Clark Public Utilities GM receives 11 percent salary increase

Wayne Nelson's salary had been frozen, at his request, since 2008

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian Port & Economy Reporter



Clark Public Utilities General Manager Wayne Nelson received a salary increase of 11 percent Tuesday thanks to a unanimous decision by the utility’s elected three-member Board of Commissioners. That means Nelson’s salary will go up by $22,766 — from $202,234 a year to $225,000. His $400-per-month car allowance stays the same.

The pay raise is effective retroactively to Jan. 1.

It’s Nelson’s first pay raise since 2008. Commissioners said Nelson insisted on his pay being frozen in recognition of a tough economy and the community’s struggle with it. However, based on a review of his performance and of comparable executive salaries, commissioners said it’s time Nelson received a boost in pay.

Commissioner Byron Hanke, president of the utility’s board, said the pay increase is intended to keep Nelson at the utility’s helm and to recognize his excellent leadership of Washington state’s second-largest utility.

Nelson oversees a customer-owned public utility with a $388.2 million electric system budget that provides electricity to more than 183,000 residential and business customers in Clark County. The utility also provides water service to about 30,000 houses and businesses in Hazel Dell, Salmon Creek, Lake Shore, Hockinson, Brush Prairie, La Center, Meadow Glade, Amboy and Yacolt.

Erica Erland, a spokeswoman for Clark Public Utilities, said Nelson, who was in a series of meetings Tuesday afternoon, is “appreciative” of the board’s decision.

The board reviewed Nelson’s performance in an executive session — closed to the public — on Monday, according to Erland. Executive sessions are allowed under state open meetings law only for certain narrowly-defined issues, including the review of a public employee’s performance, the purchase of real estate and litigation.

During the utility’s public meeting Tuesday, commissioners addressed Nelson’s performance, explained their reasons for giving him a pay increase and introduced a resolution spelling out the raise.

Before taking up the issue of Nelson’s performance and salary, commissioners focused on another item on their agenda: a presentation by Chris Oberle, senior director of the energy and utility practice at J.D. Power and Associates, a global marketing information services company.

Oberle presented the results of his firm’s survey that showed Clark Public Utilities received the highest customer satisfaction ranking for residential electric service among midsize electricity providers in the western United States. It’s the fourth consecutive year the utility has received the recognition from J.D. Power and Associates.

“You’ve got the industry scratching its head, ‘What’s Clark doing?’ ” Oberle said. “It’s great to set the bar.”

Commissioner Hanke said Nelson is directly responsible for such high customer satisfaction, and the pay raise is an acknowledgement of that. In a news release issued by Clark Public Utilities on Tuesday, Hanke said the utility serves its customers with fewer employees per customer and a lower operating cost per customer “than any other utility in the state.”

Divided evenly among Clark Public Utilities’ 213,000 water and electricity customers, Nelson’s new salary will cost each customer about $1.06 per year, up by about 11 cents from the per-customer cost of paying him in 2010.

The labor market’s median base salary for positions similar to Nelson’s is about $249,000, according to a study requested by Clark Public Utilities and written by Seattle-based consulting firm Milliman. That put Nelson’s salary, before the increase, below the market median by roughly 19 percent, according to Milliman. While Nelson’s pre-increase salary was below the market median, it fell within a “normal range” of compensation, the Milliman study said.

Here’s how Nelson’s new salary of $225,000 compares with those of two other top managers of public administrations: Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes earns $161,500 annually and Port of Vancouver Executive Director Larry Paulson earns $170,568 annually.

Clark Public Utilities also provides benefits to Nelson, and all regular employees, including medical, dental, vision, life insurance, annual leave, sick leave, holidays, membership to the Washington Public Employees Retirement System and deferred compensation plans.

In voting to raise Nelson’s pay, the utility’s board also allowed him to convert 100 hours of accrued sick leave into annual leave. Nelson has served as general manager of Clark Public Utilities since January 1999.

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