Commission names Viehe interim GRU GM
Published: Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 3:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 7:35 p.m.
After rising through the ranks of Gainesville Regional Utilities for nearly two decades, Kathy Viehe is now in charge of the utility.
The City Commission unanimously voted to name Viehe interim general manager at a special meeting Thursday afternoon.
She will replace Bob Hunzinger, who has been with GRU for 5½ years. Following years of tumult over the city's biomass contract, Hunzinger resigned effective Nov. 15.
The promotion to the position of interim general manager is contingent on Mayor Ed Braddy and Viehe successfully negotiating an employment agreement.
Viehe, 56, (pronounced Vee) began with GRU in 1996 as communications director, with the job title changed to marketing and communications director in 2000.
She became an interim assistant general manager in 2006. In 2007, she was named the permanent assistant general manager for customer support services.
In that position, she oversaw energy and water conservation initiatives, the customer call center, billing, bill payment and processing, customer and employee communications, marketing and sales, community outreach, new business development, purchasing and stores.
"I just think she's got the right demeanor for what we need right now," Commissioner Todd Chase said. "Her interaction with the customers and the community brings the kind of perspective that we need. I also think that she has demonstrated leadership qualities that show she is willing to listen to other opinions and viewpoints."
Commissioner Susan Bottcher also pointed to communications skills, saying GRU needed a leader who could effectively convey the message "that the utility is sound" and strong.
Viehe has 27 years' experience in the utility industry. She began as a communications specialist with Memphis Light in 1986. In 1991, she joined Fort Pierce Utilities Authority as a communications officer. In 1994, she was promoted to communications manager, a position she held before joining GRU in 1996.
She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in corporate communications, both from Memphis State University, according to her resume.
On Thursday, Viehe thanked commissioners for the vote of confidence and said that, while the utility faces challenges, it has "great employees" throughout its ranks.
One of the challenges was also a topic of discussion Thursday as the City Commission discussed how to deal with ongoing issues with noise and fugitive dust from the biomass power plant.
With Hunzinger absent Thursday to serve as chair of the Florida Reliability Coordinating Council and the Florida Electric Power Coordinating Group, Viehe was already overseeing GRU staff during the discussion.
While Hunzinger will be with the utility until Nov. 15, commissioners voted for Viehe to take over as interim general manager immediately. That raised some questions over who would be in charge of the utility. City Attorney Nicolle Shalley said Hunzinger would maintain the authority and responsibilities of general manager until his resignation date but that the intervening weeks will be a transition period.
Other assistant general managers who vied for the position were David Beaulieu, the assistant general manager for energy delivery, and David Richardson, the assistant general manager for water and wastewater systems, who has been serving as interim chief financial officer.
Richardson withdrew from consideration via email Wednesday.
Department heads and managers at the utility also were invited to apply. Thor Wishart, who has worked at the utility since 1983 and is now the utility field services manager for electric and gas transmission and distribution, then applied for the post. Commissioners Randy Wells and Yvonne Hinson-Rawls said Wishart was their first choice. But when the majority favored Viehe, Wells and Hinson-Rawls went along to have a unanimous vote as a show of support for Viehe.
"I'd love to see a woman running GRU," Hinson-Rawls said.
Some members of the public who have criticized GRU and Hunzinger over the terms of the biomass contract urged commissioners to bring in an interim general manager from outside the ranks.
"It will be difficult for someone from the inside, no matter how well qualified, not to seem comprised," said Paula Stahmer, who intervened to oppose the biomass plant in Public Service Commission hearings in 2010.