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33° Good Afternoon

After Cuomo seeks reform, LIPA trustees to meet

LIPA trustees are set to meet at the authority's newly consolidated headquarters in Uniondale Wednesday, a week after officials of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration said the "bloated" agency needs reform.

The schedule for the trustees is light -- a vote on the appointment of a firm to conduct a management audit of the Long Island Power Authority ordered in new oversight legislation through the Department of Public Service.

Trustee meetings have traditionally served as a bully pulpit for LIPA or its board members to explain the authority's position or rebut public charges of its missteps.

Howard Steinberg, LIPA's chairman, said whether or not he would address the issue of reform from Albany publicly, he was open to help.

"As far as I'm concerned, I welcome Gov. Cuomo's efforts to find ways to improve LIPA's effectiveness and efficiency," he said Tuesday. "If they can lower our costs and find ways to help us reduce our debt and reduce our costs to our ratepayers, that would be great."

Cuomo has yet to recommend a chief executive at LIPA -- a position that's been vacant for two years, while many trustee posts have expired or soon will. Michael Hervey, LIPA's chief operating officer who is interim chief executive, declined to comment. A Cuomo spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment.

One name that has consistently been mentioned as a candidate is North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman. He declined to comment.

Steinberg said while trustees will vet any chief executive appointee, much of the decision-making and approval will come from Albany, including the state Senate, which must approve any candidate.

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who has said it's "time to pull the plug on LIPA," said he's been in contact with Cuomo's office since January about the chief executive vacancy. "They can't get someone" because experienced utility people won't take a pay cut to come to LIPA.

LaValle said his concern now is that LIPA will make long-term decisions about power plants before Cuomo has a chance to implement his changes. He said he would advocate a moratorium on any new power plant decisions until the measures and a new chief executive are in place. LaValle is concerned the Port Jefferson power station might ultimately be phased out.

"It has always been the Senate's position that you need to take care of existing plants and communities before you go into new deals," LaValle said.

Other public officials continue to weigh in on the question of whether LIPA needs reform.

Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), who co-sponsored legislation to increase LIPA oversight, said he has not yet heard from Cuomo's staff on LIPA reform. He has questions about whether "drastic" reform from Albany would address the top problem at LIPA.

"I think it's unlikely that that kind of reform is going to lead to meaningful rate reduction and that -- let's face it -- is the goal we should have," he said.

Still, Sweeney conceded that Cuomo's staff likely has seen what's in the inspector general's findings on LIPA after more than a year of investigating.

"But if there's a way to streamline LIPA or make it a more efficient operation based on what the IG has to offer, it's something we should absolutely take a look at," he said. An inspector general's spokesman declined to comment.

Suffolk Legis. Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said he supports the notion of reform at LIPA, but questions whether local decisions on power plants are best made in Albany.

"When you move things off-Island, you're less attentive to the needs of the Island," he said, adding that he'd rather see elected trustee members and more experienced management put in place.

Because Cuomo administration officials described LIPA as "bloated," there could be an examination of pay and experience levels, which Romaine said he would welcome. "It's a patronage pit, but that's what these guys set up," he said. "LIPA has not resolved its issues and we the ratepayers are still being in part victimized."

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