With a 4-3 vote, the Traverse City Light and Power board last night took a crucial step in its search for the public utility’s next executive director: opening it up to a public process and a national search.
Why should the city’s ratepayers care? Recent board claims of attempts to "influence" the process by the TC-based Michigan Land Use Institute and other proponents of renewable energy. MLUI’s Executive Director Hans Voss reiterated his organization’s stance to the board last night: a public process is “standard protocol” for filling important government positions, at no time has MLUI endorsed any candidate, and its intention is to be a “positive resource” for whoever the board ultimately hires.
Tim Arends has been serving as TCL&P’s interim executive director since former Executive Director Ed Rice – who attended last night’s meeting but did not make any public comment – was fired in October. Arends is also TCL&P’s controller, a position he has held for the last five years.
During the meeting the board was asked to state their preference among three options: open the search up to a public process, promote Arends to the position of executive director, or retain Arends as interim executive director with a pay increase of $375 per pay period.
Arends received praise from nearly all of the directors, including ex-officio (non-voting) board member and retiring City Manager Ben Bifoss, who said Arends’ cooperation with the city has been the “best in my tenure.”
But in the end, the split vote favored posting the job, for which Arends is welcome to apply. Voting in favor were Jim Carruthers, Mike Coco, John Taylor and John Snodgrass. Voting no were Barbara Budros, Patrick McGuire and Bob Spence. Both McGuire and Spence expressed complete support of promoting Arends, while Budros said she didn’t think the board was ready to make a hire.
“I think promoting Mr. Arends is the thing to do this evening and I’m strongly behind that,” said McGuire.
Yet other board member comments, along with almost all comments from the audience, stressed the importance of posting the position – citing complete transparency with the hiring process. Other comments focused on finding the absolute best person to lead the utility into the future – whether as a purchaser of power or a local generator, as well as the role renewable sources may play.
But Budros contended that while those comments are important and relevant to the board’s upcoming strategic planning process, she doesn’t believe they are relevant to this search process.
The board did, however, approve giving continuing interim Executive Director Arends a $375 increase per pay period effective immediately.