The Grays Harbor PUD has started the process to search for a general manger to succeed the retiring Rick Lovely and the candidates for PUD commissioner say they would like to be included in the decision.
One of the issues is whether a candidate to succeed Lovely needs to be currently working for a public utility district or have previous PUD experience. There are only a handful of states that even allow PUDs, with the largest concentration in the state of Washington.
“There are some who would look at managers who just manage organizations and it doesn’t matter what they do,” said PUD Commission President Tom Casey, who is not running for re-election after being on the board since 1982. “That could be a stretch here. It is important that someone can at least speak the language.”
That was one of Lovely’s strengths, Casey said at a workshop to discuss the options for choosing a new general manger.
“He can generally hold his own with anybody in operations,” Casey said of Lovely.
With both Casey and Lovely departing by the end of the year, the upcoming election to replace Casey in November is certainly gong to affect the overall direction of the PUD in the future.
Both candidates to replace Casey, Chris Thomas of Montesano and Arie Callaghan of Elma, were asked about the pending decision and each wanted a voice in the process.
“The public expects the PUD to conduct a professional process, to hire a qualified general manager at the least expense to the ratepayers,” said Thomas, a former Montesano City Council member who works as an economist for the state Employment Security Department. “If this process takes till January, then deciding after the election would be reasonable. But it should not be delayed any longer than it takes to get a qualified replacement.”
Callaghan, a supervisor for Mason Trucking Co., said he would like to see the PUD draft a job description using available resources “such as networking, personal contacts at other districts or posting the job in trade papers.” And if that doesn’t produce a quality list of candidates, the PUD then could choose to use an outside agency to conduct a search, Callaghan said.
“I think people will be pleasantly surprised by who will apply for this job,” Callaghan said. “This hiring is a very important decision. If elected, I feel that the experience I have in hiring employees would be valuable to the process and would like an opportunity to be a part of it.”
Callaghan said the qualities he values in a new general manager are a “strong business sense, good people skills, someone who leads by example and can get everyone working as a team.”
“If the potential manager had previous experience in the public power industry operating in a rural setting, (that) could also be helpful,” Callaghan said.
Lovely has volunteered to stay on in an interim role as general manager should the decision not be made by the end of the year when his retirement begins.
Callaghan said if an interim manager is needed, he would favor Assistant General Manager Doug Smith taking over.
“We have an assistant general manager that would be capable of running the operation until a new manager is hired,” Callaghan said. “This is a defining moment for the Grays Harbor PUD and it is crucial to get the right person for this job. “
Thomas said the new general manager will “need to be able to work with the public, the commissioners and the staff. We need a general manager that believes in what he or she is doing and strongly believes in the mission of public power. This person should have a real connection and ownership in what they are doing.”
He listed several criteria: “Someone who understands our community, understands the rate payers and understands our local business needs. This can be an opportunity for a fresh start and to have someone new who can manage the day-to-day operations of the PUD and work to maintain its reliability and safety.”
“This person will need to understand that every decision the PUD makes carries an implicit message,” Thomas added.
“This person will have the skills and ability to help move our utility forward and keep it a viable enterprise into the future.”
In discussing the process at a workshop earlier this month, Commissioner Russ Skolrood questioned whether it was better for PUD staff to conduct a search for qualified applicants or have an outside agency or consulting firm handle the search.
“I believe we can do it internally, but there is a good reason why some people choose to use external resources,” said Linda Trygstad, the PUD’s human resources director. “There is a menu of things you can choose from.”
Thomas believes the PUD should use in-house resources to conduct a professional search if it appears the process can be handled by district staff.
“If it is determined that an outside employment agency would be the best way to conduct a candidate search, then by all means use it,” Thomas said. “The aim should be to get the best candidate at the least expense to the ratepayers.”
Trygstad noted that one of the main questions the commissioners need to answer is:
“When we are finished with the process itself, and we have selected the individual who is going to be the general manager, what is it that we are expecting?”
Casey said the main consideration will be “the organization’s key result” in choosing a new manager.
“I want to get that established before we start the general manager selection process,” Casey said.
He said he would like district employees to participate in the process to define the mission of the PUD before the general manager decision is made.
The general manager, Casey said, should be a “touchstone, because there isn’t going to be any silver bullet.”
Another decision that hasn’t been made is what the potential salary range will be for the new general manager.
Lovely, 61, announced his retirement in June from the position he held for the past 13 years.
Lovely’s current salary is $198,543. He began his career at the PUD in 1984 as a substation engineer and served in several engineering roles before becoming interim general manager and then general manager.
The PUD still owes Lovely for back compensation once his retirement begins. Liz Anderson, the PUD’s community and government relations director, said the compensation for personal time off already accrued — based on a maximum of 15 months — is estimated to be about $350,000, which includes salary and benefits. He earns 45 days of personal time off per year.
“Accrued PTO is a known obligation already accounted for all employees. When an employee leaves employment, it is either paid out over time or paid in a lump sum,” Anderson said.