3/27/2020 12:30:00 PM North Branch Water & Light grants retirement request for former GM
The former general manager for North Branch Water and Light, Mark Petsche, was granted an official retirement date of January 31, 2020 in unanimous action by Water and Light Commission members, after a closed session March 17.
The meeting closure allowed for Commission Attorney Julie Fleming Wolf to discuss claims submitted by “an employee” presumed to be Petsche.
PERA (Public Employee Retirement Association) benefits calculations require an “acknowledgement” of a beneficiary’s official end date.
Petsche hasn’t been in the utility offices since he exited abruptly December 30 placed on leave from North Branch’s utility operations by action of two commission members, in an un-noticed meeting.
They also ordered the utility’s office manager/commission clerk to exit the premises that same day. The reason was stated as “insubordination.” The office manager remains on paid administrative leave.
Utility Commissioner Chris Bibeau, has attempted to get a motion passed to reinstate her, but can’t get a second on the motion. When Bibeau tried again last week (in an “emergency session” called by the chair March 19) he was told there won’t be any action on this employee due to “an on-going investigation.”
Bibeau asked why he is hearing about this expense for the first time now.
Utility Commissioner Kelly Neider said she has been speaking with attorney Michelle Sodorol who Neider stated is heading up the investigation. Neider then asked if the commission would consent to hiring a temporary employee to help out in Water and Light operations. Neider said the billing clerk is overwhelmed.
Newly-hired “financial secretary” Brenda Jepsen, meanwhile, had suggestions for streamlining the multiple steps in dealing with delinquent utility accounts. The commission also discussed measures to protect staff from exposure to virus carriers. Jepsen said the utility website has new information related to COVID-19 (ie: don’t use paper towels as an alternative to toilet paper) and said staff is looking at ways to promote on-line forms, service requests and bill payments.
There was approval to lock the utility doors and have people use the drop-slot to leave payments, and handle issues by phone and e mail.
There will be an intercom device installed at the Water and Light building for patrons if they want to communicate directly with office personnel.
In response to Neider’s suggestion about adding staff, Attorney Chelsie Troth advised the members March 19 that the interim general manager can do hiring and they could just direct this to happen -- which they did.
Union talks Meanwhile, Water and Light’s interim general manager, contracted through WSB Engineering, Bob Cockriel, told commissioners negotiations are underway for union representation. Water and Light staff at the end of February unanimously voted to unionize.
The team now drafting union contract language needs commission representation. Members Chris Bibeau and Kelly Neider agreed to make themselves available. Water and Light Commission Chair Peter Schaps stated, “I may just stay out of it...we have two interested and that’s good for me.”