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  Sarnia Ontario Canada

Power pay hikes questioned

Questions have been raised about accountability at Bluewater Power after board members approved compensation increases of up to 50 per cent at the utility’s annual general meeting.

Annual compensation for chairperson Firmen Bentley will increase to $12,500 from $11,000, and vice-chair Richard Grogan will receive $9,000 per year, a 50 per cent boost in compensation.

The remaining four directors received an increase Monday to $7,500 from $6,000, and each member will now get $800 for attending meetings, up from $550.

City council, concerned about the raises, has asked Bentley to appear and explain them.

“I think the public’s getting to the point where they feel they’re being left out of the process,” said Coun. Andy Bruziewicz, a former Sarnia Hydro commissioner who proposed the meeting.

Bluewater’s board meetings are closed to the public, except for the annual general meeting, he noted.

Gregoire Beauchamp, a resident who attended Monday’s annual general meeting, said accountability appears to be lacking.

He prefers the way the former Sarnia Hydro operated, with four elected commissioners and the mayor sitting on the board.

“Maybe they’re all great people. They could be doing a perfect job,” he said. “But the impression is that it’s a clique. It’s a closed unit.”

Bruziewicz said the compensation increases seem excessive, considering he received a monthly stipend of about $120 as a commissioner. Because no city representatives sit on the board, Bruziewicz said there’s no way to measure the directors’ performance.

Bluewater Power president and CEO Janice McMichael defended the compensation increases, arguing they are needed to “attract and retain key, competent business people on our board.”

McMichael noted board costs have decreased nearly 50 per cent since Bluewater Power was formed in 2001. The number of directors has been reduced to six from nine, and meetings are no longer held monthly, but only about four times a year, she said.

“Even with our new rates, we are still within the bottom 25 per cent of what directors in the province of Ontario in similar-sized utilities get paid,” McMichael said.

The board meetings are not public because Bluewater Power is a private corporation and they could reveal “commercially sensitive or market-sensitive information,” as well as legal and personnel matters.

When the utility was incorporated in 2000 the shareholders, including Sarnia, Petrolia, Point Edward, Oil Springs, Brooke-Alvinston and Warwick, all decided council members should not sit on the board, she added.

“That was because you had six sets of divergent interests coming together,” McMichael said. “The desire then was to ensure this was run as a business and in the best interest of the shareholders.”

Sarnia council decided again, at an in-camera meeting at the start of this term, not to have a city appointee it on the board.

McMichael said she was disappointed to hear of community criticism.

“It concerns me, but it concerns me more if the (criticism) is misplaced or a little misdirected,” she said. “We’ve done what we’ve been asked to do. As a matter of fact, we’ve done significantly more than anybody ever expected this corporation to pull off.”

In 2005, Bluewater Power posted a net revenue of $3.5 million. Of that, $1.1 million in dividends was paid out to municipal shareholders plus $1.4 million in promissory payments.

Sarnia, the largest shareholder with 85 per cent ownership of the utility, received more than $2.1 million in total payments last year.

By STEPHEN HUEBL The Observer Thursday, October 05, 2006


Date This Page Was Last Up-Dated:  October 08, 2006