June 13, 2002

Mayor Breaks Tie With Vote To End Third Shift At Light Plant

For the second straight month schedule changes at the city light plant were the main topic of discussion at the Memphis City Council meeting. And for the second straight meeting Mayor Ron Alexander cast the tie breaking vote to settle the stalemate between the aldermen.

A month ago Alexander's vote broke the tie on closing the light plant overnight and implementing the computerized automation and security system. The motion was for a one-month trial period to be reviewed in June.

Light Plant Superintendent Mike Ahland told the council the light plant had programmed the individual security passwords and all the call numbers into system following the May meeting. The department ran a number of emergency scenarios and Ahland said the automated program and security system works very well.

While discussing the alarm system Alderman Mike Stone suggested having the fire department inspect the plant and insure they have the appropriate equipment and chemicals to battle any type of fire that might occur.

The light department also tested the fire alarms and other security systems with the assistance of the fire department. "It works with or without the security system on, even during the day when the plant is manned and we are not on the automated system," Ahland said.

The system got its first outage test on the very first night the plant was closed from midnight to 8:00 a.m. when there was an outage at the water filtering plant.

Alderman Ron Gardner asked about the security codes. Ahland said each employee has a password that is only known to them and himself. The password list is kept in a lockbox.

"We had no trouble getting contacted and getting the power back up and running," Ahland said. "Everything went pretty smooth."

Gardner asked if there were any interruptions of service to consumers. Ahland indicated there were no outages to city customers over the 30-day test.

Gardner noted the city maintains a list of citizens that require notification of power outages due to medical equipment, oxygen, etc. that must have 24-hour power. He suggested the city contact these individuals and warn them there is the possibility that an outage may take longer to fix.

Alexander noted that this was a good idea, but added that there is no guarantee it will take any longer to fix the problem than it did when the plant was manned at night.

Ahland estimated the average outage at the plant would last 30 minutes. That represents a 15 minute response time for him to arrive at the facility and another 10 to 15 minutes to shut down the system and restart the power.

While the plant is closed during the third shift, any phone calls to the light plant are fowarded to the city's water filter plant, which is staffed 24-hours a day. The water department will then contact the on-call power department employee responsible for making repairs.

The council agreed the city's light plant and line crews should develop an on-call rotation. They noted that while a vast majority of time the city has coverage, a scheduled rotation of on-call repair services would insure the city would never have an extended outage.

Ahland indicated the test period was successful and recommended to the council that the city adopt new hours at the light plant. He recommended 7:00 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday and 8:00 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and Sunday.

Gardner questioned why the plant needed to be manned over the weekends if it was safe enough to be left un-staffed overnight.

Ahland and Alexander noted that the plant only generates during the daytime hours but can be called upon to do so any day of the week.

Gardner noted that the plant only generates power roughly six to eight weeks out of the year. He questioned if the plant could be closed overnight, why it could not be closed altogether except during the few weeks when power is being generated, pointing out that he felt there was no justification of closing overnight as opposed to any other times.

Following the lengthy discussion alderman Stone made the motion to approve the proposed change in light plant hours on a permanent basis. The motion was seconded by Alderman Teresa Skinner.

Stone and Skinner voted for the proposal while Gardner and Alderman Patty Simerl voted against the proposal. Both dissenting voters indicated they still had concerns about safety and security at the facility, particularly fire threats.

Alexander cast the tie-breaking vote to implement the proposed schedule change at the light plant. He added that since the city is making these changes as a cost saving effort in light of recent power price increases, that he would like to see the city consider additional cuts, possibly including weekend hours, once scheduling and other kinks are worked out at the plant.

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