Arrowsmith to Head Utilities

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By Marganne Glasser

Recent closed-door county council sessions culminated in the appointment of John Arrowsmith to serve as manager of the Department of Utilities when current Manager Robert “Buck” Monday retires in June.

Ralph Phelps, chair of the Public Utilities Board, strongly endorsed Arrowsmith’s appointment at the council meeting Tuesday night and said the board concurred unanimously.

He said the board considered an external search, found no compelling reason to proceed and recognized the risk of an outsider unfamiliar with the county.

Phelps cited Arrowsmith’s solid understanding of all aspects of running a utilities department, his extensive experience negotiating with the Department of Energy on Los Alamos National Laboratory contracts and effective staff relations as deciding factors.

Arrowsmith has served as an assistant utilities manager since 2004. He joined the county’s utilities department in 1990 after 10 years of employment with PNM.

In an interview Tuesday, Arrowsmith said a likely reason for his selection was his ongoing role in negotiations with DOE on energy cost allocations.

He characterized the atmosphere as having evolved from a contrary and confrontational one to one focused on resolving issues. The DOE contract is subject to renewal every three years and will be revisited in 2010.

Arrowsmith said he looks forward to the challenges of developing renewable, sustainable sources of energy at reasonable rates as petroleum cost effectiveness changes. He said the Diamond Drive reconstruction project in progress will not only beautify Los Alamos by submerging utility structures, it will also decrease vulnerability to power outages and decrease the radius of impacted areas.

Council Vice-Chair Robert Gibson, liaison to the Utilities Board introduced the motion to appoint Arrowsmith and waive Personnel Rule 414 concerning nepotism with regard to Arrowsmith’s wife Mary. She was hired a year prior to her husband.

“We would  lose someone valuable to the county if she was not kept,” said Gibson, to which County Chief Financial Officer Steven Lynne emphatically nodded in the affirmative.

Council passed the motion unanimously.

Council also revisited the revised FY2009 budget of $173,432,748. The Capital Improvements portion was reduced from the initially proposed $21.6 million to $14.3 million by re-allocating items to the general fund, by closing out completed projects, and by deferring or deleting items.

During public commentary, Manuel Baca said he was disappointed at the removal of $150,000 for county branding because he thinks the county needs to create a separation in public perception between the lab and the community.

Councilor Robert Gibson moved to separate the budget item from the pension fund and continuing appropriations for encumbrances. Council agreed, with Wheeler dissenting.

The budget was passed 6-to-1, with Gibson voting against it.

Gibson said that the budget does not serve the community well because the absence of funds for school improvement signals wrong priorities and the financial priorities delineated are not financially possible.

“Government should always be in tight budget situations,” he added, “If we’re not, then the money should be left in citizens’ pockets.”

“What do we gain by not approving it if we don’t have something to put in its place?” asked Councilor Fran Berting.

The second section of the divided motion related to pension fund administrative costs and FY 2008 continuing appropriations passed unanimously.

City Attorney Mary McInerny clarified for Councilor Mike Wheeler that it was not a conflict of interest for him to vote on the pension fund despite his investiture, because he was acting in the role of administrator.

The council passed the pension fund as submitted 7-to-0, and created the Environmental Sustainability Board to replace the Solid Waste Advisory Board, 7-to-0.