The Tacoma Public Utilities Board selected the firm Mycoff, Fry & Prouse to help them with the recruiting process to pick and hire the next Tacoma Public Utilities director.
In a 4-1 vote at a special meeting Tuesday morning, the board passed a resolution which will allow them to start putting together a contract to work with Mycoff, Fry & Prouse.
“They have a history of the Pacific Northwest, but also nationally municipal owned utilities,” said Tacoma Public Utilities Board Chair Monique Trudnowski. “Mycoff has not only helped us with previous recruitments, they really understand the business.”
Mycoff, Fry & Prouse is the same firm that helped recruit and recommend the current TPU Director Bill Gaines, which raised concerns from several Tacoma residents at Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s of the utmost importance that the selection of the future director of TPU be as transparent, as fair and open, as thorough as possible,” said Gavin Guss, a Tacoma resident who said he took off from work to be at the hearing. “I’m here because I feel like I have to be.”
With a salary of $387, 650, outgoing Public Utilities Director Gaines is one of the highest paid public employees in the state. Over the summer he announced his retirement.
However, sources said there was little support on city council for Gaines and that council was not expected to confirm his position. There were concerns Gaines didn’t respect the council or the public process.
“I think that’s an unfair and inaccurate characterization, and I wouldn’t agree with that at all,” said Gaines on Tuesday.
But some TPU board members, including Karen Larkin, have echoed those concerns.
“A lot of the customers that I have heard from believe that decisions are made without the necessary public input and outreach that needs to be done,” she said. “Click has been a real hot issue in the community and I believe proposals were put forward just before my time on the board where there wasn’t outreach or input for those proposals, and so I think there’s just a general feeling on city council and in our community that the utility has acted without public input as we should have.”
Over the summer, after city council accepted Gaines’ retirement, the council laid out in a resolution the need for the public to be included in the hiring process of the next director.
And when the TPU board recently put out a request for hiring firms it asked the firms to describe out how they would engage city council and stakeholders.
Trudnowski said this is a new process for TPU.
“Usually these decisions don’t happen in public. Usually it’s just a meeting with board members and they decide,” she said.
Four firms responded to the board which include ZRG Partners, Karras Consulting, Preng & Associates, and Mycoff, Fry & Prouse. In proposals, ZRG, Karras, and Preng all detailed how they would engage stakeholders.
“Mycoff’s proposal did not include even the word stakeholder in the proposal,” said Larkin, who said she was disappointed by the vote to go with Mycoff.
Tacoma Public Utilities will work with the firm to put together a contract. In the end, Tacoma City Council must confirm the recommended candidate.