A split Petersburg borough assembly is moving forward with a plan to reorganize oversight of the local electric utility and public works department. The assembly Monday voted again on that restructuring of borough departments and approved the first reading of six ordinances to make that change.
The proposed plan is to have the current public works director take over a new role of utility director, over-seeing the electric utility along with water and sewer departments, instead of hiring a replacement for the last electric superintendent Joe Nelson, who retired last June.
In a special meeting Friday evening, the assembly head from Petersburg Municipal Power and Light employees. Mechanic Bob Ziemke read from a letter from eight employees and said those employees were not in favor of the reorganization.
“We asked that the assembly continue to advertise and search for an electric superintendent that has experience in the electric industry,” Ziemke said. “We believe the amount of time and effort undertaken for the search thus far has been inadequate and the search time frame should be extended. Further we ask that you do not move ahead to change borough ordinances to allow for combining the water and waste water department head with the electric superintendent position. We have safety concerns re reorganization plan which would replace an electrical super with someone without electrical experience.”
Ziemke was one of two current employees who applied for the superintendent’s position this winter. He urged the assembly to continue advertising for an electric superintendent with experience in the industry.
“Firstly there is definitely enough Power and Light funding to pay for a full-time electric superintendent,” Ziemke said. “There has been much discussion surrounding this reorganization plan about money savings but to be clear a person without electrical industry experience will need to rely more on consulting engineers than our previous electric superintendent did. Confusingly the borough manager appears to be disputing that notion in some of his statements, but it is simply true that more outside experience will need to be hired for a number of tasks.”
Ziemke thought the current interim staffing would be adequate until a replacement was found. Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht contended that the electric department will still need to hire outside consultants for electrical jobs. “Many of the things we come across in our jobs and particularly in projects we’re talking about in Power and Light are not just run of the mill I’m an electrician or I’m an electrical engineer and I can sign off on this stuff,” Giesbrecht explained. “It’s going to involve bringing consultants in. That’s just the world we live in. If you wanna avoid using all consultants, I’m not sure I can deliver that to you even with an electrical superintendent in place.”
The mayor and assembly members have disagreed on the proposed reorganization and continued to be split over the issue.
Assembly member and electrician Brandi Marohl agreed with the concern over safety and wants an electrical superintendent hired. “I think that everyone is trained especially in the electric field to be safe,” Marohl said. “I mean it’s scary. But just like in any job you become complacent and that’s when you rely on management and people who know to keep you in check.”
Others on the assembly voted for the reorganization last month and continued to support it.
“You know I’m not into micro managing this thing,” said Jeff Meucci. “If Steve, if the city manager who we’re paying good money tells us that this idea might be a better way to go, I’m certainly all in, ‘til it turns out to me that this is not going to work.”
The assembly continued the discussion at their regular meeting and then voted to move forward. Among those votes they re-did their vote from January, this time directing the borough manager to proceed with the reorganization. Last month’s vote included the names of the employees the manager plans to hire for the utility director and public works director. That’s direction that the assembly isn’t allowed in borough charter. The vote was 4-3 to move forward with the reorganization with Jeigh Stanton Gregor, Eric Castro, Jeff Meucci and Nancy Strand voting in favor. They also voted on six ordinances that will make the change official by outlining the new jobs and responsibilities in borough code. The vote was split the same on those ordinances Mayor Mark Jensen and assembly members Kurt Wohlhueter and Brandi Marohl were opposed. Those ordinances need two more approvals before the change can move forward later this month and early next month. Once that’s done the borough manager will ask for one more approval to make the reorganization happen.