City Council updated on TPU 10-year management study

Study session: The system is functioning well, although there is some room for improvement.

The City Council heard mostly good news during Tuesday’s joint study session on a 10-year management review of Tacoma Public Utilities.

The Steering Committee has completed its examination of the Barrington-Wellesly Group’s management report and recommendations.

The Barrington-Wellesly Group is a full-service strategic management consulting firm that was founded in 1990.

The management report was in accordance with the requirements of Section 4.15 of the City Charter, which states “…the Council shall, at the expense of the utilities involved, cause a general management survey to be made of all utilities under the jurisdiction of the board…the report and recommendations of which shall be made public…”

Created by Resolution No. 35750 on Jan. 28, the Steering Committee includes Deputy Mayor Bil Moss; City Council members Kevin Phelps and Mike Lonergan; Public Utility Board members Tom Hilyard, Robert Lane and Jake Fey (alternate); City Manager Jim Walton (Ray Corpuz was city manager at the time); and Mark Crisson, director and CEO of Tacoma Public Utilities.

During introductory remarks, Lonergan said the purpose of the study was to improve overall services provided by Tacoma Public Utilities to citizens and customers.

Regarding the policy-making process, the report stated: “While the system is not broken, there are enough concerns about the relationships among all parties that additional actions are required to enhance the overall policy and decision-making process within the City and the Utility.”

The system is working well, Phelps said, although some fine tuning needs to take place.

“Oftentimes we hear that government should operate like the private sector,” Phelps said, noting that although the government does not have a profit motive, non-public entities and organizations can provide some good ideas about better ways to run Tacoma Public Utilities.

“The report said we have a well-functioning system that does a good job,” Hilyard noted.

For all of the good news, there were some changes that need to be made, according to the review.

The report recommends a pay raise for the director of Tacoma Public Utilities.
“Compensation for that position is not competitive,” Hilyard said.

The current annual salary of the incumbent is $171,308.08, which includes $14,000 in deferred compensation, but does not include $6,852 in longevity pay (4 percent).

By way of comparison, here are some of the salaries of others in similar jobs as provided in the report: The general manager of public utilities in Chelan County makes $189,000; the president and CEO of the Memphis Light, Gas and Water earns $184,059; the general manager of the Eugene Water & Electric Board takes in $175,644.

Any raise approved by the City Council would eliminate deferred compensation and longevity pay, said Phil Knudsen, Tacoma’s human resources director.

The report also recommends that Tacoma Public Utility Board establish a plan for the succession of the utility director and utility superintendent positions, due to potential high turnover rates in the future.

“It’s going to be a real issue city-wide,” Knudsen observed. “So it’s a real issue.”

Mayor Bill Baarsma was impressed with the presentation.

“It was certainly a good job,” he said.

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