Traverse City News and Events

TC Light & Power Director To Step Down; What’s Next For City Utility?

By Beth Milligan | July 9, 2021

After 31 years working for the City of Traverse City, Traverse City Light & Power (TCLP) Executive Director Tim Arends has announced his resignation effective August 31. TCLP board members will meet Tuesday to talk about what comes next for the city-owned utility – including a likely national search for a new leader capable of guiding TCLP through a transformational era of grid modernization, fiber rollout, and renewable energy expansion.

Arends submitted a letter of resignation to TCLP board members July 1, giving a contractually-required 60 days’ notice of his intent to leave at the end of August. Arends, who first started in the city treasurer’s department in 1990 before becoming a TCLP controller in 2008 and then TCLP executive director in 2013, said it had been his pleasure to serve the city the last three decades. “The opportunities and challenges have been meaningful,” he wrote. “Playing a critical role in advancing the many innovative initiatives at the utility has been particularly rewarding. I look forward to watching the utility thrive and believe it is well-positioned for the future due to the excellent service provided by its dedicated employees.”

Arends tells The Ticker he’s been eligible to start drawing a pension for three years now, though at 58 he doesn’t feel quite ready to retire. “That’s why I’m calling it a resignation and not a retirement,” he laughs. “But it’s been something that’s been on my mind. It just seems like the right time for me. After 31 years, I’m ready for a change.” Arends plans to remain in the Traverse City area and says he will consider other opportunities, both paid and volunteer, to stay engaged in the community.

Arends recently received a performance evaluation by the TCLP board facilitated by Naperala Consulting, a summary of which will be included in Tuesday’s board meeting packet. The review gives high marks to Arends in numerous categories, including his day-to-day management of TCLP, ability to recruit and empower high-quality employees, fiscal responsibility, internal communications, demonstration of growth and learning in his role, and ability to meet strategic metrics. “His adaptation to the changing situation of the pandemic was also handled well,” the report notes, stating that Arends “has extensive experience and knowledge of city government and is a problem-solver.”

Areas for possible improvement included board expectations for the executive director to offer more “visionary leadership and community engagement,” serving as a representative who’s willing to serve as a “chief spokesperson, build relationships with stakeholders, innovate and create.” Several board members attributed delays in TCLP’s fiber rollout and sign-ups to the pandemic and weather challenges that hampered implementation, but also cited a desire for TCLP to improve its marketing of the program. Multiple members raised questions about succession planning and thinking ahead to the future direction of the utility. “One (board member) stated the executive director is at the peak of his game, he got TCLP to the renewable goals and launched the (fiber) project; these are huge accomplishments,” the report states. “They said the staff and board are both strong and this is an opportunity to plan and make a leadership transition.”

Arends says the report didn’t “play a major role” in his decision to step down, citing the largely positive feedback from the board. “There’s always constructive criticism…but I’d been thinking about (stepping down) already,” he says. Arends says he’s “grateful to have been in such a long career at one organization,” noting that when he first started out, the city was pre-Internet and the entire treasurer’s department shared one computer. In the ensuing years, Arends has been involved in major projects including substation construction and upgrades, TCLP’s expansion into citywide fiber and conversion from analog to smart meters, and the utility’s recent aggressive push to convert to clean energy. “There’s a lot to be proud of,” he says. “It’s a time when the electric utility industry is the fastest-changing industry it’s ever been since its existence. It’s been exciting, and also taxing and tiring.”

TCLP board members agree a new executive director is coming in during a crucial time in the utility’s history – bolstering support to undergo a national search for the next leader. In addition to formally accepting Arends’ resignation Tuesday, the board will consider appointing an interim executive director and discuss how they want to proceed with a hiring search. Board members will also have to flesh out a job description and salary range for the next executive director; Arends’ current salary is $140,025. Traverse City Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe, who sits on the TCLP board, credits Arends for bringing “stability and an even keel” to the organization while it’s evolved in recent years and says the board should take the time to explore the field and find the right candidate to take the baton from him.

“My hope would be we’ll do a national search, and internal candidates would be reviewed along with anyone else,” says Shamroe. “Light and Power has done so much as an organization in the last few years. Some of that has given us more national attention, like our 2040 energy goal (ed note: TCLP has committed to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2040). So I’d be curious to see what kind of leaders we would attract to apply.”

TCLP Board Chair Paul Heiberger also supports using a consultant or firm to help the utility conduct a national search. “Certainly as part of that, we’d welcome internal candidates,” he says. “One of the challenges we have as a utility is a shift to all the other things we’re doing beyond electricity. Finding someone that can strike that balance between the continued low cost and excellent service on electric, the renewable energy goal, telecom experience to work on the fiber portion…I think we need to open that up as much possible and try to find the best possible person for this role.” Heiberger adds that finding a new executive director is one of the most important – and challenging – responsibilities tasked to a board of directors.

“In an ideal world, a director that gets hired is going to be around longer than a lot of the board members,” he says. “To find someone who’s going to be a great fit and in that role for a long time is really difficult, and it’s a big responsibility for us to take on.”

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