The mayor of Tallahassee on Sunday said he was “never aware” of a formal offer by Florida Power & Light to aid in the city-owned utilty’s effort to restore power to thousands of residents impacted by Hurricane Hermine.
Andrew Gillum‘s acknowledgement is a stunning development in a series of back-and-forths between city officials, the governor’s office and representatives of the power companies working overtime to restore electric service.
It was revealed on Sunday that an offer by FP&L to send 575 restoration personnel from its Lake City service center was turned down. Barry Moline, the executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, said FP&L’s offer was rebuffed because of “timing” issues.
“FPL made their offer later than others – they were working on their own restoration – and they made it through the Governor and news media,” Moline wrote on Facebook. “It was strange.”
Moline’s comments came a day after Gillum took to Facebook to address charges that the City of Tallahassee was not doing enough — including not accepting assistance from private utility companies — to restore power.
“Let me be clear,” Gillum said. “We are happy to accept any help from any person or organization that is going to accelerate the speed at which we can safely restore power to our residents.”
Robert L. Gould, the chief communications officer with FPL, told the Tallahassee Democrat, the company offered the city hundreds of restoration personnel but “the city’s utilities director said the city could not accept the help at the time.”
“Mutual assistance is a normal course during these types of events. We made it very clear what resources were available to assist, and it is up to the Utility Director to assess the need and determine what outside resources should be brought in,” Gould said. “Our offer for assistance still stands, and we remain ready to lend a hand if the city determines it can use our help.”
Apparently, Gillum — perhaps limited by Tallahassee’s weak mayor form of government — was in the dark about FP&L’s offer.
“I was never aware that there was a formal offer of anything,” Gillum tells FloridaPolitics.com. “I heard them list what assets they had available, as did the several other utilities present in the room. COT staff listed our assets and needs and they said that if the COT utilities didn’t take their offer that night, they would move them all to NC to assist others. Following those reports the Gov. suggested they all get together and figure it out.”
After that meeting, there was no follow-up by the city on FP&L’s offer.
The Tallahassee Democrat, citing an unnamed source in city government, reports that Utilities Director Rob McGarrah that declined the offer by Florida Power and Light.
If that is so and what Gillum is saying is also accurate, questions about why McGarrah did not fully inform Gillum, are almost certain to arise.
Complicating matters, the Democrat speculates, is a “long-simmering feud between investor-owned utilities and municipal-owned utilities (that) could be leading to friction, mistrust and a politicization of the situation.”
As of 9 a.m. on Monday, 24,591 City of Tallahassee Utilities’ customers were still without power.