Howe: Still work to do as electric director

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 3, 2008

FRANKLIN—There has been a storm swirling around the Franklin Department of Power & Light, and the director of that agency, Dave Howe, has been caught in the middle of it.

The city advertised Howe’s position while he still occupied it, leaving some residents wondering whether Howe resigned or retired, or was going to continue. A citizens’ group questioned the city’s use of revenues raised by the department. One of Howe’s top aides resigned because, in part, of the instability.

And some residents have, in fact, encouraged him to run for mayor, he said.

What has settled since those stormy days is this: Howe is still the director of Power & Light. The advertisement for his position was either a miscommunication between Howe and city officials, or a blatant attempt by the city to oust him from the management position, depending which view is believed.

The citizens’ group is still questioning how the city distributes the department’s revenues.

But Howe is not running for mayor.

After returning from a short-term disability leave in November during which time his job was advertised, Howe wrote a letter to the editor to The Tidewater News which was published on Nov. 16.

In that letter, he thanked citizens for their support and encouragement, not only on a personal level, but also for speaking on his behalf at city council meetings.

He also stated there are quite a few unresolved issues regarding the electric department, citing:

* electric rates in Franklin and recommendations that they be raised;

n large money transfers from the electric department to the general fund in excess of 20 percent each of the last three years;


the more than $3 million that has disappeared from the electric reserve fund;

the governance of the public power electric utility;


the failure of the governing body to follow the ethical policies and procedures of a public power electric utility;


the electric department operating at a $400,000 deficit last year while large amounts are transferred from its operating account;

* the recent attempt by the city manager to remove him from his position as director of Franklin Power & Light.

The city has recently discussed financial policies and guidelines that would clarify definitions and transfer amounts, and is in its second year of reducing transfers from the electric reserve fund by $150,000.

&uot;As a follow-up to the letter, there are several items that are in need of clarification,&uot; he said, &uot;which I hope will be of some interest to supportive citizens.

&uot;The first item concerns my thoughts on running for the position of mayor, since many supporters have asked me to run since coming back to work the first part of November. While there are several reasons I should consider running for office, I believe at this time, I can better serve the citizens as their director of Power & Light.&uot;

He said, &uot;Unfortunately, if I were to run a successful campaign, I would have to leave my position according to city charter. We are in the midst of our purchased power contract negotiations, and as president of the Virginia Municipal Electric Association (VMEA), I play a central role in securing the lowest possible rate for our purchased power.&uot;

Howe said that he and other VMEA representatives are trying to ensure that FP&L remains as an unregulated public power utility in the future.

&uot;It’s important that I remain in place long enough to complete these tasks that will heavily impact Franklin’s future power cost.&uot;

Howe said whether his decision weighed on the fact that the deputy director of FP&L recently resigned to take a job in Maryland.

&uot;That is a definite factor in my decision to stay on as director,&uot; he said. &uot;I had been mentoring Paul since his employment 11 years ago. I could have turned over FP&L to him without even a ripple in service or in the contract negotiations that are taking place.

&uot;We’ll miss Paul, but we wish him success in his new position.&uot;

In May, Howe will have served as director of FP&L for 20 years. Citizens have spoken from time to time in support of his work with the city, highlighting the implementation of the Cycle and Save Program and the installation of citywide interdepartmental fiber optic communication system as just two of his accomplishments.

Howe said that the issues listed in his letter would need to be resolved before he can &uot;peacefully move on.&uot;