By MARK HARRINGTON
Updated March 9, 2015 9:46 PM
The Long Island Power Authority will institute a new process for setting trustee meetings after one board member raised concerns that the schedule had been sharply reduced without notice.
The governance committee of LIPA’s trustees met Monday to discuss the issue after committee member Suzette Smookler asked for clarification on how decisions about meetings were made.
Newsday last month reported LIPA had cut the number of trustee meetings in half this year. The reduced schedule of six meetings was published on LIPA’s website but one was canceled due to weather.
“Other than reading the front page of Newsday, how did board members know this?” Smookler said.
LIPA general counsel Jon Mostel said the decision was made after LIPA staff conferred with LIPA chairman Ralph Suozzi. Mostel said LIPA was “generally influenced by other public authorities in the state. We thought that six would be appropriate.”
“I don’t know what the magic number is,” Smookler said. “I’m more interested in the process. I’m on the governance committee. I attend every meeting, and I never saw this coming. I never heard anything formal that we were going from one schedule to another.”
Mostel said staff devised the reduced meeting schedule “based on a review of the activities anticipated in the coming year.”
LIPA duties have been greatly reduced by the LIPA Reform Act, which transferred most management roles to PSEG Long Island. There is flexibility in the schedule if trustees wanted to meet more often, and there could be eight to 10 meetings this year because of rate-hike proceedings, workshops and committee meetings, officials said.
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LIPA’s board recently averaged 10 meetings a year. This year’s schedule of six, was cut to five when the January meeting was canceled because of weather.
Observers worried that the reduction offered ratepayers fewer chances to track the authority’s activities and to comment on its plans. The meetings, which are attended by top staff of LIPA and PSEG, provide information about the utility and lead to sometimes fiesty public comment sessions.
“I think six meetings is too few,” said trustee Matthew Cordaro, noting the meetings also let trustees question PSEG and LIPA staff on decisions affecting the authority.
But others said the lower number suited them.
“Personally, I’m fine with fewer meetings,” said trustee Mark Fischl.
Suozzi said he agreed that “we shouldn’t have meetings for meetings’ sake,” and suggested the public had ample opportunities, including through his personal email, to contact the authority. “In a world of mass communication the public has a lot of access to us,” he said.
Officials said in addition to sending LIPA letters via regular mail and the phone system, LIPA plans to institute an online system for submitting comments via its website, www.lipower.orgcq.