LMUD board launches search for general manager, but rejects consultant’s recommendations

Lassen Municipal Utility District  director Jess Urionaguena said he doesn’t have time for multiple meetings to screen a possible new LMUD general manager. “This is a long way from our livelihood,” Urionaguena said. “When you start talking about two or three days of meetings or even two or three special meetings, I can’t do it. I’ve got to make a living, and it’s all I can do to get off work and get to my trailer on time, so, three days of meetings? It ain’t gonna happen.”

As the Lassen Municipal Utility District rebounds from the departure of general manager Pat Holley (who either voluntarily resigned “in order to spend time with family and pursue other career opportunities,” or was forced by the board to resign “in order to replace me with a younger employee” — depending upon which version of what happened during the LMUD June 27 closed session you decide to accept), and ratepayers struggle to comprehend the board’s unanimous decision to continue to pay Holley $18,833 per month plus benefits for as long as the next 18 months to settle his civil rights claim, the publicly owned utility district board voted unanimously at its Tuesday, July 25, board meeting to contract with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association to search for a replacement.

According to a virtual presentation to the board and information included in the board packet, NRECA has successfully placed more than 750 CEOs, general managers and senior staff since 1989. The fee for this service is 25 percent of the first year’s compensation, not to exceed $60,000. Additional expenses are expected to average $5,000 to $6,000 per candidate. And the search is not guaranteed.

According to the NRECA proposal included in the board packet, “More than just search. We specialize in the success of rural electric leaders. If needed, we can provide transition coaching, organizational assessments and leadership goal setting.”

Four key elements of the search, according to NRECA, are position understanding, candidate generation, candidate screening and candidate interviews.

She said her company’s goal is not to just find a good manager, but rather to find a great leader.  She said the board’s decision to hire its next general manager is probably the most important decision the board will ever make. She said this is normally a five- or six-month process with interviews expected in December and January with a person eventually starting work at LMUD about February.

But NRECA’s Leigh Taylor ran into concerns from the board during her presentation. She said her company would be happy to accommodate the needs of the LMUD board and modify its practices if necessary to meet LMUD’s requirements.

Fred Nagel, chair of the Lassen Municipal Utility District Board of Directors, suggested the interviews of prospective general managers should be handled by an ad-hoc committee, despite the recommendation of the consultant hired to lead the search. File photos

For example, NRECA’s process normally includes three meetings between the candidates and the board and the final interviews alone normally take two or three days to complete. That meeting schedule did not set well with some board members.

Chair Fred Nagel said according to California law, board meetings must be properly agendized, and it would probably be easier for the board to appoint an ad-hoc committee or two to conduct the initial meetings and make recommendations to the entire board that would eventually make a final decision. Taylor said she thought the entire board should participate in the interviews, but her company could follow LMUD’s lead.

“You mentioned several times meetings with the board, meetings with the board,” Nagel said. “You’ve got to understand, it isn’t that easy just to have a meeting with the board. We have to have public announcements and so forth.”

“Are you saying it would be difficult to have these extra meetings?” Taylor asked.

“Well, we’re a rural board,” Nagel said. “It’s not easy sometimes.” He said one board member lives 30 minutes out of town and another was attending the meeting telephonically, “So it isn’t something you can just casually do.”

Taylor suggested there would be a schedule for the entire process, “if y’all want to work with us, and so you would know what it is. We would all work together to find the right dates. It would be really helpful to have everybody in the same room. There’s more success when we do that, but we could be flexible to meet your needs.”

Gene Chittock, LMUD’s general counsel, explained that under the Brown Act and California law, LMUD meetings must be agendized, and the meetings she’s talking about generally would be handled by an ad-hoc committee that would “bring a formal selection to the board, and then the board would discuss it without violating the Brown Act. We can work within your system, but we’re going to have to follow our rules as well.”

Taylor said she couldn’t dictate the process LMUD would follow and if that worked for the LMUD board, it worked for her.

Director Jess Urionaguena, attending telephonically, said while the board is elected, three of the five board members are still working.

“This is a long way from our livelihood,” Urionaguena said. “When you start talking about two or three days of meetings or even two or three special meetings, I can’t do it. I’ve got to make a living, and it’s all I can do to get off work and get to my trailer on time, so, three days of meetings? It ain’t gonna happen.”

Urionaguena said it’s going to have to be ad-hoc committees.

“If everyone is comfortable with someone else making the initial decisions, and then approving it, that’s up to y’all,” Taylor said. “It’s not ideal, but yeah, it could be done.”

Nagel said the entire board should be involved in the final interviews.

“That will be two and a half or three days,” Taylor said.

A few moments of silence in the room.

“Why don’t we get through your proposal and then we’ll discuss it,” Urionaguena said.

Taylor said by following LMUD’s direction this way means her company “can’t support you. I’m just trying to get an understanding of how we do that.”

“The easiest way to understand our board, is this is not a full-time job for any of us,” Urionaguena said. “I’m still active with working, and I can’t just up and say, ‘Nick, I won’t be here for three days.'”

Urionaguena suggested the ad-hoc committee could record the interviews and the other board members could watch them on their own time.

Theresa Phillips said she understood this was a huge time commitment for the board members, “but it’s important for the community that we find the right person to lead us — not just manage the utility, but be a leader. I’ve been here 20 years next month, and this is number nine for me as far as GMs go. I think the community deserves we find the best candidate to lead this utility into the future.”