Consultant gives PUD the picture and it isn’t good

Grays Harbor PUD commissioners are not yet ready to formally begin the hiring process for a new general manager to replace the retiring Rick Lovely after hearing Monday from a consultant that the district has several organizational issues that also need to be addressed.

In a special meeting, the three commissioners heard a preliminary report from consultant Janice Corbin of Sound Employment Solutions, who outlined a series of issues the PUD faces as it begins the process of hiring a new general manager.

Corbin said she had met with department heads and others at the PUD since being hired last month, and she heard concerns about communication problems within the organization, including a lack of clarity about the PUD’s mission, goals and objectives. She also listed concerns about inconsistent leadership, long-standing conflicts and personality clashes and department heads who “operate in silos.”

“We’re not always on the same page when we are communicating with employees,” she told the commissioners about what she’s learned since being commissioned with aiding in the process and drafting a district mission statement to be used as the basis for hiring Lovely’s replacement.

“The employees depend on management to clarify and to communicate what is going on in the organization,” Corbin said.

Corbin presented a two-phase proposal to assist with the general manager selection while she assists the PUD with development of a mission and value statement, along with starting leadership training and identification of goals and objectives over the next six months. Phase II would attempt to involve all employees and help the district develop a long-term accountability and appreciation program for employees.

“We need someone who is skilled at developing leaders,” Corbin said of one of the key qualities in a new general manager. “The leaders should include not only your department heads now, but your next rung of supervisors.”

She said the staff she talked to mentioned “inconsistency in leadership was a common theme,” and when conflicts don’t get resolved, “they just get recycled.”

The commissioners appeared confused over the extent of Corbin’s report about problems within the PUD, and they asked her to report back with a new proposal that would clarify the timetable for how they should go about the search.

Lovely announced in June he would be leaving the position he has held for the past 13 years by the end of this year, but has said he would agree to stay on during an interim period if the general manager search is not completed by January. He was first appointed as interim general manager in September 1999 and became the general manager that December. Lovely’s current salary is $198,543.

PUD Human Resources Director Linda Trygstad noted that timing was important because there are several PUDs in the region with general manager vacancies.

“In the utility industry, we have people out there who might be interested in the general manager position waiting to see what happens,” she said. “Other opportunities are going to come up, and I would kind of hate to see us lose the opportunity for someone who might be perfect for us because we moved too slowly.”

Commission President Tom Casey, who is retiring after serving as a commissioner since 1982, said he felt a little defensive after Corbin’s report and wanted more clarity about whether the PUD should start the search process while it continues to work on its mission and values process.

“Everything can be improved,” he said about Corbin’s assessment that there was an overall communication problem with district staff, employees and management. “… Maybe it could be done in a way that’s more effective, and we’re all interested in that.”

Later in the meeting, Casey asked: “Do I go out and look for a general manager now?”

“I think you should start the process as soon as you can,” Corbin replied.

But Casey still said he was confused and asked Corbin to come back with an outline that would re-order some of the steps in her proposal.

“I think it’s all the same process that ends with a selection,” said Commissioner Dave Timmons.

“I wasn’t asked to run the selection process, I was asked to assist with the selection process,” Corbin added.

“I’m just concerned that if you move ahead with the selection process now, that’s all you’re going to do and the rest of it is going to be fluff,” Casey replied. “… I’d like to know what this organization wants to do. When we figure out what we want, all of us here in this organization, then I would like to begin a manager selection process based on what we know we want.”

Corbin will report back to the commissioners at another special meeting on Oct. 16.