LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Sparks flew at a joint meeting between the Lansing Board of Water and Light Board of Commissioners and the Lansing City Council Thursday night.
First Ward Council Member Ryan Kost chastised BWL Commission Chair Semone James for what he called a “lack of transparency” by the commission over the firing of former Internal Auditor Frank Macciocca earlier this year.
The BWL fired him over what they considered were thousands of dollars of unauthorized spending on his company-issued credit card.
“Because that is what I have heard. Blasted on two different phones in the last two days is ‘How did this happen?’ and ‘Why was there no transparency and accountability for these actions?’” Kost said. “And tonight, to hear you say, ‘Well, it’s a personnel matter, that’s all we can say on it,’ is playing exactly into the hand that I didn’t want to happen, which is not showing no accountability and no transparency.”
“What I will say is that we have been very transparent.” James said. “We have shared by FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] hundreds of documents, emails, everything that happened, logs his credit card logs of everything he spent. We were very transparent. We also shared the information from the prior chair of the Finance Committee, he did an exhaustive review and we shared that. We did not hide anything. We were very transparent.”
BWL did provide 6 News with hundreds of pages of documents for its exclusive story. However, commissioners consistently declined, through BWL spokespeople, to conduct interviews.
Earlier in his statement, Kost questioned why James had been escorted into a meeting by BWL security – which he referred to as “nonsense.”
“If you want to ask why I was escorted in, I had that same news crew at my house — staking out my house. Watching my house, harassing me. I should know what you have to endure that, so it was out of safety. It was out of safety for me that they just escorted me. I didn’t ask for it. They just came out and got me when they saw that I got here because they had known that people have been coming to my home, constantly ringing my doorbell, leaving notes for me for me, when we had answered the FOIA request. We have done everything that we are allowed to do. And then some.”
6 News made BWL officials aware of every step being taken – including stopping at James’ workplace and home – before it happened. The investigative team spent no more than 15 minutes in front of James’ home, ringing her Ring doorbell three times, then leaving a written note. The team also visited her workplace at the State of Michigan.
“Chairperson, I understand. But what you just described to me is what you signed up for being a public servant,” Kost said. “No one was going to hurt you. They were a news crew.”
He continued, “If you sat here and you said you were getting serious threats to your house, I would absolutely understand why you did that. But this was a news crew from 6 News.”
After again defending herself and saying she had not requested security to escort her into last month’s board meeting, At-Large BWL Commissioner Tracy Thomas approached James and whispered something in her ear.
“So, thank you for your comments, Councilman,” James said abruptly ending the exchange.
After the meeting Kost said he did not get the answers he wanted and was “deflated” by the exchanges with the commissioners.
Second Ward Council Member Adam Hussain said he was not satisfied with what commissioners said about the former auditor Thursday night.
“Frankly, I think the guy deserves to be in jail what I heard,” he said. “So, the fact that we are not trying recoup costs, that we are not pursuing legal action is incredibly concerning to me.”
Council President Carol Wood said she was pleased to learn the utility made policy changes, but believes the money allegedly mis-spent needs to be recovered.
“From the ratepayers perspective, trying to recoup these dollars are important and to make sure that in the future there are safe guard so it doesn’t happen again,” said Wood.
While Wood is retiring later this year, she is determined to find out more.
“I might not be here, but I will still be asking the questions.”
BWL commissioners are already moving forward by voting on an new internal auditor.
Elisha Franco was appointed to the spot in a near unanimous vote. She is currently BWL’s internal control supervisor and will start the new job next month.