Lovely praised at PUD retirement event, but still on the payroll

The Grays Harbor PUD held a retirement party Tuesday to honor departing General Manager Rick Lovely, and then an hour later reassigned him to a new title because he is owed paid time off for a period lasting into March 2014.

Lovely was made special projects manager but will not be working on site in the PUD facilities or even working at all for the district. Essentially, he is on call should his expertise be needed, commissioners said.

Commissioners said the back pay dates back to before Lovely became general manager under a PUD policy that allows unused vacation and paid time off to be rolled over from year to year.

Commission President Russ Skolrood said Lovely could have chosen a lump sump payment or to take the paid time as vacation, which he did under his contract. His new job title doesn’t require him to come into the office or perform any specific task but allows him to finish out all the time off owed to him before his full 30-year retirement.

“By contract, it says we can call on him but I don’t expect to,” Skolrood said. “It’s just more of a clerical thing than anything.”

Lovely, whose salary is $198,543, began his career at the PUD in 1984 as a substation engineer and served in several engineering roles before becoming general manager 13 years ago. He has become an ardent advocate for public power and his management of the PUD included the response to the devastating 2007 December storm. In a retirement sendoff before the meeting, Skolrood said when he first took office as a commissioner his wife encouraged him to meet with Lovely one-on-one for an hour.

“I’ll tell you, for an hour, that guy can talk,” Skolrood said. “I have to say after four years working with Rick, I feel very blessed. He’s a wealth of knowledge. He’s a strong proponent for public power. You couldn’t ask for anything better as far as working with someone for four years. I have grown to respect him tremendously.”

The commissioners presented Lovely with a proclamation that said Lovely “exemplified the highest level of professionalism as general manager” and is highly regarded by commissioners and employees, who also presented him with gift certificates he could use for his skiing passion.

Lovely thanked his family and gave tribute to his Christian faith for supporting him through the past 13 years in an often controversial and difficult position. His wife Marsha was in attendance.

“This job comes with a little bit of terror,” he acknowledged. “Sometimes, I just kind of hide it a lot.”

Lovely paid tribute to all the commissioners he’d worked with over the years, including several past commissioners in attendance, such as Jim Eddy and the recently retired Tom Casey. And the sometimes stoic general manager choked up with emotion when he thanked the employees he’d worked with all the years at the PUD, noting the district has received national awards for its reliability.

“We have a great group of people who helped us get where we are,” Lovely said.

“Every employee here serves a function that is important to the district, and to our customers and to our homes,” he added.

Casey credited Lovely with having a commitment to the customers as well as the district, noting he was the lone vote against Lovely when he was first hired, largely because Casey disagreed with the process and a vote he believed was hastily called for.

“He showed his stuff and he proved it to me,” Casey said of being won over by Lovely. One of Lovely’s greatest strengths as an engineer, Casey added, is that he is “someone with the courage to change their mind and their position.”

Tuesday’s rescheduled meeting also was one of the last for Liz Anderson, the PUD’s director of community and government affairs, who is leaving Feb. 8 to take a similar position with the Washington Public Utility District Association. Commissioners gave staff authorization to immediately begin the search for Anderson’s replacement.

“We’ve been well served for five years,” Lovely said of Anderson’s tenure in the job.

Chief Financial Officer Doug Streeter also was officially made interim general manager, a position he accepted with the agreement that he would not be a candidate for the final selection to fill Lovely’s position. The search to fill the general manager job is under way, and commissioners on Monday will hold a special meeting at 3:30 p.m. to talk about the selection process.