|1/30/2020 3:08:00 PM|
Water and Light gets new manager
There’s a new General Manager at North Branch Water and Light, hired during the utility commission meeting January 21, to start ASAP.
North Branch’s city engineering consulting firm, WSB, recommended Robert ‘Bob” Cockriel be considered for interim GM, succeeding eight-year GM Mark Petsche who the commission placed on leave about a month ago.
The one candidate was brought forward at last week’s meeting. And, under their attorney’s advice the three commissioners took no action revoking leave, firing or otherwise changing the status of GM Petsche.
Cockriel answered a few questions from the three Water and Light commissioners during the regularly scheduled session Tuesday Jan. 21. He was told to report for work January 22.
Cockriel said he has 40 years of municipal management and systems experience, including in Roseville, White Bear Lake, Bloomington and Woodbury. He resides in Oakdale. And, while he enumerated years of experience in water systems, development infrastructure, capital needs planning, and civil engineering; he told the utility commission he has no background in electrical utilities. Responding to a question from Commission member Chris Bibeau, about Cockriel’s comfort level negotiating service areas with ECE and Xcel, due to North Branch expanding, Cockriel said he’s experienced in negotiations and welcomes sitting down and talking about growth and service territory lines.
The contract terms with WSB were for $115 per hour (covering wage, pension, benefits and etc.) for 10 to 12 weeks. Water and Light commissioners will work with WSB if interim GM services need to be extended or additional personnel is needed.
Commissioner Bibeau then introduced a letter from the MN State Auditor’s Office on a proposal to do a third-party audit of Water and Light financials.
A “financial secretary” was hired late in 2019 to assist with budgeting.
She reported unspecified concerns (special December 26 meeting) and suggested wage and benefit freezes that were enacted immediately by two members of the commission in the session called for reviewing the budget for 2020. The employees’ healthcare contributions from the utility were also cut about in half.
Requests for access to utility financial records from this financial secretary had led to an office manager and the General Manager Petsche being placed on leave, under allegations of “insubordination” based on complaints by the financial secretary.
Employee accounts were that they were uncomfortable with the access requests.
Utility Commissioner Bibeau thought the state audit is a pretty basic offer and felt it would be helpful to call in the state’s audit expertise. Members Peter Schaps and Kelly Neider however, said they needed “more information” and so the commissioners did not act on the state proposal.
As for the utility’s longtime annual audit provider, Oberloh and Oberloh, the three commissioners unanimously made the firm the commission’s audit provider for 2020 (final 2019 audit).
Audits have tested for claims, disbursements, contracts and bidding, deposits and investments’ financial record accuracy, according to the cover letters received. According to the May 2019 audit letter, Water and Light’s 2018 audit passed compliance.
In other yearly organizational action, Schaps remains the utility commission chair, Neider (the city council liaison) is interim chair and Bibeau is commission secretary.
The commission scheduled a work session for January 29 at 4 p.m. at city hall. The commission has been meeting in addition to the monthly regular sessions: but minutes were pulled and not acted on last week-- for Water and Light meetings December 17, 26 and 30 and January 10. A special session posted for January 17 was cancelled.