This article appears in the November-December 2012 issue of Public Power magazine.
By Susan Ryba
Like most of his public power colleagues, Tim Werdmann wears many hats for the City of Hamilton, Ohio. He began his career with the city as an attorney in the law department, handling labor relations and union contract negotiations. Today, Werdmann is the Director of Utility Operations and Deputy City Manager, responsible for power supply management, electric field services, hydroelectric generation, fossil fuel generation, and transmission & distribution. He is also responsible for the city’s natural gas, water, and sanitary systems. When promoted to his current positions, Werdmann was familiar with utility operations but the retirement of key personnel left the city facing a sudden “brain drain” or loss of organizational memory, particularly as it relates to power supply and utility generation. Therefore, the City of Hamilton brought in retired public power veteran John Twitty on a temporary basis, to advise and mentor Werdmann through the Strategic Power Placements (SPP) service.
Developed by utility recruiting firm Mycoff, Fry & Prouse and Hometown Connections, the SPP service matches retired personnel with utilities to fill critical gaps in technical and management skills on an interim basis. As retirement rates and hiring freezes impact utility operations, SPP finds retired personnel to fill in temporarily. SPP helps public power organizations identify their needs and provides experienced interim leaders to fill executive positions and lead special projects, enabling APPA members to keep their budgets and project schedules on track. SPP professionals also serve as valuable mentors to the permanent staff at each assignment, transferring years of knowledge and experience to a public power organization. Serving approximately 30,000 customers, the City of Hamilton manages an integrated generation, transmission, and distribution system. In addition to operating coal, natural gas, and hydroelectric energy plants, the city is adding generation capacity, transitioning to a new regional transmission operator for its wholesale services, building new substations, and retrofitting existing substations with next generation SCADA and intelligent relays.
John Twitty retired recently as the general manager of City Utilities in Springfield, Missouri, and is currently the executive director of the Transmission Access Policy Study Group. “In addition to the advice and counsel that John provides to me personally, the City of Hamilton has asked John to embark on a fact finding mission, pulling together an analysis of what our utility is doing well, as well as areas we may need to improve as we address new challenges related to our complex operational environment,” Werdmann said. “We have also asked John to address our critical need to create a succession plan, to ensure the city can attract and retain employees with the requisite skillsets far into the future.
“It has been extremely valuable for me to be able to spend so much time with John Twitty, a public power professional who has contended with all of the same issues managing a public power utility and who offers us an unbiased, fresh perspective,” he said. “I feel very fortunate to have access to his substantial experience and advice.”
“The City of Hamilton has been providing excellent service to the community for more than 100 years,” Twitty emphasized. “Their rates are competitive, they are on track to expand their natural gas generation, and they offer a major renewable resource through their hydro plants. However, city officials recognized that during this critical time of transition in so many areas, there is value to bringing in for a few months someone like me who has spent a career tackling the very same issues.” Twitty will perform a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis, preparing a written report for the city manager and city council.
The Lodi Electric Utility in California needed someone to come on board for several months to improve their compliance procedures and documentation, as well as help launch a transmission cost containment project and a strategy for expanding distribution capacity.
“The engagement of a retired public power official on an interim basis has provided a valuable resource our utility can use to train and mentor inexperienced staff, fill vacancies while searching for qualified permanent employees, provide services that do not require fulltime staff, manage the difficulties arising from the financial challenges of municipal government, and meet the utility’s obligation to provide an essential service to our electric customers,” said Lodi Electric Utility Director Elizabeth Kirkley.
PNM Resources serves electricity to more than 720,000 homes and businesses in New Mexico and Texas. “With newly promoted personnel learning their positions, we brought in a retiree from the Strategic Power Placements service to mentor the new staff and to help them improve dramatically the performance of a power plant,” said Pat Vincent-Collawn, President and CEO. “Our retiree possesses the technical and people skills to make this happen. Working with the team from Mycoff, Fry & Prouse to find the right mentor for us has been excellent. They understand the technical issues and the competencies needed to complete a project. We believe the retired official program is an excellent solution for public power. It allows a utility to bring in new or less-experienced personnel who can grow into a role, getting the hands-on coaching they need from a professional who is non-threatening. The staff views the retiree as someone here to help rather than someone interested in taking their position.”
Susan Ryba is a marketing consultant with Hometown Connections.