Shortly after a probe is announced, Cuomo’s LIPA cleansing begins

A LIPA crew makes repairs in Massapequa. (John Wisniewski via Flickr)
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On Tuesday, the same day Governor Andrew Cuomo launched a formal investigation of the state's utilities, the acting head of the most criticized one, LIPA, resigned.

"I was in the interim position as acting CEO and COO for the past two years plus, and it seemed like I didn't have further opportunities here," Michael Hervey told the Wall Street Journal.

Hervey has served as the acting head of LIPA since 2010, when the former chief executive, Kevin Law, resigned to run the Long Island Association.

Hervey insisted to the board that the timing was unrelated, according to Neal Lewis, one of the board's trustees, who believes him. 

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But it's not hard to imagine that the incessant reciminations coming from the governor might have prompted Hervey to quicken his already planned departure.

Coincidental or not, Hervey's departure works out nicely for the governor, who says he's now finally intent on doing something about LIPA.

Though Cuomo campaigned for LIPA reform during his run for governor and, following Hurricane Irene, took LIPA to task for its poor performance, he has neglected to make appointments to his board and thereby exert control over the public entity, in anything like the way he did with Joe Lhota and the M.T.A.

According to the Public Authorities Law, nine of the LIPA's 15 trustees (including the chairman) must be gubernatorial appointees.

At the present, there are only 10 trustees, and only six of Cuomo's nine seats are filled. Three of the governor's trustees are serving on expired terms.

That means Cuomo, if he wanted to, could at this very moment make six appointees to the board.

But such appointments would establish Cuomo's relationship to LIPA, when, following Hurricane Sandy, all he seemed to want was distance.

In the aftermath of the storm, the governor channeled the public's rightful anger at the power company and its hamhanded efforts at restoring service to Long Island and the Rockaways.

Only in recent days, as recognition of Cuomo's own responsibility for LIPA has grown, and media criticism built, has the governor begun to take steps toward reform with the creation of the Moreland Commission, which can't directly compel action but which at the very least makes the dysfunction of the current system impossible for an image-conscious and famously savvy governor to ignore.

The commission is charged with examining the performance of every New York State utility and coming up with recommendations for ways to reform them.

LIPA's performance following Hurricane Sandy has been, by many accounts, abysmal, and its management ranks are filled with patronage appointees.

As Tracy Burgess-Levy, LIPA's community relations head, told the Times, "There are many, many people who have been placed at LIPA during my tenure here who have no utility experience or training in the job that they have been placed in."