A fatally flawed GRU search

Published: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 11:54 p.m.
The process that has evolved in the GRU general manager selection exercise is seriously flawed. As predicted, the result of the search shows every sign of being seriously flawed as well.
If this process is not re-evaluated and changed significantly, our community is likely to suffer major damage - to the fiscal health of its government, to the socioeconomic well-being of its poorest citizens, and to our environment and health.
This conclusion has been reached by a coalition of concerned citizens with a high level of technical competence relevant to the future energy needs of Gainesville and the role that GRU should play in meeting those long-term needs. The position of the coalition has been widely publicized and includes: (a) advocating aggressive demand side management (DSM) with a strong emphasis on helping lower-income citizens reduce utility bills, (b) use of woody biomass to fuel energy generation in the intermediate term, (c) canceling costly wholesale power sales, and (d) decoupling energy sales from revenue transfer to the city.
What is the evidence pointing to a flawed result? The candidate pool is down to three, an inadequate number to permit a real choice, particularly when one examines the qualifications of the three candidates.
One is an in-house candidate who runs GRU's crumbling sewage collection infrastructure and is highly unlikely to provide leadership in a major change in the direction of GRU. Another shows no evidence of DSM experience, is preoccupied with having plenty of paid time off, a multi-year severance package, and refuses to consider employment in a "politically volatile situation" (which any new GM will find himself in if GRU continues with its current operating philosophy). The third candidate has worked in a utility with a strong DSM record, but shows no evident experience with, or commitment to, DSM.
The City Commission is caught in a long-standing conflict of interest situation. Generous revenue transfer from GRU to the city is tied to energy sales. If past experience is any guide, we may assume that the City Commission's first priority is to maintain and enhance the GRU transfer of cash to the city in order to do nice things at great future cost to our community.
The commissioners, as the GRU board, are not likely to question what GRU does as long as the cash keeps coming and the utility is run reasonably competently. It is reasonable to assume that the head hunter, Mycoff & Associates, was given written terms of reference and carefully nuanced verbal instructions that have guided their choice of, and elimination of, finalists from the large applicant pool.
We may also assume that GRU is content to continue with the same operating philosophy as it has had in the past, preferably with a general manager from within their own ranks.
The first order of business is to recognize that the selection process has not come up with an acceptable GM candidate list. Second, any further involvement by Mycoff & Associates should be dropped.
Before initiating another search for a GM, new options for administering GRU should be explored, such as placing it under the direct supervision of the City Manager, rather than having it continue as an independent fiefdom. Municipal utilities that have achieved successful demand side management have traits in common, such an administrative structure.
Decouple energy sales from revenue transfer to the city. Initiate a new general manager search with the explicit requirement that the candidate have strong DSM experience and commitment.
Joshua C. Dickinson, is director of the Forest Management Trust, in Gainesville.

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