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Recruitment of PUD manager delayed

32 PUD employees sign letter supporting appointment of John Nguyen as GM

Columbia River People’s Utility District directors haven’t agreed on many major decisions lately, and the hiring of a permanent general manager looks to be no different.

For the second time since April, directors discussed how to proceed with the position during a special meeting Thursday, May 12, but ultimately opted not to start any recruiting process.

With Director Dave Baker opposed and Director Richard Simpson abstaining, saying he was “undecided” on what action to take, the board voted narrowly to delay taking any action on the matter again until August.

Directors explored the option of hiring a professional recruiting firm to help solicit and interview qualified candidates. They also considered using a similar process conducted internally by PUD staff.

A board governance policy adopted in January stipulates that the board shall offer an at-will employment contract for any general manager, and “shall recruit and select a GM through an open and competitive process that is designed to obtain an experienced and qualified professional manager for the PUD.”

Baker advocated sticking to the recruitment process, as is the practice for other PUDs in the Oregon People’s Utility District Association.

“I just think we owe it to the community and ratepayers to open this process up and hire the highest qualified general manager we can find,” Baker said. “I think if you do that you’re gonna have to offer a guaranteed two-or three-year contract, but that’s just my opinion.”

At last month’s meeting, Director Craig Melton also suggested the board should advertise the position to the general public, but encouraged John Nguyen, who currently serves as the district’s interim general manager, to apply for the position.

Still others feel Nguyen should just be appointed to the position, without recruiting or reviewing other applicants.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Jennifer Nelson reads a letter to directors of the Columbia River PUD during a special meeting Thursday, May 12. Nelson and more than 30 other employees say they want interim manager John Nguyen to be appointed as the permanent PUD manager. Prior to the board’s discussion, Jennifer Nelson, a PUD employee who is also Director Harry Price’s daughter, read a letter on behalf of district employees, encouraging the board to make Nguyen the permanent manager.

“Hiring someone from outside the PUD could slow or even derail the positive progress that has been made since August,” the letter states. “It would very likely cause uncertainty for employees, which reduces productivity and threatens to increase turnover. ... By appointing John as General Manager, you can keep the positive momentum going.”

The letter was signed by 32 PUD employees. As of March, the utility had 41 employees, not including Nguyen.

President Jake Carter has been the most vocal advocate for bypassing the recruiting process outlined in the board governance policy and appointing Nguyen.

“Looks like we have a large contingency of our employees here that are in support of our current interim general manager as a permanent general manager,” Carter said. “I’d be in favor of just making John [the] general manager, but we do have our board governance policy. So if we’re gonna go down the road of appoin-

tment ... I’d like to see the entire board on board with


On a recommendation from Price, the board narrowly voted to put off the process until August.

Note: This story has been updated to clarify that the PUD reviewed candidates using an internal process during the last general manager search. It did not consult a professional recruiting firm, as was previously indicated.