Board Members Have Political Ties, No Utility Experience

Many have criticized the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) for not moving swiftly to return power to the hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders crippled by Superstorm Sandy last month. Still, many remain without power weeks after the storm left the eastern seaboard. LIPA’s slow response to the massive, historic storm, has sparked much criticism.

It seems that LIPA’s 10 civilian board members are, for the most part, appointees who have connections with Albany and who have little, if any, utility experience, WNYC News. A WNYC News analysis revealed that no less than eight of the 10 appointees have political connections, either as contributors to political causes or due to prior relationships with government officials, or some combination of both. Only one member has any background in energy. That board member, Neal Lewis, came to the defense of the utility saying its response to Sandy was a “Herculean task,” telling WNYC News that, “What people don’t realize is that it’s tough to get people to say yes to being appointed to the LIPA board. It’s a lot of work.”

Meanwhile, the New York’s attorney general subpoenaed LIPA this week; the utility is the focus of a probe initiated by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo; and LIPA’s acting chief executive officer, Michael Hervey, resigned right after Sandy hit, WNYC News said.

A 15-person trustee board governs LIPA; however, only 10 of those positions are filled. The board manages LIPA’s executive staff and provides overall direction to LIPA, which is similar to the way in which private corporations are run, WNYC News pointed out, noting that all of the current 10 LIPA board members were appointed by elected Albany officials who were later confirmed by the state Senate. All the positions are unpaid and members must be residents of Long Island and are required to attend no less than half of the 12 board meetings or they will be considered retired, WNYC News explained.

Sandy hit Long Island on Monday, October 29; LIPA board members met for the first time since the super storm hit, on Friday, November 16, WNYC News noted.

Illustrating the scenario with one board member, WNYC News wrote that Chairman Howard Steinberg, LIPA’s longest serving board member was appointed to in 1999 by Republican Governor George Pataki. Both Pataki and Steinberg worked at Dewey Ballantine LLP (now Dewey & LeBoeuf) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Among other connections, WNYC News noted, the pair worked with Bradford Rice, Pataki’s future chief of staff. When Pataki was preparing for his first run as governor, Reliance Group Holdings—which was then run by Steinberg—was an initial supporter.

Meanwhile, said WNYC News, Steinberg’s first board position came from Pataki in 1996 to the Thruway Authority; in 1998, Pataki appointed Steinberg to a chair position on the LIPA board (Steinberg was reappointed to this position twice, with the most recent reappointment in 2008 from Democratic Governor, Eliot Spitzer). Although Steinberg’s term ended in August 2011, he has not been reappointed or replaced. Of note, Steinberg, was criticized in 2008 from then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for receiving and using a free E-ZPass on the Thruway; this, nearly 10 years after leaving the Thruway Authority, said WNYC News.

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