Three finalists are competing to be the next director of Tacoma Public Utilities, and residents will get several chances next week to hear them answer questions about their experience and their vision for TPU.
The public utility board narrowed the list after receiving more than 90 applications for the job, board chair Monique Trudnowski said last week. The utility board began the search several months ago after former director Bill Gaines retired.
The new director will oversee an organization consisting of three utilities: Tacoma Power (which includes Click Cable TV), Tacoma Water and Tacoma Rail. TPU operates under the umbrella of the city of Tacoma and had a $1.21 billion budget in the 2017-18 biennium. It's overseen by a five-member utility board, members of which are appointed by the City Council.
The three finalists have varied experience, but have collectively spent many decades in utility management in the Pacific Northwest:
▪ Jackie Flowers has been the general manager of Idaho Falls Power for the last 12 years.
▪ John Hairston is the chief administrative officer at Bonneville Power Administration in Portland, where he was worked since 1991.
▪ Nav Otal is the utilities department director for the city of Bellevue, where she has worked since 1993.
They will converge on Tacoma on Monday when they'll take a private guided tour at TPU. That evening at 6 p.m., there will be a public meet-and-greet on the fifth floor of the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center hosted by the Tacoma City Council. That session will give employees and the public a chance to interact with the candidates.
On Tuesday at about 1 p.m., the finalists each will give a 10-minute presentation, followed by interviews by the City Council at a joint study session with the utility board. That will take place in council chambers at 747 Market St. and will air live on TV Tacoma and online at cityoftacoma.granicus.com.
Then at 4 p.m., a small panel of community members will interview the finalists.
The TPU board said last week it expects to make a decision on the director's position on May 23 so as to give the public a chance to review the candidates' interviews and submit comments. After contract negotiations, the City Council will have to confirm the board's pick. The council tentatively is expected to take up that vote June 12.
It's the first time since a charter change that the City Council will get to weigh in on the utility board's pick for director. Mayor Victoria Woodards and board chair Trudnowski both said last week they were excited about the caliber of the finalists and that they want a candidate that both governing bodies agree on.
The finalists represent "a very diverse work group with very high executive-level experience, and a real passion for what Tacoma is doing," Woodards said last week.
Gaines announced his retirement last August and left in December with a severance package totaling more than $400,000, including health care benefits. He held the post for 10 years.
Gaines was a controversial figure among utility board and council members, and the City Council never took up a vote to reconfirm him for another two years (as the city charter requires). Also last summer, the utility board repealed a contentious 3-2 vote to reconfirm him.
Gaines was the highest-paid public employee in the county with an annual salary of $387,650. The next director's salary will likely be decided in contract negotiations.