survey with a score of 659, to rank No. 2 among eastern utilities for 2013. A J.D. Power official cited lingering effects of Sandy for LIPA's poor ranking.

"Customers have long memories," said John Hazen, senior director for J.D. Power. Asked if higher-ranked PSEG's stepping in could help, Hazen said, "I think so [but] it's not going to happen overnight." PSEG Long Island has vowed to win a top ranking within five years.

The survey results came as LIPA trustees prepared to meet Wednesday to consider a series of changes to the diminished organization's bylaws, mission statement and operations. Among them: a new LIPA mission statement that emphasizes its oversight role and eliminates use of the word "transparency"; consideration of a new code of conduct for trustees with possible restrictions on public speaking and "ramifications" for violators; and a restructured LIPA organization that removes all vice president titles and more narrowly defines the chief executive's.

John McMahon, general manager of LIPA who is expected to be appointed chief executive Wednesday, according to a board agenda, said the new mission statement reflects LIPA's new primary job of oversight of PSEG Long Island.

"We did take the word 'transparency' out," McMahon told trustees at a board committee meeting earlier this month. "We don't intend to be any less transparent." Rather, he said, a broader statement that LIPA will be a "valued member of the community" incorporates transparency.

Yet proposed changes in LIPA's bylaws would strike the requirement that the authority prepare annual operating and capital budgets, requiring them only "as necessary."

At a separate governance committee meeting this month, board members debated the notion of free speech after two trustees, Mark Fischl and Suzette Smookler, advocated for a new trustee code of conduct and ethics.

Fischl expressed consternation that board member Matthew Cordaro had expressed a personal view about LIPA's plan for a new power plant. Agreeing, Smookler said a code of conduct was one of the "highest priorities for me" and advocated the code have "teeth" to deal with violators, although she professed, "I'd never ever support gag orders."

Smookler, LIPA"s most senior board member, is a 2006 appointee of State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre); Fischl is an appointee of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

McMahon and new board member Marc Alessi took issue with silencing board members. "Whatever we do we have to balance it with the right of dissent and the right of people to express their personal views," McMahon said.

Said Alessi: "I do have concerns [about] even mixing the thought of expressing one's views and an ethical violation."

The LIPA trustees meeting is at 11 a.m. Wednesday at LIPA's Uniondale headquarters.

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