April 11, 2013 | Vol. 39, No. 15

Nicholls tapped as GM of TBPA, union contract ratified

The Thomas Bay Power Authority commissioners undertook a lengthy discussion over who will be hired to take the reins of the utility for Wrangell and Petersburg during a special meeting held March 4 in Wrangell.

A motion by commissioner Dave Galla to keep current manager Paul Southland on as the full-time leader of the utility for at least a year failed by a 4-3 vote, with commissioners Robert Larson, Joe Nelson, Clay Hammer and president John Jensen voting against the motion. TBPA operations foreman Mick Nicholls was then nominated by commissioner Brian Ashton, with a second by Joe Nelson.

Nicholls was approved as the top contender for the job by a unanimous 7-0 vote. If he accepts the position his first day of work will be May 2.

In the lead up to the vote, discussion revolved around the qualifications of general manager as outlined in a job description produced by the commission.

Before Nicholls’ hiring, Hammer was the first member to speak up regarding the open position.

“I’d like to discuss, to some degree, the direction we are all expecting this to go,” Hammer said. “I know that when we were first throwing this out, I know we were looking real hard at getting someone to keep us going and someone for the long-term. I know there has been a lot of scuttlebutt and so forth about Thomas Bay continuing to exist. I have made the statement before that we can’t run our business like that. We have to run our business with the understanding and assumption that we are going to be around for a while.”

Hammer then continued regarding his feelings about Southland’s service to the utility.

“I feel that Paul has done a very admirable job in filling in for us as our interim manager, but, I know that when we were going over this the last time, we were really wanting to get some credentials in there and that is something that is probably going to be important for the long-term.”

Among the “credentials” Hammer refers to include three requirements under the “Qualifications” section of the general manager job description. The three requirements are to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, with a minimum of 10 years of managerial experience in lieu of a degree or high school diploma; working knowledge of hydro generation equipment operation and repair; and working knowledge of high voltage transmission line operation and repair.

Warren Edgely then questioned that logic.

“SEAPA has an engineer. We don’t need an engineer,” Edgely said. “SEAPA has an operations manager. We don’t need an operations manager. What do we need? We need somebody…”

At that point, Hammer abruptly cut Edgely off, saying, “We need somebody on this end that understands what they are talking about when it comes to that kind of stuff so they can offer an informed rebuttal. I don’t want this group to take SEAPA’s word … on this kind of stuff. Let’s hear the other side of the coin on that (with) someone that understands their lingo and can call BS when it’s BS.”

Another point taken by Ashton was the decision to let go of Southland, who had minimal experience in hydroelectric utility management when he took the position at TBPA, and that Hammer was also considered less-than-qualified when he took to the helm at Wrangell Light and Power.

“At this point in time, I simply do not disqualify Paul from those line item bullets,” Ashton said, continuing, “He simply stepped up without any formal education. And Clay, look at the position you are in now. So did you. You are proof of that. People could come in and say ‘wow’ you kind of got groomed for that job and walked right into it. You had very little experience running a utility and you are doing a damn good job.”

Another candidate identified as being a finalist in the search for a new general manager was Chief Warrant Officer Douglas Koontz, a retiring member of the US Coast Guard from Coos Bay, Ore.

The commission also approved unanimously a new ratification of their contract with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – and ratified 15 new articles in the contract between the utility and the union.

The 15 negotiated articles were included in the ratification of the contract, with the remaining portions of the collective bargaining agreement standing as agreed to in August 2010.

Hammer said that the new contract would include, among other issues, agreements related to medical care for TBPA employees.

“I kind of felt like, in the end, that concessions were made on both sides of the table,” Hammer said. “We were able to put a cap on things like medical issues that were kind of open ended before. And, we were able to insert some language that will apply to new hires in regard to medical … they will know where they are at when they come on board.”

Brent Mill was the chief negotiator for TBPA employees. Jay Rhodes, the head negotiator for the IBEW 1547 office in Ketchikan, did not return phone calls seeking comment by the deadline for this story.

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