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Aug. 14, 2020

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Clark Public Utilities board may pick new top exec Tuesday

6 internal candidates in running for Nelson’s job

By , Columbian staff reporter

Wayne Nelson, Clark Public Utilities’ CEO and general manager for 20 years, will retire this summer.

Tuesday, the utility’s elected leaders could select one of six internal directors to succeed him.

Nancy Barnes, president of the three-person board of commissioners, said the board had closed-door interviews with the directors in November before deciding to forgo an external search.

“We needed to know we had an internal candidate who could do the job,” she said.

The six candidates seeking to succeed Nelson are:

• Dan Bedbury, energy resources director.

• Lisa Fix, customer service director.

• Mike Harris, information services director.

• Cal Morris, engineering director.

• Doug Quinn, water services director.

• Lena Wittler, communications director.

Two other department directors, Finance Director and Utility Treasurer Melissa Ankeny and Operations Director Gene Morris, are relatively new in their positions and did not apply, Barnes said.

Commissioners had a second round of interviews with the applicants earlier this year. They will try to reach consensus on Nelson’s successor during Tuesday’s meeting, which starts at 9 a.m. in the utility’s offices, 1200 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver. The discussion is near the end of the board’s agenda.

If commissioners make a decision, they will go into closed session to discuss compensation and could approve a formal resolution hiring the next CEO and general manager at their June 4 meeting.

Commissioner Jim Malinowski said he believes the three-person board will select a candidate today.

“My assumption is that’s what’s going to happen, but we won’t know until we have our meeting,” he said. “I think we are very close.”

Barnes and Malinowski said they are confident that one of the six directors will be Nelson’s successor, although neither would name a personal favorite.

“The biggest problem is that all of them could do it,” Barnes said about the general manager’s job. “We have excellent directors.”

“One of my considerations,” Malinowski said, “is we have a very unique customer service culture at the PUD. I think our internal candidates are best to continue to support that culture.”

In August, commissioners reviewed Nelson’s performance and rewarded him with a 3 percent salary increase, to $288,400 annually.

Barnes said she tried to persuade Nelson to stay longer.

“I did, many times,” she said. “I cannot think of enough superlatives to tell you what a great general manager he has been.”

Malinowski agreed that Nelson has been an “outstanding” manager.

“Whenever I asked him a question, I felt I got an honest answer,” he said. “He is an excellent example of someone who listens more than he talks.”

Nelson has been CEO and general manager since January 1999. He previously served as the utility’s general counsel for 10 years, a role he retained during his 20 years as the agency’s top executive.