Lena Wittler, Clark Public Utilities’ communications and employee resources director, will take over June 4 as the utility’s general manager and CEO.
The utility’s board of commissioners unanimously selected Wittler on Tuesday from a field of six internal candidates. She will succeed Wayne Nelson, who will retire this summer after 20 years as the agency’s executive leader. He has been the utility’s general counsel for 30 years, a role he will continue to hold through the end of June.
Wittler will be the utility’s first female general manager in its 81-year history. She will earn $240,000 annually, plus a $400 monthly car allowance, and will receive the same benefits package as other nonunion employees.
“This utility is respected in the industry and by our customers,” Commissioner Nancy Barnes said in a written statement following the board’s decision. “Ms. Wittler has been instrumental in both fostering and nurturing relationships with our various stakeholders. Ms. Wittler has a deep and unique understanding of the opportunities ahead, as well as the challenges our industry is facing and provides a measured, data-driven approach to leadership as we execute our priorities going forward.”
Wittler told The Columbian she didn’t know until Tuesday she was the commissioners’ No. 1 choice. She lauded Nelson as “a great leader” who has created “a legacy of stability.”
“You want to keep that for customers, for employees,” she said.
Commissioners held two rounds of interviews with department directors in late 2018 and earlier this year. They decided to hire from within the utility to promote stability and continue an emphasis on customer service.
“As commissioners, we have been fortunate to have steady leadership at the helm of this utility, in addition to consistency and experience among my board colleagues,” Commissioner Jim Malinowski said in a written statement. “The employee culture of this organization is uniquely customer-focused, and as a board, we believe it’s important to maintain our tradition of high customer satisfaction through consistent leadership and cultural cohesion. For that reason, an elevation of a current employee to the general manager role was a natural path.”
Wittler has worked for Clark Public Utilities since June 1999. She progressed through a series of jobs, starting as finance executive assistant, followed by human resources benefits administrator, customer communications manager, senior communications manager, communications director, and communications and employees resources director, a position she has held since January.
In her current job, Wittler oversees all communications, public affairs, utility research and analytics, human resources and loss control.
Wittler earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Willamette University in 1993 and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Portland in 2003.
She also has worked several jobs outside the utility, including as a Bonneville Dam and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tour guide and English language instructor in Guam.
Barnes said Wittler has broad experience and has excelled in every position she has held at the utility.
Commissioner Jane Van Dyke said in a written statement that Wittler brings “a unique 360-degree view of the utility.”
“She’s led utility research and analytics for more than a decade, overseeing all customer and internal communications, and managing legislative policy and public affairs,” Van Dyke said.
All of the other candidates were enthusiastic about their work with Wittler, and several indicated she would be their top choice if they didn’t get the position, Barnes said.